I’ve always considered the remarkable variety and quality of people God has brought into my life as one of His grandest blessings. I am thankful for high school and college friends that I’m still regularly connected to after over 30 years of relationship. There are so many colleagues I’ve worked with who have been way more than just fellow workers next to me in the office or classroom. The athletic world has been full of coaches and staff members and even reporters who I’ve loved competing with and against and creating memories with on and off the fields and courts. Church pastors and para-church leaders have been remarkable encouragers in my faith journey and empowered me to care about the things that Jesus cared about.
I’ve been blessed and in the midst of hundreds of influential and important people in my life the LORD has anointed and brought some friends who have been unique in the way that they have left a mark in my life. This past Friday my dear friend and brother Lawrence Temfwe went to be with Jesus on the other side of the world. Lawrence’s friendship has been a gift I have thanked God for hundreds of times publicly and privately over the last decade of serving together in the beautiful nation of Zambia.
About 20 years ago I was finishing up my master’s degree at the Wheaton College Graduate School. And at the same time was a Zambian leader with his young family being trained to go back to follow God’s leading to start a holistic ministry serving and empowering hundreds of Zambian churches in sharing the Good News in word and deed to people and communities in his home country. Lawrence and I would sometimes chuckle about how we had to have been in some of the same places in Wheaton and yet never met each other. And there’s definitely a part of me that wishes I would have come across his path to enjoy another decade of friendship and partnership…
Along with a crew of Wheaton Academy students I started taking trips and helping to partner in community development work in Zambia after being pushed by BONO to respond to the HIV pandemic and being connected to a village where World Vision was starting to holistically address spiritual and physical needs. I fell in love with the Zambian culture, people, and church and community and ministry leaders I met. And God began to change me and deepen and expand my faith through the witness and work of the African people…
Almost a decade ago now I was introduced to Lawrence and Martha Temfwe over a lunch here in west MI. I was at a place where I was wondering what next steps in continuing and deepening my investment in global work and was pumped to meet a potential new ministry partner in my “second home” on the other side of the world. Immediately I found myself drawn to his passion and vision. I enjoyed a natural connection with him on a human level as I found him to be a winsome and thoughtful person to talk and share stories with. I had no idea that he was already connected to several influential US churches, and he didn’t seem to care that my little Christian university didn’t have the academic pedigree or endowment resources that a school like Wheaton had to offer.
We left the conversation with hopes for a future partnership and I began taking students from Cornerstone on yearly trips to Ndola for life-changing weeks in Zambia. And I was given the gift of a growing and surprising friendship that I found to be a wonderful addition to my relational network. Students would always ask me why I wanted to keep taking these long trips to sub-Saharan Africa and I would talk about the cultural learning and experiences, ministry and service projects, and seeing the needs and life in a place unlike their own world. But I would personally always simply say that I loved going back because I got to see my friends. And for me that meant being with my friend Lawrence.
I loved when he would join me on the soccer pitch as the elder statesman with all the young players running circles around us even as we kept telling them to pass us the ball. I always looked forward to the car rides to and from ministry sites where he would grab me and just the two of us would get a chance to talk openly and freely away from the loud bus full of students and staff members. Almost every drive he would call me to deeper faith and greater Kingdom risk as he shared with me where he believed God wanted to use me in the days ahead in his ministry and the larger world. I have vivid memories of the dinners at the favorite Indian restaurant where our laughter and voices would get to a decibel level that was noticed by everyone else eating that night. And I never grew tired of early morning times of worship at the Jubilee Centre office where His sharing of the Scriptures and leading us pastorally in worship and prayer gave rest and life to my soul that was often weary coming to Zambia.
This picture is one of my favorites I have of Lawrence. I think of 4 things that I saw in him that I see in this particular photograph at a bed net distribution to help protect orphans being cared for in their local community from the deadly threat of malaria…
1. JOY—He radiated and extended the joy of the Lord to those around him. His spirit lifted your spirit through the joy that spilled from his heart into the world. And I never escaped dancing when I was with him as we celebrated what God was up to and who He was.
2. DO SOMETHING—He always pushed people to move from a place of just knowledge or privilege to put their faith into practice that would produce fruit of lasting impact. If you see a problem like malaria in a community, you had to get the life-saving nets to people who were in danger. He modeled for me a life where he truly “spurred one another on to good deeds.”
3. PEOPLE MATTER—Not every influential leader would take the time to make a little girl feel special like Lawrence did in this moment. There are literally hundreds of students in my ministry who felt known and personally encouraged and challenged by Lawrence. And my family was so well loved and cared for and prayed for by the Temfwe family in ways we often didn’t feel even in our own community.
4. INSIDE THE NET—Lawrence was right in the midst of the challenges and opportunities he encountered. His gifts and capacities could have allowed him to stay safe on the outside but he always jumped “inside the net” and was present where courage and truth and love were most needed. His commitment to local churches and community based holistic ministry was real and authentic and personal. And that made all the difference for those God called him to serve.
Today I grieve the loss of and simultaneously celebrate what Jesus has invited us into and what was given to me as a brother found in John 15. Lawrence allowed me to move from being a financial supporter and a ministry partner to being a true friend. His legacy in Zambia and the world is wide and deep in its scope and eternal impact. And my heart is more aligned with God’s heart and my hands now do more of the work God longs for me to do because of my friendship with Lawrence Temfwe.
I do and will miss my friend so very much. And I am longing already to be reunited with him in the presence of Jesus someday.
PHILIPPIANS 1:3-8: I thank my God every time I remember you. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.