Antrim Parish established a link with Kitwee Theological College in northern Zambia in 2003 and for the past few years we have been collecting money for the college through our Smartie Tube appeal. To date we have raised several thousands of pounds by collecting 20p coins. The Rev Keith Scott, formerly rector of Carnlough, lectured in the college until 2008 which is sponsored by the Church Missionary Society in Ireland and he has preached in Antrim on several occasions telling us about life in this very poor part of Africa. The parish supplied £2,000 towards a water tower for the college. Water is in short supply and the tower enables a more regular supply to be maintained for the students.

During the Church Missionary Society Ireland mpower conference in Armagh 2006, we welcomed, the Bishop of northern Zambia, The Rt. Rev’d. Albert Chama and his vicar general, The Very Rev’d. William Chisanga to Antrim. Those seven days in the company of the two Zambians were a life changing experience for our parish as we were to learn a great deal about life, ministry and hardship in Zambia.

Bishop Chama and William earn little over £50 per month and work in an area of high unemployment and poverty, where hiv aids and malaria are two huge health issues. William suffers on average from two bouts of malaria per year. Families are expected to care for relatives who are sick or who have no money. If people are unemployed there is no social security benefit system to pay them while they are out of work. Drugs to combat aids are expensive and William has buried two sisters and their husbands who have died from hiv and now looks after their four children. Life can be very difficult. While William was staying with us his family went without food for two days because his salary had not arrived from the diocesan authorities.

I was worried about how they would react to seeing how we live in Northern Ireland with food in such plentiful supply, the standard of our housing, education and healthcare. I thought they might be a little resentful but I could not have been more wrong. At our Sunday service, when I asked William what his impressions of Ireland were, I was taken aback, ‘I have never dreamed that there could be such beautiful houses and schools and hospitals, God has richly blessed you.’ He could have been jealous or envious of our lifestyle but such words are not part of his vocabulary. If truth be told, we have gone a long way to blessing ourselves and done precious little to help our neighbours in the developing world. The visit of Bishop Chama and Williams Chisanga were the catalyst for us to explore funding several more projects.

I hope that William’s words, ‘God has richly blessed you,’ never stop ringing in our ears. For me, the challenge of the mpower conference is for us to raise our eyes above our own horizons and preoccupations and remember our brothers and sisters in the developing world and love them and bless them as generously as we so evidently love and bless ourselves. While Bishop Chama was with us, he was presented with a cheque for £2,400 as seed capital for a farming project. £2,000 will purchase a tractor and £400 for four oxen. The farming project will supply employment for twenty people and eventually the farm will have a church and school built.