As one of the staff of this trip I am housed across the yard in the Priest’s home.  There are six men and myself that share the large, well-used space. We have private rooms with sinks, toilets, and several spiders that share the space. I was advised to name them, which could lessen my fear. My 7 new friends who are at-least 2-3 inches in diameter are lovingly named Jeff Dodd (shout out to you brother).

I have spent plenty of time with the Jeffs because I caught some kind of virus which caused me to stay in bed for almost 24 hours. I would only wander out to use the bathroom, and see what was playing on the television in the nicely tiled living room.  Yes, there is a color flat screen on that flaunts Indian soap operas, World-wide Wrestling Federation matches, BBC news or football(soccer) most of the days. These programs are enjoyed very often. It became my entertainment to see what was being watched every few hours that I would leave my room.  

I have also learned that these men know how to throw an awesome party. Annika mentioned in our last post the amazing dinner with the church council, youth group and priests we had Sunday.  After leading us in mass and being with their parish they spent the day moving pews, chairs, speakers, dishes, and an entire sound system over to welcome us. The music started pumping at 5:15 pm and it didn’t stop. Okay… it did stop, but it felt like an eternity. I was flat on my back in my room with ear plugs in and could still hear the music pumping. Now that is a party!

I am writing this behind the house.  Father Yona has put in a garden, fish pond and large chicken coop.  He is helping the parish become sustainable.  

I share this because the television, the shows, the music, their pop culture connections, the self-sustaining back yard- they all surprise me. 

They surprise me the same way that after the walking safari Maurie and I experienced in Livingstone, Mukwesa, our guide, asked to get my WhatsApp number to stay connected.  They surprise me the same way the head restaurant manager for the Royal Livingstone hotel is from a rural village outside of the Indian state that our youngest son was adopted from.

I was surprised because their stories are richer and more complicated than what I was expecting.  I have been able to travel to several developing countries. I’ve read the articles, watched the Ted talks and am culturally sensitive.  Until I’m not.

Last night our team watched the TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story”.  Chimamanda Adichie so articulately shares, “The single story creates stereotypes. And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete.  They make one story become the only story.” What a surprise when I realized that I had allowed a single narrative to be what I expected from my new Zambian and Indian friends. 

There is poverty here that makes my heart ache.  Every day I find Jasmine waiting outside the convent walls to hold my hand.  It is easy for me to identify her among the dozen children that linger because she has been in the same clothes since day one. There is a look in her face that I’m familiar with. I saw it in my son’s face when we first met him at the orphanage in India. It’s the look of undernourishment.  Part of her skirt is ripped from the inseam down to her knee. Although we are wearing shorts and t-shirts at night, I’ve noticed Zambians are in jackets-it’s winter for them.  I wonder what Jasmine wears at night.

Mama Katendi and Mama Violet make us amazing meals.   We eat chicken and apples over a bed of lettuce with an orange garlic dressing.  Mama Katendi enjoys it during her time with us because at home she can only afford a chicken once every 6 weeks.  She is a single mother with 7 children and no support from her husband who left. It’s not fair.  It’s what it is.

After dropping off the education team to teach their literacy classes at Chilena I head back to town and pick up a woman swaddling a young baby.  As we chat I learn that her name is Avery (like my daughter). I tease her and say that I have a daughter Avery and she could now call me mama.  Her 1 month daughter is Emma grace (my Avery’s middle name is Grace), she is 17 (like my Avery).  She stopped going to school at 14. She said that her family can’t pay for school so she now has Emma.  As I walk Avery into the hospital for Emma’s check up she touches my arm and says “Thank you mama”.  I swallow hard.

If any of you know me, I love to remind/lecture students to embrace a both/and mentality rather than an either or mindset.  What a surprise that I fell into the either/or mentality. (It’s not really that surprising-most of my lectures to students are things I need to work on).

No more single stories. I am striving to integrate both the beauty and the brokenness.  Both The simplicity and complexity of relationships. Both the abundance and the scarcity. Both the realization that people like me have hurt these amazing people and have helped these people.

What surprises me most is that I feel free with this new insight. There is more love in my heart and a lightness in my step. My hugs are longer, my tears are saltier, and like the African sunset, my outlook is brighter.  These relationships are changing me.  There is an unforced rhythm of grace that is moving within me.

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time.  But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” -Lilla Watson

My prayer for ALL of us is that we will continue to be surprised by God.

Grace and Peace,

Janeen Steer, Mission and Ministry

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17 Responses to Surprise

  1. Susie Beil says:

    Love your words, Janeen, and love you!

  2. Hikaru says:

    Janeen – Thank you for sharing and opening your heart in this post. Reminds me that at our core, we are all human and the same. Hope you are feeling better.

    Thinking of all of you.

    Emma – your post and picture with John is so heartwarming. Please give him hugs and a big hello!

  3. Katie Herzog says:

    Inspired beyond measure.
    We are, as Fr. Dom once commented to me during a visit to GU, “Swimming in milk.”

  4. Matt Johnson says:

    Janeen, Josh and crew,

    This is kind of a poignant, special moment for me as I take a break from my work here in Denver to re-enter the amazing world of Zambezi. I love the mental picture of miniature Jeff Dodds running around—what a great namesake for an entire generation of young Zambians (one of whom I hope will become president of the country someday).

    Janeen, how special that you mentioned the “unforced rhythms of grace” from Matthew 11. I happened to look up those exact words this morning as I prepared for work and for two job interviews tomorrow, all amid a mix of incredible lightness and terrifying darkness that have surrounded me in the past week alone. You may not even remember, but you (and your husband) were there for me in some of the darker moments during the second half of my Gonzaga career. I hope you are being poured into on this trip as much as you pour into others.

    Josh, you’ll be relieved to know that the ingrown toenail that I first struggled with in Zambezi in 2014 will be permanently removed in a few weeks. No, not by the kindly old doctor at Chitokoloki, but by an expert here in Denver. The years of urgent care visits to repeatedly fix it finally wore on me. And thanks again for introducing me to John Harrison, hands-down one of the coolest people I have met since I graduated.

    Thanks to all of you for reminding me of accompaniment and that the best service of others comes in true relationship. Praying for you and wishing you all the best.

    Matt Johnson aka Matty J, Zam Fam 2014

  5. Alyssa Groscost says:


    Your words brought chills to my body and tears to my eyes. My whole time in Zambia was being struck with moments of complexity that wrecked the box my mind tried to put my experiences into. Thank you for bringing your bold and courageous reminders to us. I am both grateful AND in awe of you. Continue to be amazed, I will be praying for you.

    All my love,


  6. Emily Handy says:

    What a joy it was to learn that one of my favorite people is currently in my very favorite place. I am so happy to hear your insights and see Zambezi through your eyes. Your willingness to expand beyond a single story is a mindset that will take you so far in Zambezi.
    The students you are with are so lucky to have you. In reading this I was reflecting on the mentor ship and guidance you blessed me with during my senior year at GU as Hunter and I tackled a tough part of our relationship. And now we are getting married in 2 weeks! This is the kind of impact on people whose paths you cross, Janeen. I hope you are able to soak up every wonderful, scary, overwhelming moment in Zambezi. Please give Mama Violet a squeeze for me.
    Emily Handy Zambae 2016

  7. Morgan Green says:


    I loved hearing the update about Fr. Yona’s projects. During my visit last July he was in the process of filling the pond. Does he still have all of his dogs aka children? I miss that guy.

    Thank you for being open in sharing the lessons you have been encountering, even after just a week or so of arriving in Zambia. Zambezi is definitely one of the many epicenters of the “growth zone” that we encounter in life. I especially loved the story of Avery and Emma Grace….my heart! Oh, and I 100% support naming the spiders Jeff Dodd.

    That chicken and apple salad with the citrus garlic dressing sounds delectable. The mamas are at it again with their culinary prowess! I can hear Mama Violet’s sweet, soft voice announcing the ingredients of each meal. Also, Debby has sent me pictures of some of you at aerobics class. He is so happy to have you all.

    Kisu Mwane Zaggies,

    Morgan Green ’17

    P.S. E-Kane, I hope you are tearing it up in every dance circle you encounter, especially at baby showers. I’m excited for you to be in Zambezi again! I was in Rome recently and saw “Carpe Diem” EVERYWHERE. I thought of you every time. CRAP SWIM! Give Jessie a squeeze for me! Like Lydia said in an earlier comment, I’m really hoping you find Joshua again. To everyone else, you have a BOMB TA. I hope you’re bugging him all the time with questions and wonderings.

  8. Margarett Qaqish says:


    What a sweet surprise it was to read your words on the blog today. I have been following closely and have loved hearing all the different perspectives. Your post takes me back to my experiences in Dipalata.

    Thank you for continuously sharing your heart so vulnerably. It is something I have admired for quite some years now. I hope you continue to embrace these things throughout your time. I am so glad you have gotten along well with my mamas. Give them a tight squeeze for me.

    With lots of love,
    Margarett Qaqish

    PS- to all of you sitting in some rectanglish shaped table right now, I’ve been thinking and praying for each one of you each day. I hope you are embracing all the moments and stepping out of your comfort zone!

    To those who stayed with Elizabeth and Caiphas – give them a hug for me! They sent me your photos and loved having you. Take walks to Caiphas’ store and chat. Try to find Elizabeth at the police station. You’ll probably see Mike, Emmanuel, and Gift on your way to the market some time. What a wonderful family.

  9. Hope Weiskopf says:

    Thank you Janeen for your amazing insights and details. Every day I look forward to reading this blog and see how the Zags adventures are unfolding. I hope you are feeling better as well!

    Spencer-Dad and I are thinking about you all day and every time I check my phone, I look to see what time it is on the World clock and think about what you might be doing. Please know I send you mental hugs and a kiss each time <3

  10. Caroline May says:

    Hi there Janeen,

    Thank you so much for your open and authentic reflection on what you have been experiencing during your time in Zambia. I can’t tell you how much I can relate to this post in both the present and to when I was within those yellow covent walls. In focusing on embracing this both/and mentality that you speak about, I think you are truly opening yourself up to all that Zambezi has to offer. It took me sometime to figure out that this was one of the keys I needed to unlocking the full impact and purpose of this trip and I was so grateful to my group for helping me see what I was missing. My prayer is that you wholeheartedly chose the both/and mentality everyday and that your example helps others on the trip that might be in the place that I was in the either/or mindset.

    I also have to thank you because your post comes at a time where I needed to be reminded of the danger of one story. In my line of work it is so easy to get report from the previous nurse and, based on the patient’s history, place them into a box of stereotypes, which as Adichie points out, makes the opportunity for human connection incomplete. I am writing this post in excitement and anticipation of who I might get the honor and privileged to meet tonight at work and with your helpful words I will be making a conscious effort to listen to each person’s story as told by them.

    To the rest of the group, know that I am thinking of each of you everyday and a special shout out to the health team. I wore my chitenge scrub top that I had made last night to work in honor of y’all and was a big hit with everyone.

    Kisu Mwane Zags,

    Caroline May

  11. Jeff Dodd says:


    No matter how many times I watch “Single Story,” I always feel convicted. Whether it’s my Iraqi neighbors, my MAGA-hatted half brother, the on-campus student this fall who will drive to class each morning, or those purists who won’t just lay off about the sanctity of the pour-over, there’s always more than what presents. As Caroline mentions, it often is even more difficult to recognize the nuance when we receive essentialist messages from those who precede us. Thanks for being so honest about your own tendency to rely on limited narratives, and for encouraging us to resist them..

    I am sure there is something karmic about me becoming (or having already been) a horde of spiders. If you are in the room I think you are, it’s probably best you not look too closely in that one corner!

    To all you other little zaggies: this is often the time when really rich and complex questions arise. Embrace them. And, if this weekend is Dipilata, I wish you clear skies, a blizzard of stars, a double helping of cassava Nshima and machimpa, and the most rockin church service ever. Say hello to Benard and Mary for me.

    Dr. Joshua: Give Ethan, Patrick, and Janeen some tasks, then wander off and enjoy the day.

    Wishing you all tension and growth,
    Jeff Dodd

  12. CJ DeBiase says:


    Thank you for sharing. LOVED reading your blog. I will be praying for you!


  13. Morgan Smith says:

    As I pack up and have been beginning to say “good-bye for now” to Spokane this week I have been thinking about what this transition into Zambezi life has been for you. Needless to say it was quite comforting to hear your voice through the blog this afternoon. I hope that you have come to see the joy of slowing down in Zambezi (I know a pretty foreign concept to some of us ;)). I pray that you continue to find the quite to simply listen and remain open to the complexity and both/ands that are yet to come.

    Chlo: I am so excited for the community and new experiences that are in store for you this month. I pray that you find the balance between being with people but also have the courage to step back and care for yourself. Sometimes that actually is the harder option. I hope you have found enough to eat or are at least filling up on some bananas and nshima and that your lats are looking fineeeeeee

    Zambaes: I spent this last weekend at the Krista Foundation annual conference for Global Citizenship— the organization that published “Staying for Tea”— as I sat through different sessions on resilience and global citizenship I thought back to my time in Zambezi and upon return. As you may remember one of the values that Ausland talks about is #4 check your filter. The example we were given was that it is kind of like each of us is an individual orca in a tank at Sea World. Meaning we come from all over the world and each speak different cultural languages and must work to navigate a new life in this communal tank. This filter effects how you interact with the larger Zambezi community AND the filters you bring to life in the convent. Remember this filter. Don’t shame yourself for having it, but allow it to open you up to something new.

    I hope you find the little known Zambezi beach or some other road less traveled. Computers, remember to get outside the convent. Join James and Mary on the porch for a ginger beer. Take time for yourself. And remember your Zambezi isn’t and doesn’t have to be the same as anyone else.

    Kisu Mwane Zaggies,
    Morgan Smith
    Zambezi 2017

  14. Erika Brown says:


    I could hardly see the screen to scroll down all of these comments to leave one of my own- this moved me to tears. Your words are beautiful and the message is humbling and convictions all at once. I have always admired from a far how you dive into every emotion, interaction, moment you experience… this is just another example of that. I remember sitting outside on the Hemmingson couches one sunny day with Chloe and chatting with you a bit about the obstacles you were facing in your life that day, how it felt like a heavier day. I so admired the way you were able to confidently hold that space of struggle while also embodying the beauty of that struggle… that life is both beautiful and broken and everyday we have a chance to admire both sides. Chloe once described you as someone who “literally lives to love other people.” Thank you for being that person.

    Chloe- I am missing your face!!!! Something Kelen and I talked about a lot in the days after you left and as we continued to close our college chapter was the feeling of missing out on our friends lives as we all go down our separate roads in the time to come. I think I’m definitely feeling that right now with you. I’m so proud of you and overjoyed that you get to live this experience… so much so that I wish I could do it with you. I hope you’re getting what you feel you need to get. Whether it be a hug from a Zag, a breathtaking sunset, a lesson from a local, or a solo early morning walk…. I hope the moments are filling you. I love you!

  15. Jeffrey Kreiser says:

    Good stuff Janeen. Thankful for your learnings and your teachings. Your post made me remember and miss our brother Eugene Peterson. May you learn these unforced rhythms of grace in your time in Zambia, yoked o our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

    Jeff Kreiser

  16. Megan Weed says:

    Janeen and friends,

    These words were so important to me today. I’ve been thinking a lot about my time in Zambezi (2011) and thinking deeply about the things I think are hard, even now. Getting on the plane to Zambezi, my fears were small in comparison to the fears I have now, and yet, my life is so beautifully blessed in comparison. I was in Portland over the weekend and I thought, “Is this tap water good enough to drink?” FRIENDS. I DRANK LITERAL DIRT WATER IN DIPALATA… AND I’M WORRIED ABOUT SOME TAP WATER IN THE U.S.??? Perspective is everything.

    Keep soaking up every minute that you can. Go watch every sunrise AND every sunset. Hold all the hands you can.

    Thank you for expressing your experiences for all of us back home!

    Mwane mwane,

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