What made you decide to participate in the Zambia program?
I found out about the HIZ program from one of my friends. She talked with such passion about the Zambia study abroad opportunity, so I continued to look into the program. I really loved the fact that you could minor in medical missions, and the semester would pretty much fulfill the requirements for that minor.
What was it like attending Zambia?
It is hard to put into words what it was like studying abroad in Zambia. It was a life-changing experience. I loved that every day was different. Every day we had the opportunity to interact with and learn from Zambians. Because of this, we all formed deep, lasting relationships with so many people in Zambia. It’s amazing how God has used this to craft new perspectives, values and love within each person who has been to HIZ.
HIZ is a very hands-on learning experience. It was cool to learn about a culture that is so different from our own. Each day we had the opportunity to go the Havens, which provides temporary care for children and has a goal to transition the children back to their family or relatives as soon as possible. The Haven is a place full of people doing kingdom work. Every Tuesday and Thursday we had the opportunity to work and learn at the Namwianga Mission Hospital. It was amazing to learn from such talented doctors, nurses and clinical officers. I got see around 25 different surgeries including c-sections, hydrocele repairs and many surgical excisions. The workers were incredible teachers and even gave us some opportunities to be hands-on in assisting with births, immunizations and more. This experience really solidified my desire to work in the medical field.
What was it like living in Zambia?
I loved being fully immersed in Zambian culture and living among the people there. We got to eat traditional Zambian food every week, attend local churches, sing after each service with the Basic Church Choir, learn Tonga (one of the 72 dialects spoken in Zambia), visit the villages and houses of Zambians, shop in the local market, attend a wedding and graduation, and so much more. Living in Zambia was truly an amazing experience.
What did you learn? How did you grow?
I learned so much through my HIZ experience. I loved learning how to see and experience life through a different lens. My Zambian friends taught me so much about what it means to really love your neighbor. Zambian culture is very people-oriented, and relationships are highly valued. I learned how to connect with people who have different values, behaviors, cultural forms, and even speak a different language than myself. In Zambia, many situations called for us to step out of our comfort zone, be vulnerable, and humble ourselves. Zambians were so surprised and happy when “macuwa” (white people) would greet them in Tonga, sing songs in Tonga, try to learn about how to cook “nshima” (a staple food of Zambia), or try to shoot a slingshot. It brings others joy when you want to learn from them and build a relationship. This is one thing that I learned through my experiences at HIZ that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
How were you challenged?
It is challenging to let yourself become fully immersed in a different culture. Things could be intimidating or overwhelming. In the market, some people would heckle us, and many vendors would not leave us alone because they knew we had money. It was an extremely eye-opening feeling. It was frustrating at times when we would not have running water and all you wanted was a shower or not have electricity and all you wanted was to talk to family. It was amazing to learn about the beauty of Africa while in Zambia. Everywhere has its problems, but everywhere has its own beauty as well. It’s our choice which of these is given a voice — beauty or negativity.
What was your favorite aspect of HIZ?
My favorite aspect of HIZ was the ability to form meaningful relationships because the culture of Zambia is very relationship-oriented. I have walked away from HIZ with so many relationships, which I am confident will last a lifetime.
What is one standout memory from HIZ?
One moment that I will never forget was when some of our group went with the Living Water Project to a village called Mulibu. We went primarily to watch and learn about the process of drilling a borehole and installing a pump to make clean water accessible to the community. During the many hours that this took, I went over to a group of kids and tried to talk to them. We were in a pretty rural area, so no one spoke English, and my Tonga was extremely limited. I did however know a bunch of songs in Tonga that our choir teacher had taught us. We sang together and everyone laughed at my awful pronunciations. A few kids also drew in my journal — drawings I will treasure forever. I did nothing for those kids, and they did nothing for me. We were just friends for the day. It’s amazing how God can bring people together if you choose to let him.
What do you wish people knew about HIZ?
HIZ is not a mission trip. It’s an opportunity to learn from a people and culture much different than our own. HIZ has been a life-changing experience for me, and I know it could be the same for you if you give it the chance. So much love, beauty and desire to learn were intertwined into everything during HIZ. I can promise you there is no other study abroad opportunity like HIZ.
What would you say to others thinking about attending the HIZ program?
If you are thinking about attending the HIZ program, I encourage you to do it. If you feel that the spirit is nudging you towards HIZ, take a chance, and say yes. It can be really hard to process and frustrating at times, but attending HIZ might have been the best decision I have made in my life to this point.
How do you see the world differently after studying abroad?
Every person is a child of God, however, each of these children has had very different experiences, values, behaviors and worldviews, which God has used to shape them into who they are today. I have never had a better grip on this idea until now. It’s one thing to learn about the differences in our world from a textbook and another thing to live in that different world and learn firsthand just what life looks like for so many people. I want to surround myself with people who are different from me. I want to continue to learn about different cultures and ideas so that I can love my neighbor better.
Elijha Spears was part of the fall 2019 Harding in Zambia (HIZ program).