In just over a month, I leave for Livingstone, Zambia to set up church on the side of the road for long-haul truck drivers who wait to cross the Zambezi River for up to six days because at the point that connects Zambia and Botswana, there is no bridge. This is a crazy assignment. I have met one long-haul trucker in my life. I am a white woman mother lawyer writer from the Midwestern United States. What sense does this make? Not much. And yet, I have no choice in the matter. Really.
See if it makes any more sense once you know the background: In September 2010, I went with a team to Ndola and Lusaka, Zambia to teach pastors. (If you want to read more about that, see entries 9/13-9/28 here: Trip) While there, we had an opportunity to go to Livingstone, which is at the southern tip of Zambia, on the border of Zambia and Botswana. (See Map)
As we got close to the border, I noticed that there were between 50 and 60 long-haul trucks lined up on the side of the road.
When I asked about this, I was informed that there is no bridge across the Zambezi and so trucks line up and wait to get taken across on a ferry one truck at a time. What? Yes, these truckers wait 5-6 days on average to get across the River on this ferry:
Something took root in me at that moment. Why doesn’t someone build a bridge? How much would it cost? How many additional days are these truck drivers away from their families because they have to wait here? Doesn’t the stuff they are hauling spoil? Does it get to where it needs to go on time? What happens at night when loneliness sets in for these truck drivers? What about their families back home? Can they survive for the weeks that these drivers are away? How are the drivers spending their time as they sit and wait? Are they eating?
I could not let this go. And I began to see this little border crossing as a microcosm of what was wrong on a much broader scale – a lack of infrastructure was causing all kinds of social problems: a breakdown in the family, sexual promiscuity, loneliness, the spread of HIV/AIDS, hunger, and despair. I wasn’t sure if I was right about this, but it is what I began to see. For the rest of the trip, I talked to anyone and everyone who would listen about the fact that there was no bridge and what could be done, what was being done. I prayed about it just about every day. I learned that Zambian presidents had been promising to build a bridge across the Zambezi in Livingstone for 60 years. And yet, in 2010, there was no bridge.
Now, keep in mind that during my visit to Zambia, I also learned about HIV/AIDS projects that care for dying people and their families, orphans who cannot afford school uniforms to go to school, huge villages that have no access to clean water, and more. These things started to feel to me like they had their cause in something else – like the absence of infrastructure, the absence of bridges.
Just days after I got back to the U.S., I told a colleague of mine that I felt strongly that God was calling me to form a church on the side of the road for the truck drivers. My colleague said: “Don’t do that. Build the bridge.” For months after that conversation, I researched bridges and what was being done to build a bridge. Turns out that much is being done and it is a very complicated process because it involves the sign-off of three countries – Zambia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. The project will cost $100 million and all sorts of engineering, social, and economic studies have been done. In fact, the proposed bridge looks amazing.
So, a bridge will be built. Problem solved, no more long waits, no more loneliness, hunger, despair, right? That is not the sense I got. A steel bridge, no matter how spectacular, will not relieve the loneliness and despair, the thirst of the soul. Something even more fundamental is needed: the One who gives living water. (John 4:10) Otherwise, the thirst will return somewhere else, sometime else, with someone else. (John 4:14)
And so, I will meet a team of Zambians there and we will set up on the side of the road, serve food, sing music, and preach the gospel to truck drivers in Zambia and Botswana. This is the call, and I have no choice. What a privilege! Have I ever felt more purpose, more fulfilled, more loved? As Dietrich Bonhoeffer explained the immediate response of Levi when Jesus called him to follow in Mark 2:14, when “the cause behind the immediate following of call by response is Jesus Christ himself,” we follow at once. (Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship at 57) Or, as a close friend said to me as I described to him a feeling that this project seemed out there and that no one really understood why I was doing this: “If it is God asking, what else can you do?” Indeed.