Barriers (Zam)

Jessie Monarch is from Kentucky in the US and volunteered with Hands at Work for the last year, serving in South Africa and Zambia.  The following is her account of her first trip to see the work being done in Mulenga, a poor community in Kitwe, Zambia; a work led by James and Sukai Tembo since 2004.

“How many children do you have?” I asked him as we passed through the solid metal gate guarding the entrance to his “mansion.”  I knew he called it that, always following the reference with a carefree laugh, to warn us of the simplicity of his lodgings.

“You will see,” he said with a grin.  In the brief stint of our acquaintance he had used this phrase to answer almost every question I had concerning his work, as if believing to revive the sense of mystery and anticipation so often lost with age and life. 

When we exited the car, he immediately pointed across the yard and a large field to Mulenga.  As he enthusiastically pointed out the house from which the twenty orphans are fed daily amongst the mass and spread of huts far in the distance, we pretended to know exactly which hut he was pointing to.  It didn’t really matter; we knew the beautiful work he was doing there, we knew the beacon of light that house was in the sea of darkness surrounding it and in the lives of the children who were helped from it, and so it was easy to be excited with him.

His “mansion” confirmed the simplicity of his lifestyle in its size and décor.  It was hard to believe he lived there with his wife and five children, comprised of four boys and one tiny little girl, but they trickled in and out periodically to confirm that they tucked themselves into corners somewhere and, indeed, found room enough in this humble dwelling.  We chatted only briefly before he could no longer contain the urge to show us Mulenga.  We piled back into the car and he carefully navigated us over the unreasonably frequent rifts and potholes of the dirt road.  Even at the snails pace with which we tackled the road, we were tossed and bounced about in a jarring manner.  “You are learning the Zambian dance,” he joked at our erratic movements.

The second leg of our journey required us to trudge single-file along a once-dirt foot path, now muddied by the steady rain of the season.  Watching us slide about in flip-flops, he looked disappointed at making us endure the inconvenience of dirty feet.  “You wore the wrong shoes!” he pointed out, as if he had told us what shoes to wear.  After several minutes, we reached a lingering crowd of people gathered around another barrier, a pond-sized puddle formed  immediately in front of the only bridge by which to enter into Mulenga.  We were at an impasse.  After a few lingering moments he decided there was no way across, we would have to wait until morning.  All of this calamity was not unlike the trip I had made from the US to South Africa five months prior.  The inconvenience of multiple flights and layovers, of arranging buses and accommodation is enough to ward off the traveler, to create something of a justification not to come.  But what if James had made the same justification?  What if all this effort—the impossible roads, the unbeaten path through the thigh-high grass, the flooded bridge—had been enough of a barrier to prevent him from starting the work he began in Mulenga in 2004?  Twenty orphaned children would not have received a meal each day for the past four years, twenty voluntary care workers would not explore the corners and crevices of the village, visiting the sick that would not otherwise be looked after, prayed for or taken to the clinic when needed. But they have, and they will, because James chose to cross his barrier.  One man, with the help of his wife and his God, has helped dozens of people over the years because he looked out over the unbroken, uninterrupted field and chose to cross it.   

My trip across the Atlantic, James’ trip across the field, barriers near or far, are all just divisions among the children of God, separations of the body of Christ.  Some parts of the body are decaying and some are thriving; what separates one from the other besides geography, besides birth and circumstance?   What are the barriers that keep your hand from reaching out to aid the vulnerable and forgotten, the sick and needy?

“If I have denied the desires of the poor, or let the eyes of the widow grow weary,

                If I have kept my bread to myself, not sharing it with the fatherless…

If I have seen anyone perishing for lack of clothing, or a needy man without a garment…

If I have raised my hand against the fatherless…              

Then let my arm fall from the shoulder, let it be broken off at the joint” (Job 31:16-22).