By Jerry and Beth Pattillo
Imagine people so hungry for spiritual truth, and so spiritually ripe, that all you have to do is show up and pick them. Such is the case with the impoverished people of Zambia. I was privileged to go for a fourth trip to Zambia this summer, and each year it has been amazing to see God working time and time again. We simply show up and give what we have emotionally and spiritually to the people there, then step back and watch God work.
There is so much that we could share about, and I will highlight just a couple of experiences in this letter.
Review of the Ministry
It is my privilege to work directly with 10 boys ages 14-17, most of whom I have had in my group the past two summers. All of these boys live very impoverished lives in the Ngombe community of Lusaka, Zambia. They live in small one-room cinder block homes with no running water, only a small portion of nshima to eat twice a day (if that), usually with a grandparent or distant relative (because their parents are dead or have rejected them). Yet they are incredibly content and wellbehaved kids who really come alive when loved.
We minister to them in a day camp setting, but it is not a typical day camp with lots of activities, crafts, etc. There are 3 things we do: large group time, small group time, and one-on-one blessing time. It is a ministry of giving love, giving hugs, sharing God’s truth, singing and worshipping together, praying for them and having your heart broken for them!
Context for Biblical Understanding
The small group time is not normally intended to be a lengthy time of teaching, but the boys I have at their particular stage of life are so hungry for knowledge and understanding of the world and the Bible that we inevitably get into longer discussions of a “teaching” nature. This year, they were in the process of learning Heb 11:1, but could not understand why different English versions of the text used different words. This led to a lengthy discussion of the fact that the Bible was not originally written in English (when I asked what language they thought it was written in, one of the boys said “Nyanja,” their language), and led to drawing out a time-line from 2000 BC to 2000 AD, placing the key figures of the Bible and history on that time line, and explaining that Alexander the Great conquered the world and brought the Greek language everywhere, so the Bible was written in Greek. They “ate it up” with much interest and excitement as they began to understand the processes which caused things to occur up to the present day. We had similar discussions about Paul and his writings and his being in jail in Rome, etc. They have just been given so little instruction that they come alive with the chance to learn.
Sharing the Salvation Message in Their Community
By far the highlight of the week was seeing them share the salvation message in their community. We visited their community on Thursday. This year I was able to bring over 200 Gospel of John booklets, and we taught them how to share the salvation message simply using John 3:16. I explained that they were not simply to give the booklets out, but only give them to people with whom they shared about eternal life using John 3:16 and afterward wanted to read more. In that culture, however, almost everyone wants to hear about eternal life. As we traveled down one of the dirt roads in their community, we would ask a person if we could tell them about eternal life, and one of the boys would share John 3:16. While he was sharing, another boy would go up to another house or group of people and start sharing. Pretty soon, all 10 boys were just going out in different directions, sharing with different people and coming back to get more Gospel of John booklets from me. It was incredible to see them doing this with such boldness and confidence! On the following Friday, one of the boys came up to me and said “Uncle Jerry, sharing John 3:16 yesterday was awesome!” It was awesome!
I was able to take part in some interesting discussions as well. We had one man who claimed the Bible said there were many ways to God. We showed and read John 14:6 to him. Another man said he could lose eternal life. We showed and read John 10:27-28 to him. Still another said that he could not have eternal life because he drank beer. We shared Eph 2:8-9 as well as John 3:16 with him, and explained that if getting eternal life was based on him stopping from drinking beer, then he would be able to boast. With all three of these men, you could see the power of the Word of God as we read it. There was a visible change in their response and grateful understanding of being shown God’s truth.
Our group shared the salvation message with over 200 people that day. Pray for those who believed to grow in their faith and for all the rest who heard to come to faith.
Impact on the Zambian Partners
Each year I have gone to Zambia, I feel that I have had a huge impact on my Zambian partner. He is with me as I share with each boy during “blessing time,” and thus he hears the salvation message and related Biblical truths many times, and they begin to sink deeper into him as well. This year was no different. My Zambian partner Evans (in the red shirt) is a pastor in the community. Evans told me that he went to a school where they taught you could lose eternal life; but Evans was very excited because I showed him from John 10 that a person could not lose eternal life. Again wow! I consider that very significant because Evans will take this new understanding and impact his congregation with it.
One More Thing
Of all the boys that I began with in 2012, every boy except one seemed to express at some point an understanding that they had eternal life simply because they believed in Jesus. (A couple of them this year seemed to have wavered in their assurance of that.) That one boy, Gift Phiri, just did not seem to understand the salvation message clearly in past years. This year, however, I am excited to share that Gift has a very clear understanding and belief that he has eternal life because of his belief in Jesus for it.
This is super exciting because it appears that all 10 boys have now come to faith in Jesus. But please continue to pray for them. Their culture is so full of works salvation and loss of eternal life teaching, that it is easy to get confused.
We discussed together how to stay strong in the faith through God’s word and prayer. Pray that they will indeed stay strong.
What a privilege it was to go to Zambia. It really is a matter of simply showing up and seeing God work. It is Beth’s and my prayer that many of you reading our reports this year will likewise choose to go to Zambia in the future. God will use you to impact people that are close to His heart, and you will be incredibly blessed as well.
Jerry Pattillo is Minister of Administration at Northwest Bible Church in Dallas, TX, and a member of the GES Board.
What an incredible blessing to spend a week with the same 10 girls I have had for the last 2 years in Zambia. It is so wonderful that I already know them so we can pick up right where we left off.
God has answered so many prayers this year. Judith is back home instead of with her aunt so she is able to attend school every day; Violet’s dad did not die as expected, and she is now living with her grandmother (which is a better situation); Memory not only got to see her long-lost brother, but he is now living with her and their aunt; and Martha’s aunt who practiced witchcraft on the family is no longer living with them. However, many of the girls are getting beaten regularly; many are not getting enough to eat; and there is much conflict and violence in their homes.
These girls live in poverty that is unimaginable in our society. They have no electricity, no running water; they sleep on the floor in small cinderblock houses that usually consist of just one small room and a piece of fabric for a door. They are lucky to get a cup of tea for breakfast, and the only other food they eat is nshima (sort of like thick grits) once a day or occasionally twice a day if their caretaker has the money. When asked about specific prayer requests, it is always that their sponsors would continue to sponsor them so that they can stay in school. They absolutely love school—it is the only hope they have to ever rise above their current circumstances. Each one is extremely grateful to God and to their sponsors. I am now confident that each girl truly understands and has received salvation by grace.
God led me to focus on Zeph 3:17 during Camp this week, and each one of my girls memorized it. “The Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty Savior. He will delight in you with gladness. With His love He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” The five sentences in this verse include not only salvation, but they also express how precious we are to God. Can’t you picture what this verse says? In their society, orphans are worthless. In Ps 68:5, God defines Himself as “a Father to the fatherless and a protector of widows.” He places great value in these precious orphaned children. My girls loved the message of this verse.
This year I brought river rocks painted with “God is good” on one side and “I believe in Jesus for eternal life” on the other side. I explained what an Ebenezer stone means (a stone of remembrance), and on Friday I had them each spend time with God confirming that they would always remember those two truths about God. I had in mind that they would place them on the hillside where we meet, but they asked to take them home so that they could always see them and always remember. This time was followed by a moving communion time. My heart was overflowing.
One of the really fun things at Camp this year is that the kids got to play on a playground for the first time in their entire lives. The only playgrounds in Lusaka are for the rich, and they require an expensive paid membership fee to use. They got to swing and slide for the first time. At first they were very nervous— they had no idea what it was going to feel like, but as they got brave and tried it, they absolutely loved it. They could not scramble back to the top of the slide fast enough. What fun!
On Thursday we went into their compound of Ngombe to share the gospel. They were all eager and confident as they took turns sharing using the Evangecube and the Gospel of John. We saw several people believe in Jesus for eternal life.
It was such a joy on the Saturday after Camp to go to Lusaka West to see our boys there and have a party. They are doing great—it was fun finding out how well they are doing in school and to hear their excellent English. They are also growing stronger in their walk with Christ. God moved a huge mountain to allow me to also see my Michael. Michael is a double orphan that we have sponsored since 2007. We have gotten to see him the last two summers. He is now in a government boarding school (very rustic and primitive) three hours from Lusaka. The people he was previously living with had asked him to leave because they didn’t have enough food to feed him. Family Legacy Missions International (the group we work with) asked if we could support him at the boarding school so that he could finish his high school education. Of course we were happy to—he is our 5th son. I love that he calls me Mom. It was so awesome to see him and tell him that God had provided some money towards his university education as well.
I recently retired from Prestonwood Christian Academy in June, and the school let the parents know that it would be a huge honor and blessing to me for people to donate towards a scholarship for Michael for college. Sharing this good news with Michael blew him away—he was beyond thrilled that God had provided for him. He is acutely aware of how alone he is in this world, so when God provides in a miraculous way, Michael stands in awe and wonder. He was already working very hard on his studies, but now he says he is going to work extra, extra hard.
I am privileged beyond measure to have been able to go to Camp Life this year. Some have said that we go to be a blessing to these kids, but I am blessed far more than they are. I get to see God’s hand working directly in their lives. I get to see them come alive as they learn about God and His love for them. I get to know that we will spend eternal life together. It is the highlight of my year.
Beth Pattillo retired from Prestonwood Christian Academy in Plano, TX and is the wife of GES Board member, Jerry Pattillo.