The first two Gospel meetings in the 2013 campaign to Zambia have been completed, and the news is great. 42 have been baptized and 132 erring brethren have been restored! The meeting in Msika had an attendance high of 911, but that number was surpassed at Siamafumba where 1,152 gathered to hear the Gospel. Considering that Siamafumba isn't a town or even a small village makes that attendance even more remarkable because Siamafumba is just a place where many footpaths cross.
I remember Jimmie going to Siamafumba with Ronald D. Gilbert when there was absolutely nothing there. No buildings of any kind, and no water. He talked about the women walking to the nearest water hole some distance away and returning with the huge jugs on top of their heads. Later trips I think they managed to bring it by vehicle. But the preaching was done each year in the brush arbor the men constructed when they got there, the cooking for the whole crowd was done by the women in a makeshift open kitchen, and everyone slept on the ground at night. Baptisms were back at that water hole and everyone walked, usually several times a day.
Jimmie took our camping tent with him the second year he went to Siamafumba so he didn't have to worry about snakes slithering into his sleeping bag while he slept. He left it with the brethren there and I'm not sure how many years it got used. But since then with IBTM's help a school of preaching has been established at this crossroads. Now the speakers get to sleep in the building on the concrete floor at night. That never really sounded any more comfortable to me and Jimmie always said that it did nothing to alleviate the danger from snakes. You see, the corn for the enshima is stored in the building so the mice come for the corn, and the snakes come for the mice.
The stories Jimmie used to tell. I wish I could remember them in detail now. But I do recall how amazed Jimmie was at people who would walk for days to get there. The first few years the attendance was typically between 2,000 and 3,000 and Jimmie spoke about what a strange feeling it was to be preaching at night to such a crowd with only a single lantern to light his notes while everyone else sat in total darkness. The attendance has been lower in recent years but that is probably because they now hold Gospel meetings in several locations so brethren don't have to walk as far.
Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of Jimmie's death so I've been thinking about Siamafumba a lot. I don't know now how many trips Jimmie made there but I do know that his heart had been in Africa since our first campaign to Ghana in 1983. He loved the people and their openness to the Gospel. He loved preaching and teaching there. He loved haggling with the vendors and laughing with the kids. He loved telling the stories that both terrified (like throwing rocks at a crocodile or being charged by a bull elephant) and delighted us (such as watching baby lions playing in the road or the giraffe that startled Jimmie when it bent its head over a tree to take a closer look at him). Jimmie had wanted us to live in Africa and we made plans to move more than once, only to have them fail. So we ended up first on a tiny island in the South Pacific and later working with international correspondence missions instead. There were times when the fever to live in a foreign mission field again would burn hot, but each time Jimmie concluded that we could actually reach more souls with the correspondence work. So we stayed.
The day Jimmie was diagnosed with stage 4 renal cancer the doctor was obviously startled when the first question out of Jimmie's mouth was "Can you get me well enough to go back to Africa?" - but it did not surprise me. For several months last year we thought the doctor had managed it and Jimmie was really looking forward to working there again. Sadly, that didn't happen. But Julie and I both wanted Jimmie's wish to come true on whatever level was possible, so Ronald Gilbert took some of Jimmie's ashes with him on this year's campaign to Zambia. Siamafumba is the place I requested that he take them.