Altar Call -- Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

November 25, 2012


Reflections on the recent journey to Zambia


          It was our good fortune to have our friends Jill Davis and her son Daniel to join us on our recent trip back to Zambia. They knew the drill since they had been with us on our earlier journey six years ago.

          Jill is an excellent writer so I asked her to share some of her personal reflections on our African adventure. You will enjoy her unique observations and inner feelings. So, here is Jill:


      Something made me ask Walter if this was really his last trip to Africa. Something deep inside in that place of inner knowing where God talks to you and you sometimes don’t believe what you hear. And with a sheepish grin he answered, “the last trip this year.”       This is what I was thinking about in the Zambian store where Muumbe and I were searching for an 80th birthday card for Walter and Dean. It didn’t look as if we were going to find one, just as it seemed as though we were going to have to creatively alter a card, Muumbe kept moving around the store and there it stood, ‘Happy 80th Birthday,’ and next to it ‘Happy 85th Birthday’ and next to that ‘Happy 90th Birthday.’ “Hum,’ I mused,

“Should we get these next two cards and be ready? We can go ahead and sign them in case we are not here when Dean and Walter’s 85th and 90th birthday came around?”  

 We both contemplated and Muumbe said, “We will just have to come back here when the time comes.”

Our next task was to get a cake from a lady in the village. In Zambia, there are villages with all natural structures like huts, and there are villages that are full of cinderblock ranch-style houses. But getting to all villages requires navigating a rocky, dusty, boulder- filled terrain with phenomenally few marked street signs or recognizable paths.             

We arrived at Joanna’s house and found she had made a majestic two layer cake with Dean and Walter’s picture on the front. Yes, there is a lady in a village who can make cakes like Cake Boss, and one mile away from her, people are still carrying water on their heads from watering holes, or if they are lucky, a nearby well. All of Zambia contains this contrast in development.

With Muumbe at the wheel, and the cake in my lap, we bumbled and bounced in an old jeep to the marriage seminar that Dean and Walter were teaching. I thought about the beautiful new bride that we had met just yesterday, Sandra, who is Alfred’s administrative assistant. Oh how radiant she was when she met Walter and Dean. Sandra had just married and after a two week honeymoon had returned to work.  She was so incredibly excited to meet a couple married for 60 years.

As we entered the conference, Alfred stood before us and said that he had sad news, he had just heard that Sandra’s husband had been killed in a car accident. We were gripped with sadness; Dean could not give the funny talk she had planned. God spoke through her heart at that moment about how she had grown as a Christian from a childlike faith who thought Jesus was nice and she was nice, to an 80 year old woman who knew that faith in Jesus gave her power to love through the darkest times. Walter spoke to the group about the importance of equality in marriage and supporting each other's ministry.

 At the end of their talk, Alfred told Walter and Dean that the group would need to go outside for a picture.  In the mean time he spoke to the group in Tonga, (one of Zambia’s 43 living languages) telling them to go outside and prepare for the surprise entrance behind the birthday cake. Thirty men and women stepped in rhythm, singing Happy Birthday as we entered the room.

For the next part of our journey, we went to express our condolences to Sandra.  We came to Sandra’s Aunt’s house who had raised her.  Toddlers were playing in the yard as Muumbe entered the house first, and the sound of Sandra wailing met me on the porch, I hesitated to go in because of this thought I had about her needing space. But Alfred motioned to me to enter.

Sandra was sitting on a mattress on the dining room floor, bowls of fruit sat on a tray beside her. Alfred sat on a small bench and held out his hand for her, and she was too distraught to reach out, so he picked up her hand off the mattress, her arm a limp noodle. He said, "As humans, we know the present and the past, but only God knows the future." Bearing witness to this was a transformative experience for me.

It was a day that brought gifts that no other day could have: a day of joy celebrating the longevity of life and marriage and a day of deep sorrow, for a union cut painfully short, a day where no other words but “Only God knows the future” can give us hope. + + +