Take Me To Church

Before starting the long journey to Zambezi, I had a small flutter of fear cross my mind about how completely unprepared I felt. Thirteen days later I know that no matter what I did to prepare, I still would have felt this way, but I’ve learned there really is nothing that will prepare you for the people you meet, the emotions you feel, and the things you learn. For me this journey has been a long process in the making, a process that has taken almost two years.

When we finally landed in Zambezi, the last bush plane to touch the sandy runway, I was overwhelmed with emotion, but the only words running through my head were that I had finally made it. All of my fears about being unprepared disappeared right then and there. I was told landing in Zambezi could be quite emotional. Crowds of shouting children run to you to hold your hand and grab onto you, and the beautiful school choir begins to sing. As I looked around I could feel my throat get tight, and my eyes start to water; I was on the verge of a full crying breakdown. Tears of joy are just as normal as tears of sadness for me, but for some reason, I wouldn’t let myself have this emotional release. I continued to smile at the children and the beautiful voices that must have rang all the way across the river. I was so happy, but I wouldn’t let myself commit fully to the emotion.

Nearly two weeks in, I still haven’t let myself cry. In many ways this past year I have grown, but I have also taken several steps backward. In some ways, I am more honest, stronger, and vulnerable, but I also fear letting myself feel emotions to the fullest, both happiness and sadness. This emotional block is something I hope to work on and move past.

In the business and leadership classes, we are teaching the concept of authentic leadership and how important it is to be authentic in everything you do. However, a small part of me wonders if I’m truly being my authentic self with the people of Zambezi.

I’ve discovered that Zambezi is a place of religion and faith. Everyday before breakfast, lunch, dinner, and before every class, we say a prayer. I’ve drawn the sign of the cross along my body and said amen, and I’ve even been to mass twice now. (The longest at 2 ½ hours, so far). Growing up, my family never did such things. I never went to church on Sundays and never considered myself religious or really even spiritual. I’ve questioned whether I am being respectful or inauthentic when I draw the cross or fold my hands in my lap and bow my head down.

The first time I began to try and understand what faith and spirituality meant to me was when my mom was sick, and I felt like I needed something to hold me steady. When I told people she was sick, many of my friends in the Gonzaga community shared they would pray for her. Looking back, I realize that what kept me (glued) together were the people who told me they would pray and the support within these prayers.

Faith is one of the most challenging concepts to understand–abstract and beautiful. It is a mystery to me, and talking about why people have faith and spirituality always leads to some of my favorite discussions.

Zambezi has refreshed and renewed the beliefs and values I do hold and has reminded me of the power people can have. I believe in people. I believe in the goodness that others do for each other every day. I’m thankful for the days we have created here together, and the way that somehow, and in someway, I was meant to be here today. I know that I was happy, singing and dancing even in the two-and-a- half hour mass in Dipalata because I could hear the raw power and emotion behind the words I did not understand. The people packed into the pews and the open spaces believed in something. Every Sunday people came together and praised God. I’m refreshed by seeing people stand up together and sing with loud voices and full hearts. I may not understand whom they are singing to, or the power behind their belief, but I am captivated.

This spring I studied in Florence, Italy, and visited countless cities and countries. Each place I visited projected a different energy and a different feeling. Some felt more welcoming than others, but no place compares to the complexity of emotion I have felt in Zambezi. I have experienced the energy from standing in the church and on the tarmac, listening to people sing with their whole being. Zambezi has a different light like any other place, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to have stood in it, even if for a short time. Zambezi has shown me the power of community and that it takes time to ask questions and time to know someone. It will probably take me time to share that maybe God isn’t a part of my life, but community is, and someday soon I will learn to sing that loudly.

I stood in the church in Dipalata on Sunday morning directly behind the chorus. the men dressed in their fine, white button downs that quickly became pockets of heat, trapping sweat from all of the dancing and singing we did. One man from the chorus stood in the same row with Val, Morgan and I. His bright yellow pants matched his demeanor, and you couldn’t help but watch him sing in his deep voice the church songs the choir had prepared. I stood when he stood, and attempted to dance the same moves he danced. While I couldn’t sing the songs or even get the footwork quite right, I couldn’t help but smile. To see such a hospitable, kind group of people welcome us into their church and be with them was a blessing and a moment I will never forget.

I still have yet to tell anyone who lives in Zambezi I am not religious, and maybe that day will come soon. I needed to write these things out. I don’t know how to name the fear that has held me back for so long, and the fear that has kept me from crying, and maybe the fear of feeling too deeply. The people in Zambezi are not afraid to share if you ask them. The people in church are not afraid to sing fully and loudly. Ask the right questions, and you will end up hearing the most interesting stories.

I like asking the questions, but I never know how to answer them myself. Sometimes I think the questions are even more important than the answers. I don’t feel incomplete or like I am missing any part of me because I am not spiritual. Maybe someday, I will find that faith, and my heart and mind will grow even bigger. For now, I am happy to hear the singing on church Sundays and be thankful for everything we say we are in our blessings. So I’m giving myself patience and grace.

Peace be with you, and Kisu Mwane (blessings)

Grace Underdahl


how do all of these P.S.S.? or P.P.S.S work??

P.S. 1. My Portland family I am sending you so much love and big hugs, I can’t wait to see you. Mom and Dad, Grace has turned to be out a perfect easy to pronounce name here in Zambezi and I have met many other wonderful people named Grace, so thanks.

P.S. 2.. To my Gonzaga and my GIF fam, I love and miss you and think of you all often.

P.S.3..  Zam fam of 2016. The relationships you’ve created here are clear as day, and I can even picture you all walking outside the convent and roaming around the market. I’m so happy to be able to share this experience with you in this new way.

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8 Responses to Take Me To Church

  1. Katie Barger says:

    Hi Grace,
    I have been so in awe of your steadfast perseverance and belief that things happen for a reason over the past two years. Although you may feel inauthentic by not sharing your experience with faith in Zambezi, I can assure you that you have always been someone I admired for your authenticity and ability to be vulnerable. By sharing your actual feelings with others, which you so often do, you create a more open space for others. Thank you for that. And of course you wouldn’t be the Grace I know and love it if you didn’t also write your whole heart into a blog post, so thank you for your words today. I think you capture a lot of the feelings and questions that I and many people of various faith backgrounds have. A priest at Gonzaga once said that on a good day he believes in God. As a catholic I remember feeling frustrated by a lot of the things that were said at the catholic masses or by my catholic friends in Zambezi and being confused about how my faith fit in to this community or even my life. I didn’t want to share my concerns or questions with any Zambians while I was there, I think because I was afraid of offending someone or sounding stupid, but I wish I would have. I think that could have led to a really cool conversation. If you decide to talk to any Zambians about your faith background, I’d love to hear more about that one day. In the mean time, I hope you enjoy your time here. Your journey to get here has been long and challenging, but it has lead to goodness, learning and love. And while your time in Zambia may feel short, I can assure this journey is actually quite long, probably infinite (I’m not sure I’m still trying to figure it out myself), and it will continue to be challenging, but I think it is leading us all to goodness, learning and love. I guess we will find out together. Anyways, love you lots my friend!!
    -Katie Barger

    P.S. CMay, last week in DC my fam told our Uber driver we were from Oregon and his immediate response was “oh do you guys have lots of bears coming into your yards? I hear you have to be careful about putting out your trash” and we were like uhhh definitely not, we’ve never seen a wild bear in Oregon. So then I told him about Lake Tahoe and all the bears you see. Then he goes “well what about mountain lions?! I heard those kills lots of people in the northwest” and we just shook our heads and laughed. Anyways thought you would find that funny. I hope you are doing well. Someone give Caroline a hug for me!!!! Hehe

    P.S.S. Joe I loved your Dipalata story! Such a Zambia moment, you had me laughing out loud. I must say I feel bad about all the jokes our group made last year about how the cars could break down at any moment. But some of my favorite and craziest Zambia moments happened in those Jeeps so hold on to each other dearly and have fun!

    Okay I’m done, sorry for all the long comments, I just love you all so much and reading your posts is always a highlight of my day. Keep traveling bravely and loving big.

  2. Katie Kenkel says:

    Grace, thank you so much for your honesty in your post. I think it is so brave of you to ask these questions of yourself and of Zambezi.

    In choir we sing a song in Arabic, and the lyrics translate to this: “I believe in the religion of love”. I couldn’t help but keep singing it in my head while reading your post. The message of the song is that regardless of what religion (if any) a person follows, we can all be united in the common humanity we find in love.

    That is a message I have seen so clearly in every interaction I have with you. Thank you for being so willing to share your heart, whether in person or over a blog, with everyone you encounter. I’ll be thinking of you when I sing that song in our concert tomorrow.

    I hope you all enjoyed your trip to Dipalata- what a special, special place. I hope your time there was filled with lots of love and laughter.

    Kisu Mwane, my friends.

    Katie Kenks

  3. Katie Polacheck says:


    It makes me smile big to picture you experiencing, learning, and loving Zambezi. I know it’s been a long time coming for you and many others, and I’m happy to hear it was worth the wait.

    In her blog post for the choir trip, my housemate and dear friend Leigha Warner wrote about Zambia, “I arrived here already loving you because people I love love you. I leave loving you because you loved me so well.” Past, present, and even future Zags are holding you in their hearts right now as you sit around the breakfast table, eating…jungle oats? and green “oranges,” preparing for another day of classes, ready to tie chitenge tightly around your waists and slip on dirty chacos. We hope that you can feel even a small part of our outrageous Zam love.

    And Grace, your thoughtful reflections show that you’re singing loudly already. I can hear you from all the way over here and the music’s lovely 🙂

    My love to all.


    PS – ask Katendi if you can help make cinnamon donuts and you won’t be disappointed.

  4. Jennifer Akins says:

    Lovely Grace,
    I’ve been waiting to hear from you! I’m so glad you are giving yourself the gift of patience. I can think of few more beautiful expressions of faith than your stated belief in people, in our interconnectedness, and in the inherent meaning and significance of your presence in Zambezi with these people right now. I’d love to say that you’ll figure it all out soon, but just last week a friend asked, somewhat rhetorically, if I really knew what I believed. What I knew on that day was that I believe in Love, and the more deeply I practice, the more faith I have. (I can’t wait to learn Katie K’s song!) I was fascinated by the expression of religious belief and faith in Zambezi, in the ways it which they were so familiar, yet also at times so different from what I know. Like Katie B., I’d love to be there to ask more questions now, but of course you can only ask what you’re able to ask at the time. And yes, the questions are at least as important and very often more important than the answers, starting with the questions we ask ourselves. That’s one of my favorite lines! I really believe it, but it also comes in handy when you’re teaching and you don’t always have a clear answer. 🙂 I look forward to hearing more and talking more when you are back in Spokane.

    Keep watching and listening and loving!


    P.S. I feel kind of bad jumping in before Katie P could post – you could have had the wisdom of the Katie trinity.

    P.P.S. One of my best friends from high school went to Yale. Her freshman year a fellow student asked if she rode a horse to school (in Portland, OR). She said yes, but that in winter her dad took her in a covered wagon, and the person believed her. Granted, this was a long time ago, but still, a Yale student?

  5. Jennifer Akins says:

    No way! Katie P beat me.

  6. Jeffrey Dodd says:

    I love the way you 2017 zags-in-zambezi keep pushing yourselves!

    Grace, your journey to Zambezi has been especially unique, and I am happy to see that you are using it to grow even more. Though not Catholic, I have always found Zambian and Spanish masses profound for me because they invite me to consider my own spiritual relationship with, or celebration of, divinity in new ways. Without, that is, the trappings of familiar language and routine. The Parish at Our Lady of Fatima, with those tiny little dancers, and the congregation at Dipalata, with their honorific stalks of banana!. Is the energetic older woman still there anointing guests with her headscarf? I have sometimes found myself wondering what joy those folks have that I might have missed. Other times I wonder what damage our common colonial history might have wrought on earlier spiritual traditions. And how the new/old, local/external come together in the daily experience of peoples all over the world. I am sure yall are digging into just these things with Father B. I suspect some of you will be picking such scabs for a long time.

    Grace, I have loved watching from a distance as you navigate this tricky life, and I can’t wait to learn from you over the next year.

    Yall still have scads of days to learn and grow in Zambezi and Livingstone. Keep saying yes to the hard conversations and no to the crocodiles. Hope you loved the cassava nshima in Dipalata, and I can’t wait to see how goat-feast 2017 takes shape. I would love to be there to challenge Dr. Joshua to a goat curry culinary throw down!

    Peace, love, and all the mwanes.


  7. Molly Patricia Bosch says:


    I have been patiently waiting on the edge of my seat to see your name at the bottom of one of these blog posts! If I have learned anything this year, it is that no matter where I am or who I am with, I am exactly where I need to be in that moment. After reading your beautifully written words, I can honestly say that this philosophy reigns very true for you in this period of life.

    It is so amazing to see you battle with these long-awaited questions. Faith is something that I also questioned in Zambezi, and although I may have never been given a solid answer, what I was granted was the platform to open up many fascinating conversations and start me on a path to discovering what faith and purpose mean to me. You mentioned authenticity in your post, and in my opinion, the most authentic thing a person can do is admit that they don’t have the answer, or that they are struggling to understand why they believe certain things. I am so happy to see you accepting the battle of unanswered questions in Zambezi. Because, if you learn to live through the questions themselves, you will find so much beauty along the way.

    My heart is absolutely singing for you in that place with those people. This community has been waiting for a very long time to welcome you with big open arms and those yellow walls have been waiting to hug you so tight. Grace, you inspire me each and every day. Thank you for this beautiful and thought-provoking post and for sharing your strength and light everywhere you go.

    Blessings and love,


  8. Emily Handy says:


    These words are so beautiful. Asking the questions is so important in Zambezi. The answers will almost always surprise you. I’m so happy just to know that you are finally in Zambezi. Our stories are woven together in the best way and I hope Zambezi continues to challenge you and bring you joy.

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