Standing with Zambia
by Kami L. Rice
With spray from one of the world’s largest
waterfalls misting nearby and a brilliant
blue sky peppered with fluffy clouds above,
Jaimie Rickards, then a North Park University
junior majoring in nursing, was baptized
by Pastor Charles Mumba. It was May 2010,
and she was in Zambia for the second time
with a University Ministries trip, working with
Hope Ministries, North Park’s global partner
in Zambia. Mumba is Hope Ministries’ executive
Spark Ventures’ Rich Johnson tours the poultry farm that generates revenue
to sustain community programs at Spark’s partner organization in Zambia.
When Rickards came to Zambia the first
time, in December 2008, to help with North
Park’s medical clinic for Hope Ministries’
children, she arrived as a young woman who
was culturally Jewish and skeptical of Jesus.
She thought people who believed in a man
who rose from the dead were crazy. “I have
to put emphasis on this because I was that
person who never imagined herself believing
in Jesus,” she said.
Yet, in the Twapia community in Ndola,
Zambia, listening to a sermon under a blue
tarp covering the wooden shack where the
host church met, Rickards became overwhelmed
with emotion and felt like God
was speaking to her for the first time. She
returned to the United States fascinated with
Jesus, needing to know why he is spoken of
During her second trip, Rickards arrived in
Zambia as a student leader eager to show
others an amazing experience, hoping their
lives could be changed like hers had been.
While there, she began grasping the importance
of baptism, and realized she wanted to
be baptized when she returned to Chicago.
A teammate encouraged her not to wait.
“He was right,” Rickards said. “What better
place to get baptized than the place where
I first met God, and by the Zambian pastor
who preached the sermon which changed
my life forever?” So Rickards and two other
students were baptized at the head of Victoria
Falls on Zambia’s border with Zimbabwe,
symbolizing the beauty of the body of Christ
As Mumba said, “It was a humbling experience
that made us appreciate the goodness
of God. To see our friends be willing to be
baptized here with us was a great testimony
to our people.” He noted that Zambia has
traditionally been a focus of mission work,
and it encouraged the people of his church
to see that they could be missionaries, too.
The relationship of Mumba and his community
with North Park began in 2006 when
Rich Johnson, then North Park’s director of
University Ministries, asked Mumba a pivotal
question. Johnson and two friends were in
Zambia on a two-week volunteer vacation.
Overwhelmed by the needs he observed
while working alongside Mumba and his wife,
Margaret, at their orphanage and school—initiatives that began in the early 2000s when
the Mumbas responded to needs in their church—he asked Mumba, “What do you
Johnson was already anticipating
the answer would be money.
Instead, Mumba said they needed partners
to stand alongside them until they could
stand on their own. Johnson admits he
had not previously considered that some
grassroots organizations do not want to
be dependent on outside money.
Spark Ventures was born the next year.
Its mission is to partner with high-impact
organizations that serve children in
impoverished areas. Spark helps them
increase their effect by providing human
resources, strategic guidance, and financial
capital. Spark also assists them with
the launch of businesses whose profits
provide sustainable and long-standing
support for their work with children.
Hope Ministries is Spark’s first partner.
Recently, Spark welcomed a partner in
Nicaragua. The organization’s vision is to
use this model to help vulnerable children
in four continents in the next 10 years.
Helping hope expand
Since the launch of the Spark-Hope partnership,
Hope Community School has
grown from 75 children to nearly 350 children
who fill the new seven-classroom
building that increased the school’s capacity,
reduced class sizes, and improved
the quality of education. Teachers working
essentially as volunteers are now paid
regular salaries, and have access to more
Zach Hayes, a current North Park student, reads
English with partner students in May 2011.
New homes for the orphanage have
increased capacity to 30 vulnerable children.
Twenty children, many of whom
lost their parents and caretakers to the
HIV/AIDS pandemic, are presently receiving
food, clothing, and education, along
with support for physical, emotional, and
spiritual needs. More children will be
welcomed when funding is available to
care for them. Most of the original children
cared for by the Mumbas are now in
In 2011, Spark invested $100,000 in the
development of Hope Ministries’ poultry farm in Lusaka, Zambia. Built and operated
by Hope Ministries, the farm will raise
nearly 200,000 chickens per year when it
reaches capacity, generating more than
$100,000 in income for Hope Ministries
and providing local, sustainable revenue
that will ensure long-term nutrition, education,
and health care for all children
served by Hope’s school and orphanage.
Hope Ministries now employs more than
25 community members who work as
teachers, social workers, and office staff,
as well as in other roles. Additionally, the
percentage of children Hope serves that
test positive for malaria has declined
dramatically since the beginning of the
twice-a-year medical clinics offered by
North Park and Spark Ventures.
Deep relationships continue after the trip
For many North Park students, a Spark
Ventures trip to Zambia is just the beginning.
They become attached to Spark’s
model and continue to volunteer with
the organization in Chicago or seek ways
to live out what was modeled for them
Sara Blumenshine, a 2010 University graduate
in elementary education, returned to
Zambia for six months as a Spark global intern. She worked alongside a Zambian
educator, teaching reading, English, and
science to students in sixth grade. She
also ran a reading program after school.
“I fell in love with the people and the culture
and the mission of Spark and Hope,”
she said. In addition to serving on Spark’s
junior board, she is a paraprofessional
teacher at a Chicago charter school that
serves immigrants and refugees.
While she was working as a resident director
at North Park, Nilwona Nowlin,
now earning dual degrees in nonprofit
administration and in Christian formation
from North Park Theological Seminary
and the School of Business and Nonprofit
Management, traveled to Zambia with
two student teams. Afterward, she began
volunteering at Spark to stay connected
to the work in Zambia. She now works for
Spark part-time as accounting manager.
“The thing that is special about Hope is
that it’s an organization started and run
by people who are native to Zambia,” she
noted. “They’re doing what they set out to
do, and it’s being done well.”
Following her dramatic spiritual experiences
in Zambia, Rickards sponsored a
Zambian child for two years. “I am both
happy and sad he no longer needs my
help,” she said.
Clarisa Johnson C’12 performs health screenings for Hope students in May 2011.
Following Johnson’s lead, North Park
teams have traveled to work alongside
Hope Ministries one to two times every
year since 2007. They also recommended
adding a medical component.
Normally, half of each 17-person team
is comprised of nursing students. Students
earn academic credit toward their
community health clinical programs by
running the clinic that assesses about
400 Hope House and Hope Community
School children. As Assistant Professor
of Nursing Heather Duncan notes, these
clinics are the only health care available
to area children. Efforts are underway to
open the clinic to students’ families, expanding
the sustainability of the clinic’s
investment in improving community
health. Duncan traveled to Zambia for
the fourth time in May.
In addition to reading to Hope Community
School children, and helping with
cleaning and other jobs, Mumba says
North Park teams also inspire the children
when they tell about themselves, their
studies, and how they view the future.
It helps children consider careers and a
university education. Also significant are
North Park students’ testimonies of how
God answered their prayers for money to
come to Zambia.
Johnson, now CEO of Spark Ventures,
said he loves North Park’s emphasis on
significance and service. “That certainly
influenced me during my time on staff
there, but more importantly it influences
students. North Park seems to attract
students who care about issues of social
justice, and that’s a big part of the experience
for students who go to Zambia.”
Students learn about privilege and feel a
responsibility to use it to benefit others,
Duncan adds, “We want students to have
a Christ-centered worldview, have compassion,
and have a passion for bettering
the world ... and [the partnership with
Hope Ministries and Spark Ventures] just
Eyes on the future
“The reason Spark started is because we
saw that these grassroots organizations
are looking for something people aren’t
providing. That’s the sustainability piece,”
Johnson explained. “Our philosophy is
that you don’t go in as the savior, but go
in and work alongside of [our partners],
collaborate with them, and mostly work
under their leadership because it’s their
In addition to helping facilitate North Park
teams in Zambia, Spark leads other trips
to expose participants to its partnership
model of development. Last year, Spark
partnered with Groupon Grassroots to
offer an “Africa Volunteer Vacation” through
Groupon Getaways. The new venture for
both Spark and Groupon was a grand success,
selling out and requiring the addition
of an extra trip this past February.
Global Partnerships teams travel regularly to Zambia to work with Hope School students, as did this team in May 2011.
Hope’s impact in providing children with
nutrition, education, and medical care
increases as Spark helps them develop
their leadership team and gain skills in
writing good job descriptions, establishing
accountability structures, fundraising,
and more, Mumba said. He has watched
many development efforts in Zambia die
out when outsiders initiating an enterprise
leave without seeing locals adopt ownership.
For Mumba, it is not only about Hope
Ministries’ continuation during his lifetime.
Finding generational successors is also
necessary for the school and orphanage
to continue when he and other current leaders
are no longer there.