Circle in the dust
Watching a game circle in Zambia brings back memories
"Welcome to Zambia!" exclaimed our host, Joseph, as we stepped out into the hot mid-morning sun in Lusaka. Never having been to Zambia, I was curious. About everything.
This dusty nation of 12 million people is slightly larger than the state of Texas. You'll find it on your globe in southern Africa, just east of Angola.
As I peered out the window of our rolling pick up truck, I found it easy to believe the data that claims the median age of Zambia's population is just 17. But what is not so obvious is the reason why the life expectancy here is just 38.6 years. AIDS is certainly a contributing factor. Zambia is ranked 11th in the world for percentage of population living with AIDS.
But amid these darker images, there are brighter ones. We found them--lots of them--at a circle in the dust.
Just outside Kaunda Square Church, a huge group of kids lined up on a formation marked with four bold (if not familiar) colors: red, blue, green and yellow.
We were just in time for game time at this Zambian church where Awana is a growing neighborhood influence. The game circle director, a young man with a crisp manner and high expectations, had kids of all ages snapping to attention, reciting club mottoes and key verses. To hear the kids singing the Zambian national anthem was downright stirring.
But when the games began, a strange mix of emotions surged over me. It was as if I was a clubber again, lining up for a race. I could taste the adrenaline as we waited for the start signal, hear the chants of my teammates, feel my heart exploding in a last minute dive for the pin.
But here it was unfolding in front of my eyes, not merely in the mist of nostalgia. Yet this Awana club was far from the suburban Chicago church I grew up in. This is Zambia.
Then my mind drifted to the late 1970's. Working as a high schooler at Awana headquarters, I remember hearing about Awana founder Art Rorheim's first fact finding trips overseas. I will never forget seeing the boyish enthusiasm on Art's face--or the tears that welled up in his eyes--as he pondered so many lost children in so many places who needed the same Word of God that fueled Awana back in the USA.
Decades later, the fruit of that vision and prayer and determination was directly in front of me. Watching an Awana club in Zambia with my own eyes was surreal--for the very reason that it IS real.
How to process this moment, I'm not sure. Don't even know how to categorize this piece of our Zambian experience. For now, I'll file it under "Circle in the Dust."