“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom…it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. … they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God!” —Isaiah 35:1-2, NIV
The words of this Scripture rang in my ears as I arrived to meet with members of the community agricultural co-op in Sinazongwe, Zambia, last November. World Vision helped the group in the village where Olivia, my former sponsored child, lives with her husband, Clever, and their son, Talent.
As we got closer, I could hear the joyful singing of the throng of people who had gathered to greet us. Many waved sprigs of flowers and danced in celebration as World Vision U.S. videographer Eddie Rodriguez and I got out of the car along with staff members from World Vision Zambia.
So near but so far
It was a far cry from the scene that had greeted me the first time I visited this farming community in 2003. At the time World Vision was just beginning to educate, equip, and organize the local framers, and the family I visited had yet to benefit from our help.
As I described in Olivia’s story, part 5, Sinazongwe was suffering from extended drought at that time, and the lack of water had led to a food shortage for many of the 150,000 people who lived in the area. Just 60 years before, these skilled farmers had grown nearly 50 percent of Zambia’s food in the fertile valley around the Zambezi River. Water had rarely been a problem.
But when the government decided to flood the valley to create Lake Kariba, a reservoir that provides much of Zambia with electricity, farmers were relocated to the rocky hillsides around the lake. Now the water they so desperately needed shimmered just a stone’s throw away, giving new meaning to words, “So close and yet so far.”
The farmers I met that day in 2003 had figured out how to make a crude pump to draw water up from the lake. The simple pedal pump was made from two long, rough-hewn wooden planks. Throughout the day community members took turns standing on the planks and working the pedals up and down. The water was sucked up through a rubber hose that was moved by hand from one thirsty row of crops to the next. Once a field was watered the process started all over again. This went on from sun up to sunset.
The young man who was working the pump when I arrived was shining with sweat, and while he didn’t slow down as we approached, I got the impression he had been at it for quite a while.
“Would you like to try?” the head farmer asked me as the World Vision staff smiled and nodded their encouragement.
I climbed onto the narrow planks and was reminded of the exercise machine I had at home. The fact that I used it to lose excess pounds I put on because of an over-abundance of food was not lost on me as I felt the pedals give under my weight. It only took a few minutes for me to be as “shiny” as the young man before me, and I jumped off with a new respect for what it took to keep that water coming. I had to laugh when a woman with a baby on her back nimbly took my place.
As we drove away after our visit, I snapped a picture of a group of children standing in a lush, green field. They were eating ears of corn fresh off the stalk. Their parents’ hard work was paying off — these children would not go hungry.
But what about the thousands of children whose families did not live close enough to draw water from the lake with a couple planks of wood and a strong pair of legs? How would God meet their needs?
The difference a decade — and sponsorship — makes
Ten years later, the loving reception I got from the community co-op gave me my answer. Using sponsorship funds and other donations, World Vision had helped them build irrigation systems and provided seeds for a variety of drought-resistant crops. As I sat with Olivia’s husband, Clever, under a huge shade tree, co-op leaders explained that they are now growing enough food to not only feed their families, but to sell at market as well.
When the ceremony was over, we drove the short distance to what appeared to be an ocean of green fields, stretching as far as the eye could see. Lake Kariba sparkled in the distance, its water obviously no longer out of reach.
We parked besides a modern, solar-powered pumping station. Towering overhead was a huge, green water tank. On the side was painted the word “LUKA.” Having never seen that word before I asked Fred Mazumba, the director of World Vision’s development projects in Sinazongwe, what it meant.
“World Vision built four tanks like this one and in gratefulness to God the people named them Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,” he explained, adding with a grin, “but someone misspelled Luke.”
As I walked with Fred through the lush fields of zucchini, tomatoes, lettuce, and corn, I thought of the woman with the baby on her back who had taken my place on that old, wooden pedal pump. I prayed that she and her child were well and blessed.
And I praised God that the day of the pedal pump was over!