Our first few days in Zambia involved much long distance travel through the countryside and bush. The roads were generally good and Diane's 20-plus years of driving in Africa has stood her well!
Everywhere we have gone, very gracious people have greeted us with a warm welcome. We have met the Moderator of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian’s Synod of Zambia, Rev. Abel Banda and Synod Secretary, Rev. Sevatt Kabaghe who has accompanied us on our travels.
Our visits have been primarily to see schools and the nursery education programme that Diane is developing. We have met teachers, who work with very limited resources, school committee members, some of the parents and children, who seem to be enthusiastic about school.
We have now returned to Lusaka - having left for Lundazi near the border with Malawi last week - and to Diane's home, where thankfully we have electricity and Wi-Fi, but no water this evening. We travelled for over seven hours today, visiting the offices of the Synod of Zambia for a presentation on the church's vision and work. We also had the opportunity to visit the Irish Embassy and met the ambassador, Seamus O'Grady.
Since we arrived on 24th July every day has been filled with travel and numerous engagements. It has been busy, but enjoyable, and we have met so many very humble and committed people trying against the odds to improve the conditions of extremely poor people.
Out of eight days travelling in Zambia’s eastern provinces, four days involved long hours in Diane’s Toyota Hilux. Some roads were tarmac, others were dirt tracks and extremely bumpy. On Friday we experienced the Luangwa National Park and saw some amazing sightings of elephants, zebras and hippopotamuses. A unique and overwhelming experience we didn't plan for.
The highlight of the visit to Lundazi was our welcome to David McConaghy's Church. The congregation is named after Rev. David McConaghy who served as a missionary there from 1965 to 1971. We were privileged to spend time with Rev. David and Mrs McConaghy before we came to Zambia.
We were stopped on the outskirts of the rural town and in front of the car a procession formed to escort us through the town to the church. We were extremely humbled by the reception, treated like royalty, and the enthusiastic singing alerted the attention of people in the shops and markets.
We discovered that the congregation in Lundazi held David in wholehearted esteem and were genuinely excited about the fact that the Moderator and his wife were visiting them from Ireland in their jubilee year.
That Sunday I preached at a service in the church that can only be described as ‘an event’. The whole three and a half hours of worship and joyful praise was exceptional and immensely moving.
The pastor Rev. Kunda and the congregation were surprised and excited to have Florence read to them a letter from David and Mrs McConaghy. They were honoured to hear his reminiscences and that Sunday there were some members who remembered the McConaghys. There were also people sitting in the church who he referred to in his letter.
Dancing up the aisle
The service ended with a procession of singers dancing up the central aisle with gifts for Florence and myself as well as gifts for us to take back for David and Maxine. This was overwhelming and both Florence and I were filled with emotion as we experienced the kindness and respect we received.
Earlier this week were two days of travel on mainly dirt roads visiting schools and health centres in remote locations in the bush and among people living in squalid and extremely impoverished conditions.
It will take time to reflect and evaluate the efforts of the church and the challenge the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian is addressing in Zambia. The warmth and the ability of the people we met was exceptional and their desire to be faithful to God is heartening.
Rt. Rev. Dr. Noble McNeely is the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland for the year 2017/2018. You can read the news story about his overseas tour of Zambia here. A full report of Dr. McNeely's overseas tour of Zambia will be in the September edition of the Presbyterian Herald.
For insights into the Moderator's year in office, activities and events, follow him on Twitter @pcimoderator.
Photos: Clockwise above (1) With the Moderator of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian’s Synod of Zambia, Rev. Abel Banda (Moderator's right), Synod Secretary, Rev. Sevatt Kabaghe (crouching down) and members of the local church in Kabawata, Lusaka (2) The Moderator and Florence McNeely with nursery children in a community school supported by Diane Cusick in the township of Matero, Lusaka (3) Florence McNeely (left) and PCI global mission worker Diane Cusick (4) Caught on camera, a Zebra in Luangwa National Park (5) The sign outside CCAP David McConaghy Congregation in Lundazi, Eastern Province and (6) Rev. David McConaghy and Mrs McConaghy in their garden with the Moderator and Mrs McNeely before the overseas tour to Zambia.