Death in Chitokoloki: The challenge of selflessness and service

10 Jun

Sparkling water

Chitokoloki I have come to learn means “sparkling water”. The name is an appropriate choice given the location along the banks of the mighty Zambezi river.

The mission itself is about 43km from the district headquarters in Zambezi. I have never been to the mission but was in Zambezi for the first time in 2010 when I attended the traditional ceremony Likumbi Lya Mize. One fact that is unmissable is the distance to this part of North Western Zambia. It is a good 10hrs from the Copperbelt, which perhaps means 14hrs from the capital Lusaka. Coupled with the state of the road (at least on my last visit), it is quite an undertaking when one makes the trip.

An unexpected “noise” in the silence

The hitherto muteness that surrounded Chitokoloki was broken. Some have heard of the Mission, established in 1914, while it has taken an accident to bring it to others’ attention.

Noble works such as those that happen at the Mission and areas around it, will usually go unnoticed and unheralded. But still they continue as simple and ordinary folk dedicate their lives to serving others.

The month of June catapulted Chitokoloki into the news albeit steeped in sadness. A young couple Jay and Katrina Erickson met their end when their plane crashed into the Zambezi after hitting an electricity power line. The Ericksons were in their 20s, leaving behind two children aged 2 and 1.

They had come to Zambia to serve the Mission at Chitokoloki, which is under the umbrella of the Christian Mission in Many Lands (CMML). The death of these missionaries has evoked such sadness culminating in a day of national mourning declared in their honour.

One can only pray they rest well and the legacy they leave challenges all of us, known and unknown to them.

Missions, Missionaries and Moving on

The Erickson story and legacy has made me think about missions and missionaries. I am overwhelmed with respect and admiration for these people that leave their comfort zone, cultures and families to make their homes among a strange people. All in the name of service, faith and personal decisions bordering on responding to God’s call.

I have found it strongly intriguing that it seems our colleagues, mostly from the western countries embark on this missionary journey more than we Africans. I have seen more white missionaries than black. And this is not meant to be a discussion of race but rather the openness to missionary work.

My mind goes to a close friend of mine, Pastor Phil Hunt who over 20 years ago came to Africa as a missionary with his wife, Lori. So many years later, they are at home on our continent, serving to the best of their abilities.

This story is mirrored when we review the many missionaries we may have come to know such as the Hunts, Ericksons and even a number of Catholic priests that Africa has seen. There is a decision of sacrifice that they make as they embrace a different challenging life for the good of mankind.

Yes there are some black colleagues that in their own way have also taken to missionary or priestly roles. I know of Pastor Saidi Chishimba who opted for full time ministry instead of a secular career. Or Charles Chilufya, a colleague from Copperbelt University who was recently ordained and is a member of the Catholic Jesuits.

These are people that have taken the hard, oft unpopular route. I admire the zeal that they radiate as they discharge their responsibilities. I am certain they too have peculiar frustrations in their roles but still they pursue this noble aspiration.

I know too some people that have joined the priesthood over the years with the motivation of attaining an education or as an escape from poverty.

The motives may be varied but the choice I extol is obviously that of people that have an opportunity to follow a secular path yet they deem it necessary instead to trek to the mission field.

The black and white in missions

However, the Chitokoloki and Erickson story brings me to a point where I question why we see more white missionaries than black. Could it be an insight into selflessness, a willingness to detach from what we treasure or circumstances that make it paramount to chase a secular career than missionary work?

It is true that not all can be called to be missionaries. But the ratios seem to tell another story altogether. Are our brothers and sisters more open to this call than we are?

What holds us back from also taking to the mission field in humble service? Sometimes the best answers to such searching questions lie in assessing ourselves.

I for one know a decision such as this is not an easy one. Mainly fear sets in, of the unknown it may seem. Fear to step out of the comfort zone. Fear of challenging times as one thinks of what survival will be like. The burden of responsibility and how one may support not only their nuclear family but also those dependent on them, beyond the immediate home circle.

This is a truth I have seen before. Some time back I had lightly raised this issue with my wife as I pondered on the tough decisions people make as they venture into missionary work. It was evident the thought and idea was very testing for her. The reaction was the same once when I teased my mother about it. The immediate concern for both, including myself I guess, was how we would manage without a full time secular job (read: salary I suppose)!

Usually, this is where the battle starts and a decision to go into missions meets its death here. The trappings of our careers have us hooked. The thought of detaching to do something deemed less rewarding financially is a daunting one.

It cannot be disputed that finances, obligations and family responsibility have a telling influence on such a decision.

What would be of interest then is whether such influences are only unique to us and not our western peers. They too have families, careers and financial obligations but serve they do. Why does it seem the decision is easier with them than it is with us?

Missions in our daily lives

The mission field, it is argued too, transcends being a missionary as we have come to know it. It has been modified now to also mean one can be in their careers and secular jobs as missionaries. This has been a convenient justification or explanation for not taking the full time missionary path. I know because I have used it too.

The cardinal question then becomes whether we even do that missionary work in the secular roles we use as reasons not to pursue full time missionary work.

The decision to serve must have a firm foundation and be thoroughly thought out. That is why the best motivation inevitably is the response to God’s call and an urgent need to serve mankind through our time, talents and commitment. I believe perhaps that this lightens the demanding burden of deciding to trot onto the mission field.

Maturity in faith, selflessness and a willingness to sacrifice clearly have immeasurable influence on such a calling.

We know many among us of strong faith and selfless big hearts but still we do not see as many black missionaries. Or can it perhaps be a case of limited visibility?

Questioning ourselves

The death of this young couple in Chitokoloki ignites introspection. To establish how in our roles, we serve God and mankind. To also determine why we see less of us blacks dedicating ourselves to the missionary field.

The Erickson couple so young must challenge us to assess our lives, choices, priorities and motivation. What really matters to us? It shows in our interests, time and choices.

They settled where roads are poor, where there are no proper facilities and electricity challenges are a norm. This they did having sacrificed the rewards of life in their home country in order to pursue a different path, related to their training and career but with missionary work at the core.

As we celebrate their lives and the choices made, we must also push ourselves to reflect on what drives us in life and what we will be remembered for.

In the end, there must be a greater call on our lives that influences all we do and the choices we make.

Jay and Katrina are among the many that have opted for noble vocations. Lives dedicated to evangelism, service and selflessness. It remains for us alive to consider how we can also serve. Further it matters how many more black missionaries we can see taking to the field with our white brothers and sisters, all with the intent of serving a higher calling.

The question of missions needs to be answered by all of us where we are, in our roles, careers and for the called, even further leaving the comfort they know in order to pursue the mission field on a full time basis.

This will remain the enduring testimony and challenge that this young couple’s death lives with all of us. To emulate their courage, sacrifice, selflessness and dedication that saw them serve so many kilometres away from the home, life and comfort they knew.

Their lives were ended in that plunge into the Zambezi but what they achieved in simplicity and service will be told for a long time to come.

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Posted by on June 10, 2012 in Opinion, Reflections


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