Monday, November 26, 2007

A Spot on the Food Network?

In light of the recent Thanksgiving holiday, which we celebrated here with two huge turkeys, I thought I’d tell you about my recent weeks of intense Zambian cooking experiences. I’m not sure if you’re as much of a Food Network fan as I am (when I can get it). But I’m convinced that I’m marketable for a spot. Maybe Rachel Ray can interview me on her talk show about exotic cooking techniques. I’m not sure that power outages are a problem facing the general American public, or if cooking maize meal over the fire is considered exotic. But, hey, it’s different, right?

Last week, I decided that the time had come for me to learn how to make the traditional beverage that is very popular in the Zambian village. Chibwantu,or sweet beer to your average mzungu (white person), is a non-alcoholic maize-based beverage that is especially drunk during rainy season. The men and women carry it with them to the fields to give them a pick me up in the middle of a hot morning. It’s very different from anything that you’ve probably ever tasted. And, as far as my own limited knowledge permits me to say, it doesn’t taste anything like beer.

The pastor’s wife and I embarked on making a huge batch (I mean, if you’re gonna make sweet beer, make sweet beer, right?) We built a big fire and began to cook a porridge of “maize rice” which is just maize pounded into smaller pieces (a bit smaller than rice). The porridge cooks quickly, expands, and binds together. When it finished boiling violently and popping all over the arms of anyone who dared get too close, we removed the huge iron pot from the fire to allow the porridge to cool.

While the porridge cooled, we soaked a root called munkoyo in cool water. The root is dug from the ground and is what gives sweet beer its distinctive flavor. When the porridge cooled, we added the munkoyo water and stirred. After multiple tastings to determine whether the munkoyo had “taken”(never did figure out how you can tell), we added brown sugar for sweetness. I have to say, it was some mighty fine sweet beer. The batch made enough to fit inside an (unused) garbage can and was then distributed among all of my helpers and their families. It was a good experience. And I thought that I had effectively learned how to reproduce the recipe. Unfortunately, I was wrong. I tried to make a smaller batch just this week (without any help) just to see if I could do it. I couldn’t. It tasted terrible. Like rice soaked in fish water. Blech. Janice informed me that I had soaked the munkoyo too long. When we made the sweet beer together, the women looked like they were doing everything so haphazardly. But no, they have a precise method to their madness, one that I didn’t pick up on. So, it’s back to school for me and sweet beer making. Jacob loves sweet beer and was intensely disappointed that my 2nd batch didn’t turn out. I can’t say the same for rest of the missionary crew, who pretty much looks at us like we’re crazy when we say that we enjoy it. We can’t help it, Zambia has gotten into our blood!

Onto other Food Network worthy cooking experiences…

When we stayed in Chabboboma last weekend, I was excited to finally get some real experience cooking Zambian style food out on the fire. Well, the church women had other ideas. They considered it a full and complete insult for us to cook for ourselves, so they took my chicken and cabbages and prepared it for us while we sat waiting. I did convince them that I was capable enough to cook breakfast on my own, and they reluctantly agreed. Little did I realize why…

I should have realized why. I mean, logically, the timing just doesn’t work out. Church starts at nine. I woke up at 6:30. At home, with my running water and stove and shower, I could easily cook a big breakfast, clean up, and shower and dress for church in that amount of time. It wasn’t that I hadn’t cooked on the fire before, it was just that I was never pressed for time before. So, I started the fire at the nearest fire spot (about 30 yards from the house we stayed in) with wet firewood, blowing desperately to get it going. I hauled water to wash out the pots and start the rice. Then, I started the rice while trying to cut onions in my hand (no cutting board). When the rice was finally finished, I set it aside and started to make the tomato/onion gravy to put over it (common Zambian breakfast, and really tasty!) I had brought canned tomatoes to avoid all the chopping. Smart, right? Yep, except for I didn’t bring a can opener. So, I tracked Jake down and had him perform surgery with his knife on our tomato cans. I fried the onions while stirring constantly, praying that they wouldn’t burn on the now blazing fire. Added the tomatoes and some salt, and with a few more minutes of boiling, my gravy was ready! Now all I needed to do was carry the scalding hot pots all the way back to the house. Shoot! I forgot to make tea! Okay, haul the water for tea, set the pot boiling. Carry the food back to the house and set the table. Make the tea, carry it back. Call the men for breakfast. They mosey into the house slowly, chatting about the service from the night before. It’s 8:30 am. I still have to eat, clean up, haul water for a bath, take a bucket bath, and walk to church before 9 o ‘clock. Man, that hauling water and cooking on the fire thing takes a lot of time! No wonder it seems like the Zambians are always running late!

So, after that, I served the food, swallowed some rice and tea, and took a (much needed) bath from a small bucket. I wasn’t on time for church, but no one seemed too concerned. I have a feeling they understood perfectly! So, now I know. Things take much longer out of your own environment and even longer when the firewood is wet. I’ll get up earlier next time. Or, we’ll eat bread. End of story.

Just in case you ever get a hankering for tomato/onion gravy, I’ll give you the recipe. I made it for lunch here at the guest house, and everyone loved it.

1 medium onion (thinly sliced)
1 can diced tomatoes or 3 fresh tomatoes finely chopped
2-3 Tbl. Cooking oil
1 tsp. flour

Fry onions in cooking oil until tender. Add tomatoes. If canned, they will need a short time to cook. If fresh, they’ll need a bit longer. Make a paste with the flour in a bit of water. Add to the gravy mixture and stir constantly until it boils. Boil for a minute so that you don’t a raw flour taste. Add salt (quite a bit). Serve over hot rice. Yum!

Okay, so now you know my struggling cooking experiences…would you like to hear about my one victory? A Zambian friend from the other orphanage on the hill taught me to make “fire bread.” Fire bread is a sweet bread that can be cooked in a pot, whether on a fire or on a brazier. A brazier is a tiny circular metal grill just big enough for one pot. You build a charcoal fire in the top of it and then set the pot on to cook. Most Zambians use braziers when it’s raining and the firewood is wet, or if they just need to cook a one-pot meal.

Here is the recipe for fire bread, which will come in handy for me in the bush when I don’t have an oven! I made it for dinner the other night, and the visitors couldn’t believe that it was cooked over the fire. It comes out beautifully moist and sweet.

Start a charcoal fire and let it get very hot and burn down.

5 heaping handfuls flour
1 heaping Tbl. Baking powder
1 tsp. salt
5 Tbl. Sugar
3 Tbl. Cooking oil

2 cups water or 2 eggs and 11/2 cups water

Mix the first 4 ingredients. Add oil. Mix well. Add water or eggs and water and mix again. Wipe a big pot with oil on the inside and a bit of dishsoap on the outside. Put the bread batter in the pot. Cover the pot with a large, flat lid. The lid must be able to hold coals on the top. Empty most of the hot coals from the brazier and put them on the lid. Place the pot on the hot brazier and make sure the coal-covered lid fits with no gaps. Let bake for 30-40 minutes. The bread is finished when it is golden brown on the tops and sides. (Carefully) take the lid off of the pot and remove the pot from the brazier to cool. After cooling 10 minutes remove the bread from the pot. Cut like a pie. There you go…fire bread!

So, I have had quite a time learning to cook like a Zambian. It’s really quite an art even though their “cuisine” isn’t very extensive. The trick is to learn from a Tonga woman, and then sneak away and do it by yourself. Because as long as there is a Tonga woman around, she will take the spoon right out of your hand and tell you, “No! Not like that!”

As all those Food Network stars say: “Happy cooking!” Let me know if you talk to Rachel Ray, I think I could really boost her ratings. Ha! ;)

Monday, November 19, 2007


Greetings again in the name of Jesus! Jess and I just returned yesterday from our first contact in Chabbobboma (i realize it was spelled wrong before). We had an unbelievable time! The place was absolutely beautiful, full of baobab trees and rolling hills. We stayed at a Pilgrim Wesleyan Church guest house for the night and were blessed to meet many strong believers in that area. We had the opportunity to visit with the head chief of the area and share the vision we have for Chabbobboma. He was very receptive and welcomed us to come back and visit him any time we pleased. Having the blessing of the chief is very important. After this we went to Lake Karibe and were taken out by boat to see how vast this lake really is. They called it the "blue sky that extends forever". In the evening we held a worship service for many of the school children who stayed on site and it was full of dancing, singing and words of encouragement from our anointed Zambian brother, Tom. We discussed with the pastor and district superintendent about whe areas that really needed the gospel and he told us of a few places that were heavy into demon worship (satanists). We will be praying about setting up camp in one of those areas on our next trip to see how God's light can break through! Our sleep at night would have been nice except for the extreme heat and a huge storm that came for a couple hours. We woke up to find a scorpion the size of my fist right outside of our door (they warned us that the snakes and scorpions are bad in this area...that was a bit unnerving). We had some very well prepared nshima for dinner along with chicken and cabbage that we provided. In the morning our church service went really well. I spoke from John 10:10 "The thief comes to kill, steal and destroy. But I (Jesus) have come that you may have life and life abundantly." They were told about how we are all in a war whether we like it or not. There is a being, Satan, who is hates us and is out to kill us and another greater being, God, who love us and desires to save us. We discussed how you cannot serve two masters. You must choose who you will serve with the understanding that one has already won the battle! (tough choice right!?) We discussed how our flesh or sinful nature is in rebellion to what we really are called to do with our lives and nothing short of the life of Christ in us can set us free. We had people come up and confess their sin and commit their lives to Jesus Christ that very morning. Many of them confessed to being "tatooed" by witch doctors for "protection from evil spirits". Little did they know that those tatooes were opening them up to more evil! We taught them the word and led them through a time of repenting of those things and trusting in Jesus Christ for protection. One woman approached us afterwards and told us how her husband had died a few years ago. Since that time there was an old man who was a relative that was supposed to take care of her. Instead of doing so, he came and beat her with a club one morning and ever since then she had been having dreams of her husband and this old man coming and doing terrible things to her. She believed that the old man had "witched" her because everytime he came around there is something that would crawl inside of her skin. We prayed over her, shared with her about the love and power of Jesus Christ and told her that no witch doctor will help her from these things. She spoke with the pastor and he agreed to accompany her to her home and pray over her home and children as well. We also prayed that God would allow justice to be done with the terrible things this old man was doing (she already took him to court and he bribed his way out of getting into trouble). So you can see, we are dealing with some very serious stuff. It is utterly essential that we have your prayers plowing the ground as we enter into these places. Praise God for the body of Christ. That we NEED each other and that no one has a greater ministry than the other. We love you all and ask that your prayers would continue with us as ours continue with you. Until all have heard the gospel of Jesus and seen it lived among them...Grace and Peace to you!


Sunday, November 4, 2007

The need for outreach in the bush!

This past Sunday we made our second outreach trip into a place called Nyawa. It is roughly two and a half hours from our farm and the only reason it takes that long is because of the road (if you want to call it that) you have to use. We had a warm greeting from the Pilgrim Wesleyan church in the area and after sharing with them our vision they were begging us to come back next week! These people had a hunger for God's word and were literally begging us to not delay on our return. We took Tom and Lena again and they did a wonderful job. Tom, as always, got them up singing and praising the Lord and shared some encouraging words with them while Lena took the children aside and made scripture memory cards for them to read while we are gone. I spoke a message on building a house for the Lord and talked about how the first process is always "digging" when you build a house. You must go down if you want to go up. Before laying a foundation you have to dig into the earth to lay the footer. This digging is represented by us exposing our lives to God and asking him to "till the ground" in our hearts until we are ready to receive His life and His nature in us. Pray that God breaks this people of Nyawa so that their hearts are prepared to receive Jesus Christ.
On the way home I was discussing with Tom about several different deep areas of the bush. Our next trip will be to Chapa Boma and this place is about as deep as you get in Zambia. Tom was telling me that the people there still break their teeth in order to resemble cattle, men still shove bones and wood through their noses and lips, and witchcraft is far more regular than in most places. People who want to travel but have no money will go to the witch doctor who will in turn perform a spell and lay a coat on the ground. The person wanting to travel will then step on the coat and "teleport to the destination". Now let me remind you that we are dealing with the physical realm here. This is spiritual warfare at a height we aren't accustomed to. You can't come here ready to fight with flesh and blood, but you must come against the authorities and principalities in the heavenly realms. (Read Ephesians 6 and 2 Cor. 10:3-6). Places like Chapa Boma follow practices where the way to determine who killed a man is to set the deceased against a tree and wait until he turns to look at the murderer. I say all of this to let you know that the light of Christ is greater than all the darkness in the world! Place after place has held these traditions and the truth of God has penetrated areas all over Zambia and led people to put their faith and hope in Jesus Christ. Please be praying for us even now as we prepare for our first trip to Chapa Boma. Pray for protection in the spiritual realm, pray for the hearts of the people to be prepared, pray that the rain hasn't completely washed out the road yet so that we can get into the area we are going. We will keep you updated as to how things are coming along. Your prayers are enabling us to make the difference. Thank you. (I've attached a picture of Sunda so you can all see how she is doing...she's enjoying her new drum!)


I haven’t experienced a whole lot of true tragedy in my life. Even being here, in a 3rd world country, with lots of exposure to life and death, I continue to remain fairly untouched by true heartache. True heartache, of course, being the kind of heartache that makes your heart ache, not just people around you.

The hardest death I’d every experienced up to this point was my Grandma Cain (my mom’s mom) this summer. I wasn’t angry or bitter, but just so, so, so sad. My mom and I decided at my grandma’s funeral that we really didn’t like the idea of the glossy American memorial event. It all seemed so fake and surreal. I mean, instead of grieving and spending time rehashing memories with our closest family, we were making funeral arrangements and receiving guests. Yet, to us, that’s what’s considered normal. You make things pretty. You play nice music. You rush around cleaning and making casseroles. Don’t get me wrong. My grandma was honored in her death and it was absolutely wonderful to see my family together and spend time with them. It just somehow felt a little…off. The best part was that my mom, my brothers Sam and Henry, my sister Jayne, and I got to hang out for a whole 4 days.

Last year, here in Zambia, I experienced the death of a young child (13 months). He died after I had cared for him consistently for 3 weeks. He had failure-to-thrive syndrome and just didn’t get any better. I never saw him smile or laugh, and he rarely reached for me or cried when I left the room. It was a sad day when he passed away. But somehow, it was comforting that he didn’t have to suffer anymore.

This week, a tragedy of a whole new sort hit my heart, and the heart of the entire community here. The head housekeeper, Janice, lost her youngest son, Caleb. Janice has been a close friend of mine and Jacob’s since she came to live and work here over a year ago. She is in her early 40’s, speaks perfect English, and is my “go-to” lady for all the questions I have about living and ministering in Zambia. She is an unbelievably strong Christian, daughter to the famous Zambian evangelist Rev. Mwiikisa, whom Jake and I have mentioned often. Her husband Albert is also an amazing man, and up to this week they had 5 beautiful, strong children. Caleb was just about a year old when he came here, and I used to carry him on my back when Janice needed someone to take him off her hands for awhile. Caleb’s first real word was, “Jacobo” (Jacob), and he would squirm from anyone’s arms to run to Jacob’s, and Jake would fling him high in the air. Just this past weekend, on our outreach, we traveled with Janice and Caleb to Siachitema, which is Janice’s home village. Caleb fell asleep in my lap on the way there, and slept next to me that night. I dressed him the next morning and swatted the flies away from him in church. Me and Janice and the rest of the team had an awesome time in Siachitema.

Monday night, Caleb got ahold of some mouthwash with Bedadine (??? not sure if this is right). He sent it flinging over his shoulder, which is when Janice realized that he had gotten the top off and at least taken a taste. Sal was rushed to the scene, pronounced him healthy as long as nothing got into his lungs, and we went back to our Monday night meeting. Monday at midnight, Sal got a knock on the door. Caleb was expelling massive amounts of mucus. That’s when we realized that Caleb had swallowed much more of the liquid than we had originally thought, and that it had also aspirated into his lungs. Without a PICU (Pedatric Intensive Care Unit), there was nothing that could be done. And even with one, there may have been little help. He died at 3 am on the way to Zimba hospital.

Lisa woke me at 6am to tell me the news. I wailed like an African woman. I had never been so shocked. Never had someone so close, so young, so quickly…been gone.

Needless to say, it’s been a tough week. I was so worried about Janice that I could barely keep from seeing her. We went to the funeral yesterday, or should I say, the burial. It was an experience. My first African funeral. And oddly enough, it seemed to make a lot more sense than the ones I’ve been to at home.

I made my way into the women’s hut, where everyone was wailing and crying. I greeted each woman in the family and stopped to cry with each one before sitting straight-legged on the floor and crying for a long time. As people arrived, they passed through the women’s hut, and they also stopped to cry and sit with Janice. Then, the relatives brought food into the hut. We ate. We spoke quietly and talked about Caleb’s antics and the best memories we had of him. Janice recounted his death countless times. They brought the casket into the women’s hut. The women wailed loudly as his belongings were placed inside and he was wrapped in a blanket. Janice gave an old blanket. “His soul is not there anyway,” she said. We stumbled out into the light and the pastor gave a short message. It made sense. We prayed. They called for the people to come and pass by the half-open casket. I wasn’t going to go. But Janice said, “Come, Jess, let’s go for the body-viewing.” So I went. Janice led the whole funeral in a song. I didn’t understand all the words, but I know she changed the verses to say, “my baby, Caleb.” We processed to the gravesite.

Caleb’s two older sisters were devasted. They wailed on the way to the gravesite. The women around them comforted them and carried them so that they didn’t have to bear their own full weight. We arrived at the gravesite. The coffin was placed in the grave. A member of the family spoke. The pastor spoke. Then, the women started to sing, and the men started to fill the grave. There were only 3 shovels, but when one man would start to shovel, another would interrupt silently within 30 seconds or so, taking over where he left off. Taking the burden from each other. When the grave was completely filled, the women moved forward in song and together got on their knees. They patted the mounded grave to the beat of their singing so that the dirt became smooth. The pastor called families forward to place flowers on the grave. When Janice and Albert came forward, Janice sang declaringly, “It is well, It is well, with my soul.” The siblings cried. When it was finished, the women sang joyfully. We walked back to the village together. The women gathered again to pray. We said goodbye to Janice, and went home, leaving her there with her family for a few more days.

The Bible says that Jesus came to give everlasting life to those who believe in Him. The Bible also says that the kingdom of God belongs to the children. I know that Caleb is in heaven. His mom and dad know that too.

There are a lot of things that Zambians are uneducated about or don’t understand. However, after yesterday, I’m pretty convinced that they understand death and the grieving process a little better than I do. When my mom and I were going through the process of my grandma’s funeral, we came up with a mantra. We said, “When we die, cremate us, then have a party. Die, burn, party.” I may have changed my mind. (Sorry mom.) I would want my family to be together for as long as possible. To grieve together. To not have to worry about fancy caskets or song selections. But to weep and to sing and to be encouraged. To take the burden from each other. To take turns shoveling.

I think I mentioned before that things are a lot more “real” here. A lot grittier and sometimes harder to swallow. I hope this wasn’t too morbid, but sometimes a terrible tragedy makes you think that way. I am grateful for life today. And I pray that I can continue to be this thankful every day that I take breath, for as long as I do.