by Gordon McKillop with the NCTC Team
Gordon McKillop has served with the Nyangombe Christian Training Centre (NCTC) team in Mwinilunga, Zambia, since 1999, following 17 years as a missionary in Zaire.
Scripture is rich with practical advice for Christian life and ministry. Nyangombe Christian Training Centre (NCTC) seeks to teach all age groups, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to ‘grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’.
When living in the relative comfort of the UK, it is easy to imagine that the entire world has support systems in place for the elderly and less fortunate in society. Sadly, the reality of how the majority of the world’s population live can be shocking. One lady, who visited us in Nyangombe, wanted to see and experience the ‘real Africa’ for herself and asked to accompany my wife, Sybil, on visits to sick widows in rural villages around Nyangombe. This woman had actively supported mission most of her life but found the reality of abject poverty and deprivation almost more than she could bear. The shock of the experience caused her to mentally withdraw, for a time, as she struggled to cope with what she had encountered. We thank the Lord that she fully recovered and now has a deeper understanding of how tough life really is for the majority of people across the globe.
Wherever cultures in our world reject God, and His revelation through creation and His Word, people are often treated in ways that are unfortunate and sad. In secular African culture nothing in life is perceived to occur without a cause. The things which happen in physical life are therefore believed to have a cause in an unseen spiritual dimension.
Death in any village in Africa is a community matter and the entire adult population will come and sit with the bereaved family to comfort them in their grief. Initial support is genuine and caring. After the funeral the wider family of the deceased discuss why the person died and plan the way forward, including who might look after any surviving children.
In parts of Africa, for many generations, the remaining spouse was often blamed for the death of the deceased. This point of view is often put forward by those who have done nothing to help in the lives of the couple and their family when they were alive but who want to personally benefit from the recent sad events. All too frequently, they will decide to blame the widow and then rob her of all of the family’s belongings including clothing, bicycles and any moveable assets that had previously belonged to the couple, even the roofing sheets on their home. This results in the widow’s grief being compounded. She is blamed for the death of her husband and when all goods are forcibly removed, she is left destitute and broken, not knowing where the next meal might come from for her and her children. It is into this type of cultural practice that the gospel has come in its ancient power where the Lord seeks to transform not only lives but our entire way of thinking.
Some years ago, a friend and assembly elder was lowered down a well to clean it out prior to visitors arriving. The invisible methane gas in the lower regions of the well killed him before he could be raised to the surface. His tragic death touched everyone and none more than his beloved wife, Mama Hilda, and their children. Following the death of Mama Hilda’s husband in the well, Christian leaders were present to comfort her and her immediate family. Wider family members, in distant locations, began to receive word of the tragedy and travelled to the village for the burial. The Christian leaders knew what could happen, so they secretly arranged for a small truck to come and take all of the family possessions a long way away to where they would be safe from being pillaged by unscrupulous members of her late husband’s family. They were incensed to learn that all the family goods had gone! This is where Christian values are pioneering change over unjust cultural practices and for this we give thanks to the Lord. Thankfully, Zambian law now forbids this practice but unfortunately enforcement of this law has not quite reached many of the distant rural areas.
…the Lord seeks to transform not only lives but our entire way of thinking.
Hilda and her family were quickly moved to Nyangombe where they were looked after and cared for. Their personal goods were safely under lock and key. As time allowed, with the involvement of the leadership of Nyangombe, a simple house was built in a nearby village, of Hilda’s own choosing, using the skills of our trainee builders and carpenters. Hilda and her children later moved into their new house and have been there ever since. Her children have also been supported through school and college. Educating the widow’s children builds into their lives a family social support system where the children, in time, begin to support their parents.
At Nyangombe, for almost 20 years, we have run a widows and orphans’ programme called Hope, where sufficient support is given to allow widows the opportunity to get back into a settled life either alone or, as the case may be, still rearing their family. At present we have around 70 widows and 70 orphans being supported by God’s people from overseas, and a support team. Men and women in villages work tirelessly to make sure that individual widows’ needs are brought to the Hope team’s notice and appropriate assistance is given.
This could be information that the thatching on a widow’s house needs repair because she wakes in the night with rain leaking through the roof. Funds from caring believers allow us to purchase roofing sheets, which are fitted to the house. Pilots flying small aircraft low over the area have asked why the letters NCTC are painted on roofs. This is the Hope team’s way to ensure that should a widow under their care die, the roofing sheets remain the property of NCTC and can be returned to be reused on another widow’s house. It is a form of recycling and it stops the late widow’s unscrupulous relatives from thinking that they can help themselves to whatever they wish.
Widows are helped in various ways: seed for gardens, blankets in the cold season, salt, soap, new clothing when needed and fellowship meals at Nyangombe, so that the ladies feel supported and cared for. Often a group of three widows will get together, grow vegetables, sell the produce and in turn are able to buy other foods. Some women are able to look after orphans and become their proxy mothers. The children assist outside school hours with gardens and chores for the wellbeing of the family. In the rural areas where we live and work, the concept of orphanages is not part of the African culture. Many families willingly take in orphans as their very own children. We have observed that children seem to grow up more balanced and integrated into society when brought up within their own culture. It has been a great joy over the years to have seen young, spindly orphan children being enabled to attend primary and then secondary school. The Hope team at Nyangombe were not only carers for these children but also became their proxy parents, taking an interest in their school marks and giving encouragement, guidance and counsel through their school years. During school holidays the children get involved in their adopted family’s gardens and learn the skills they will need to survive as adults in rural Africa.
Lend to the Lord
Some orphans have been assisted through college, following their chosen career path. Today some are teachers, mechanics, nurses and even tradesmen, who have learned a practical skill at Nyangombe and, now married themselves, are using their acquired skills to provide for their own families. Solomon wrote, ‘Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done’ (Pr. 19:17). We give thanks for those who have supported widows and orphans so generously over many years.