Cement Is Messy


My time here in Zambezi has been a mixture of sand, dirt, water, and cement. Each moment I look at this place I see the sandy roads, the dirt of the ditches they are digging in the market and that we use for our bricks, the water of the river and from the sink (hopefully), and most of all cement on my clothes, in my hair, on my hands and too many other places. Cement has taught me a lot. A bag that looks like a 60-pound bag at home may in fact hold 50 kilograms (About 110-pounds) worth of cement- the worst. It would be smart to pick it up before you say you can carry it through the market back to the convent close to a mile away (that was a workout and a half and my new Zambian compatriots laughed at that dumb chindele trying to show off his “strength” by being an absolute fool). I also learned that when you put a bag of cement on your shoulders it gets EVERYWHERE and is really difficult/impossible to wash.

Looking back at that moment, I see a lot of shortcomings in my application of my education, as an engineer and a son. “Work smarter, not harder,” my dad would always say… woops. That phrase sums up a lot of my trip in Zambezi. I was working too hard to be who I think I am supposed to be, and not recognizing that I am accepted and loved exactly for who I am in each moment.

If anyone has been around a group of Gonzaga students for long, they begin to see the stupid amount of talent and skill that each of them possess. But, they will also see the humility and self-awareness that makes each person feel loved. Being a part of one of those communities is amazing but is also really difficult sometimes. The question that I have been struggling with is: What makes me unique and adequate to have such an experience and to be able to call such people friends? Each day I see Zags here living in amazing ways, whether it be opening up to each other, supporting one another, walking with Zambians through a learning process for both communities, and most of all creating meaningful relationships with the Zambezi people. Where do I fit in to this daily life?

I am a second year engineer working on a team with a super genius third year engineer and a graduated engineer. The feeling of inadequacy bogged me down for too long. Not knowing how I would contribute to a team made up of individuals who frankly know more about engineering because of their extra experience in school was a difficult pill to swallow. I could not see how I would have a different impact on the Zambians than Zac or Tyler. So instead of living into who I am, I tried to fit the engineering mold seeing as that is what I am studying and supposed to be “teaching”. But I was faking it – that is not who I am or what makes me unique.


I felt forced in both my engineering group and the community of Zags. My actions felt like I was trying to be someone that I am not, actually more like an exaggeration of who people see me as/”expect” me to act. I spent days without recognizing what I was doing until someone asked if I was okay (Tip for living in a community, when someone says they’re fine, give them specific instances where they are acting different). With some prodding, I realized I was acting differently trying to fit in with these amazing people around me by not being my authentic self and not recognizing my own unique abilities and trying to live into other’s abilities.         The next day I dove back into what gives me strength to be who I am and to know that I am loved and that is my Bible. I ended up on Luke 19:11-27 about the master handing out the Ten Minas to servants. In the story, one of them took the money that was given to him and did nothing with it because he was scared he might lose it and the master got upset with him for not using what was given to him to make more. That is what I was doing with my abilities that God has blessed me with: I hid them in the Zambian dirt because I was scared people would see that I was not perfect and that I had more room to grow. I was not living into the community as authentic Davis. This was my time to add to my talents just like the other servants did in the passage with their Minas, and Zags have done with their abilities, but I was falling short by not being myself, this was my time to change that.

How to change that? The passage opened my eyes to look not only at the Zags around me but also the Zambians that surround us. Each day that I look deeper at their community, the more and more I am blown away. The care that they express for each other is with a love that I have experienced only with close friends yet they have it with everyone. They have an understanding that each person no matter how young or old, sane or not has something to give to the community. I have been amazed and inspired each day by watching individuals interact in this community with joy and bluntness, but before this passage I never had looked at the way they took everyone as they are. It does not matter how dirty they are, their occupation or lack there of, or how old they are. As long as they are themselves, they are accepted FOR their unique gifts. That is something that a person like me who is really hard on myself can learn from. I need to not only accept other people where they are at but accept myself where I am at and FOR what God has blessed me with.

Learning how to accept others and myself for the unique qualities that each person possesses is difficult and messy. People are each uniquely different which becomes apparent after living with them in a confined space on the other side of the globe. The three engineering students here could not be more different from each other, but after further inspection that is what makes us such an amazing team and allows us to get along so well, AND it keeps life interesting.

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The opportunity to form a community that does not ignore one’s unique struggles, triumphs, and life is worthwhile and life changing. The impact that such a community has on a person, inside and out, does not wear off unless you REALLY want to scrub it out – just like cement. The two communities that I am surrounded by, Zags and Zambians, have pushed me to accept and appreciate who I am in each moment no matter how messy. This lesson and the cement will never wash out. (Sorry pants that I bought for this trip and dad’s shirt).


Kisu mwane,


Davis Phillips

Class of 2018

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15 Responses to Cement Is Messy

  1. Joanna says:

    Hey Zags!

    I commented on Molly’s post yesterday but I think I was too late for the morning read. (opps!) But in summary, the blog posts have been so great and you all are teaching me so much as I relive Zambia through your perspectives.

    Moira – Wow. Your blog post was amazing and so reflective, and it sounds like you truly are in the growing zone. I am so proud of you for embracing the journey and really going outside your comfort zone. You are a very unique person with so many great qualities and you have so much to give to others, especially the Zambezi community. I’m lucky to call you my friend.

    Davis – I was wondering when your name was going to pop up on the blog, and I am so glad it did! This trip has an ability to really challenge us, which I absolutely love. It sounds like you are being challenged, but aren’t forgetting your core values. I’m so happy you found a little bit of peace in your faith. I can’t wait to hear more about your trip!

    Everyone, enjoy the last week in Zambezi and good luck with the remainder of classes!
    Much Love,

  2. Dori chelini says:

    Enjoyed reading your blog and especially liked seeing the photo! mrs Chelini

    Saw you today for the first time and was so relieved to see you healthy and happy. I know you will enjoy this last week. We all send our love and prayers. Love Mom

  3. Carlee Quiles says:

    DAVIS, It’s funny how you can spend some much time doing extensive math problems and learn all about statics but still feel like you don’t know much about engineering. I am glad to hear you aren’t wrapped up in the “numbers” but through community, and reflections you are finding your place. With the days dwendling I am anxiously awaiting the stories of how you found God in the clear night skies, long runs, and on the dirt roads. Thank you for always inspiring me to authentically love others and wear socks with chacs. The Spo misses you, get back soon.

    Matthew, life is still happening. Lots to catch up on. Eagerly waiting to hear your stories that I know will take months to get through. As usual I am needing to talk your ear off about what I need to do in life. Because we both know… You are incharge.

    Em, Friday is National Donut Day. Kelsey and I are going to go and celebrate. We will leave a seat at the table for you.

    Zac, your back pack is sitting on our kitchen table. Can’t eat a meal and not think about you!

    Praying for you all! Stay healthy, adventure well.

    – Carlee

  4. Taylor Ridenour says:

    Davis-This was raw and honest and I appreciate your willingness to share. Life is messy but our God is so good and i’m praying you continue to allow others into your messy places so that you may feel how deep our love is for you even in the places you don’t think can be loved. I miss your hugs lots. Sending some strong hugs your way. I love you so much brother!

    Abbey-Joe, Clem, and I went on quite the walk today! Very excited to have you back so the four of us can all spend some time together.(: Jeff and Jennifer-can you pleeeeeease blog?

    Katie K-anxiously awaiting your blog and wondering so much about how this experience is going for you-I love you lots girl.

    The picture of you all looking up at that beautiful starry sky sent chills through me. Wishing I could squeeze in there.

    all my love to all of you,

  5. Allie Reiling says:


    What a great reflection about what it’s like to live in community. I felt a lot of that struggle in being comfortable and confident in who I truly was while I was in Zambia too. I loved reading how you worked through that and came to remember just how known and loved you are for being you. You’re inspiring!

    I’m glad to hear that the engineering group is an amazing team and that you guys get along so well. I miss my engineering squad all the time, but, duty calls! Thinking of you too, Zac and Tyler.

    Wish I could have been more active with the comments (I remember that was one of my favorite things), but I’ve been sitting here in my new apartment in Portland without wifi for the past few weeks. I’m excited to catch up on all of the posts! Sending my love and thoughts to you all!

    Kisu Mwane,

  6. Shellie Phillips says:

    My sweet Davis James,
    As someone who has struggled with being too much of a chameleon in my early life as I tried to be who I thought everyone wanted me to be, I am so grateful that you are learning the value of being who God designed you to be. And just as each part of the body is necessary, they aren’t necessarily the same. Thanks for the reminder that when we feel less “us” our response should be to dig into God’s word. I often choose other routes–talk to friends, bury it in busy, but I will be mindful of the lesson you found in Luke when you turned to God. I appreciate that what you are learning is echoed in the thoughts of your fellow Zags. What a rich time of reflection and learning that will influence all of you for a lifetime. These blog posts have been the subject of so many of our conversations as many of our friends and family are reading them. Praying that the messages will stay with all of us and cause us to make adjustments as necessary. Cement and life are messy but so worth it!

    Love the pictures!

    I love you and am so proud of you.

    Mom (aka Mama Phillips)

  7. Sue and Kurt Hamke says:

    Davis, What a wonderful reflection and it is nice to hear from the engineering team! It is great that you have learned from this experience how important it is to always focus on the unique gifts that each individual brings to the community, rather than the differences.

    Tyler, It’s so good to see you and the engineering team with your Zambien friends. I have been compulsively checking the blog, hoping for a glimpse of you! We spent the day with Pam and Lucy. Grandma and Papa are getting ready to leave for the Cape (after you get back). Jessica and Conner are well and Griff misses you! Take care. Love, Mom and Dad

  8. Annette Holgado says:

    Hi Katie B.!
    I am so sorry it’s taken me a while to catch up to you. Things have been very busy here. Finals are coming up for me, I have projects to do, but I have finally gotten a moment to get away and just sit here and catch up on all of your guys’ posts. Your friends are wonderful writers and your stories make me feel like I’m living through all of your journeys on finding yourselves, your place in the community, etc. It’s amazing to think of how this month of adventures could change your lives forever. The knowledge and love…just so much of it. I wonder, do you feel different yet? Haha funny to think that. Strange to think of you being even kinder…is that even possible? Hope you are doing well Katie and enjoying it all. I think of you every day even though I haven’t been able to write often. Love you very very much and am looking forward to seeing you. Keep touching people’s lives. And keep your heart open 😉 LOVE YOU!

    Annette 🙂

    PS: I found a really funny joke today and had to share it with you since you’ve always laughed at them (whether genuine or out of courtesy, doesn’t matter!!) Lol be prepared because this one is really funny, I PROMISE….

    What did the vegetables say at the party???
    Turnip the beet!!!

    Hahahaha okay I’m done. Love you again! Write you again soon 😀

  9. Jack Benazzo says:

    Hey Davis!

    I think you really knocked this out of the park. Being apart of the GU community is incredible, but so difficult at the same time. We often learn about, and discuss ways in which we as leaders can be in service of others, causing us to sometimes forget about ourselves. This post reminded me of the importance of being accepting of ourselves in order to recognize and act on the plan God has set for us.

    Best of luck on the rest of your journey! Keep stretching yourself… I cannot wait to hear about your experiences when you get home. Love and miss you, buddy!


  10. Mary Barger says:

    Everyone’s posts continue to amaze me and make me smile. Enjoy your last 2 weeks.

    Katie B- Grandma (aka Snickerdoodle Grandma) would like to know what you typically eat for your meals. What are your staples? She brought fresh strawberries to the Missionay priests and Fr. Innocent last week. Fr. Innocent had not had strawberries before. He in turn gave grandma a dish of beans and plantain (I think). Anyway, she was wondering.


  11. Amanda Ulkekul says:

    Davis friggin Phillips,


    You have done it again, my friend. Your words are so powerful. I have been waiting for you to post, and you surpassed my expectations…yet again. Which is ironic considering what you wrote about (also the fact that we have talked about the concept of being worthy of accepting love a few times already this past semester). What really got me is when you wrote “I was working too hard to be who I think I am supposed to be, and not recognizing that I am accepted and loved exactly for who I am in each moment.” I resonate SO much with this.

    You are more than worthy, Davis. Thank you for continually pushing yourself. Thank you for being open to share about it. Being vulnerable is not easy, but you make it look so simple. But I think that’s because it is, and you emulate that.

    Can’t wait to swap adventure stories when we both get back. Many prayers and many hugs being sent your way.

    Love you!

    Amanda Ulkekul

  12. Hunter Ramp says:

    Davis – You’re the man! It’s so refreshing to read your (and others’) experiences in Zambezi so far and how God is transforming you all. So pumped that you have this opportunity to reflect and really let Him work within you. I’m glad that you are embracing your true self, because it is one of a kind, and I love that! I’m constantly praying for you bud, and can’t wait to catch up once you return

    Moira – The Indiana boys and I miss you a bunch. Correy gets here Wednesday, so watch out Spokane. I loved how genuine and real your post was. It mirrors how genuine and real you are as a person. I can always count on you brightening my day, even if it’s just a quick smile and a subtle, quiet, hi. I can only imagine how many Zambian days you are brightening in your short time there. Praying that you will continue to reflect and embrace what God is teaching you.

    Emily – Miss you. 10 more days. Praying for you constantly. I know God has his arms around you and is teaching you so much. Can’t wait to hear all about it.

  13. Matt Ryan says:


    Your post hit close to home for me. You were talking about not being your authentic self because you were trying to fit into a different mold, a mold which doesn’t match who you are. That is one of my flaws: trying to be someone I’m not and not recognizing my own strengths. I am really glad you were able to recognize it within you, with the help of a friend. I hope you know how awesome of a guy you are. Your ability to make everyone feel like they belong is unparalleled. Also, you are a really good writer! Maybe you can double major in engineering and English. Enjoy these last couple weeks and be yourself!

  14. Kitty Petrie says:

    Davis I have no words to express the love and respect I have for you. You are a wonderful young man, and you have such a heart for Jesus…Love you so much. Grandma Kitty

  15. Bridget Bosch says:

    So great reading your blog, Davis. I admire your sincerity and am sure your impact in Zambia will be profound. Take care and thank you for sharing.

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