Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

September 22, 2019


The strangers who became family members


            Christmas gifts are so easily forgotten. A few days after Christmas I will be asking Mama, “Who gave me the razor, or the slippers, or the pajamas?” Each gift is received with a smile and a “thank you” but tags get misplaced and memory fails. But Mama and I have no trouble remembering the best Christmas gift we received in 1999. It was not under the tree. It was a family of seven strangers who spent Christmas week with us that year at the Cabin.

            Here is how it happened. Our son Matt was in his first year of seminary at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. As classes ended for the fall term, Matt called home. “Dad,” he said, “my neighbor in student housing has no place to go for Christmas. He and his wife and five children will have to stay here, endure the snow and freezing weather alone, and wait for classes to begin in January. So, Dad, I thought you and Mom might like to invite them to spend Christmas with you.” To this day, I cannot believe Mom and I said, “Sure, tell those perfect strangers to come on down!”

            That’s how we met Alfred and Muumbe Kalembo and their children, Lumba, Chileleko, Chipego, Lindila and Luyando. As you may have guessed by now, they were not born in Alabama. They were natives of the little land-locked nation of Zambia in southern Africa. I will admit it was a long week. The twin girls, called Lindi and Lulu, were two. Two-year-olds are a challenge no matter where they were born!

            To our great surprise, by the time our guests departed for the hills of Kentucky, we were in love with these strangers and they with us! So much in love that we “adopted” them and they “adopted” us. We have all been “family” ever since that Christmas.

            Having completed college in Africa, Alfred was, like our son Matt, a first-year student at the seminary. Living next door to each other, Matt and Tammy became close friends with Alfred and his family. Neither of them had “two nickels to rub together” but by eating a lot of hotdogs and potatoes, they finally graduated together with a Master of Divinity degree. Matt soon made the long journey to Zambia to visit his friends in their homeland. This strengthened the ties that bound our families together and created a desire in our hearts to see Zambia for ourselves. So, since we turned 74, we have taken three work teams to share the love of Christ in Zambia. We were 80 the last time we made that journey.

            Our love for the Kalembo family turned into love for the people of Zambia. Three of our four sons, and four of our grandchildren, have participated in mission work in Zambia. So many of the 18 million people in this third-world country are poverty-stricken and in need of medical and educational resources. Together, with countless other concerned Christians, we have helped provide clean water for thousands by drilling hundreds of wells. The goal is to plant a church wherever a well is drilled, so the clean water becomes a means of helping people get connected to the One who is the Water of Life, our Lord Jesus Christ.

            When we met Alfred and his family, he was merely a foreign student from Africa studying in the United States. We had no idea that this young stranger would return to his homeland, begin an amazing ministry there among his people, become the Bishop of the Pilgrim Wesleyan Church, serve two terms as President of the Council of Churches in Zambia, and deliver the eulogy at the funeral of the President of his country. But far more important than all that to us has been the loving way our Zambian “son” has allowed us to share in his far-reaching ministry to Zambia and other nearby nations. Has he become a pompous, arrogant bishop? Far from it! Every time he has visited us, we have found him early in the morning raking leaves at the Cabin! Yes, that’s right – raking leaves.

            Last Tuesday Alfred and Muumbe departed from the Cabin once again, our son Tim driving them to Atlanta to catch yet another plane. Since that Christmas 20 years ago, they have  been guests at the Cabin a dozen or more times. When they come to America to report on God’s work in Zambia, they always want to spend some time at “home,” with us. Each time they visit a few churches that have been supporting them and make new connections with other churches. This time Alfred preached in his friend Matt’s church, First United Methodist Church in Wetumpka. Since that is our “home church,” you can imagine the joy we felt to see this “stranger turned son” proclaim the gospel in that sacred Wetumpka pulpit. The wonderful people of Matt’s church received them gladly and our hope is that they will soon send a team to share Christ’s love on Zambian soil.

            Tears filled our eyes as our friends left the Cabin Tuesday. Will we see them again? Was that the last time we shall see their faces? We have no way of knowing. That is all in God’s hands. In the meantime, we shall continue to pray for God to bless them and use the witness of these strangers turned family members as long as they have breath. And we shall never stop thanking God for the best Christmas gift He gave us the week of Christmas, 1999. + + +