Monday, November 28, 2011

Farewells

Is saying farewell any easier if it is spread over many celebrations and observances? Ask me next week and I will tell you!

My departure date is not until December 1, but two of the expatriate families were leaving Zambia for home visits in mid-November. They were not due to return until January. So my first farewell party was November 11 with all the international families on campus. We had a big potluck dinner, shared music and stories, and took pictures. The host family, the Lunds, have four talented children, who provided entertainment with a recital including song, piano, recorder, and guitar.

The Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation Director hosted a farewell dinner for me at his home. It was a lovely evening of traditional Zambian food and good company. Dr. Temu has had the hard job of seeing MEF through a strategic planning process, with good results. The World Council of Churches is funding 21 Pan African students for training next year in two programs: peacebuilding and conflict transformation and services for orphans and vulnerable children. MEF’s prospects are improving.

Sunday I was asked to come forward in church so they could pray for a safe journey. I thanked them for the music, the joyful worship, and for including me in Bible study and other events even when it meant they had to translate everything into English because I couldn’t understand Bemba. Later on Sunday a group of women from the church came to pray with me and share their good wishes for my trip. In the evening, the coordinator of the Jerusalem Choir came to thank me for the help I gave at their fundraiser.

Each group of students in this semester’s courses planned a small farewell celebration during our last class period or afterwards, including refreshments and a class photo. One group, the set of students who are now completing the social work diploma program, has had me as a teacher each semester for the four semesters I taught here. They cleverly took a copy of the class picture, had it enlarged and framed, and presented it as a farewell gift the next day.

The last day for students to be on campus before semester break was Friday, and I was asked to give the reflection in chapel that day. They had a special choir who sang a farewell song. The Director, one of the members of staff and a student representative each spoke briefly, and they presented me with gifts--a devotional book and a chitenge traditional dress.

In my chapel reflection, I shared what Zambia has meant to me. There are aspects of the culture here that I treasure and will try to include in my life as I return home. One is the strong sense of community, interdependence, and family that sustains people through struggles and encourages them in good times. Another is the awareness of the presence of God in every part of life, the good and the bad, the high and the low times, and the joyful praise offered in song and worship. Finally, here in Zambia people take time to just “be.” They greet everyone who passes, sometimes asking about family or chatting, other times just saying good morning or afternoon. They call on you at home and sit and visit.

These three aspects of Zambian culture--resilient community, recognition and celebration of God's loving presence, and an emphasis on "being"-- offer some balance to our American focus on the individual, on self-reliance, and on “doing.” I am thankful for the chance this adventure has given me to experience another way of life for a period.

Now in my last few days, I continue to have friends and neighbors stopping by to leave a remembrance or to pray for me or just to visit one last time. The kids are giving me notes of thanks for the sandwiches and cookies. More than a few tears have been shed.

Zambia will always have a special place in my heart and my life.

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