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‘Africa is one of the last places on earth I thought I’d serve Him in’

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‘Africa is one of the last places on earth I thought I’d serve Him in’
Posted on June 28, 2020  - By Elizabeth Abraham

Jill Avery has been serving the Lord at Sakeji Mission School in Zambia for the last 16 years. Though she was interested in missions, she never expected that God would bring her to Africa. It was, as she puts it, “one of the last places on earth” that she ever thought she’d be living and serving Him in. 

Here, she tells us about how the Lord used deep sorrow to deepen her relationship with Him, and how she’s learning to be thankful for every situation, every day.

How did you come to know the Lord, and how has that relationship grown over the years?

I came to the Lord at the age of five, after realising I was a sinner and on my way to hell. I got baptised as a teenager and joined the fellowship of the local assembly.

Looking back, I know that the Lord used great sorrow (the sudden deaths of a cousin and a very close friend within a short period of time) to deepen my relationship with Him. I began to journal my prayers, which helped me to process everything that was going on. I also began to dig deeper into His Word, because I so desperately needed Him. 

During that time of my life, a passage in Isaiah became one that I clung to. It still is very precious to me. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior… Fear not, for I am with you” (Isaiah 43:1b-3a, 5a). 

He is so constant and, as I think back through my life, I see His hand of love which has held me till today. I don’t know where I’d be without Him! 

What practical encouragement can you offer our readers who may be grappling with grief?

As I went through that time of much sorrow, I learned that the sadness and the healing of the heartache is not something that is done and over with at the funeral. I am so thankful that, at every turn, the Lord was near to comfort. How much I needed Him and others when the numbness subsided, and the tears came. 

The healing of the heartache is not something that is done and over with at the funeral. I am so thankful that, at every turn, the Lord was near to comfort

I’ve learned that everyone deals with grief in different ways; it’s an individual process for each person. For me, an important part in the grief process was talking to others who were feeling the pain too. Spending time together, telling stories about our loved ones, laughing, weeping, and just sitting together was very healing and helpful. Having others around to share the journey with makes such a difference!

Tell us about your ministry in Zambia.

The community that the Lord has given me to serve primarily consists of several Zambian children and a few missionary children who attend the school. I assist on the teaching side (art, music, history, Sunday school etc.), and on the dorm side (subbing in as the girls’ dorm mom).

In many ways, to myself and the missionary staff here, these children become like our own. We live with them for three months at a time, and see them in all sorts of settings. We all have our ups and downs, but it’s my prayer that they would come to learn of and know Christ while they are here. A number have already come to Him through the years, and this has been such an encouragement!

A number of years ago, an older missionary lady who returned to the UK, left us with her well-established Bible and book ministry. A fellow missionary and I seek to continue to supply and provide Christian literature to the local people and various mission stations in our province. The books we carry are mainly in the local Lunda language and English, the official language of Zambia. The desire for God’s Word continues and many Bibles have been distributed over the years. I am so thankful that we can still freely do this, and that there is still a hunger for His Word!

What are you thankful for these days?

The older I get, I find myself being increasingly thankful to the Lord for my parents. They made a home for their children where God was honoured, and His Word was opened, memorised, and valued. Their desire to remember Him with other believers in a local assembly, and have their children hear the gospel has borne eternal fruit. I have reaped so many blessings because of my parents’ love for God, each other, and their children.

In many ways, these children become like our own. We live with them for three months at a time, and see them in all sorts of settings

I am also so thankful for the missionary staff at the school who have encouraged and moulded me over the years. I heard a saying once, and have not forgotten it, because it is so true. It goes: “I thought that the Lord brought me to the mission field to help change others. I see now that He brought me to the mission field to change me.” I am so thankful that our Heavenly Father knows all of our rough places and so patiently shapes and moulds us to be more like His Son.

What practical things did the missionary staff at your school do to influence you that we can implement for those in our sphere of influence too?

I think one of the biggest ways the other missionaries here have influenced me has been by their example. Their outer lives bear quiet witness to their inner ones. Also, by the time they spent in sharing life experiences and lessons they had learned over the years with me. Their patient instruction and guidance at different times has been a huge help.

Can you give us an example of a challenging situation you recently faced, and what the Lord taught you from the experience? 

Like many others these days, a recent challenge for me was when travel was restricted.  I had been planning to meet up with my parents this month, as I hadn’t seen them in over a year. When our plans fell through, I was disappointed — we had so been looking forward to being together! 

It all felt kind of surreal until I watched a video of Italians in lockdown singing together from their balconies. It reminded me that I wasn’t the only one being affected by this pandemic. 

There are so many things to be thankful for, and so I’ve been keeping track of them each day. The Lord has given me the job of helping to care for our large school vegetable garden, and this has been such a joy! I am learning more about contentment and rest. Isn’t it wonderful that we can rest in Him who is Rest?

I am learning more about contentment and rest. Isn’t it wonderful that we can rest in Him who is Rest?

What are some useful ways you have learnt to deal with discouragement?

One way that I find helpful in dealing with discouragement is to surrender those feelings and give them back to God. Talking to Him about it, going over His promises in prayer, and re-reading them in His Word are all ways that I can trust Him through difficult times. His promise in Philippians 4:7 about giving “the peace that passes all understanding” has been so precious to me. He truly does give it!  

Another way that I have dealt with discouraging times is to ask my close family and friends for prayer. Just knowing others are praying for me and are there for me really helps. 

How has the pandemic changed the way you serve those you minister to?

The pandemic has really changed the way we serve here at Sakeji Mission School. Normally, our students would be with us and into the school term by now. Presently though, we are schooling our students online. It’s very different from having them physically in the classroom and the dorms.  

Recently, there has been a thirst for Emmaus courses amongst our local staff, and this has been so encouraging. It’s our prayer that with all of the uncertainty of these times, there would be an awakening of the importance of knowing the Lord and His Word.

How can we pray for you?
– Sadly, we won’t be able to be with our kids next term. Please pray for us as we teach them through online avenues.

– Please pray for our kids as they are away from us. Many have yet to turn to the Lord for salvation. In the midst of all the change and uncertainty, pray that they would not forget the things they have learned here.  

– Please pray for those who are His, that they would continue to grow in Him and be bright lights to their families and communities.

Elizabeth Abraham

About Elizabeth Abraham

Elizabeth Abraham — or Elsa, as she is usually known — has lived in the Lone Star State of Texas for most of her life, where she works as a physician assistant. From teaching preschoolers at Sunday school and mentoring younger sisters in Christ to conversing with co-workers and caring for elderly nursing home patients, her desire is to know the Lord and make Him known.



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