Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the August 24 print edition of The Times-Sentinel. Most of our stories appear first in print, and many are only in print. To get home delivery, please call 316-540-0500.
By Sam Jack
GARDEN PLAIN – Cousins Kristin and Cindy Meyer were members of a small team of Kansans that went on a mission trip to Zambia this July.
Kristin, a Garden Plain resident, and Cindy, a Schulte native and former Goddard schoolteacher, went to the poverty-stricken south African nation to help deliver aid, and to assist local churches and schools with a variety of projects.
Kristin’s big focus was on shoes. Children’s shoes are often beyond the means of Zambian families. Kids can and do go barefoot, but not having shoes often means that they can’t get access to education, since the overburdened Zambian government has required that students wear shoes to classes.
Kristin carried two big suitcases full of shoes with her on the plane to Africa and crammed two weeks worth of her own clothes into a carry-on. Over the last few years, Kristin has collected thousands of pairs of shoes that TEAM Ministries – the group that coordinated the mission trip – has delivered to children, in partnership with a network of Zambian churches.
On the mission trip, Kristin got a chance to personally deliver around 75 new pairs.
“They were so grateful, and their eyes were just sparkling,” Kristin said. “I felt really bad when I ran out of shoes that would fit them. I said, ‘Next time, you’ll get a pair of shoes.’”
Cindy focused on procuring school supplies – everything from crayons to hygiene items to curricular materials.
The level of need in Zambia is overwhelming, especially for people who are making a first trip to the country, according to David Atkins. Atkins, a Wichitan, led the Kansas mission team and has traveled to Zambia 10 times, sometimes making multiple trips in a single year.
“When I first started, it was like, ‘Where do you start?’” he said. “Everywhere you look, there’s a project that you could be starting. You have that overwhelming feeling. But over time, coming back again and again, you can tell: People are making a difference. Things are getting better.”
Having teams of missionaries on site in Zambia helps aid from America reach local people in useable forms, overcoming practical and cultural barriers, Cindy said.
Cindy helped a local math teacher learn to use math instruction materials that were part of a shipment from TEAM Ministries. And an American gym teacher helped a local teacher understand how to use field hockey equipment that American donors sent over.
“They had the sticks, they had the balls, but they had no concept of street hockey,” Cindy said. “After the PE teacher helped to explain, they started playing. That was eye-opening: What we take for granted, they might not know.”
One sport that requires no explanation is soccer, by far the most popular pastime in Zambia. Kids often have to improvise soccer balls, and regulation equipment is highly coveted.
Work with congregations of the Pilgrim Wesleyan Church of Zambia took up a big part of the group’s two weeks in the country. Churches in Zambia try to provide many of the social support services that the government handles in America.
“The bishop’s passion is OVCs – orphaned or vulnerable children,” Atkins said. “What our program tries to do is give (the church) a little support to be able to send those kids to school, keep them in school and educate them.”
One family that TEAM Ministries helped was made up of a mother and three children. They were living in an eight-foot by eight-foot room, with no running water, no electricity and no plumbing.
“We thought, ‘That’s not right,’” Atkins said. “Nobody should have to do that.”
Working with Pilgrim Wesleyan, TEAM Ministries built a duplex to house two orphan families. Last month, the Kansas missionary team spent a couple days installing electric wiring in the homes.
“These are families that are willing to take on more kids as they become orphans,” Atkins said. “We believe that what’s going to help them better their country is to educate these kids and create new leaders.”
Both Cindy and Kristin said they were inspired by the perseverance of Zambia’s children, who often walk miles each way so that they can attend a half-day of class in a rudimentary school building.
“I was overwhelmed, inspired by those kids,” Cindy said. “If they want to go to school that bad, we’ve got to do our part.”
By coordinating donations from networks of churches and individuals in America, then traveling to help deliver aid, TEAM Ministries volunteers have done more than the vast majority of Americans to address extreme poverty. But that doesn’t stop them from wondering whether they are doing enough, they said.
“I’ve got to keep doing more, and I don’t know if I have the energy or the resources,” Cindy said. “That’s my challenge. Getting the word out there will help me feel like I can do a little more. I went away thinking, ‘How many people can I call to get going on this?’”
Kristin, Cindy and Atkins are all happy to speak with people interested in donating materials or getting involved with mission work. Kristin, who has a particular focus on gathering shoes, can be reached at 316-619-8989. Cindy, who collects school supplies and other items, can be reached at email@example.com. Atkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.