Archive for category Assignments

Zambia Eight Years Later

Our first International Volunteer assignment was to Zambia in 2003.  We had made many friends, enjoyed our time and allowed our minds and hearts to be affected by the experience. The 3 months in the Zambia Branch and the 5 weeks afterward exploring Africa (Malawi, Tanzania, Botswana and South Africa) helped us to focus our lives to what we really wanted to do.

You can read about some of our experiences HERE

I recently received some links to some other young couples and their time working at the Zambia Bethel.

Here are the links for you to enjoy.

Is that a Python?

Lester and Leah in Zambia



1 Comment

Slovenia (part 2)

I am not sure why we always rush from one place to the other on our travels. After just a day or two of resting up from our travels, we both are itching to explore and see new things! Taking a road that wandered higher into the mountains, we found another beautiful lake  that had steep mountains on either side. The trees were just changing colors and had it not been for the sun, it would have been too cold to explore

Slovenia (30)

Slovenia (15)

During the winter this is a popular place for skiing. Fortunate, some of the ski lifts were still running and one lift still took us up to a large remote lodge, overlooking the green valley below.

Slovenia (17)

From there, we headed off up the mountain on a hiking trail to see what was up at the top of the mountain. Winter is still a few months off and the sun was just enough to keep us warm against the high chilling air. We walked/stumbled over the stone path that looked like white marble and the few trees around were short scrubby pines that looked very old. Many trails (or goat paths not sure) led off in many directions but we were able to stay on course because of the trail markings, small red and white circles painted on the rocks.

Slovenia (28)

Slovenia (18)

The views pulled us higher and higher until we reached what felt like the top of the world. All around us was distant Alp mountains and the clear air made the distant sleepy farming villages look like miniature models.

Slovenia (21)

Slovenia (19)

Slovenia (20)

Just as we were feeling “hardcore” for a self guided hike into the mountains, along came two backpackers with large packs. They looked so silly with their giant packs and we wondered just how much stuff did they need to bring with them.

Slovenia (22)

Slovenia (23)

They dropped their packs at a scenic spot and started o pull out some really long sleeping bags. “How strange.”, we thought as we started to take pictures of them. Then they started to put on helmets and we knew we had misjudged them as backpackers.

Slovenia (24)

With just a quick look around and a sharp jerk, their fabric wing inflated and they briskly walked off the cliff into the sky. Instead of dropping, the air currents lifted held them aloft and they almost surfed invisible air waves.

Slovenia (25)

Slovenia (26)

Slovenia (27)

They were still sailing the thermals like eagles when we made it back to our car and drove away into the Autumn colored valley below.

Slovenia (29)

After three days in the same place, our itchy feet told us it was time to head to the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana. Since there is a original language in Slovenia, there is also a Bethel Translation center. We didn’t get to tour the facility but we did take some quick pictures.

Slovenia (36)

Slovenia (37)

Entering into the sleepy capital of Ljubljana we turned in our rental car, found a hostel and explored the city a bit by local bus and foot. Our hostel was very unique as it was originally a prison. Our room came complete with two foot thick concrete walls, bars on our door and window and overly short bunks. At least the pizza was cheap and we could charge our IPods.

Slovenia (42)

Slovenia (41)

Slovenia (43)

In the morning we head off via train to Italy. This is the final leg of our trip and we feel about ready to be home.

, , , ,

1 Comment

Croatia (part 2)

The Bethel in Croatia is in the capital city of Zagreb, a sleepy capital with worn concrete buildings and angry drivers.

Croatia (27)

Instead of continuing on our journey, we jumped at the invitation to spend a night and tour the translation center, or Bethel as we call it.

Croatia (7)

50 full time volunteers work here to translate literature for the Croatia people and provide support for disaster relief and hospital stays for the Brothers and Sisters. Jehovah Witnesses were legalized in the country in 1953 but communism limited their growth. Then came the breakup of the Soviet Union that led to ethnic and religious killings. I remember the wars in the 90’s and how little I paid attention. Of course the Brothers (like everywhere in the world) would not join a side or support any faction. This lead to some being killed but many times their reputation of neutrality helped save the lives of many JWs. You can read more about their trials during this genocidal war, in one of the recent Yearbooks.

Croatia (28)

One last thing on the Bethel, they had a display setup that showed the time-line of the Bible in Croatian. In 1665, some guy translated the Bible from Latin to Croatian but Pope after Pope would not let the Bible be released to the populous until 1831. Jehovah’s name was used in this Bible over 6000 times. The Witnesses used this (difficult to understand because of the old translation) Bible but noticed that every time it was republished (by a for profit publisher), that a few instances of Jehovah’s name was removed and replaced with “God” or “Lord” even though this was inaccurate. Eventually, the translation was deemed not good enough for use and after 10 years of work, the New World Translation was released in Croatian in 2006. The 60 congregations in Croatia now have a easily understood Bible that they can study.

Croatia (8)

The southernmost city of Dubrovnik has what has to be one of the best ancient walled cities in the world….it was just unfortunate that we have become tired of old cities, ancient walls and medieval fortifications. Tamara and I faked it, trying to enjoy exploring the city. While we were disappointed with the level of commercialism in the city, the incredibly old buildings were impressive.

Croatia (25)

Then we discovered that the fortified walls were open to being explored. They have maintained the wall enough that you can walk around the entire city, pretending the city is under siege by some foreign force! The funny thing is that during the ethnic war of the 1990s, the city of Dubrovnik was besieged by a modern military. They with-stood the siege but the city was heavily damaged by rockets and artillery. Most of all the damage has been repaired.

Croatia (24)

Croatia (23)

Croatia (20)

Eventually, my “itchy feet” got the better of us and we were off driving around the countryside. We visited a few towns in Bosnia and Montenegro bringing our visited countries to 43. In case you are wondering, they are similar to Croatia just not as nice and more farm equipment on the road.

Croatia (1)

Soon we turned our car north and headed to Slovenia, one of the least known countries in Europe. Hope to share more soon!

, , , ,


Budapest, Hungary – part 2

Budapest is quickly becoming our favorite city in the world. The language and signage is indecipherable, the people slightly distant and the food strange (ie; goose liver with plums) yet Budapest and it’s people have a dignified cadence that seems to sync with both of Tamara and I. Hungarian is a lingual anomaly. English, German and French have more in common with Hindi than Hungarian, causing confusion for Europeans and North Americans alike. Hungarians themselves don’t know who invented the language yet have a statue erected to him with the name that translates to “anonymous”.

Hungary (15)

The metro is another thing that is unique to Budapest. Being the second metro (subway) in the world, it was originally pulled by horses under the streets of Budapest. Now it shakes and rumbles  at speeds and conditions that resemble a Six Flags ride. The ancient doors close with a quick sharp “snikt”, daring you to lose track of your hands or feet. Following the example of the locals we stood clear of the snapping doors and clung tightly to the worn leather straps hanging from the roof. A rumbling engine below our feet revs up, vibrating the floor  and suddenly we are hurdling  down a black tunnel, just wide enough to fit the small chain of cars. As I start to wonder why the locals are tensing up, someone stands on the brakes, lurching us into the 150 year old white tiled station. Before the train has even stopped moving, the doors snap open, suggesting we make a jump for it. I tried to take photos but my “Fright/Flight” motivations always got in the way.

The Hungarian Bethel cares for the 263 congregations and 22,000 publishers in 10 languages. Our Friend Attila helps direct the Kingdom Hall construction groups that are rushing to keep up with the growth.

Hungary (5)

Hungary (1)

A room in the Bethel documents the oppression and growth in Hungary. Here are some highlights; The growth of Jehovah’s people in Hungary really started in the early 1900’s and the government resisted the expansion by claiming that Jehovah’s Witnesses were Communists, then during the 1930’s the government claimed that they were Capitalists.

Once the Nazi’s took power, the gloves came off and in one instance 160 Brothers were sent on a Death March that took many lives. Even when the Brothers were put in death camps, the growth continued albeit slowly. Here in the show cases were miniaturized bibles that were smuggled into the camps and life experiences of those (some still alive) of remaining politically neutral. The JW’s were the only oppressed group that could have left the camps just by just renouncing their faith and signing a form stating that they supported the government. We have seen these forms in Dachau, Germany.

Hungary (4)

Then Stalin took power and the oppression continued. The underground printing and distribution continued on until 1989 and we saw some of the miniature equipment used by the Brothers and Sisters.

Hungary (3)

The Bible that they used at that time was a Hungarian version originally translated in the early 1500’s. This translation had Jehovah’s name in it thousands of times but the language used was archaic and difficult for the modern Hungarians to understand. It took many years but Jehovah’s Witnesses produced a modern language version, the “New World Translation”, by 2003. This made understanding the Bible much easier for the people and likely explains much of the rapid growth in Hungary.

We spent quite a bit of time looking around the historical room in Bethel and there was one photo that I asked our friend to explain to us. Here is the photo

Hungary (2)

The snap shows a work camp during the governments repression of the “Bible Students” as they were called. If you look closely, the guards/taskmasters were Nuns from the Church that supported the government, not just the Hungarian Empire, not just the Nazi or Communists but the current government also. Sure does show how true political neutrality is something rare in religions.

One thing Tamara and I wanted to do was visit the “Memento Park”, a park outside the city where the communist monuments were taken…at least those too large to destroy. I am fascinated by propaganda, manipulative imagery and language; here you see the classics of each of those fields, in imposing chunks of brass and stone.

Hungary (21)

Hungary (13)

Hungary (19)

Hungary (20)

As we left the park, they were showing some of the Secret Police’s training films on Surveillance, Interrogation and searching for hidden evidence. Wow….they had this down to an art form. One film we watched taught us how to use hidden cameras to take photos of people and how to search for illegal literature inside a suspect’s home.

There is so much to see and learn in Budapest!

Hungary (14)

, , ,


Zambia #16 "End of our Assignment"

End of our Assignment

I cant believe that we are going to start the final week of our assignment. The 3 months have just flown by. We are so happy that Jehovah has allowed us to come here and be two of the hundreds of volunteers that came to assist in this volunteer project. There is still a few weeks left of plastering. Then the Electricians and Plumbers will be set loose inside the building. The Painters have already started painting parts of the outside and inside. I can honestly tell you that I could not have worked this hard, if it were in exchange for money.
Since we have arrived, we have made so many good friends and even a few great friends.

Even though we came here to do Plastering and got to go on Safari and tent camp, we found 98% of our joy in the Service work, Meetings and in visiting with the local Brothers. We were privileged spend much time in Service, visit a few different Congregations, conduct Bible studies with a few, to give a few meeting parts each, give morning worship comments and be a part of the Monday family Watchtower study panel. We visited with Brothers and Sisters from Sweden, Norway, England, Italy, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Zimbabwe, Malawian, Zambia, Kenya, South Africa and many other countries. We were able to listen to and visit with Missionaries, District Overseers and just normal Brothers and Sisters give their experiences of working in banned countries like; Zaire and Congo (Bro. & Sis Sharp are mentioned in this years Yearbook); Malawi during the ghastly persecution of the Brothers; life in Refugee camps; being arrested by governments for being a Witness; kidnapped by rebels and threatened with execution; Brothers escape from Malawi, Rwanda and Congo, setting up and attending some of the 65 annual District conventions in Zambia, also the Kingdom Hall construction teams and so many other experiences… I wish I could remember them all but it is like a large meal that in the morning you wonder how you ate so much.

The need for the Kingdom that Jesus prayed to his Father for, in Luke 11:2, is so so needed. Living in the States you see the need for an end to sickness, death, violence and sin yet being here and seeing young people die to malaria, tuberculosis and of course AIDS, the need seems so much more desperate. In a few weeks I will turn 34 in a country with an average life span of 36. The horrible part is that it is only getting worse. If you ask the Zambian government about the Aids outbreak they report it is at 25% HIV infection rate of the population. Think of that…. 25% of an entire country has an incurable deadly disease. The Governments of Africa lie about the infection rate because they don’t want to scare the World and have countries and investors pull out…. if you ask the Doctors here (which I did) or even the World Health Organization (WHO is a part of the UN) the rate of HIV infection for Zambia it is 65% and Zambia is not even the highest country in Africa in infection rate either.

I wont even touch the political instability and wars that affect half of the countries in Africa, the civil wars that are quietly fought or rebel factions that terrorize whole parts of this side of the world. When you pray, please keep in mind the local Brothers and Sisters in Africa. They struggle with things that you and I cant even comprehend, yet do it with more Joy, Love and Peace than I thought humanly possible.

The Truth has taken hold in Africa and is growing at an amazing rate, every Brother and Sister I have talked with has had 3 or more Bible studies…without exception. In many areas the only proper buildings not made of mud and straw are Kingdom Halls. At police checkpoints we are asked for Bibles and Watchtowers. You fill your back pack up with literature to go in service and within an hour you are out. The Brothers have a hard time getting enough literature up here to Zambia. I can’t tell you how many times I have had great conversations or return visits in service and when asked for a Bible, Require brochure or other literature unable to fill their need. It breaks my heart.

As I wrap up this email I could send you a picture of the project before we got here and now or some pictures of some African animals or maybe some of the beautiful country side but looking back that’s not the reason we are here. Let me show you why Jehovah allowed us to come;








construction crew




We leave on Feb 10 from our assignment here in Zambia. We would love to spend more time here but the government will not allow us to stay in the country any longer. Our flight home leaves from Jo-berg, South Africa on the 18th of March, so in the mean time we will travel to Tanzania to do some hiking around Kilimanjaro then take the bus (as we don’t have enough money to fly) down to South Africa. We have been accepted to visit and stay at every Branch on the way south. We will keep this Branch informed of our movements, just to be on the safe side. We will be traveling with small backpacks and will probably not have access to email but if we get an opportunity, we will drop you guys a line.

Tamara and I feel so privileged to have been asked to come and give a small part of our time and effort here in Africa. The assistance and support that our Friends and Family have provided has not only made this possible but proved to me that Jesus’ words are true in John 13:34-35

I am giving YOU a new commandment, that YOU love one another; just as I have loved YOU, that YOU also love one another. 35 By this all will know that YOU are my disciples, if YOU have love among yourselves.

Thanks for letting Tamara and I share our experiences with you.



, , , ,

1 Comment