Sarah and Charles West
Although these children presently huddle in a crammed two-room school, they receive an education from loving Christian teachers
Having lost both parents to AIDS, some orphans have had to become young heads of households
Dreaming God's DreamImagine a school constructed of plastic bags and 2 wooden sticks on three sides with the wall of a house providing the fourth. Then picture more than 60 pupils trying to learn in that environment with just one teacher. That is what Charles and Sarah West saw in the city of Lusaka soon after they began their work in Zambia with International Ministries in 2006. While Charles devotes his time to training future church leaders, Sarah ministers primarily to vulnerable women and children. When she learned that the community school described above was recently abandoned by a struggling congregation, Samaritan Baptist Church, she and her husband began dreaming God’s dream. They wanted to help meet a critical need. “It’s very easy to come alongside our Zambian brothers and sisters,” Sarah says, “because they do ask for help.”
The result of that help is the Well-Spring of Faith and Hope Center, which is both a small community school and orphanage. The name of the center is based on two verses in Proverbs — Understanding is a wellspring of life to the one who has it. (16:22) and The wellspring of wisdom is a flowing brook. (18:4) “A wellspring is an abundant source,” Sarah explains, “a fountain of life. Our prayer is that the center will be the source of an abundant life in Christ that might not otherwise exist for these children.”
Education in Zambia is not compulsory, resulting in 40% of females and approximately 20% of males being illiterate. This lack of educational opportunities hampers progress for Zambia, which attained independence in October 1964. The imprint of colonialism remains evident with adult women who serve as maids still being called “house girls” and grown men who are truck drivers and gardeners still referred to as “lorry boys” and “garden boys.” Sarah observes: “As African Americans, raised in the United States with its history of racial inequality for blacks and other minorities, we as missionaries in Africa understand the struggle of indigenous Black Zambians in overcoming unfair treatment and being given limited opportunities.”
One of the center’s goals is to provide expanded opportunities for a new generation, opening the eyes of the children to possibilities other than a life of abject poverty. These children need the love of Christ shown in other ways as well. Many are orphaned as a result of AIDS — of the 67 children who attend the center nearly 40% have lost one or both parents.
A Newer DreamIn April 2008, Charles was invited to preach for the Nyankuba Baptist Church, located in a rural area where there were large expanses of land lying uncultivated. Sarah tells of the result, “We asked if we could possibly build near their church building, thinking that both they and the Samaritan Baptist Church could come together and care for the children in a new facility. We were granted several acres of land on which to build.”
The Wests then began to take other steps in dreaming God’s dream. Those included planning to construct a more adequate community school and orphanage and using solar panels since electricity is not to be available in rural areas for several years. Challenges have abounded as this dream edges toward reality. For instance, there was the need for clean water. Sarah successfully found a drilling company to fill that need at no cost, while the finishing steps for the well have been funded by the Canaan Baptist Church of New Castle, Delaware. Building materials have also been critical, but instead of the expense of having bricks or cinder blocks transported, the local clay soil has been transformed into bricks made by church and community members.
Becoming attuned to God’s dreams also means imagining future possibilities. Sarah says, “With these several acres what we would like to see is several blocks of school buildings, residential buildings for the children with house mothers and a large library that will service everyone in the rural area, as well as a clinic with basic services.” Sarah has been considering another aspect of the dream that will sustain this ministry through income-generating projects. She envisions not only having livestock and vegetables for food and sale but also… “projects such as candle-making and bag-making that will hopefully bring in needed income to create independence. We will also be introducing a training component such as basket weaving, welding, masonry and other marketable skills.”
As Charles and Sarah West minister in Zambia by dreaming God’s dream, they have witnessed the truth of the scriptures, “For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)
Charles and Sarah West
(NOTE: This article was published in the Winter 2010 "On Location" IM quarterly magazine)