Discerning Between Authentic Friendship and Alternative Motives

Mark Blog

Over the past two weeks I have been intentional about spending time with Zambians outside of the classroom setting. Whether that entails playing soccer in a nearby village or sitting at a computer teaching aspiring individuals Computer Science and Computer Engineering. These different encounters have created bonds between me and the different individuals I spend my free time with. While this sounds great and worthwhile, most of my not so beautiful challenges have come from this relationship building. This may seem counter to what may be expected but as an American I am labeled with many assumptions and preconceived notions of wealth, status, and stability. It also doesn’t help that I am teaching members of the community how to use computers, which in Zambezi are extremely expensive and hard to come by.

These notions are creating expectations and barriers when I am building relationships. The first of these was with an 18-year-old boy named Michael. We met my first week here while dancing around a candle one night at my home stay. I walked out to his village a few times to play football (soccer), and he also came after one of the computer classes hoping I would teach him and his little brother how to use a computer and download music. This was great until he started to ask for things. Josh warned us that this might happen, and of course it did. Michael asked my soccer ball, told me he would like a backpack because he has to carry his schoolbooks by hand to and from school, and he wants a memory card to get his phone to work properly. Were all these things the sole purpose of him hanging out with me?

I also have been teaching two 20-year-olds, Samuel and Patrick, computer engineering after our afternoon classes.  One day at the end of a 30-minute walk with them they told me that they want me to get them out of Zambia in a few years. They thought I would have connections that could get them to America for free and then they could make a lot of money. Another guy by the name of Steve came and asked me to teach him how to write code and create programs for computers. After teaching him, he came to me a few days later asking for a certificate from Gonzaga University so that he can get a job. He told me that if you go to an employer and claim you have a certain skill set you must show proof of completion of a class to get hired. Showing an employer that you have a certain skill is not a custom in Zambia; you must have a certificate. After explaining to him that I am just a student of Gonzaga he understood that I didn’t have the authority to give university certificates.

I have kept putting myself in positions to get to know people and it has been ending with me having to give bad news about their expectations of me. My most upsetting encounter has happened three times where a student has come to me asking either about Gonzaga University and how to go to school there or how they can get funding to go to a university in Zambia. Graham, a student who wants to attend a Zambian University, asked me this question. He told me that he graduated grade 12 and that was where everything ended. He has always desired to go to a university, but in Zambia a small percentage (less than 1% in the Zambezi district) go to a higher learning institution. Not knowing exactly what to say, I asked him if he had access to a computer and Internet, thinking he could Google search scholarships; he said no. After that, I remembered Josh saying that the computers we bring are meant to be for the community. So I told him that the only thing I can do for him is to ask if the Parish Priest will let the community use the computers under supervision while the Gonzaga group is gone. After hearing that, Graham got a big smile on his face just by the fact that he might have access to a computer that he might be able to use to find a potential scholarship for a university that he hasn’t applied to. After leaving that conversation, I was so upset at the fact that I could do almost nothing for a man who wants to attend a university more than some Gonzaga students do.

From all these experiences I have formed relationships that all have some aspect of expectations involved. I understand now that I am seen as an opportunity to those I am forming relationships with. Some see me as a wealthy, educated man who can help them get from where they are to where they want to be. It is upsetting that it is hard to form authentic relationships here that are free of these barriers.

Fortunately I have a student who is a big football fan. Jevious (Jay-v-us) is one of the students in the beginner computer class. He and I began talking about the 2014 World Cup and who we thought would win. This sparked a conversation that lasted three hours and included a plethora of subjects. I have continued to talk to Jevious and he has so many dreams and desires, yet over the past week he has never asked me for anything during conversations that regularly last 3-4 hours. He is determined to come to America so he and I have been spending time describing our cultures to each other. This is the authentic friendship that I was hoping for. It has allowed me to understand that not all Zambians look for handouts from Americans but rather that there is a good amount who do want to be in community with us and build relationships that can last.

Since being here in Zambezi I have been faced with many beautiful challenges that have encouraged me to grow spiritually, emotionally, and physically. My beautiful challenges have caused me to sit and contemplate how this culture, focused on generosity and oneness, can impact my understanding of my own culture as well as my understanding of self. These struggles to build authentic relationships have been challenges that have caused not so much contemplation but it rather left a pit in my stomach. As my time here is coming to an end, I hope to leave my relationships in places that can, in some way, benefit the Zambezi community after I leave.  God bless to all who see this blog and I am excited to come home and tell you more of my adventures.

Mark Beck, Class of 2015

Romans 8:31-39

P.S. Papa, Grandma, Mom, Dad, Kel, Jenny, and Mikie… Love you all and can’t wait to tell you all of my adventures.

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12 Responses to Discerning Between Authentic Friendship and Alternative Motives

  1. Aubrey says:


    I taught computers too, and I know exactly what incredible struggles that class in itself brings! Wow, I’m going to call John and Katie, the two others I taught with, right now and tell them to read this so we can discuss. On another note, it’s so fantastic to hear about some of the friends you’ve made and the relationships you’ve built, regardless of the challenges they may bring… I know not everyone is fortunate enough to connect with someone in Zambezi-town in just the few short weeks you are all there, so that in itself is wonderful. Hold on to that.

    I’ve never met any of you so I can’t picture your faces very well (it looks like a foggy outline of a group of awesome people), but you are all constantly in my mind and heart. Sending love your way!

    Aubrey Weber
    Zamily ’12

  2. Nancy beck says:

    Mark, it was so good to hear from you and what you are doing. It is amazing how God gives each one of you a different experience that is meant just for you!

    Friendships and relationships that are true and meaningful are a gift from God to be treasured and taken care of. Finding those relationships can be a painful journey but one you have to experience to see the true intent in people.

    I look forward to being with you and hearing about your journey. Love you to the moon….. Xxoo. Mom

  3. Katie McCann says:

    I can’t tell you how happy I was to see you were today’s blog! But my heart is heavy to read you’ve been struggling with this aspect of Zambia. You aren’t alone with these frustrations, and I want you to know that the authenticity of relationships is something I’m still chewing on a year later.

    As disheartening as this aspect may be, it’s impossible to place blame on those individuals who do act as though we are merely tools on their path to success. This behavior is the result of a long-time established relationship with the United States and suffering third-world countries. Gonzaga-in-Zambezi is an extremely unique, special program (props to you Josh) that I think strays far off what most mission trips represent. The fact that this program doesn’t focus on tangible hand-outs can be frustrating on both ends of the relationship. For an individual that’s lived in desperate poverty their entire life and has been taught to understand American citizens as the celebrity hero who comes to the rescue, it makes sense their expectations have been your experience. But for a student who’s goal was to share knowledge and build authentic relationships, this societal structure is a huge disappointment.

    Fortunately, for every one of these individuals, I’d like to believe there are two Jevious’s. My personal examples would be Mama Kawatu, Mama Catherine, the villagers at Dipalata, or a hardworking student I met while I was there named Caleb. Although the negative can be somewhat distracting, after a year of reflection I am confident I will never experience the same sort of unconditional love that I did in Zambezi with these people. They pour out their hearts onto the Gonzaga students each year, with the sole motive that we in turn might do the same for them. And after reading each of your blogs, I see clearly that you have been doing just that.

    It’s so good to read your words and hear that we were all right to assume you’ve been playing soccer nonstop over there Mark. I know that these experiences are tattooing your heart and I’m so excited for you to get home to chat with me about it all. Can’t wait for you to continue your adventure in Livingston and Botswana and see Victoria Falls and THE ELEPHANTS!!! Unfortunately you’re not allowed to play soccer with them…although that would be so badass. Game of Thrones is on tomorrow and I’ll be wishing you were home to watch it with me the whole time!

    Keep doing your thang y’all. X’s and O’s,
    Katie McCann

    P.S. I’m headed back to Spokane for the summer tomorrow, so my life might actually start to distract me from this blog.

  4. Hayley Medeiros says:

    Mmmaaaarrrkkkkk! What a great picture! So beautiful! Amist all the beauty and smiles in the pic, I can hear and feel the confusion in your voice. I’m very impressed by your ability to grapple with the concept of friendship. I’m so happy you have developed beautiful raw relationships but remember that just becuase an individuals has asked you for something does not mean he or she was only your friend to recieve a gift. It can be distracting but your heart and their hearts know. Love you all like crazy! Praying for you all!

    Kisu Mwane
    Hayley Medeiros
    p.s. Romans 8: 31-38 is one of my favorites SOOOO connected by God always!

  5. Lucy Baldwin says:


    (Before I get started, you all should know that I have a bunch of people staying over at my house, and I got on my computer and yelled, very excitedly and (unintentionally) loudly, “THE BLOG IS UP”, and got some strange looks from people who are not nearly as excited as I am to read this every day.)

    I think that Katie did a beautiful job explaining the difficulty and complexity of forming relationships in the light of the history and culture needs of Zambia. I think that it is also hard to truly love and be with people when you are only with them for a short time, when you are fighting each step of the way to see past the lenses of your perceptions of them and their perceptions of you. Its ok to make mistakes, and to be frustrated, as long as you wake up each morning ready to try again, to continue to love, to be with, and to fight for others.

    This was the thing in Zambia which knocked me over, and humbled me more than any other experience in my life: the fact that there was this great need, that I could only scratch the surface of it. That, for the first time in my life, I couldn’t be smart enough, or good enough, or clever enough to fix all the problems of my students and friends, and I felt leveled to my core at that realization.

    But that is entirely the point. You cannot fix everything. You cannot send students to Gonzaga, or feed everyone or cure every sickness. You cannot throw money at the problems until they go away. People have been doing that for hundreds of years. But you can get up each morning with your heart full of love, and your voice full of kindness, and your actions full of intentionality, and spend every ounce of yourself, at that time, in that day, being with people, and letting your brokenness and inadequacy get all mixed up in there’s.

    And here’s the thing. You never quite understand the effect, the deep effect, that you can have on people. Everyone’s lives are shaped from small moments. And, Mark, you are one of the most authentic and intentional men that I know. The other day, someone asked me what I thought real authentic love was, and I remember one day, I was sitting alone at Froyo, reading, and having the absolute worst day. You saw me, and took two hours out of your busy day to sit with me and hear about my nerdy book. You had no idea what was going on with me, but you still gave me the most loving gift: your time. You showed me authentic love, because you got on eye level with me, and shared what you had.

    Sorry this is so looooong. Mark, you really touched a nerve with me, about the hardest parts of Zambia, and my favorite lesson that I learned there.

    You all look beautiful and I hope you are all doing well!

    Kisu Mwane


  6. Theo, Andre, Chad House says:

    Mark- I think your title sums up confusion we all have regarding this topic, no matter where in the world we are! You must really be enjoying playing soccer (football) in Zambezi- what an awesome experience! Both Katie and Lucy’s messages above really summed up and confirmed their experiences of the complex relationships formed in Zambezi……you ZAGS have such insight and perspective, it amazes me!

    Conner- Is that a staged photo of you gazing off into the distance? You’ve always been such and explorer! Love you.

    Mamma House.

  7. Donna M. Clark says:


    Your post was very realistic, and as others on your trip have relayed to you, your experience was familiar. However, I agree with Katie, there are more folks everywhere who are not motivated by selfish desires. There are plenty of Americans who are selfless and hopefully a minority who are selfish.

    I hope for all of you that the remainder of your adventure in Africa is fulfilling and meaningful.

    To my Shannon, we miss you terribly, but I am glad you are back in Africa.

    The Sac State Hornets, yes the Hornets, are going to their first ever Super Regional in baseball!!! Randy is thrilled.



  8. Hikaru says:


    Thank you for your blog. You guys, I was just thinking about how powerful your blogs are. Thank you for opening up your hearts for all of us readers to read. Your words are so inspiring and heart-filling. Thank you.

    Mark, I remember that feeling of wanting to question relationships… I had an inckling that some people have built this expectations of handouts from somewhere. Are friends that ask for things not real “friends”? It’s such a gray area and a fine-fine line… But I bet Jevious has made such a huge impact on you and that your relationship with him will continue after your stay in Zambezi.

    I’m wearing my Homeboy shirt as I type this. Sending love to all of you! <3 Enjoy the dusty road, the mwanes, and the chindele chindele chindeles. Blueberries and froyo are not that far away.

    With love always,


  9. Krista says:

    thanks for the insight and the post. A shout out to you and everyone else in Zambezi. It’s been hard for me to reflect on my life experiences lately because America always seems like everyone and everything has to move and go all of the time. Reading your blogs remind me of how nice it was to be on Zambia time and be able to really think about your experience every day. The insight from all of you guys is helping me center myself and start reflecting again and it has been amazing getting insight into all of your experiences. There is so much to learn everyday from everyone you meet face to face or on-line 🙂 Authenticity of relationships are struggles that are encountered throughout life. Your ability to come face to face with them now and figure out how you feel and how complicated relationships and motivations can be will only help you better understand yourself and others even when you return from Africa.
    To everyone there right now take everything in with open eyes and open heart (like you aren’t already:) and listen more than you speak. It’s amazing what you can learn from the community in Africa as well as the amazing students and faculty that you traveled there with.

    Krista (Zambezi 2013)

  10. Kelly Beck says:

    Marky Mark,

    I’m glad that you found some people who value your time more than your status as an American. I’m so proud of everything that you are doing there and I can’t wait for you to come home and tell me all about it. Just keep your head up and spend as much time as you can with the people even if you feel like they are spending time with you to get things from you. You are meant to be there and meet these people for a reason so learn what you can from it and know that no matter what you are loved and valued.

    Looking forward to you coming home…
    Kelly Jo

  11. Rachelle Strawther says:

    Dear Mark,
    The responses that your post has generated is an indication of how much others who have gone before you (to Zambezi) relate to your question – how can we distinguish authentic friendships from those that have a hidden agenda? I am in full agreement with Katie McCann – when people ask you for items and assistance, it is part of a greater paradigm that has been perpetuated in the global south for years. Sometimes the requests are frivolous and will not ultimately result in any life change (like asking for a football); but in many cases, people from places like Zambezi see hope in white skin – they are trying to make something of themselves in a society that offers few opportunities for improvement. (Do you wonder, if you were in the same situation, what extent would you go to in order to get an education? Feed your family? Escape poverty?) As for us, the best of intentions don’t always translate into sustainable change – as you know, we can do a lot of harm in the process of trying to help others by setting unreasonable precedents. Certainly, that’s why the Gonzaga-in-Zambezi program’s emphasis on relationship- and capacity-building, as well community partnerships, is uniquely effective.

    It can be hard to shake off the feeling of betrayal when someone we believe to be a genuine friend makes their agenda known. I experienced this over and over (and over) again in Kenya, to the extent that after some time, I became very wary of making new Kenyan friends. However, in between all the people who only wanted favors, I had developed a core group of Kenyan friends and family who never asked for anything – who, in fact, became my protectors, my confidantes and my emotional support. It’s interesting – with each passing day, the memory of my true Kenyan friends (the Mama Kwatus) becomes more vibrant and distinctive to me, with the memory of the not-so-true friends becoming like a hazy background in an abstract painting.

    Wishing all of you lots of joy during these final days…

  12. Linda Boldt says:

    Sparky ~

    What a great post! Honest and genuine thoughts and feelings. I look forward to sitting in person with you and listening to all your experiences and details about your journey in Africa, both physically and spiritually.

    You are thought of daily and the family is keeping you and your group close in our prayers. We anxiously await your return!

    With Love,

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