A Goodly Heritage

Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord:
Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn;

(Isaiah 51:1 NIV)

We arrived at Chikankata in August 1968, a young and enthusiastic couple on the threshold of life. Chikankata, with its hospital, school and leprosy settlement had become a well known mission in southern Zambia. Its influence extended far beyond its 200 hectares. 

Enthusiastic, yes, but also slightly wary, wondering how we would be accepted in a country vigorously opposed to the apartheid policies of our native South Africa. 'We don't judge you by where you come from,' said the hospital chaplain, 'But by how you are.' That was wise counsel. 

One of the people we were introduced to early on was the local headman: Chikankata, affectionately known as Charlie. Sitting on a low stool in his village, he wanted to know of my background. I told him a little of the family history which included a reference to my maternal uncle, Alf Erikson. As divisional leader for The Salvation Army in the then Northern Rhodesia he had been commissioned to find a suitable location to establish a mission. Charlie remembered those negotiations with his own uncle in the 1940s. 'We wanted the mission to be here,’ he said.
And then the penny dropped. 'You are the rightful heir,' he exclaimed. 'We Tonga people inherit not from our fathers, but from our mother's brother.' None of that was planned, but in that discovery our relationship was secured. 

I would pay frequent visits to Charlie, and he was often round the hospital. When it came to erecting the fence a few years later we walked  sections of the perimeter of the mission together. 

Sanctions against Rhodesia prevented my uncle from ever visiting Chikankata again, but I was able to tell him how it had developed. I told him about Chikankata, the man. 

A few years later my uncle asked me to look at a swollen knee. I suspected it was merely osteoarthritis, the legacy of walking in search of the place that would become the mission, perhaps? I was wrong. Sadly he died of tuberculous meningitis, originating from a tuberculous knee that had probably resulted from drinking unpasteurised milk from local cattle. 

I mourned his death, but with thanksgiving. I have a goodly heritage.