Love: The Universal Language



It was a grand reunion Sunday morning as community members and Gonzaga students gathered in the courtyard for the first time since mid-afternoon on the previous day when students left with a host family from the local parish for an overnight homestay. Seven families from the parish shared their hospitality and agreed to host our 17 students – for dinner, the night’s sleep, and a morning breakfast. Many hugs were passed around and the stories were just waiting to be shared about the different experiences that everyone had. All of these would have to wait because the church doors opened and the choir’s welcome calls signified the start of what would turn out to be a beautiful, breathtaking, memorable (three and a half hour) Sunday morning mass.

The mass was celebrated in English and Lunda with a translator between the two during the homily. When I took my first deep breath inside the church I could feel my heartbeat align with the deep bass and rhythmic patterns of the drums. I sat next to Moira, Zac, and Dakota in a pew right behind the church choir. I found myself tapping along with the beat while my eyes tried to take in all of the body movements that the church choir added to their songs. Father Noel’s sermon lasted about an hour, which was broken up every few minutes by the Lunda translator. I was able to listen and reflect on the previous few key points before he would shift to a new topic.

The first reading during the mass told of a time when the Spirit descended upon the apostles as a strong gust of wind. Father Noel shared that reading and interpreting the scriptures in a literal way is not always necessary. In reality the Holy Spirit more often resembles a gentle breeze that is felt and appreciated throughout the day.

I thought about this metaphorical gentle breeze and remembered back to the night before when Moira, Justin, and I were out at our homestay. Our host family was well respected within the community and extremely involved at the church. The youngest son in the family, Kunda, is 20 years old and just finished University, during which time he studied automotive engineering. We sat in the living room with the faint chatter of a Zambian talk show on TV while Kunda shared with us, late into the night, about the struggles of post graduate life and how in Zambia a degree does not always mean automatic employment. He questioned us asking if this was the same case in America because the movies make it seem as though everyone is very well off.

Back in my seat in the pew at mass, I started to realize that things are more complex than they once seemed. I felt the gentle breeze come through the window as I thought about the power that education and a degree has for an individual. However, too often this must be coupled with connections and opportunities. Kunda said it plain and simple, “It is still all about who you know.” That was a soft reminder about our connection as humans and the immense pressure that we all feel to succeed.

Father Noel continued, adding that we are all broken and greedy and selfish, but the one thing we can all find hope in is the universal language of love. Love is the language of the Holy Spirit. It may be spoken differently (in English, Luvale, or Lunda- to name a few), and it may be displayed differently (through a hug or a handshake), but the reality is that the people of God all know the language of love. Later Sunday afternoon I met with Katie K., Emily, and Mercer to finalize our first few lesson plans for our classes at Chileñga. As a class, the first book we will read is called Whoever You Are by Mem Fox. One part reads:

“Little one, when you are older and when you are grown,

you may be different, but remember this:

Joys are the same, and love is the same,

pain is the same and blood is the same,

smiles are the same and hearts are just the same-

wherever they are, wherever you are, wherever we are,

all over the world.”


Kisu Mwane,

Elly Zykan

Class of 2018

Ps. There were two posts from Sunday! Make sure you catch Dakota’s as well!

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25 Responses to Love: The Universal Language

  1. Zack Rosse says:

    Elly you’re amazing. Keep tapping along with the beat. I miss all of you so much already.

  2. Hannah Van Dinter says:

    Elly my love, thank you thank you thank you for helping take me back to Zambia again. Your reflection on love as a universal language is a profound one in the context of this experience, and I know that you will find a multitude of ways to show love to your fellow Zags and the people you are meeting. Oh, how I wish I could see you in Zambia, Elly! I know for certain that you are KILLING it already!

    Katie, can I go back to Zambia and can you be my TA?! What a freaking lucky group to have you as a support and guide- YOU ARE INCREDIBLE and you have such a beautiful connection with Zambia. I can only imagine the ways you will grow this second time around.

    Health team- first week of lessons- wahoooooo!! You guys are incredibly genius, flexible, and resourceful, so I have no doubt you will respond beautifully to all the curveballs that will inevitably be thrown your way.

    For all groups starting this week, keep in mind that some of the most important work you will take part in while in Zambia is the work that you will do within yourself. The lessons you provide are important and relevant and highly valued, but the way that your perspectives expand and change, and the way you learn reliance, and the ways you become more eager to engage with your world- THIS is also some of the important work you will do. Remember this in the times when you feel like you bombed your lesson or the Zambians showed up 2 hours later than expected or you feel like you ran out of questions to ask your homestay parents.

    Wow, I’m becoming one of those long-winded bloggers (so sorry). Anyway, Molly, Zac, Matt, Mercer, Katie, the other Katie, Davis, Dodd, Jenny (please tell me the nickname stuck), Moira, Handy, Hayley, Elly, and all you other beautiful humans, I am praying for you and anxiously awaiting more updates!

    Kisu mwane, Hannah

  3. Megan O'Malley says:


    I am confident that your laughter and deep empathy will provide you with ways to connect with the students you will meet soon. I can’t wait to hear more. My heart is with you all.

  4. Kurt Guenther says:

    Greetings and chimene mwane to the group. It is great to be reading your blogs from Zambezi. I was in that same convent 5 years ago. It seems so long ago, but when I read your stories it feels like just a few days ago. The Zambezi experience is timeless. You are all blessed to share in this experience with one another.

    Elly I am envious of your ability to take so much of the mass in on your first Sunday. It really is 3.5 hours and I recall being so confused trying to make sense of everything inside and outside that church during that first service. Definitely different than my Sunday church services here in Arizona. It’s sometimes difficult, but try to enjoy every little piece of it, and don’t let the next thing take away from your present moment.

    Dakota, your previous post was also such a blessing to read. It really hit me to hear your honesty when it comes to your feelings and uncomfortability surrounding your place in Zambezi. It is certainly something to wrestle with. But remember no act big or small is wasted if inspired by genuine love. That is such a good sign.

    And I encourage everyone to be real with your thoughts and feelings each day, even if they don’t fit the mold of a ” nice tidy reflection.” It’s often the shared tears of both extreme joy and sadness that will allow you to connect with the experience. And really allow yourself to connect to your personal feelings. While I don’t think I know any of you on the trip, I wish you all the best.

    One of my regrets is not praying as much as I would have liked while in Zambezi, so take a moment on those beautiful nights for that if you wish. There is so much love there.

    Much Love,

    Kurt Guenther
    Zambezi 2011

    Shout out to the Zambia Gold crew!

  5. Venezia says:


    Thank you for a beautiful reflection! It shows how much your heart is ready to connect and be with your students. Good luck with classes today

    Much love – Venezia

  6. Peter Sherman says:

    I am so stoked for you, Elly! It is awesome to hear how you are already loving and embracing this community so well. Keep your heart open and keep that beautiful smile on your face!
    For the rest of the Zam Fam, I am sending you all big hugs and warm thoughts of cuddly puppies for when your classes get awkward.

  7. Taylor Ridenour says:


    This was so beautiful to read and I felt as though I was right there in the church with you. I am overjoyed that you are finding so many moments to reflect and opening your big heart to so much already. I love you lots friend.

    That picture of you three girls melted my heart-what wonderful humans!

    Sending all my love to each and every one of you!

  8. Beth Finger says:

    Elly Belly,

    We are blessed that you are an early blogger, as I (selfishly) wondered how long it would be til we saw your name and face in print! I was THRILLED to see your post today – and feel like I was right there with you as you tapped the beat in the Sunday service. Of course I am even more thrilled to see the huge smiles on your Zag faces, surrounded by all those adorable children. And I can’t believe you have already had a stay with locals. How quick you all are assimilating – amazing!

    Life here goes on with prom and finals and grad parties – so it is such a blessing to take a moment and BE with you in Zambezi, free from all the societal norms of the US. Thank you for stretching waaaayyyyyyy out of your comfort zones, Zags, in the name of LOVE. Jesus is proud, as are all of your families and friends.

    Much love from Mrs. Elly’s Mom in Colorado

  9. Joanna says:


    Its so good to see your name pop up on this blog. I hope you are having the time of your life. Your piece was so reflective and I love the saying “love: a universal language”. I think sometimes language prevents me from recognizing the simplest things, how important they truly are, the role they play, and the memories they create. It is definitely a fun thing to think about, and something I don’t think about enough.

    Picturing you in the Chileña classroom, makes my heart happy, as I know you are going to do so amazing and your students will all love you. I absolutely love that quote and book, and I think it is a great first read.

    Thank you for taking me back to Zambezi in your beautiful post. I can’t wait to hear all about your trip and to share Chileña teaching experiences with you.

    Much love,

  10. Karen Larson says:

    Elly, how exciting to hear about your adventures! We are living vicariously through this blog. I am so proud of you for taking things in with such a consciousness and openness. I know this experience will be (is?) life changing and you are amazing to take this on.

    (Also, how awesome is it that you are going to be Amy’s RA next year? This world is wonderfully small!)

    Sending love and appreciation to the whole group. Thank you for venturing out in to the world to make it a better place.
    Karen Larson
    (mom of a just-finished-freshman-year Zag & longtime friend of Elly’s mom!)

  11. Blair Zykan says:

    Hi Elly!

    What a great way to start the week – getting to read your thoughtful post and see a picture of you with your new friends in Zambezi. I can tell you’re embracing the experience with all that you are. Very proud of you and the Zag team.

    Have shared the blog link with the Zykan family and friends crew so they can follow the adventure as well. I know they’ll be excited to see your post (and wanting to see more).

    All is well here in CO, with Spring beginning to arrive – finally. Enjoy – see you on the 11th!

    Lots of love,

  12. Cathy Mercer says:

    Hello Zags!

    I feel wonderfully connected to you in just these few short blogs. And how fitting that your first Sunday celebrated would be Pentecost Sunday – when God’s life, breath and energy fill those who believe. I first imagined that would be you, but after Elly’s description of your service, I believe that your community is infused with the Holy Spirit! I believe that this experience in Zambezi will change you each profoundly in ways you do not even know or imagine yet, and I’m anxious to hear your reflections during your stay and long afterward.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts as well as pieces of your day in words and images. Looking forward to hearing more about what you are teaching AND what you are learning.

    With love and prayers,
    Cathy (mom of Andrew….. oh, better known as Mercer!)

  13. Megan Wertman says:

    I can see you tapping right along, enjoying the groove. Next time, just dance! The Zambians will love you for it.
    You are soaking in all these moments, and I hope that you continue to do so. Your time in Zambezi will be a huge collection of moments, so rich and full of life that it will be hard to come home and explain to other people.
    Keep being present. Wake up early for every sunrise. Shake hands and greet everyone and hug and laugh and breathe deeply. Those are the moments to bring home. Also, find Mutondo! 🙂
    Can’t wait to read again tomorrow!
    Kisu Mwane,
    Megan Wertman (from Housing)
    Zambezi Alum, 2011

  14. JJ Zykan says:

    I am so glad to see that you are having such a fun time!! I hope to see more posts from you and I can’t wait for you to come home!!
    Love you Jelly!
    Love JJ

  15. Katie Hoag says:

    Thank you for the thoughtful post! Your insights are so heartwarming. I vividly remember my homestay weekend with Mama Catherine three years ago in Zambezi. It was a slightly overwhelming, extremely beautiful and discerning experience that I know you will all cherish near to your hearts forever.
    One lesson I learned during my time in Zambia, that it seems you’ve already encountered, is that despite the obvious geographical and material differences separating the Zambia people from us GU students (or grads), we are SO connected. Whether that connection stems from a fear that our education and degree wont lead us in the direction we hope, or that our hearts long for a justice for all people, or whatever else…it is so comforting to know that the message of love and the gentle breeze of the Holy Spirit are being spread around the world. Continue to soak in those realizations…and be open to letting them tear at your heart.
    Also… good luck on your first week at Chilenga!! Ah! I do not even have the words to express my excitement for you and that opportunity. It will impact you in the best way 🙂
    Also also… Hi Matt!!! You’re so awesome! I am so confident your loving presence is such a gift to this year’s Zam Fam and to the people of Zambezi. Love you!!

    Love to you all!
    Best, Katie Hoag (Zam Fam 2013)

  16. Morgan Green says:


    WOW what a great start to my day to wake up and see your post! I was almost late to work because I was so absorbed in reading your beautiful reflection. I can picture you sitting in the church, tapping along to the beat of the drums, and taking in deep breaths of the air around you, all in classic Elly fashion.

    I can’t wait to read posts about the first day of classes! Dr. Girtz (one of Katie K. and I’s education profs at GU) once reminded our class that you’re never going to be fully prepared for any classroom that you walk into, regardless of the amount of experience or preparation you have put in. BUT, if you have pure intentions and a good spirit, your students will sense your care and compassion for them and eventually the learning will follow. I know you all have good spirits and a heck of a lot of care and compassion, so I have no doubt that meaningful learning (of things inside and outside of the curriculum) will occur for all of you and your students.

    Katie P- What a blessing you are to this GU group as you walk alongside them during this journey and experience what love does (clever, right?) Katie B- I know you’re lighting up half of Zambia with your sweet smile:) Katie K- Such a kind heart. I can’t wait to hear about your classroom experiences! Molly- tbt to Browning2k15…I hope your body is cooperating better this trip! E-Handy- Sending so much Daddy Love your way. God has you right where you are meant to be! Dodd- I am so grateful for the brief yet reflective conversation I was able to have with you in Hemmingson during the last week of school. I haven’t ran into Rob Sumner yet, but I hope to soon.

    Praying often for all of you! These blog posts keep making me smile.

    Peace, Blessings, and Love,

    Morgan Green
    Avid Zambia blog reader and Zambae wannabe

  17. Katie Hammond says:

    It is so good to hear your voice even if it is just in my head. Your article is absolutely breathtaking. I love picturing you, moira, dakota and zac all sitting in the church pew, absorbing all the people around you, the sounds of the drums, the different languages and everything new about your Zambia community.

    Good luck with your fist day of class! You were a natural born teacher, Jagger and I have complete faith in you. I am so excited to hear how it goes and the lessons you not only teach but learn.

    Dakota- I loved all the hard questions you were asking in your article. It was a such a good reminder about how to help others ethically and how it is our responsiblity to discover our true purpose through serving others. Love and miss you!
    Molly-Literally praying for your health every day.

    Love and Miss you ALL!
    Im off to catch some gnarly waves bro.


    P.S. Elly, Got a good laugh how your mom signed her comment;)

  18. Makayla Wamboldt says:


    Thank you for your beautiful and thoughtful reflection. I have no doubt this gentle breeze will move your already tender heart into places of great love and compassion in the weeks to come. I have faith that you will develop meaningful connections with your students because you are someone who speaks the language (of love) with earnestness and confidence.

    May you continue to feel the Holy Spirit whisper love through the wind.

    Love love love you all!

    Also, KP – Praying for clear discernment, a resilient spirit, and an increased capacity for patience for you sweet lady

  19. Lindsey Hand says:

    Oh man, I’m late to the game and just saw this blog post…user error whoops.

    Elly–love you and your beautiful soul. You are SO fluent in this common language you talk about. You love so well. Residents, GUSR participants, our clc, your fam…you love everyone placed in your life with a love that is unyielding, forgiving, and life-changing. As always, I’m so proud of you and so excited for this adventure you’re on.

    Love Always,

  20. Laura Liska says:


    Lovely, loving post. So, so happy for you to have this wonderful experience. Looking forward to reading more and hearing more about it from your mom who forwarded this.

    Best wishes for your adventure, Laura

  21. Bridget Bosch says:


    Your post was wonderful! Thank you for sharing and also I was so happy to see our Molly’s smiling face in the picture. We continue to pray for you all as you experience this awesome journey!

  22. Morgan Harry says:


    This quote pretty much sums humanity up in a nutshell. Love it.
    You all are in my thoughts and prayers.


  23. Suzette says:

    Dearest Elly – mum and Jenny have shared your blog and I’m so grateful as I have so enjoyed reading ALL especially your beautiful reflections. I can’t believe you are in that magical part of the world! Not only are you blessed to have such experiences but those sweet people are equally blessed by being able to share their lives with a darling person as you are and I’m sure your Zag companions are too. Keep well, travel safely and enjoy. One day maybe Ozzie but so different again from where you are right now?!!
    God bless and lots of love
    Suzette and Simon in Perth

  24. Dori chelini says:

    So thankful you shared mass with Zac. how beautiful is our faith that no matter where you are in the world We hear the same things across the world in our church. Mrs. C (Zac mom)

    Zac, It makes my heart full to know you and I are hearing the same gospel. Love Mom

  25. Peggy Sue says:

    What happens if you don’t comment right away? Is it like the tree falling in the forest and no one will ever see or hear it?!?! This is my First World Problem while you all are out being awesome in the developing world. In the future, I’m just going to have to get my act together because I can’t handle the stress.

    Loved your post so much, Elly! Glad you grooved on the 3.5 hour Mass. Sounds great to me. My kids would have a stroke. Especially Beth. Pretty much every Beth I know is problematic like that! 🙂

    Digging the book excerpt you shared. I didn’t know that book until I just now looked it up on Amazon, but I’m adding it to the Loroz family collection. Too beautiful to not own. Kind of like the Giving Tree. And the Poky Little Puppy. Haha.

    I’m sure you’re having an amazing time! Stay healthy, everyone!
    Peggy Sue

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