This post was written by Carolyn Snell, who attended the Africa Mission Trip in 2010.

In 2009, I received a nudge from God to participate in a mission trip to Zambia, Africa with the organization We’re All God’s Children. This particular mission trip was to entail vision screening and then provide eyeglasses to the poor.

“But AFRICA?!,” I asked God and myself. Never in my wildest imagination would I have ever conceived the idea of going to AFRICA! I mean, that country seemed so far away; so remote, and so very primitive!

However, after meeting with Carol Fanelli and viewing her DVD on a trip to Kenya, my heart was touched. The pictures of those poor people proudly wearing their new glasses that sometimes were too small, too big, or even for the opposite sex, stirred something inside of me that I cannot explain.

Being an optician, I see people with new glasses everyday – but this was different. Here in the States, we get to choose our eyeglasses. The term is even different, it is eyewear. The choice is based on fashion, name brand, color, and perhaps purpose of use. Most Americans have several pairs of glasses! But these people are different. Even in still photos, one could sense the hearts of the people in Kenya, their gratitude, and their humbleness. Although they were poor, they were a proud people.

But AFRICA? I came up with lots of excuses not to go. But God had a plan for me. He wanted me to go, and go I would. I realized it wasn’t about me; instead it was about being obedient to God, whom I love.

So off I go to bless the people of Zambia and Grippis Farm with my skill to fit eyeglasses. Little did I know it would be quite the opposite! I was blessed beyond description by the people of Zambia. Not only was God going to do a work through me, but he was going to do a work in me!

The first thing I noticed when we arrived in Zambia was the smell. The smell wasn’t of lush green fields with lots of fragrant flowers, but instead the smell was of burning brush and of a very impoverished place. Certainly not like some tropical place I would have chosen. But God did not give me a choice, did he?

Since it was dark when we arrived, I was not prepared for the actual sight of this place!  Not only was the smell unpleasant, the image was worse. It was of poverty, sickness, disease; hopelessness. The roads were mainly dirt with lots of potholes and trash strewn along both sides. There were people everywhere walking to their destinations, without ever having hope of owning a car.

The next day, we walked to Grippis Farm. This is the place that God has placed upon the heart of Tanya Brenneman and the hearts of the people of Greenmonte Fellowship in the small town of Stuarts Draft, VA. This walk from Heros Farm to Grippis Farm brought to my mind a walk that perhaps Mother Theresa would have walked. In fact, as I witnessed Tanya walking through this little village she so loves, in my spirit, Tanya is Mother Theresa!

We were all devastated by the sights we saw walking through this village. The poorest of the poor were living here. Children running around in the dirt, no shoes, filthy rags they wore for clothes, and the dirtiest little faces I think I have ever seen. The women were working hard to do their daily tasks, with a child upon their backs.

I didn’t see many men until we came upon the “tavern.” There they were – drinking to drown out the desperation and hopelessness of the living conditions their families were in. I cried tears of sorrow for these people. “Oh thank you God, for allowing me to participate in this mission trip that will in some small way bless these people,” I prayed.

I cannot properly put into words the emotions I had during the eye clinics. I work in the field of Optometry. I know how important eyeglasses are. I know how important medical care for the eyes is. I know how debilitating a fully developed cataract is to a person. And I also know how easily some of these conditions are to make better. It was absolutely heartbreaking to witness a man, woman, and/or child have a cataract (or two) that was so dense it looked like white marbles where an eye should be!

We saw many that had lost vision due to an injury or some genetic disease. Without the means to pay, these people could not seek medical care for their eyes!  It all seemed so senseless to me. But God was using the sights and the smells to soften my heart that, in some ways, had become hard. After being in Grippis Farm, Chikumbuso, and being in Chief Chipepo’s village for a day, my heart was especially heavy.

On the four-hour ride to the Chief’s village on the second day, I cried and I cried. My heart was screaming out to God, “The Injustice of it all! Where, my God, is the justice in this?” At some point in this period of mourning, I knew it was the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart and my soul. I began to look at things from a different angle. I began to see the good in the bad.

My experience in Zambia wasn’t all “gloom and doom.” There was a great deal of laughter among the team. Although we were strangers to one another, we shared a common thread that bound us together, forming a lifetime of memories and friendships. Laughter and joy was also prevalent whenever we interacted with the Zambian people. Their laughter and was contagious to say the least.

Some special people I met that brought me such joy and inspiration were David and Isaac, 13-year-old Kennedy at the orphanage in Chikumbuso, and Bright at Chief Chipepo’s village.

David made me laugh and laugh. He was always threatening to leave me somewhere!  We bantered back and forth the whole time we were there, but we loved each other.

Isaac always had a smile on his face and he has such a sweet spirit about him. He truly serves the Lord with his whole heart.

Kennedy

Kennedy

Little Kennedy translated for Miriam and me the entire day with such enthusiasm and joy. He has the biggest and brightest smile on his precious face.

Carolyn and Kennedy

Carolyn and Kennedy

He loves school, speaks three languages, and wants to be a lawyer when he grows up. I pray that God will make a way for this beautiful child.

 

Bright

Bright

And then there was Bright. He translated two days for Miriam and me at Chief Chipepo’s village. He is eighteen years old, an only child, and just graduated from high school.

He still lives with his parents in a hut with no electricity or running water. He wants to go to college in the field of electrical engineering but has no money.

He needs a sponsor to fund his college tuition. My heart went out to Bright. Even though I never lived in poverty such as him, I grew up poor.

I know what it is like to want to go to college, but have no means to do so. I pray for Bright as well.

God has been showing me areas in my life that needed changing. I kept denying this one particular area. Justifying it in any way I could possibly find. I had just about convinced myself that it never really existed. But God wasn’t through with me yet! On the plane ride to Zambia, I met a gentleman who is a native of Zambia, but travels to the States on business. He works for a major bank, therefore travels back and forth.

I asked him if he liked the United States. His response was yes in some ways, however he noticed that Americans are individualistic; the Zambian people are relational. Americans are selfish, self-centered, and very much about themselves. The Zambian people share what they have with one another no matter how small. Time is not important to the Zambians; time is everything to the Americans.

During my two weeks in Zambia, I was reminded of this over and over again. “I know, I know,” I say to God, “I hear you!” I learned early on in life to depend on myself. I became very independent and self-sufficient. I had to. By relying on “self,” I became self-centered and selfish. This is the very thing God has been and continues to speak to me about. “WOW” and “OUCH” at the same time! Sometimes we have to keep going around and around that mountain before we learn those lessons, huh?

I’ll end with this last thought. I went to Zambia thinking I was going to bless those people, and perhaps in some small way I did, BUT I was the one blessed beyond description. We think of the Zambian people as being poor. And they are in many, many ways, and yet we are too.

They are poor in material things, yes. The sicknesses and death is overwhelming. But they are so rich in ways that are much more important. They have a love, a faith and a trust in the Living God that penetrates every single tiny fiber of their being! They are in constant worship and prayer to our heavenly father. They have a complete and total dependence on God (not themselves); they simply have to.

So, I ask myself – WHO is poor? The answer is in the mirror!

I came away from Zambia with a new perspective. I now have a deep love and respect for those people – those BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE.

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