Don't get confused, because of lack of internet access, blog was written on Thursday, Oct. 11. Posted on Monday, Oct. 15
The weather has broken today. I woke this morning to a cool breeze blowing through the window and a cloud covering the piercing sun. Usually, in this season, you are awakened at sunrise becomes it becomes too hot to stay in bed. But today, I slept past my alarm and didn’t even hear Jacob stir when he got up to start the day. I thought it was still night, because I was still comfortable. The breeze feels nice. Days like this make me think of home. Why, I wonder? Maybe because so often, West Virginia days are gray just like this one. Everything feels quieter and more manageable when there’s a breeze blowing through the leaves and the smell of citrus trees waft through the window screens. But, the breaking weather brings about another season…rainy season.
The good thing about rainy season is that we have occasional gray, cool days. The bad thing about rainy season is that between rains, the weather becomes so stifling hot and humid it feels like your own personal sauna, here just to sap your energy. The rainy season also brings bugs like you’ve never seen before. Winged termites who arrive by the thousand, huge dung beetles, moths the size of small birds, and more ants than you can count.
Okay, that was just a warm-up. Onto the real story.
Yesterday, Lisa (on-field director Jeff’s wife), Jaime (new orphanage director), and I went to a ladies breakfast in town. The hostess had invited a Zambian woman named Milas to talk with us about some cultural issues that we may or may not be aware of. What a fascinating breakfast! One of the women at the breakfast has been living in Zambia for 43 years. Some have been ministering with the same organization for 15 years. And some, like Jaime, had been in Zambia a whole 2 weeks. Regardless of our individual knowledge and understanding of Zambian culture, all of us were surprised at some of the things that Milas explained to us. I would like to explain some of these traditional customs to you. But they are explicit, be warned.
When a baby is born, he/she is confined to the house for the first month of its life. This is because a popular Zambian belief states that the air outside the house is polluted (for a newborn). All clothes and cloth diapers must be washed and dried inside the house. Remember, Zambian houses are mud huts about the size of your master bathroom, with a lower ceiling.
The baby must be bathed in water that has been infused with various roots and tree bark. Often, this dirty water and lack of ventilation can cause an infection in the umbilical cord area. Babies sometimes contract tetanus and die because of this method.
The mother and father of the baby must not engage in sexual intercourse for the first 3 months of the baby’s life. The first time that the couple comes together after the birth of the baby, the semen must be spilled upon the baby. The ceremony is called giving the baby its “second birth.” This time of second birth is when the child is finally considered a human being. If the child dies before that time, the death will be accounted to the fault of the father, who will be assumed to have had an adulterous affair. He will often have to pay retribution to his wife’s family because he was “responsible” for the child’s death. Also, if the child dies before this time of “second birth” the women will be the only ones to attend the funeral because the child was not yet considered a human being.
If the child is a girl, she will begin to be taught about being a woman at age 10. At this age, the young girls will be gathered into one home and taught how to stretch their labia to an appropriate length so that they will be more desirable to their future husbands. They will work on this stretching for many years, causing cracks and tears in the sensitive skin that often leaves them more susceptible to contracting the HIV virus.
When the girl starts menstruating, her mother will hire another woman (sometimes a family member, sometimes not) to instruct her daughter in the ways of being a woman. She will be confined to a home for up to 3 months and taught how to serve a man and how to please her husband. If she is not a good student, she will be beaten by the women who are teaching her. Her mother plays no part in this teaching process, it is considered inappropriate for a mother to teach her daughter anything about sex. The daughter is not even supposed to tell her mother when she has started her menstruation, but instead is to go to another woman in the village who will inform her mother for her.
After this time of confinement, the girl is brought out into the world to dance and show off to the whole village. She is scantily clad and the men from the village come to watch and admire her. Premarital sex is not generally discouraged, so after being taught about all of these sexual methods and areas of responsibility, the girl is curious to experience the things taught her by her grandmothers. The men of the village are also interested to see what she has learned. The girl is taught to use herbs to make herself very dry [during sex]. This is supposed to allow for more pleasure on the man’s part. This also allows for more wounding, which, in addition to the torn labia, allows for extra easy HIV infection. Often, because of the taboos that do not permit a father to show interest in or affection toward his daughter, women are especially desperate for male companionship to fill the need for a male protector in their lives.
These traditions vary from tribe to tribe. The methods are not all the same. But, across the board, educated or uneducated, churched or un-churched, there are Africans who are continuing in these dangerous and painful methods. Maybe you are “disgusted” or “shocked” at these facts. I may have been at first, but it only takes switching on a TV in the U.S. to confirm that we suffer from the same barbaric methods-we just put lipstick on it and call it a Playboy bunny. Our 13-year-olds run around scantily clad, attracting the attention of whoever will look. Our women pay thousands and thousands of dollars to surgically augment every part of their body. In my hometown the strip clubs on Main St. outnumber the grocery stores, flower shops, and banks combined.
Milas said that she discovered that the traditional methods were a lie by asking the white woman who came to speak at her church about it. She was really interested to see how, if the white people didn’t follow these same methods, their babies lived and prospered and their children married and lived happily. She encouraged us to use our own testimonies, and hers, as proof that witchcraft and traditional medicine do not improve quality of life, but only plunge the user further into fears and bondage.
Is this relevant to our American culture? Could it be true that our culture’s manic frenzy toward “sexual freedom” is actually more related to barbaric African customs than it is to a modern, educated society? What kind of truth are we seeking by telling women to “be comfortable enough with their bodies” to display them on the internet or for a video camera? Often, our living rooms serve as the same kind of classroom the Zambian mud huts do, but our teachers come in the form of vulgar TV shows that openly display sexual techniques and make light of extra-marital affairs. Are we finding the truth, the improvement that we’re looking for, in the form of this “it’s all relative” view of morality?
Because here, in Zambia, the only way that people are being set free from witchcraft is to hear and believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When the truth of God is planted deep in their hearts, the Holy Spirit gives them the power to stand up against the fear of man. They are given the courage to say to their grandparents, “You won’t bathe my child in herbs and roots.” “You won’t teach my daughter about sex.” “You won’t tie charms on my son or on me.” And I won’t die [because of rejecting these methods], but will live, and live to the fullest. And they find that their children don’t die. And they find that they don’t have to live under a burden of fear and worry. But instead, they can live with joy and with purpose.
Are we living under the restrictions that our culture places upon us? Are we [as Christians] dressing, talking, acting, or working a certain way in order to make the people around us comfortable? Are we trying to make a gray area between right and wrong instead of just declaring that it is black and white? The Bible says that God would rather us be hot or cold, but not lukewarm. We are not the judgment makers, that job falls to God. However, I’m willing to stand up in a culture that is not my own and declare to those people that they don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. Am I willing to do it in my own country, in my own state, in my own hometown? Are you?
My heart is breaking for women. And children. And people who are living under a system that they think is giving life. A system that they think is the only way. But it’s not. There is another way. Zambian, American, Indian, European. We must turn from our ways and see the peace, freedom, joy (and trials) that come with serving Jesus Christ.
What a blessing it is to be truly free.
And what a blessing it is to you that I am finally done with this blog. Thanks for sticking with me.