Learning from Love and Acceptance

“Who can answer this question?”

Steven’s hand shoots towards the tin roof like a chindele jumping from a cockroach scurrying across the convent’s dusty floor. He sits there, waiting for the verdict of the benevolent ruler of the classroom, Madame Mululu.

“Alright my friend.”

Steven stands up on his orange-tipped cleats and practically floats across the broken concrete floor to the decrepit blackboard at the front of the room. His oversized white button-up tails behind him. He stares at the board, reading again:

A teacher wants to share 3 1/5 bars of chocolate equally among 8 children. How           much chocolate does each child get?

His fingers grip the ghostly chalk, preparing to lead 44 other eager Zambian children through the board and to the promised answer.

3 1/5 / 8

The problem stares at him, daring him to make a move to try and answer it. Taunting him with the hope of praise, but the equal opportunity for failure and embarrassment.   He is not fazed. Steven expertly rehearses the method he just learned.

16/5 / 8/1

“Turns into” he states

16/5 * 1/8

Staring across the room, Steven sees the nods of approval from Madame Mululu and his fellow learners.

16*1 = 16           

5*8   = 40

He scribbles the numbers on the board as the class shouts them along with him. At this point, Steven is leading the class. He is in charge of teaching the other students how this problem is supposed to be solved. He seems to be foaming at the mouth with this chance to be the center of attention, to lead the others through this seemingly impossible task.

“What goes into both 16 and 40?” asks Madame Mululu.   The class buzzes with little voices whispering to each other, trying to figure out the correct number. Someone squeaks in the back right corner of the room.


And they are off, trying to decide the correct numbers through their division.

“8 goes into 16 two times. And 40…5 times”

16/40 = 2/5

“So the correct answer is?” asks Madame Mululu. Steven turns to the board, starting to write the answer at the bottom.

“At the top my friend.”

Steven tries to write the answer next to the question.

“No, the other board!” laughs Madame Mululu. Steven turns to the other side of the board and begins writing, standing on the tips of his cleats.

Each student gets 2/5 chocolate bar.

“Is he correct?” Madame Mululu looks at the rest of the classroom.

“Yes” reverberates off the stained, crumbling yellow and blue walls.

“Okay, we will clap for him and he will walk back to his seat, not slow” Madame Mululu relays to Steven and the class, even though all they little hands have already began to clap. They know what is about to happen. Steven knows what is about to happen. His face gives away the joy that he feels. His smile is so wide, every tooth is visible in his mouth, shining and putting his joy on display for all of us to see.

Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap

A rhythm develops with each slap of hands together. It reverberates throughout the walls, off the dust-covered glass, and back into Steven, back into us all. Steven starts to shimmy and shake, pose and slide down the aisle to his seat. He turns around like he is on a catwalk and throws both hands out to his side, and slides, completely disregarding the no slow walking rule. No one cares. We all crack up, letting the joy of this moment roll throughout us, moving our hearts and our minds. In this moment, we are all right. We are all one with Steven. The shared love and joy is felt by all, even this chindele sitting in the back of the room.


This chandelle though, still has no idea what he is doing in this place. I wake up each and every morning thinking that this great understanding has come to me in my sleep.  Like the tooth fairy coming to take my back left molar, but instead of leaving me with a quarter and some insight, I wake to find my molar still sitting under the pillow, buried underneath the sheets and pillow case, waiting for her to come. I put the education team as number one on my list of preferences during the application process for two reason: 1) I have no understanding or idea of what the other teams were and knew for a fact that I would only be asking more questions than adding to the information given, and 2) I believed that I could come to this place and help the students at Chilena primary school learn to write and speak English. I have been speaking English my entire life and even though I have zero formal teaching experience, I believed that my experience as a native English speaker would allow me to bring something to these students. I believed that I could help them better understand English and, in turn, build their literacy rates and help them better themselves. Now, staring back at this process of thinking after spending some time in the school and around the Zambians, I realize how shortsighted I was.

These kids don’t need me.

They have amazing teachers who care for them deeply and who are fluent English speakers themselves. My presence has only distracted them. I am a large white male walking across the courtyard of the school, and into a classroom and each and every student’s eyes are on me, not their teachers or their lessons. How am I helping? How am I adding to anything that they are learning? Their teachers are giving us three weeks out of their planned curriculum to allow us to try and help them in a subject where they are already well versed in. This entire line of thinking seems completely ungrateful for the sacrifices that many have made for me to allow for this amazing opportunity to get to see and work alongside some amazingly intelligent and warm individuals, yet I keep finding myself asking the same question. Why am I here? What will I bring to these people?

Yes, I see my placement within the Chilena school as a distraction to their everyday life. Yes, I still question how I will be able to give them a new insight and experience regarding English. Yes, I still question if my work here will bring forth anything. However, I am beginning to see again how even though I have these questions, the people and society here in Zambezi will allow me to work through these questions and walk alongside me to  find possible solutions, while bringing about new and challenging questions that I will carry beyond these borders. Just like Steven working through his math equation, I am working through my own equation of my placement in Zambia and how I can be of service to these people. However, my experience in Zambezi has shown me that these people will love and accept me no matter the doubts, questions or strayed emotions I have. They all know on some level that they are teaching me even more than I could ever teach them, and they are doing it through love and acceptance being shared and given to a multitude of individuals coming from numerous backgrounds, all combining together into this amazing little place in southern Africa. It is the most innate and human thing that we do in this life, to love and accept others for whoever they are, wherever they come from, and wherever they are going.  As I move forward with my short time here in Zambezi, I know that by walking alongside these people, they will help me through time discover who I am and why I am here.  We all have the capacity for giving and sharing our lives and there is always room to walk alongside someone during their journey, which helps both parties grow and learn from each other.  I am still learning and still growing, and with the love and acceptance of the Zambian people, will continue to do so long after my time here has ended.

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Kisu Mwane,

Andrew Mercer

Class of 2016


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20 Responses to Learning from Love and Acceptance

  1. Riley Ramage says:


    I can’t explain how wonderful it is to see your name and hear from you! I’ll admit, it’s a bit weird being on this side of the blog and hearing about Chilenga, but it is so exciting to see it through a fresh set of eyes. You did it! You made it through your first day of classes, and you have already begun to wrestle with the questions that come along with being a Gonzaga student in Zambezi. Continue to ask those questions and continue to struggle with the emotions they bring. I remember how difficult it was to understand my place at Chilenga, and I still struggle with that understanding today.
    I know you are bringing so much joy, laughter, and love to the kids at Chilenga, just as you did to the kids at Escuela de Guadelupe – it may not seem like it now, but have faith that your presence is making a difference in those kids’ lives in so many ways, not just in the classroom. Keep learning from them, keep learning from their teachers, and keep walking alongside all those you encounter in Zambezi – they will teach you so much.

    Sending all my love and good vibes to the rest of the crew – I can’t wait to hear more about your adventures! Good luck on the rest of classes this week!

    Kisu mwane,
    Riley Ramage

    P.S. Handy – I know you kicked butt in the classroom on your first day! Can’t wait to hear how the new curriculum is going. Keep on keepin’ on.
    Ellychoochie – Thanks for the awesome reflection, you really brought me back to three hour Zambian masses! Sending good thoughts and hugs your way

  2. Lili Ramos says:


    Wow, you have such an incredibly way with words. I was able to be transported back to Zambezi and back to Chilen’a with you. Thank you for that.

    I am so excited to hear that you are beginning to question your place in that classroom and I am even more excited to hear that you are continuing to ask those difficult questions. You hit the nail right on the head when you wrote that the Zambezi community will help you answer those difficult questions and urge you to continue asking more. This community will teach you more about yourself and your views than you can imagine and it fills me with joy that you are already experiencing that deep love. It took me a while to realize how loved and supported I was by a community that knew so little about me and my story.

    The magic of this place lies within those moments of feeling like an outsider and being treated otherwise. Keep asking those questions and keep letting yourself be helped! Thank you again for your incredible words! Sending my love to you all and also sending many prayers that the roosters have all magically disappeared from the convent…

    Kisu mwane,
    Lilipad (Zamily 2014)

  3. Carlee Quiles says:

    Mercer, wow and well done. This description was vivid and beautiful. As someone that has never been to Zambia but heard countless stories from handfuls of my favorite people these are the types of stories and challenging questions that keep me coming back for more. The way you described your stature in the courtyard almost rivals the clear picture I now have of Stevens joy. I laughed, I smiled, and I cannot wait to hear more about you and your team.

    To the rest of you, thank you in advance for sharing your experience with me. You may be learning and growing tremendously over there but I hope you realize you are teaching each of us eagerly awaiting the next post.

    Handy, I ate donuts. They didn’t taste as good without you. I hope you are managing to eat some eggs each morning. If it is hard just invision a sprinkle donut, it’ll help.

    Matthew, I CANNOT wait to hear all about your health lessons because awkward giggles about puberty make the best stories. I hope the first day went well! Until I get to hear these stories enjoy holding the hands of all the tiny children. Miss you, more than I thought I would.

  4. Taylor Ridenour says:

    I was thinking of you all throughout today as you experienced your first day of classes! Sophie and Dakota- Please get pictures of you in action! I have to see you in that classroom.

    Mercer, thank you for bringing us into that joy filled moment in class and thank you even more for allowing us into the places you are struggling and questioning. It is a gift to us back here and I’m sure a constant gift to the group walking alongside you there.

    Keep on leaning into the love and acceptance you are experiencing.

    All my love friends,

  5. Mercer's friend says:

    I am reading all of these comments and I am finding myself way unqualified to comment. I have never been to this beautiful place where you are and as much as I pray that someday I will, if I am honest with myself I don’t think it will be a reality. So, I can only relate to the questions you pose for my experience from Washington and I hope that will be sufficient enough to encourage you in your walk there.

    ” Who I am and why I am here?”- if you discover the answer to that questions you should let me know because I have asked God that question every day since my first day of class at Gonzaga. It’s a big one. It’s a hard one. I was thinking…remember what the Jesuit at Graduation said? He said something that might be comforting in the mist of questioning…
    1) Your not God- At first I thought it was a little harsh, but then I realized how great of a thing this is! We do not have to know exactly what we are doing or where our life is going. We are not supposed to “fix” the things that we see that are wrong with our culture or the problems that are placed directly in front of us. We are called like you said to walk in love with others. Not to fix. Not to know everything. Not even to be everyone’s solution. We don’t have to know “why am I here”, but when we arrive there- we need to show up fully and allow ourselves to fully experience what there is to experience, and to love others enough to have a desire to serve in any way we can (as well as to be vulnerable and humble enough to be served)
    2) This isn’t heaven- in other words there is beauty, pain, joy, and sorrow. The people we walk alongside and the place that we are in isn’t perfect. It doesn’t even have to be! We are called to merely walk in love alongside of people who are experiencing all of these (as well as allowing others to walk alongside of us as we experience them). So have peace knowing that you don’t have to answer “who am I and why am I here” in the three weeks that you are in Zambia.
    3) Don’t be a jerk- don’t worry Mercer…this does not apply to you. If anything he was talking to me because you are one of the greatest gentleman I have ever met. On MP I do not think I was successful once at sitting at the dining room table before you.\

    I don’t know if any of this really helps. I do not know if you will answer that question today, or tomorrow. Maybe a few years from now. Know you are not alone in the questioning, you have an amazing community around you to grapple with it and to be loved when looking for the answer. You are incredible. Take those minor failures and those great successes and use both of them to better serve and to be served by the people around you. Love you Mercer.

    Your MP buddy

  6. Kelen Ahearn says:

    Hi Mercer!

    You’re really awesome. I understand the feeling of not knowing your place yet. Maybe it’ll be hard to discover that purpose while you are there too. Maybe it’s something you find out later. But, I am tearful in imagining all of you guys together trying to solve your own equations of worth and reason while there in Zambezi, and then celebrating, and clapping together once you each solve it. Rejoice together once you solve the puzzle. I read your words and thoughts and couldn’t help but feel happy and joyful for all the students in your classroom. It kinda reminds me of CM. I didn’t need you, and I guess I didn’t really need Katie either. But in the end I did need you guys. You made me, along with so many others, feel at home. The hellos, laughs, yells, smiles, and late night conversations are something I will always cherish. And from this, I know your students in your classroom will cherish just the same. Your influence is far greater than you know. Thank you for teaching me how to lead, be bold, defy the odds, do new things, and ultimately, have fun. I can’t wait to hear about how you teach all your students these next couple of weeks the same things and more.

    Also, I never said goodbye to you. So, goodbye. Thanks for a great year. I wanted you to know that my favorite part of the CLP retreat was chasing you. I think my second favorite part was the giant hug I gave you afterwards. I hope you get chased into a big hug while in Zambia – that’d be fun. I wish you all the best in all your adventures during and after your trip!

    Hello everyone else! I hope you are having a great time, I can’t wait to see you all somewhat soon and exchange memories made this summer!

    Love, Kelen

  7. Grace Savinovich says:

    Andrew fricken Mercer.

    A) I had no idea you were on this adventure. Not a clue. Coming hot out of left field. Now that I think about it though, that’s almost how I’d describe our entire relationship. Coming hot out of left field. You surprise the bejesus out of me with something miraculous, but then once I know that thing about you, it’s like that’s the thing that centers the damn universe. Keep doing that, however it is you do it.

    B) Great story. I’ve always admired the power you wield as a storyteller. It’s like magic, even though you and I both know it’s anything but…it’s how you expose a special part of yourself and that moment and the truth that found you there. You’re so good at looking for it. The truth, I mean.

    C) Things are better when you have a list of three. Of this, I am sure.

    D) Go Zags.

    E) (This is kind of for Dodd – I decided on Santa Clara, thanks for making me decide my own decisions, no matter how many times I tried to make you do it for me…good…good).

    F) Back to Mercer, hope to see some photos of you in a baseball cap, but also some photos where you’re not. Now I’m getting picky.

    G) Thabk you for your time.

    Stay hungry, stay foolish.

    All the love that I can overnight to Zambia for a reasonable price,

  8. Cathy Mercer says:


    Love “hearing” your voice and the questions you are struggling with. You are right that there’s more to learn from each other than to teach – with any person you give your heart to. It’s interesting to hear you describe yourself as a distraction, but you paint it so clearly. You have always been my observer, the one to stand off to the side to get the lay of the land (so to speak) before you jump in. But, once you do, you are all in. I love that about you.

    Praying that you all grow in love to sustain you through the tough situations you may face, tears to help relieve the stress and laughter to double your joy!

    Love and prayers,

  9. Pam McNeal says:

    Thank you for painting such a beautiful picture of your experiences. Thank you for making us laugh, cry, and contemplate our God-given purpose. What a blessing this journey will be for you all, as well as for all who know you.
    Much love and continued prayers,
    Pam, Chris, and Coral

  10. Josh Mercer says:

    There is at least one thing I know is true about this article.

    “I am a large white male”-Andrew 2016

  11. Hannah Van Dinter says:

    Wow. Beautiful, Mercer. Keep killin it.

  12. Conner House says:

    Let me guess… Oatmeal? Eggs? There has to be Chiki Chili on the table somewhere… Unless Dodd cooked breakfast, in which case it’s probably some extravagant soufflé.
    Holy smokes man! This was beautiful!! You hit it all right on the head. You articulated something deep rooted and challenging to accept in this program. And what an amazing analogy you used to articulate your point. An incredible, thoughtful and thought provoking reflection. It made me remember just what this program (and being a big white male in Zambezi) is all about, and put a big smile on my face as I speed north on the Sounder on my way to work in Seattle. The blogs thus far have been phenomenal. I look forward to my morning commute so I can read, and reflect on your reflections. While listening to my Zambia playlist, and trying to calculate how many paychecks, and how much vacation time needs to build up before I can set off for Zambezi again.
    I hope you are doing well, and getting adjusted to life in Zambezi. I had the chance of traveling to that beautiful town twice while at GU. And I can tell you, I still think about Zambezi on a daily basis. Zambezi will leave an irreversible mark upon your heart if you allow it in. As Josh always said (besides his trademark “life begins at the end of your comfort zone”), your experience in Zambezi shouldn’t be something that gets put on a shelf when you return. It should live within you, and dramatically impact the way you see the world, and the way you love.
    Davis, happy belated Birthday!
    Can’t wait to follow along. Enjoy your breakfast everyone!

  13. Bob Mercer says:


    Thank you for your description of your first day of class! You truly have the gift of “words”. Don’t ever consider yourself a distraction. You have so many gifts that you are willing to share and the people you share them with will be better for it. Can’t wait to hear more from you and the other students on your time and experiences. You all are teaching and “old dog new tricks”. God Bless you all. So proud of you Andrew.

    Love, Dad

  14. Joanna says:


    I’m so happy to see and hear you are doing well. Thank you for taking me back to the classroom that became my home last summer. I miss teaching and being in Zambezi so much, and I have loved getting to relive moments of it through the blogs.

    I know that exact feeling of walking into a room with 25(+) sets of eyes on you and all you want is to be invisible. It is hard to want to help and be of service but feeling like you are more of a distraction than anything. However, I truly believe you discovered something through this blog. It is a truly a journey, a journey that needs support, reflection, questions, and a willingness to learn. You have all that. You are right where you need to be- wrestling with a million questions and thoughts. Zambezi provides such eye opening experiences on topics I, and probably many others, take for granted on a daily basis, topics such as love, laughter, hope, community, education, generosity, acceptance, faith, and so on. Continue to lean into challenging conversations and thoughts; you never know where it’ll take you. ☺

    Much Love,

  15. Zack Rosse says:


    What an amazing post. I could tell from the start that this was your post. You have such a distinctive voice, especially while writing. Steven had me actually laugh out loud in my new office (my co-workers stared at me). Your talent with English is so unique and genuine. You bring so much to Zambezi.
    -Zack Rosse

    P.S. Tod should be proud of this writing. I hope Jeff’s praise will suffice.

  16. Makayla Wamboldt says:


    As I read this I can’t help but think back to our Writing for Social Action class. This blog post is just a small glimpse of the powerful ways your writing can bring others closer to understanding and fighting injustice. I hope you keep writing throughout and after your time in Zambezi. I believe that it will not only help you wade through questions and confusions, but also invite and encourage others to do the same.

    Thanks for sharing your incredible gift with words.

  17. Dori chelini says:

    Was reading the blog and before the end I knew it was you. You painted a story with your words that made me imagine the room, the kids, and you in the corner. Praying for you all. Mrs. C

    Zac, you and Andrew started your Gonzaga journey together and it is so fitting for you both to have this experience together. I can’t wait to see what God has planned for you all. I pray for you all every day and hit refresh often waiting for the next post. Hope your are eating and be safe. Love Mom and Dad

  18. Collin Price says:

    “A rhythm develops with each slap of hands together. It reverberates throughout the walls, off the dust-covered glass, and back into Steven, back into us all.”

    The perfect metaphor for Gonzaga-in-Zambezi. There is chaos and noise coming from every direction, like the dissonant clapping of hands in a crowd. Then a rhythm develops. The rhythm does not come from one’s own focus or understanding of the chaos, but rather the harmonious reverberation bouncing off of everything outside oneself. In Zambezi, we learn from the walls and dust-covered glass. We learn from the furniture in the convent. We learn from the plague that knocks us on our ass for two days straight (way to push through, Hayley). We learn from watching a group of students work through a math problem, from cooking with Mama, and from listening to the struggles and triumphs of our Zam Fam. Each of these learning experiences chips away at who we thought we were, what we thought we knew, and allows us to be a part of something outside of ourselves.
    It is my hope for all of you that for these four short weeks, you can die to your former selves and BE. Be one set of sweaty hands clapping in a dusty, smelly, sunlit room, full of other sweaty hands clapping together. You will never “figure out” what Zambezi means for you or what you mean for Zambezi, but if you lose yourself in the chaotic rhythm of what happens every day, you will be made whole by the wonderful people that surround you.

    PS – Please take the time to meet Samson when he comes into town next week. He’s a great human.
    PPS – Please give Jeff, Jenny, and Katie a big group hug for me.

  19. Annette Holgado says:

    “It is the most innate and human thing we do in this life, to love and accept others for whoever they are, wherever they come from, and wherever they’re going.”

    Andrew—What a beautiful quote and a beautiful story. That was probably the best introduction to a story I’ve ever read. Awesome job! Best of luck with finding answers to the questions you are struggling with. It can’t be easy to figure out, but I have no doubt that the beautiful people you’re working with will help guide you.

    Katie—Sorry I got to this story a little late! The quote Matthew shared instantly made me think of you. I have never met anyone who has accepted everyone for who they are and offered them as much love and kindness as you have and you do. I wonder how anyone could be that sweet! Hahaha you’ll have to teach me. I’m so thankful you’re on this trip and just feel such joy knowing the work that you all are doing, the love that you’re sharing and receiving, and the knowledge you’re gaining about these people who just sound so incredibly beautiful in each of these stories. Enjoy every second of your trip Katie, it is certainly an experience of a lifetime and I know it’ll change your heart forveer. Love you and miss you much! Have a beautiful day!

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