Mission work shaped teen's world view

Aug. 22, 2013 @ 05:10 PM

It was around Jacquie Zimmerman’s fifth birthday when her missionary parents moved the family to Africa. They stayed for a decade, working with the largely Muslim Mwani tribe in Mozambique.

As Zimmerman starts college, she reflects on her time in Africa — how it shaped her faith and her hopes for the future. She graduated from Sun Valley, where she played varsity basketball and soccer, and just moved to Berea College in Kentucky after receiving a four-year tuition scholarship.

“Berea’s extreme diversity is one of the biggest reasons I chose to go to school there,” Zimmerman said.

Berea was the first interracial and coeducational college in the South. While some students experience little diversity before college, Zimmerman has been around people of another race for much of her life. Berea’s motto is “God has made of one blood all

peoples of the earth.”

Being the daughter of missionaries has given Zimmerman a heart for service, she said. She plans to double major in biology and Spanish, then move to a Spanish-speaking country “to offer the people Jesus and medical attention.”

“My mom always reminds me how often I used to tell her that I had already felt called by God to return to Africa as a doctor someday,” Zimmerman said.

In Africa, Zimmerman’s parents planted churches and started a Christian radio station in Kimwani, the local dialect. For several years, the family lived in a village with no electricity or running water. Zimmerman often witnessed children with swollen bellies and yellowing eyes — signs of malnutrition.

“When rainy season would come, the people’s huts (and) fences … would wash away, leaving them with just the ground to sleep on,” Zimmerman said.

She remembers tagging along with women in the rice fields — women who started the day at 4 a.m. and walked miles to tend the fields, retrieve firewood and do housework.

Zimmerman treasures those experiences as she enjoys American luxuries and a free ride to college.

“I try to think of those memories often to make sure that I am always grateful for the abundance of food that I have at my constant disposal,” she said. “It’s easy to forget sometimes in the American culture centered on convenience.”

In fourth grade, Zimmerman started boarding school at Rift Valley Academy outside of Nairobi, Kenya. Her two older brothers were there, too, but the siblings were away from their parents nine months out of the year. Their friends became family.

While Zimmerman is just starting college, her independence isn’t new; she learned a lot about self-sufficiency in boarding school. In fact, she says, it was odd living with her parents when they moved back to the States. It was hard at first, but she came to appreciate them.

“In a couple of conversations my mom and I have had about all of our moving around, we realized how little we truly knew of each other,” she said. “We are both really grateful that we got to spend the last three years together because we understand each other in ways that no one else does.”

As many people her age begin distancing themselves from their faith, Zimmerman’s time overseas drew her closer to God.

“It is much easier for me to put little value on having lots of nice things because we are only here on earth for such a short time,” she said. “All that counts in the end is living a life according to the hope to which (God) has called us so that we can share in the riches of his glorious inheritance someday.”