We continue our Advent 2020 missionary conversations with Temba Nkomozepi, a United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries missionary serving as an agriculturalist for the Mujila Falls Agriculture Center in Kanyama, Zambia. Temba helps provide healthy, nutritious food, and teaches others how to best grow crops and maintain livestock. It's important work that helps improve the health of the people of Zambia.
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This episode posted on December 11, 2020.
Joe Iovino, host: Welcome to Get Your Spirit in Shape, United Methodist Communications and UMC.org’s podcast to help us keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. I’m Joe Iovino.
Today we’re continuing our Give Love series for Advent, where we are talking with one missionary each week during the season leading up to Christmas. The missionary I’m talking to today is Temba Nkomozepi. Temba is an engineer from Zimbabwe who is currently serving as an agriculturalist in Kanyama, Zambia.
We talk about the wonderful ministries going on there, and we talk about the ways he uses his gifts for engineering and his passion for water to serve people, and to the glory of God.
Joe: Temba, welcome to Get Your Spirit in Shape.
Temba: Thank you very much.
Joe: And thank you for taking the time to speak with me today and to let us know a little bit about your ministry. So tell me about your ministry at Mujila Falls Agricultural Center in Zambia.
Temba: Thank you very much. I serve as an agriculturist and I’m also the Director of the Mujila Falls Agriculture Center. That’s in the northwestern part of Zambia, which is in southern Africa. So basically, my work is split into 3.
The first part deals with farm management where we are purchasing food, producing meat, eggs, milk, grains and the marketing part. Then the second part is rural development and training. In this part we have small income-generating projects and we train agriculture and life skills. And the third part is church growth and development where we want to bring the same development we are bringing to the community into the church to also power the church.
Joe: What does it mean that you’re an agriculturalist? What kind of things do you do for that part of your role?
Temba: Agriculturalist is just a broad term to cover all that we do in agriculture. Agriculture is a complete industry of its own. We are using the technical aspect of how crops grown or how animals are bred. And then we take it to be part of this project so that we can take seed and grow it into full grain, or you take a small animal. You feed it well. You take care of it, feed the medicines and everything. And then when it grows big we give it away or sometimes we sell them to keep the project going.
Joe: Wonderful. I also know that you participate in some education and health projects. Can you tell me a little bit about those?
Temba: The project is very broad. Education, we have a daycare center. It was named Mama Roxanne Day Care Centre after our founder, his wife. So we provide education for children who are between the ages of 4 and 6. So that’s one part of the project.
We also give opportunity to young adults. We employ them or give them some work in special period so that they can raise money for examination fees. Some of them when they failed the first-time is free through the government soto help them have a high school qualification.
Then we also have a pastors’ children scholarship program where we are assisting some pastors’ children with tuition or school fees for family and secondary school education.
Then we also train…we are partnered with the Peace Corps, and we have courses that we do every year for animal husbandry, and two trainings. One is with the Lunda, which is a tribe that’s around us here. And then there’s the Kwangwa tribe. And that’s a bit far from here that we take every year.
Then on health, we find that the goal is that nutrition and health mixes. I think of everything that good food is the cornerstone of good health. So we are working with the clinics or outreaches that sometimes they request us to provide like milk or eggs or certain vegetables to people who have certain illness or on medication for different things like broken bones. Some as extreme as chronic illnesses like HIV and AIDS. So by that we are informed. But we don’t administer drugs or anything, it’s just that our nutrition can help, also with health.
And here malnutrition is still a big issue. We still see it amongst the women and children every day, also based on the content of not eating certain foods or certain types. We help in funding nutrition side mostly in health.
And then the ministry in the conference, I also was appointed to be part of the health board because of that nexus I talked about. So even now with the recent COVID-19 we received some funding through the health board, and we’ve been going around sensitizing people about COVID-19.
Joe: Wow. It’s really broad, all of the things that you guys are doing to help support the community. And I understand there’s a huge church element involved, too, that you’re also meeting spiritual needs for people. Tell me a little bit about that.
Temba: Thank you. Yes, it’s really broad.
We are working in the community. It’s basically a community project. But because we work under the bishop and we are United Methodist projects, we also like to bring that same development that we are talking about in the community, also to the church, which is also still not as established as what we want it to be.
So in the church we have many initiatives that we are a part of, that we think can help the church grow. So one of those is, like I mentioned before, the education where you are educating pastors’ children, kind of preparing future leaders that are educated in the church.
Then we also take advantage of the connection of the global United Methodist Church. So we are kind of like a link between churches in the U.S. and churches in Africa. For example, last year we worked with the First United Methodist Church of Midland, Michigan. They wanted to help some of the churches around us. So they helped them to purchase chairs, drums and choir uniforms, and to do their floors and walls and things like that.
We also believe that one of the ways that the church can really grow and empower the church members. So we are also focusing on agriculture training, sustainability. So on that aspect we do train church members on projects and sometimes we empower them with a little seed that they can go and carry on their own projects.
Then we are also involved in the nutrition. Like, at meetings sometimes we help them to find food stuff. And some of the meetings are held here at Majuila. So whatever we train to the community they also have a chance to go, too. We find that almost all of the church members around here, they know what goes on at the community.
Joe: Yes. They are involved in some way in all of the work that’s happening there. Yeah, that’s really exciting.
I noticed in your biography, too, that you have degrees from Africa University and a PhD and a Master’s degree from a college in South Korea. And lots of that is about water, right? That’s kind of a passion of yours? Can you talk a little bit more about the importance of water and what your studies have found and some of the important things you would like us to know?
Temba: Thank you very much. Starting from my undergrad, I come from a semi-arid area in Zimbabwe. So when we talk of agriculture…you can’t talk of agriculture without irrigation. So it was one of the areas that I was most interested in. Even in a dry land, if you have irrigation you can grow anything you want to grow. People are growing…in the very dry season you grow wheat. So that’s something I was interested in.
When I went to Korea it was just an opportunity. I got in on a government scholarship. When I was there…. My target was just to do the Master’s. But then I realized, because I was a full-time student there was nothing else to do, and I did too many credits for that Master’s or so. And even in part of my research, I had given extra research for that Master’s program. So I could do my PhD in much less time, which I did, in fact, in less than 3 years. So I thought I would take advantage of that, and that’s how I managed to do that.
What is really my passion and it’s very simple, but you find it with a huge impact that we can bring to areas all over, especially when we are able to provide water and use it efficiently in agriculture.
Joe: Does that continue to be an issue in places throughout Africa and in your mission field?
Temba: I think so. Here, where I am, it’s a little bit different. The climate is…we are going to have the rain forest in The Congo. Rain…in 4 years, very high, like where we are. But it’s only high for a particular season. So you find…you only depending rain.
So overall the rainfall where we are right now in northwestern Zambia, is very good. But still sometimes it’s not consistent. And I think irrigation could still do a lot, even where we are, even controlling things like acidity and really…if you want to have that good quality crop or even that level of rearing animals, I think irrigation is still a very important part of what we do.
Joe: And you see the water as kind of a spiritual issue. Is that right?
Temba: I think so. You know, to accept the teachings of the Bible we all have to find some connection to it—something that you think this is talking to me.
For me with my interest in water, you find many examples of water in the Bible—how we can use it, whether it’s for God’s purposes or its example. Even many other aspects of our agriculture. So to me I take it as…it’s a standard to me and other farming communities that this is something that we can connect that these teachings are also for us. As it was written many, many years ago is still applicable today. For example, that verse that’s on my bio on the United Methodist website, the mission website. You find that that valley, filling it up with water…at that time that’s a miracle. But today so many water engineers around the world are performing those miracles and then they’re able to get water for irrigation and for drinking, potable water, and things like that.
Joe: As I talk to missionaries around the world, one of the things that I’ve been learning is that many of you have gifts for ministry that are not the things we immediately think of as gifts for a ministry. Right? You’re not necessarily the preachers and teachers. You’re not the musicians necessarily. I mean, you’re an engineer…educated engineer, who’s found a way to use those gifts to fulfill God’s call on your life.
How did you get to that place? How did you begin to see your gifts for engineering as a way of doing God’s work in the world?
Temba: Thank you for asking. Even myself, I never thought that it would come to a day that I would be a missionary. But as someone who grew up in the church—my parents were Anglicans, so I was born in that church—as you grow up and you are in the church you always want to do more.
I used to do small things in the church, not really minister to others, but just a small things, just to help the church and make it happen. As I developed my career, I was part of it’s called the Quaker Alumni Association of Zimbabwe, which is a grouping of people who were sent to Korea by the…it’s called Quaker, which is a Korean international corporation agricultural workers, that sends a lot of kids to South Korea to study. So I went there for a short course. They sent me. So I was part of their alumni.
So when I was in the leadership we always get a small amount that we decide what project we want to do to help out in the community. So at that time we decided to help out the school in Zimbabwe, a school that’s educating thousands of disabled children. But we decided we wanted to help them with a greenhouse. So at first it was…that’s one of those things that you want to go there and you want to hand over the greenhouse and that’s it.
But in our community I was the only person who was involved in agriculture. So to build the structures, to set it up and train them how to use it, I was now the one who was in touch with them. And you know as I was in touch with some of these children who are disabled, people who are not trained, and as I saw how they were… because all my previous jobs had never been like direct to help individuals. Just mainly we are working to provide something to the market. You know, it’s all business.
Temba: And when I did this I really felt…agriculture, this import in people’s lives. So whatever you are. So, if you work in a field, for sure it will produce something for it.
But I started to feel like maybe this is a work that is fulfilling. And then that’s when I saw the posting of my current position right now. And it wasn’t posted as missionary. It was an agriculturist somewhere in southern Africa. So I didn’t even have the teachings, but because when you are interviewed by GBGM there’s a wide range of questions they ask you, and many screenings and through the interview process. So I started to see that this is more than just the business of agriculture because that is just the impact. And I thank God that I accepted this job because it has now given me that like sense of helping.
I think all of us want to do that work, that what we do we want to also use it for the glory of God. For some in the world it’s just a job. But then you fail to see how people receive it as really from God. And when people thank you and they thank God, you’re answering someone else’s prayer. So I think it’s really fulfilling.
Joe: Yeah. And I just keep coming back to that in the Bible getting the water to that valley was seen as a miracle. But that’s a miracle that engineers do regularly. So it really is a service of doing what God calls us to do in these amazing ways. And I just love hearing these stories about how people find their way towards using these gifts for the glory of God.
You mentioned that you’re originally from Zimbabwe and you’re now working in Zambia. Can you tell me what’s different about living in another country?
Temba: The funny thing about this is that Zimbabwe and Zambia, we are neighboring countries. Right? So as I think about it right now, it’s very difficult to tell the difference because both have become like home. I’ve now been in Zambia for about 3 years. So like when you are home you kind of adapt to how… But I think… In Zimbabwe I lived in the capital. That’s a town in Mutare. But here I live like in a very remote place. So I think, even if I was living in a remote area in Zimbabwe, maybe the differences would be less. But just that town and rural area, I think that’s maybe a big difference.
Joe: Yeah. Okay. Tell me what the biggest… What’s the most exciting thing that’s happening in your ministry right now? What gets you energized that’s happening?
Temba: It’s always been very broad, but what has happened in Mijuila is that this project was founded by a Reverend Forrester, who has since left the project promoted and now living back in the U.S. So as I started to take over, it’s really exciting because it’s an opportunity that we are now moving the project in a, I would say, a slightly different direction.
You find that the community as it is now is not the same as when the project started. So, for example, there’s been lots of globalization alone and then there’s also effort by government or even the founders of this project, when they started this they had to even prove some concepts—that you can actually plant maize and harvest it. People just thought it would be shipped from those places where they give out hunger aid.
So I say what’s exciting in the future is that we are taking just the local people are now holding positions and now they’re getting training to do so much. I’m sure in the future you’ll hear more about Mijuila’s projects. We have a soybean modification project which is like a contract farming type of arrangement. The future is going to be…more and more people are going to be empowered. More employment is going to be created and I think there’s more people who are going to see the hand of God in their own lives so they can also help others.
Joe: And is there a particular challenge that you guys have?
Temba: The challenge remains that we are in a very remote area. So sometimes even if you want to have a product that you can take to market and offer help others to bring it, we face challenges in that end. But otherwise God is helping us. And we continue to ask for supporting churches and to continue to help us with the funding and ideas. And ask God to help us to get the correct connection to keep this project going.
Joe: And Temba, I want to ask you the question that I ask every guest of Get Your Spirit in Shape. How do you keep your spirit in shape?
Temba: I thank God that I’m here with my family. Two years ago I was married and we have a young son who is now 11 months old. That family was here with me. We spend time together and if we feel like we are far from home, sometimes we used the Internet. Maybe we play some church service, some songs, rent the movies. Thanks to them I’m keeping my spirit in shape.
Joe: That’s wonderful. What a great anchor in your life to have your young family to share your faith journey with and to give you that perspective when you need it.
Temba, I just thank you so much for taking the time to share your ministry with us. And I especially want to say thank you for the work that you do every day to support and to train and to feed and to work towards the health of all of these people. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I so appreciate your ministry and so admire the work that you’re doing.
Temba: Thank you very much.
Joe: That was Temba Nkomozepi, a United Methodist missionary from Zimbabwe serving in Zambia. To learn more about Temba and his work at the Mujila Falls Agricultural Center and to support him and his ministry with a donation, go to UMC.org/podcasts and look for the notes page of this episode. We’ve put links on the page to help you learn more and make that donation as part of the Give Love campaign through United Methodist Global Ministries.
Thanks for listening. I’ll be back next week with another missionary conversation that will help us keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. I’m Joe Iovino. Peace.