My Journey from Zambia to Episcopal Divinity School
By The Rev. Mwape B. Musonda-Chilombo
“In education it isn’t how much you have committed to memory or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don’t. It’s knowing where to go to find out what you need to know and it’s knowing how to use the information you get.” —William Feather
On August 29, 2010, I boarded a South African Airways plane that took me from my hometown of Ndola, Zambia, to South Africa and, with one stopover in Senegal, to JFK International Airport. After flying for 17 hours, plus 6 hours waiting at various airports, I finally arrived at Logan Airport in Boston.
Why did I think of coming to Episcopal Divinity School in the first place? My purpose was to increase my knowledge and hone my ability to interpret theology relating to social, political, physical, and spiritual issues. I felt it was important to move further along in my understanding of issues related to ethics and values in my ministry, and to understand my own spirituality at a deeper level. As a theologian with a traditional Anglican background, my attention is focused on the liberation of women who are faced with patriarchal discrimination and, as Margaret Benefiel says in The Soul of a Leader, “Paying attention requires courage.”
One skill that I learned at EDS was to really hear others’ voices, as well as my own. Hearing is an art. It requires skills such as determination, consistency, space, spiritual discernment, and the courage to follow your heart. As Benefiel says, “The heart knows that the way will be revealed and that it will be good. The heart serves as a compass, helping the leader take the first step, then another, then another.” I am glad I added another step to motivate my pastoral responsibility, and I will use it wisely to the glory of God.
At EDS I had an opportunity, using that courage, to participate in classes that dealt with international reconciliation, peace, and justice, and with spiritual healing between the Church and the community. I looked at the urgent need for tribal unity in my country of Zambia, and at the many problems related to the structures of our economy that contribute to the strife our people experience. As people struggle to survive, they are affected physically, mentally, and spiritually. Therefore, spiritual healing is very important. As an African international student, I was inspired by most of the readings, and I integrated them with my own healing from childhood to today. The knowledge gained at EDS is a laboratory I will turn to in my future endeavors. It will help me take another step, then another.
The Church’s mission is to speak of reconciliation, peace, justice, and unity among the people of God, regardless of their affiliation in society. I look forward to helping to improve the mindset of the people in my community so they can listen to their own voices. Healing may be a long process, but learning from a wider perspective helps to articulate issues; for example, to teach and conduct healing for those who are troubled. I have a passion for gender-based victims, for the girl-child who is abused and defiled. I feel that the Church is the mouthpiece for the voiceless and less privileged in society, and I am accountable to God as a servant in service and privileged with this knowledge.
My 18 months at Episcopal Divinity School were memorable, and it was worth the risk I took to leave my family and my mother country, Zambia. I was privileged to do my pastoral duties as an associate clergy with the Church of the Holy Spirit in Orleans, St. James’ Episcopal Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and to have a part-time job in the EDS development office. Associating with all these institutions was overwhelming and inspirational, because every day offered the challenge of meeting other scholars and hearing their experiences. In the past, the traditional African family played the role of educator to prepare the young for adult life, but I am privileged to tap into knowledge from these new scholars and to pass it on not only to my own children but to my community.
I take this opportunity to thank the EDS faculty members in their respective disciplines who helped me interpret theology with my own understanding and perspective. I will always be grateful to EDS, my sponsors, MSASA, the Church of the Holy Spirit, and St. James, fellow students, and my friends for walking with me in my journey in Cambridge in the state of Massachusetts. I thank God because “It came to pass.”
An excerpt from this essay appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of EDS Now.
The Rev. Mwape B. Musonda-Chilombo received her MATS degree in 2012 from EDS.