Demopolis duo spends month in Africa

Kate Boland and Sydney Hill knew they were in for more than they initially bargained for as they boarded a plane in Atlanta.

“It started my sophomore year of college at Alabama, when I decided I didn’t want to be a civil engineer anymore,” said Boland, speaking about the initial desire to get into the missions field. “I didn’t know where to go or for how long, but I knew missions was on the forefront of my mind.”

That was 2014. Fast-forward to June of 2015, and the two just got back from a month-long trip to Africa where, as a surprise to both, they served the month separated from each other.

After getting out of school, Boland started working with Hill at Chick-fil-a.

“I invited her to go to Passion, a Christian conference in Atlanta in January with me. We decided then where and when we’d go,” said Boland.

After discovering Adventures in Missions (AIM), the duo felt as though that was the organization through which they should serve, so they chose the South Africa WR [World Race] Exposure.

“Had no clue what that meant, but it felt right,” said Hill.

“Yea, we knew it was for a month, thought we’d be together, so we went with it,” said Boland.

Back home, at First United Methodist Church in Demopolis, Hill and Boland began fundraising efforts, including t-shirt sales, a spaghetti dinner and musical performances.

When the time came to say their good-byes, the two found comfort in knowing that although they were going to another continent, they still had the support of each other. They drove to Atlanta to meet with the team and team leader at a hotel before departing for Zambia the next morning.

“We’d said our good-byes and we were like ‘It’s OK, we’ve got each other, we’re good.’ So we walk in and sit down and she goes ‘OK, now I’m going to tell you what groups you’re going to be split up in,” explained Hill.

It was there that the duo learned that the entire team would be split into pairs, and they felt sure that the likelihood of the two of them being placed together was low. They also learned that they’d be traveling to Zambia in pairs, and that they didn’t need a visa.

“They told us all we needed was ourselves, $40 in cash and a sleeping bag or sheets, but not both. No need for a tent. We weren’t told about our specific ministries yet,” said Boland.

“It was crazy!” said Hill, laughing hysterically. “It was legitimately a leap of faith.”

On Tuesday, June 2, the two departed Atlanta en route to Zambia. Faced with multiple frustrations at each airport along the way, the three days of travel were exhaustive enough, but it was just the beginning of their month-long service in a foreign land.

By chance, the service projects that both Hill and Boland were assigned to were within an hour or so of each other, which allowed them to remain together throughout the trip to Zambia. Once there, a nine-hour bus ride took them to southern Zambia where their missions were located.

Once at the bus stop, the duo began looking for their respective hosts, but that proved to be a far-from-easy task as they only had a name to go on.

“We got there around two o’clock in the morning, pitch black, and as soon as our feet hit the ground from the bus, we had cabbies all around us begging for our business. It seemed almost like a movie, but we really didn’t even have time to say goodbye at that point, we just sort of split and went with our assigned partner to our projects,” said Boland.

Splitting Up

(Photo by Kate Boland)

(Photo by Kate Boland)

Once split, the two had a day of rest, then went to work. Hill began working with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in Livingstone.

“We did door-to-door evangelism, which really kind of freaked me out at first,” said Hill. “But the people are just so welcoming, regardless of what you’re talking about, they just want to talk to you.”

For Hill, that within itself was a lesson to bring back to the States.

“I just remember thinking to myself how my nervousness and anxiety about door-to-door evangelism was based on its perception in America. We’re so busy, we’re unwelcoming, we don’t have time for anything anyone is saying. These people were so interested in anything we had to say,” said Hill.

YWAM ministered to villagers just by going to their home and talking with them, asking if there was anything that they could pray for, and creating relationships with the people in homes that they visited.

Hill said that while it really forced her out of her comfort zone, it was something that she needed and was so thankful for the experience.

For the final two weeks, Hill spent time working with young children in orphanages.

“It was really eye-opening for me because so many of these children living in orphanages aren’t really orphans at all,” said Hill. “So many times, the parents weren’t deceased, but were unable to afford medications to treat mental illnesses and so they were deemed unfit to raise the child.”

Hill’s host was a native of Zambia who was new to leading discipleship groups, so in their spare time—which proved to be a rarity—she and her partner helped him with tasks around his ministry.

“Our ministry was every day for at least four or five hours, and some days it was as simple as watering flowers. I didn’t realize what that meant at first, but watering flowers in Africa means like…trees, and grass, and everything really,” said Hill.

Everyday tasks that we often take for granted were never guaranteed at Hill’s worksite. Power and water would often go out, particularly at night, but the group did have a working bathroom and kitchen.

“At one point, I remember I was taking a shower in one of our shower tents, had shampoo in my hair, and the power and water just went out, so I was stuck with a head full of shampoo. The showers were cold, but we were just thankful to have a shower at all. My accommodations were much more luxurious than Katie’s,” said Hill.

For Boland, accommodations were much more frugal. She worked at a base camp that was led by an American couple from Oregon. After going through a discipleship training course with a native Zambian, the couple was lead to Africa after prayerful consideration and set up a ministry from scratch along with their Zambian counterpart.

The team of three set up a base station about two hours outside of Livingstone.

“They have a home in Livigstone where they stay on the weekends, but when it’s time to head back out for work, they drive two hours through the open African bush, no roads or anything, to get to their base camps in the middle of a few villages,” explained Boland.

The contrast between the town of Livingstone and the rural villages where she worked was the first thing she noticed.

“It blew my mind that these people were really only a day’s walk or a two-hour drive from the nearest city, but their way of life was so different,” explained Boland. “Their headmaster leads their village, and they’re almost cultish. The common people have no say in the day-to-day life, it’s all up to the headmaster.”

The villagers lived in mud huts and in the center of the village was an apostolic religious center where the villagers practiced their own faith. While there was no water, there was a single common well for water, or the Zambezi River ran nearby as well. Witch doctors were commonplace in the villages.

“We lived in a mud hut, our bathroom was literally a hole in the ground with bamboo around it, and our shower was a system designed by our host that pulled water in from the river, so they were cold and dirty. We had a garden. We were very self-sufficient, and most of the village we were in was too,” said Boland.

Daily life in ministry was eye opening for Boland.

“The main reason I went was to spread the Gospel and to see eye-opening things that I would never forget and that would help me to grow spiritually,” said Boland. “You could tell that their souls were thirsty for something. It was sad, and it was eye opening, it was refreshing almost, in a sort of sick way, to see people that literally have never heard the Gospel. These people are part of an unreached people group, so many of them have never heard of Jesus.”

When they visited with villagers, Boland’s team would sit in the dirt and talk with them, building relationships and making disciples so that they could ultimately build churches within each village.

“Some of the villages we were not welcomed in, but most of them we were. Even if they knew why we were there, they would allow us in because of our skin color,” said Boland. “Even those that were hesitant to allow us in at first would let us come back just because of the relationships we built.”

The village life and hierarchy was evident in the discussions that the team had with villagers. Boland explained that the one thing that villagers would answer questions with the most involved the respect of elders.

“We could ask them what they knew about Jesus, or really anything for that matter, and usually the response was something like ‘Respect your elders,’ or something like that,” she said.

Because the villagers were considered an unreached people group, Boland’s team often had to start with very basic Christianity as they shared the Gospel.

“I felt so guilty throughout the day as I shared something with these people that we take for granted every single day,” said Boland. “Here I am sharing a very basic truth with these people, a grown Zambian man who has nothing by our standards in tears because he’s so thirsty for more, and then I look at myself. In America, so many of us have everything that we could every wish for and we still want more.”

Boland’s team was usually asked to come back and share more after building relationships with the people.

“We really were focused on teaching tangible things from the Bible that these people could apply to their everyday lives and share with other villagers, things like parables,” said Boland.

Lessons Learned

(Photo by Kate Boland)

(Photo by Kate Boland)

Probably the one thing that stuck out to Boland the most involved the children.

As they were walking past the apostolic church one day, which also serves as the village school for children. As they passed by, the children swarmed out of the gate and onto the path that Boland and two other girls were walking down.

“This little boy came running up to me who recognized me from the children’s home. I picked him up and began to hug him and when I did that, all 150 kids or so came running up to me and encircled me just because I’d shown this single child affection. I could see over all their heads and they were all pushing each other over. They all just wanted to touch me,” said Boland. “I just broke down right there. There was nothing I could do. I wanted so much for these kids, and I couldn’t give anything to them, but they were so satisfied with just me.”

For Hill, the thing that stuck with her the most was the state of children as they walked from village to village.

“There would just be eight kids sitting outside a hut with flies around them and snotty noses, and it was just normal for them,” said Hill. “That I will never forget.”

“You know, we just really learned to trust in God through the whole thing. We got there and we didn’t have each other, so we only had God the whole time we were there,” said Hill.

While they had things planned one way, Hill and Boland both believe that the entire trip was the result of God working out His plan to His satisfaction. When asked what the biggest takeaway from their experience was, Boland said it’s a phrase for her.

“For me, the biggest thing this trip showed me was really a phrase that comes from Ephesians 3. It’s a love that surpasses all knowledge. That was the phrase on the t-shirts. Love is the thing that’s going to win every battle. Love is what the Gospel teaches us and that’s what Africa taught me,” said Boland.

For Hill, it’s to never underestimate the plan that God has for you.

“It’s not about you. It’s about God’s plan and His will. I’ve always been one to want to have things planned, and I just realized that any and all joy that comes into our lives is from God. I really didn’t realize that until I got to Africa. There’s joy and something you can smile about in everything and every situation, we just have to find it,” said Hill.

For the duo, Africa may not be the next stop, but one thing is for sure.

“We’re not done with what God has for us,” said Boland.