Monday, May 31, 2010

Piece by Piece

By Jennifer Grant

Standing in the grocery store, comparing the prices of two boxes of cereal, I hit a snag. One is priced by the ounce and the other by the package. I look from one to the other. My mind wanders; math is not my strong suit. “What’s love got to do, got to do with it? Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?” Tina Turner bellows over the store’s sound system. I toss a box of cereal into my cart, aware that I am to be able to feed my children well with little effort.

Only last month, I was in Zambia with people for whom this grocery store might seem more like Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory—mind-blowingly strange and obscenely lavish.

I went to Zambia as a journalist, asking questions and jotting down ideas. And I wrote down numbers. Big numbers like 15-18 million, the number of children globally who have been orphaned by AIDS. And 9.5 million, those who live below the poverty line. I wrote down smaller numbers, too. Like 38, or how many years from birth the average Zambian will live.

Words are my thing. Words and stories. And even before I arrived, people started telling me stories about Chikumbuso Women and Orphans project, established in 2005 by Linda Wilkinson. Chikumbuso. It’s nice to say out loud. And when people talk about Linda and Chikumbuso, their eyes light up. I knew I had to go there.

Linda’s husband Bruce Wilkinson has worked with World Vision in Africa for decades. Bruce told me that before they relocated for his current job in Zambia, Linda just knew that there was work there for her to do. Although she didn’t know what it would be, she asked their network of friends and church supporters for donations for a new, as yet unidentified, ministry. They responded.

That work, of course, became Chikumbuso. When she started Chikumbuso, Linda hoped to help one widow and her seven children. Today, more than 300 children attend school there. More than 60 widows make and sell beautiful purses, jewelry, and other items. In a kitchen, women grind and press soybeans and make tofu and soymilk. Young men make bags and t-shirts with repurposed fabric.

Here’s another number for you: three. Three is the number of acres, surrounding Chikumbuso, on which the 9,000-10,000 residents of the Ng’ombe township live. Ng’ombe is what academics sometimes call a “self-help” or “settlement” housing area; others refer to it as a densely populated slum.

(For comparison, my hometown of Wheaton, Ill., has a population of 55,000 and we live on more than 7,000 acres. Even if—like me—you’re bad at math, you likely get a sense of the crowding and lack of material resources in Ng’ombe.)

Linda told me that some people assume that Chikumbuso’s tidy compound, with its water pump, large wooden play structure, school rooms, and the rest came into being all at once.

“When you see the project, you think that it has been a well thought-out and greatly organized, but the fact is that Jesus gave it to us piece by piece, knowing just how much we could handle,” Linda said. She asks for prayers for the children at Chikumbuso, “that they may feel the love of Jesus and the community center all around them so that their minds can rest.”

What’s love got to do with it?


When we believe this, we can draw courage from Linda’s story. We can have faith that when there is work to be done but we’re not certain where to start, we can trust Jesus to give it to us, piece by piece.

(Note: Linda Wilkinson will be in the U.S. this summer. If you would like to speak with her about the project, contact her at Chikumbuso is also on Facebook and is on the web at

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