In Zambia: Success Is Still Faithfulness

by Matt Schroeder

Life in Africa is the full spectrum of joys and struggles. There are days you are overjoyed at the realization God has allowed you to live in Africa and do ministry here, and there are days you wonder how on earth God talked you into doing this.

One day you experience children being rescued from the streets and brought into loving care, and the next day your car breaks down, you miss all your meetings, it’s 100 degrees outside, and someone steals your wallet. Living in Africa, you experience the highest highs and the lowest lows.

Especially as a Western American, one thing I’ve had to quickly learn is that a redefinition of success must take place. If you come into Africa with Western world expectations, you will quickly lose heart and give up, additionally you will crush the people you’re ministering with. 

For example, it didn’t take long to learn time management is not one of the Zambians strongest characteristics. Saying you will meet someone at 10:00 could really mean you will be there by 10:30 or 11:00. Saying your meeting starts at 10:00 is more of a suggested time as opposed to hard time. In the Zambians’ minds showing up on the agreed upon time is not seen as a lack of integrity, it just “is what it is.”

For the Type-A Westerner, this is one of the greatest nightmares and constant frustrations. It is not uncommon at all to look at your task list at the end of the day and not have scratched off a single one. Cars break down, people don’t show up, Internet goes out, water stops running, people don’t come prepared, or the corrupt police hold you up for no other reason than to get money from you. In Africa ANYTHING can happen!

God sanctifies in the small but constant ways here. He takes the hammer and chisel to your pride, sense of respect, and entitlement here. While we are helping the Zambians grow in many ways, they are helping show us our own sin and shortfalls too. There’s a beautiful give and take that happens when you put people together from completely different cultures and tell them to operate a large ministry at a high degree of efficiency and productivity. 

I have known and believed faithfulness is the true definition of success, but living in Africa I believe it to be true all the more. 

We all have jobs here, we all have tasks and objectives to get done, but there are some days you spend the whole day fixing your house because it flooded and you feel like the day was a total waste. I have to constantly come back to knowing and resting in the fact that God wants faithfulness not productivity. He wants to see me understand that to be truly productive is to take each day as they come. To live in each moment knowing it was God himself who placed this challenge before me. He wants to see that I can sleep each night in peace even if my task list wasn’t completed, or even started for that matter. 

The truth is Africa is a lot of fun. I love this country; I love these people, and can’t imagine my life anywhere else. But just as much as God has an assignment here for me in ministering to the orphans of Zambia, He has me here to experience the depths of His love even more. He has me here to know more of Him. He has me here to love His church global. And He has me here to see that He’s the one who makes the world spin, not me. God doesn’t need me, He ALLOWS me to play here in Zambia for His glory. He ALLOWS me to partake in this story He’s writing in Zambia. 

So, while I may be able to help Zambia grow in many ways, it ultimately is not me doing the transformation. God is simply using me as a vessel to bring change. And the ultimate task list I need to pay attention to is whether or not I’m slowing down enough to see Him moving in spite of me. The definition of success here in Africa is still faithfulness.