Home Sweet Home Away From Home – Caleb Currier – 2018 Team Zambia Group Leader
Romans 10:13-15 (ESV): For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
I cannot even begin to express my gratitude to the Lord for allowing me to return to Zambia this summer. My trip last year to Zambia changed my life- it taught me so much about the Lord, about the person I was and the person I wanted to become, my passion and love in life, and the impact one person can have. Returning to Zambia was something I always prayed about; I felt a lot of pain leaving last year, not just because I was unsure if I would ever return, but because I also felt that the work the Lord had given me was not finished there. When I found out I would be able to return to Zambia this summer, it was all I talked about and all that I could think about. Zambia was my home sweet home away from home, and the kids and mamas were my family.
I had put a lot of thought into what I was going to say when I walked into the dining hall to surprise everyone. Every time I thought about it, it made me emotional- a lot of smiling, some tears of happiness, but never the right words. When I walked in that Sunday evening, I was prepared to say something in front of everyone, but I went straight to my dude Dennis, and then to my other dude Emmanuel. Being their sponsor, I get to hear from them pretty often, but seeing them again brought tears of joy to my eyes. They mean absolutely everything to me; they’ve taught me so much about myself and about life. There isn’t a day that I don’t think about them and what they mean to me. I always hope I am someone they can look up to, someone they can learn from, someone they can trust, and I want them to know I am someone who will always believe in them and love them.
Following dinner that first night, we went for devotion. Dennis surprised me- he had made honor roll! A true surprise because every report I received, asked that I please pray for Dennis to pay better attention in school. I could not be more proud of him for his hard work and commitment to doing better. I was still pretty emotional and at a loss of words for what was happening. Mama Florence made me even more emotional. We were sitting in a circle and she was telling the kids she had prayed that I would someday return to Zambia. Not just because she missed me, but because she felt that I was someone who could teach the boys lessons in life that she could never teach herself, because I was someone who was wise and caring, and I was a part of their family in Zambia. Hearing this made me really realize that God had called me to Zambia for a reason, it was just a coincidence that I got selected to go to Zambia. This is where I was meant to be, this is where my heart was and where the work the Lord needed me to do was.
The kids responded unbelievably well to everything my team was teaching them. I couldn’t believe how much they grew and matured in one year. Even kids who hardly talked to me last year were coming up to me and giving me hugs, telling me how much they missed me. Everyone opened up and I really got to know them more. They remembered so much from last year and it was fun to hear the stories they had. Our three weeks were full of basketball, volleyball, football, American football, baseball, capture the flag, ultimate frisbee, sleepovers, a talent show, prayer, laughter, and joy. At the end of the day, any frustration I had, seemed to disappear and the next day was a new day. These kids, they don’t care if you’re tall or short, black or white, athletic or artistic, old or young- they love you for who you are and what you do for them.
The time seemed to fly by and every now and then I couldn’t help but think about how hard it was going to be to leave these kids again. As Rascal Flatts would say, I wanted the days to pass easy and the moments to pass slow, because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye just yet. I always prayed that I would be able to return to Zambia one day because I thought it would fill a hole in my heart; I thought the second goodbyes would be more comforting. And while I did find it a little easier to say goodbye this year, there was and still is more hurt inside. Throughout the weeks it was hard me to hear “Caleb, are you coming back next year?” and “Caleb, move to Zambia, stay with us here; we love you.” One of the Mamas there told me she knew this would not be the last time I would be in Zambia, she assured me that I would be back. The most painful thing I heard in my three weeks back in Zambia, was from one of the older boys, who I really grew attached to this year. We were taking a picture together and I asked him if he was going to smile, he looked down to the ground and responded, “there is nothing to smile about, I don’t want you to leave us again.” Nothing had hurt as bad as that did, to this day it still hurts me.
I’ve shed a lot of tears these past two weeks, I’ve been filled with a lot of hurt, some frustration and confusion, and some uncertainty. And no matter who you talk to, nobody will ever exactly understand what you’re going through, even people on the same trip as you; we all experience things differently. It was difficult for me to understand why there was more hurt this year, and I still don’t know if I’ve figured it out completely. I always knew how much the kids meant to me, how much the experience changed me for the better, but I never really thought about how much I meant to the kids and how I had impacted their life. A good friend explained it to me well- we all want to feel needed, to feel appreciated and to feel loved. I guess that’s what’s difficult about coming back to the world of college athletics- by nature of the sports world, you’re replaceable, people get fired and replaced all the time. And honestly, someone could probably do my job better than I can, so a feeling of not being needed can exist. There can be a feeling of not being appreciated because in the grand scheme of things, you’re at the bottom and really there are more important things and more important people than you. That’s just the nature of it, and it’s not a bad thing, it’s just two completely different worlds and you have to readjust after having an experience like I did.
Last year the kids and the overall experience made me understand that basketball is not my passion, it’s what I love. My passion is to connect with kids/young adults and talk about life- leadership, respect, treating people the right way, and doing things the right way; basketball has just always been my platform for doing that. After this year, my eyes have been open to the calling of mission work overseas, and I’ve really questioned whether the coaching profession is for me or if my heart was elsewhere. I feel like I’ve poured so much into basketball and given so much time to the game, but what has it given to me in return? I’m a super competitive person and I’ve been able to experience competition at the highest level, I’ve met some incredible people through the game, and I’ve been able to go to some pretty cool places, but is that what I’m seeking in life? When I think about my time in Zambia, I poured so little time of my life, six weeks to be exact, into these kids, into serving the Lord there and what has it given me? More than I could ever imagine. It’s given me life lessons, another home, another family, and it’s drawn me closer to the Lord. College basketball will always be there for me, nobody can take away the work I put in at Tennessee and the things that I learned there, I can always come back to the game. I don’t want to regret missing out on the opportunity to serve long-term if that’s what God is calling me to do. I am not closing the door on my college athletics career, but I don’t want to ignore the Lord if He indeed is calling me to serve Him in a different capacity than I ever thought before. I’m going to continue to pray about, continue to explore my options, and continue to trust the Lord has a plan for me.
Truthfully, Zambia feels like another home to me. I like the food, love the people, and feel so at peace there. It’s somewhere where I feel appreciated every day, somewhere I’ve grown as person, somewhere that I feel free and at ease. I feel like I can be myself and not be judged on a single thing there; and these kids and these Mamas, they feel like my family. They’re my Mamas, my brothers, my sisters, my home boys and home girls, my dudes, my everything.
I’ve really had to take time to myself since returning, to think, to pray, to get closer to God. I thought it was difficult to have my heart in two different States, but now, now I have my heart in two different countries, two different continents. I came across a quote by Miriam Adeney that’s really helped me make sense of returning to the States:
“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”
I often wonder if the kids ever miss me as much as I miss them. I take them everywhere with me- I have them on my phone, pictures on my desk, pictures on my bedroom wall. I take them with me because I love them with everything I have. I wish more than anything that I could pack my bags and take a short car ride or flight to Zambia and spend more time with them. Distance can be a difficult thing, and honestly, I fear I may never make it back over to Zambia. I also fear that the kids might forget me and everything we share together, but I fear even more that I might forget them- forget favorite colors, favorite foods, favorite sports, forget names and faces, forget the memories and the laughter. During my time back in the States, I came across a another quote, this one from The Notebook, “the scariest thing about distance is you don’t know whether they’ll miss you or forget about you,” and I couldn’t have said it any better myself…
As much pain and hurt as I have, the experience truly was incredible and I have so many good memories from this year’s trip. From day one, the kids were all smiles, you felt their joy and their love, and it was contagious. I didn’t have one day where I felt exhausted to the point of not wanting to spend time with them, they gave me energy and joy to fulfill my days. Their smiles, their laughs, their jokes and riddles, I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world. One of my favorite memories is when one of the boys asked me what the greatest thing that ever happened to me was, I had never really put much thought into it, but I immediately responded coming to Zambia, not just once, but twice and spending time with you all. The whole table lit up with smiles, myself included. This experience has truly made me a better person; it’s made me more conscious of what I do- do I spend more time with the Lord or watch another episode of Netflix? It’s made me more conscious of the way I talk and the way I treat people; it’s made me more conscious of who I surround myself with. It truly shaped me into the person I am today, still broken and imperfect, but better and striving to improve every day through Christ.
I’m forever thankful for my time in Zambia, for the life lessons, the laughter, the friendships, the joy, for Managers On A Mission for giving me the opportunity, for the Rafiki Foundation and the staff, for my good friend Kate Wilkins, for the two teams I was a part of, for the people of Zambia, for the Mamas and kids at Rafiki Village Zambia, and for the good Lord calling me not just once, but twice to serve in Zambia.
God Bless & Go Lady Vols,
2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV): “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control."