They Say “Yes”: Reflections From Zambia
Janet Sullivan Claytor, SEBTS 2012 Alumna | November 14, 2017
My team member, Hayden, and I started down the path toward our assigned village. Puffs of gray dust bellowed up from our feet as we walked through dry trenches previously made by rushing water during the rainy season. I swallowed hard, trying to conjure up the tiniest bit of moisture in my mouth. The few bushes along the trail were wearing a thick coat of red dust, and I wondered if they were as thirsty as me.
Up ahead, little faces smudged with dust stared wide-eyed. Twelve miles into the bush, most of the natives had never seen skin so white. A broad grin slowly crept across our interpreter’s face as the tentative children stared in suspicion. Concern melted into white, toothy grins as Charles ensured the children that the Mzungus are harmless.
“Mubwangi,” we called to the smiling children. Torn, worn-out clothing hung haphazardly on their small, thin bodies. An extended, white hand met a brave little one. “Bwino Mubwangi,” a chorus of timid voices veiled soft giggles. My eyes met the eyes of a beautiful little one too scared to come close. Skin of ebony covered with dust from the blowing sand, she was not willing to touch my outstretched hand. She turned away, and we walked on.
The smell of burning wood filled my nose as I viewed the village just over the next hill. By now, our small group of barefoot followers had turned into a multitude of excited, skipping feet. Laughter and soft conversation trailed us as we entered the village. Huts with grass roofs were organized in sections with three to four huts to a section. Mud or crude brick sides with thatch roofs were typical.
Several people per hut scurried about finding small, homemade stools or mats to offer to their welcomed guests. I noticed how after a young woman placed her stool on the dusty ground, she wiped off the bench before she invited me to sit. I swallowed hard and fought back the tears that stung my eyes. I was touched by her willingness to give me her best, all that she had, just because she welcomed our presence. I was humbled and overwhelmed.
A back-and-forth exchange of handshakes, curtseys and greetings took care of the introductions. Beautiful dark faces with never-ending smiles and occasional nodding heads made our upcoming explanation of the gospel message seem so easy. I began, “I am here to share some good news with you. Have you heard of Jesus?” My heart raced as I waited on Charles to interpret. Charles’ eyes gave me the answer before he replied, “They say no.”
As I sat there sharing the good news to people who live in abject poverty, I asked God to show me how this life can be abundant in its overwhelming simplicity. How can I, someone with everything, tell these people about real hope, love and the riches of God’s grace? Immediately, the God who created these beautiful people in his own image spoke to my heart to just be faithful to share, and he would take care of the rest. Every person listened intently and discovered the hope and assurance found only in Jesus, the Son of the Living God.
As I finished sharing, I asked the people through the interpreter, “Would you like to have a relationship with Jesus?” Charles immediately began to translate the question. Even before he finished, his serious face melted into a big, beautiful smile. “They say yes!” “They say yes!” Those sweet words still ring in my heart and my soul. I’ll never be the same. I left a part of my heart in Zambia.
During a lesson on missions at Girls in Action camp in Clayton, Georgia, I knew the Lord placed in my heart a desire to tell the good news to people around the world. After a very slow start to fulfilling that call, I now have been in several countries and have settled into a ministry in Zambia, a country that is wide open to the gospel.
My husband, Bob, and I are working with Luke Buleya, an indigenous pastor who has planted over 1,200 churches since 2001. Luke is the senior pastor of Chikondi Baptist Church in Chongwe, Zambia. He is a former executive secretary of the Baptist Fellowship of Zambia. Bob was Trustee Chairman of the International Mission Board when he first met Luke in 2001. We have worked with Luke and his congregation to drill wells and build a school on his church property. Our most recent work, Aug. 7-23, 2017, was centered on evangelism, church planting, pastor training and teacher training.
In the rural village of Sinda, located in the eastern province, our work involved door-to-door evangelism, discipleship and nightly crusades. Our team of nine Americans and 20 Zambian pastors witnessed to over 700 people who had never heard of Jesus. During the latter part of our time there, our team held a VBS for 150 children, a pastors’ conference and nightly crusades. With the superior organization and prep work done by Luke and other local pastors, we were able to see an amazing work of the Lord. We saw more than 1,050 people give their lives to Christ, planted three churches, trained 200 at the pastors’ conference and discipled 150 children. Our team shared the gospel with more than 1,000 people through door-to-door evangelism and about 1,500 people attended the six crusades.
Zambia has been one of the most fertile areas for evangelism in the last 20 years. There are several reasons for this. First, Zambia is absent from any war, unlike many of the surrounding countries. Another reason is that the government is very friendly with, and open to, Christians in Christian ministry. Their president actually encourages the planting of churches. Finally, the people of Zambia are seeking. In the latter part of the twentieth century, the AIDS epidemic hit Zambia severely. This caused many in the general population to look for answers about death and dying. At present, there is a vibrant network of churches that is aggressively reaching out over the entire nation. However, the population is massive, and the workers are strained. Leadership training for pastors is one of the most pressing needs.
I thank God for the educational experiences I had at Southeastern. However, my time at Southeastern was much more than a degree. It gave me what I needed to answer God’s calling in my life with confidence and intention. It settled my soul on what is really important here on earth, that is, heaven. I thank God for giving me the opportunity to tell the good news to people who have never heard. The village evangelism was an experience that forever changed me. Our work in Zambia will continue, God willing. We are committed to evangelism, pastor training, education and teacher training in Zambia. If the Lord allows, we will take another team in June of 2018.
From our local community to the outermost parts of the world, Southeastern students and alumni are reaching people with the gospel by fulfilling the Great Commission. Using the model of Acts 1:8, we want to highlight these stories of how our Southeastern family is serving in North Carolina, North America and around the world. Acts 1:8 Stories create a collective and consistent way to tell the story of Southeastern, one person at a time. From local pastors to missionaries among the unreached, God is doing a great work among students and alumni. Where are they now and where are they going? We can’t wait for you to find out!