The transcript below is a testimony delivered by Mubuso Zamchiya at the Anacostia River Church in Washington DC.
Something you may not know about me is that I was born in exile. My parents belong to that formidable generation of Africans. The resilient set of men and women who sacrificed sleep, safety, and self for the great cause of African liberation. They were contemporaries of the cohort of African Americans who galvanized their resolve to pursue equality and opportunity during the American civil rights movement.
Their generation would have been heartened by the efforts of Americans like Malcolm X, and Claudette Colvin, and Rosa Parks – and of course Martin Luther King Jr. I imagine they would have appreciated Dr. King’s I have a Dream speech delivered in 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. They would have nodded their heads and raised their fists upon hearing Dr. King declare that he was not satisfied. Not until black people were no longer the objects of oppression, discrimination, violence, and inequality. Not as long as children continued to be stripped of their selfhood and dignity. “No”, said Dr King, “we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Yes, this reference to these prophetic Old Testament words from Amos chapter 5 verse 24 would have resonated with my parents and their peers. For they too were dissatisfied. Dissatisfied with colonialism and apartheid – those two equally ugly cousins of segregation and disenfranchisement. And so beginning in 1957, on the gold coasts of Ghana, a defiant wave of self-determination would rise and crest over the African continent. It did so behind leaders like Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Seretse Khama, Patrice Lumumba, Jomo Kenyatta, Kenneth Kaunda, Ndabaningi Sithole, and also Nelson Mandela. Like a tireless torrent through country after country, these waters carved out tributaries that carried the hope of liberation, right from the springs of self-reliance and through to the lakes of national independence.
I was born in 1973, ten years after Dr. King’s speech. The backdrop to my exit from my mother’s womb, and my entrance into human life was the fading embers of the dying legacy of colonialism juxtaposed against the emerging light of Africa’s new experiment with independence.
My mother and father married and began their young family in the midst of this chaotic, confusing, yet hopeful frenzy. I was born in Zambia because they were exiled there. Sojourners and refugees who were applying their skills to the cause of Zimbabwean self-rule.
My father, David Makhumbini Zamchiya, was a constitutional lawyer. A man adept at using the law to advocate for freedom. He was among the black leaders who participated in the Lancaster House Agreement of 1979 in London. Discussions that brought an end to guerilla warfare and ushered in the new Zimbabwean era in 1980. It was then, for first time, that my siblings and I were able to set foot upon the soil of our homeland.
Before Zambia, my father was a law student at the University of Bristol, and later at the London School of Economics. His father, Mubuso Maynard Zamchiya, was headman of Zamchiya village. One among the few chiefs who met with Queen Elizabeth when she first visited Rhodesia in 1960. This, in part, may have been what inspired my grandfather to send his son to university in England. My father did the same, when he sent me to England to study law at Bristol just like he did.
Thus, before the age of 21, I had lived in three countries. On my 21st birthday in 1994, my father gifted me with the most amazing note. You see, for the entire period that I was a foreign student in England, he would write letters, month after month, in his own unique cursive style. It was his way of imparting knowledge, understanding, and wisdom to me. His way of ensuring that I would hear his voice and be reminded both of who I was and also of whose I was. This specific letter has a segment that will forever be lodged in my heart. It reads as follows:
“Congratulations, son. May the Lord be blessed. To imagine that you are 21. My, my, my! I thought, considering how well my children are doing, that I should read Psalm 116 verse 12 again, over and over again – and I did. Perhaps you can help me answer the question there. We must pray without ceasing and confess our gratitude to him.”
“I am really blessed. What shall I render unto the Lord for all his blessings unto me? You may wish to think about the ‘coincidence’ of your becoming 21 at the same time as South Africa has become liberated and Nelson Mandela is made the country’s first Black President. How’s that for Planning!”
How is that for planning indeed. For, in his wisdom, my father understood the significance of helping me posit the narrative of my life within a much larger story. One that is orchestrated, governed, and directed by God in his providence. One that makes the often confusing itinerant nature of my life feel more stable, safer, and more secure. His letters gave me the assurance that I did in fact have a home. Because home was where my father was.
At that point in 1994, I had no idea that my journey would take me even further away from Zimbabwe. In the year 2000, I left England and moved to Washington DC. I came for a job, but I was also driven by a strong compulsion that the United States would be where I would find my wife. By grace, that compulsion turned out to be wonderfully correct. But, for the details of that tantalizing tale, I am afraid you will have to wait for another day.
However, I must tell you that my time here has truly flown by. I am flawed by the realization that I have lived longer in the United States than anywhere else. 2020 will mark twenty years for me in America. This compared to six years in Zambia, eleven years in Zimbabwe, and eight years in England. And the crazy thing is that all four places have felt a little bit like home and also a little bit like a foreign land. And so today, although I am confident in my citizenship, I am not always sure about where among these four countries I truly belong. A part of me continues to be an immigrant, and a part of me continues to live in exile.
Having said that, although being estranged can be difficult, its challenges are mitigated by the knowledge that I am indeed on my way home. You see, in 1992, just after I finished high school and just before I left for university in England, the Lord did a remarkable thing for me. By then, my parents had come to faith, and our home had become a revolving door for travelling pastors, missionaries, and evangelists. Men and women who were laboring not for political emancipation but for spiritual freedom. People who were taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to different parts of the African continent.
One particular evening, visiting with us at home was a Zambian pastor by the name of Edgar Ngambi – a man not bashful at all about asking people soul-piercing questions. He therefore asked them, and when I had run out of answers, he offered one final inquiry. “Would you like to pray with me to receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”
Boy, if I could tell you how vigorously and how intently my flesh put up a fight that night. It did everything it could not to let freedom ring. All it could to wrestle hope permanently to the ground. Yet, before I could say “No,” my lungs, and my vocal cords, and my lips, and my tongue, conspired against my flesh and surprised me with the sweet words of a victorious “Yes.” My response brought my mother to tears as she recounted how she had prayed earnestly for this day to come. We then prayed together. As they prayed, I cried. As I cried, Christ changed my heart and transformed my life.
“What shall I render unto the Lord for all his blessings unto me?” Psalm 116 is a hymn of thanksgiving for God’s care and his deliverance. Surely, life for my father before, during, and after the liberation struggle was not without its scrapes. But his letter in 1994 was an expression of thanksgiving for more than God’s provision for our finite day-to-day needs. It revealed that my father, David, was even more so thankful that God had counted him and his household among the elect. He was grateful that God had chosen us in him even before he set the foundations of the world.
You should know that the year 2022 will represent 20 years since my father died. What has remained alive all these years is that seed of gratefulness he planted in me through the letter he sent to me in 1994 on my 21st birthday. Although I do not understand it all, I am thankful for our exile in Zambia and my itinerant life thereafter. Grateful because the experiences have taught me not to hold on too tightly to anything in this life.
No Place Like Home
We are all but temporary residents on this planet. And if we are believers, we are sojourners. Exiles for a time, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. A people only momentarily displaced, but confident in the hope of returning home.
Hopeful also that as we travail in our exile, God, in his provision, will supply an accompaniment of fellow Christians for us along the way. Believers with enough heart, enough brain, and enough courage – like Tinman, Scarecrow, and Lion – to draw out our perseverance as we eagerly await our final emigration. Hope like this should make us joyful. It should cause us to declare that we are not satisfied with the trappings of this life. Not satisfied because Dorothy was right. There is in fact no place like home.
Even so, as the hope of the homeward-bound rages like an invigorating storm within our hearts, our urgency needs to be tempered with trust. For, as desperately as we might tap our ruby-red slippers together, we need to remember that it is the Lord himself who is making a way for us. It is he who has stained our shoes crimson with the perfect blood of Christ. And it is he who he has fitted our feet with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
By grace then, as we move forward, we shall not go out in haste. We shall not flee as landless exiles. For the Lord will go before us and the God of Israel will be our rear guard. As our odyssey continues along this yellow brick road of life, we shall run and not grow weary, and we shall walk and not grow faint. And the prize will very much be worth the perseverance.
If I have learned anything from my life as an immigrant, it is this. The only true freedom in life is spiritual freedom. Freedom from sin and death. Why? Because spiritual freedom is the only pathway back to our true home. Home, of course, is where our Father is. Not any earthly father, but our Eternal Father. Our inheritance is joy since Christ Jesus has gone ahead of us. Ahead to prepare a place for us in our Father’s house. A house in which there are many, many mansions.
What shall I render unto the Lord for all his blessings unto me? Perhaps every ounce of gratitude that I have.