"The Zambia Project" author Chip Huber with students in Zambia.
When a Wheaton Academy high schooler idly flipped to the back of the World Vision Gift Catalog, he set in motion a chain of events that would radically transform lives in Wheaton, Ill., and an AIDS-devastated community in Zambia.
The journey was so dramatic it’s now the subject of a new book,The Zambia Project: The Story of Two Worlds Flipped Upside Down, written by Wheaton’s former Dean of Spiritual Life,Chip Huber.
The Gift Catalog allows donors to choose practical items such as school supplies or livestock to assist those living in poor communities. The Wheaton student happened upon the most expensive thing in the catalog at the time — a schoolhouse costing $53,000.
Students began brainstorming fundraising ideas to find the cash for the school.
They were spurred on after learning that the school would serve a village called Kakolo in central Zambia.
Residents there had been praying for a school for two years. Children had to walk almost eight miles every day to get an education.
Wheaton students not only managed to raise money for the original two-room school building but, over the last eight years, have made regular trips to Kakolo.
They funded major expansions, so the school now has 16 rooms, a science lab, and a courtyard that proudly flies both the Zambian national flag and the Stars and Stripes.
Students also covered the cost for a community health clinic, which specializes in prevention of mother-to-child transmission of the AIDS virus.
Chip Huber, who guided what became known as “The Zambia Project,” says his mostly well-heeled students had never witnessed the level of poverty in Kakolo or experienced the level of hospitality offered to them by the villagers.
“They learned to fall in love with another part of the world and with another culture,” he says. “I believe this is what God designed us to do — to be transformed as we participate in transforming the lives of other people.”
In the book, Chip laments his own spiritual blindness prior to embarking onThe Zambia Project, having grown up in a Christian culture that was strong on Bible reading and telling others about Jesus but had little to do with caring for the poor.
“It’s almost like I could only see in two dimensions. I could see part of what God intended for us to be in terms of participating in his kingdom work. But for whatever reason that other piece — that whole response of meeting the needs of the poor and entering into another’s suffering was not there,” he says.
“I missed it in the Scriptures somehow, and I missed it in life experiences somehow.”
Chip likens participating inThe Zambia Projectto putting on 3-D glasses and being able to see a whole new dimension to his faith. He says many of his students had a similar experience.
“A lot of students say to me that you have ruined our little lives, but we would never go back, because it’s just unbelievable in terms of the meaning and purpose that this has brought to us.”
Chip believes God has given young people special gifts and passion for the work.
“I was the big cheerleader. I cleared the decks and got out of the way. I gave them the freedom to respond,” he says.