Tommy Downs

Tommy Downs

A Servant of Jesus Christ

First days at AMT

When we arrived at the airport in Livingstone Zambia, we grabbed our bags and waited for the Overland people to come pick us up. While we waited, I started playing my coda flute, my recorders, and then my mandolin. An african in what looked like a military outfit approached me and started flipping through my music binder. He asked me to do some particular songs and that he’d sing too. I didn’t believe that he knew the songs and that maybe he was just in a choir or something. But we started singing together and I realized that he did know the songs and that he was an expert at singing harmony. Soon there was a whole crowd of Africans singing with us and it was amazing. We kept going through songs and singing them and I played mandolin also. They asked where I was going and I told them that I was with Overland.

“Oh, Phil Smethurst.” They said, recognizing the organization, “When will you be back here?”

“I don’t know.” I replied, “In 3 months, I guess.” I kept playing for a while.

Some Overland staff arrived while I played, we got introduced.

We went to the restaurant and got acquainted with the staff and students of Overland AMT.

Jane Marie of Overland (JJ’s wife) was skeptical that Hopper swam in his jeans.

“The truth is, I just swim in whatever I’m wearing – Which just so happens to be jeans.” Said Hopper.

We loaded up both Overland trucks and headed to the market to buy snacks. Hopper, Joy, and I bought some unsliced bread and peanut butter and jam and jelly. The road to Overland’s rapid 14 base was very bumpy and slow. It was winter, so there was very little green plant life to be seen. A few trees had some very sparse green foliage, but for the most part, the leaves were brown.

We passed by the village of Songwe, and eventually we got to the base. It was 200 hectares of land. The base was immaculate and beautifully organized. The architecture is concrete walls with grass roofs and log rafters. The paths and roads are all dirt/sand with rocks arranged on the sides.

The food was incredibly good. The toilets in the bathrooms always flushed well. My tent had two beds in it and plenty of room. I’ve never actually lived in so much luxury… weird.

Joy and Hopper took a nap that night and missed some orientation stuff. The staff was concerned so they went to look for them, multiple times. They said that they checked their tent, but after a couple hours I went with and called for them and it turned out they had been napping the whole time. I didn’t think they’d do anything but take a nap, despite all the places that everyone looked, but I guess I should have checked earlier, sorry.

I slept well that night, no sufferance of jet-lag.

The next day we picked up trash, we split up into two groups. Our group (which did include Joy and Hopper) cleaned the outskirts of the base while the other team cleaned the living areas. We strayed off the path with Hannah and found lots of trash. We had to go take our bag back to the “dumpster” because it was bursting at the seams. We asked Joe for another bag and he gave us a large ragged bag to fill up.

After that, we had lunch, then a good number of us hiked the gorge to the Zambezi river. Joy and Hopper took a nap so they didn’t go. It was a far hike down, but going downhill is easy, I couldn’t find anyone to keep up with me, but I managed to get Oscar and Holden to go fairly fast.

Oscar, who is Zambian, went off alone and found a fisherman and we watched him catch a little yellow catfish. We were told by leadership not to touch the river, so we didn’t.

We met up with everybody and hiked back up the gorge and I was embued with energy that I wasn’t aware that I had. It was Christ’s energy as mentioned in Colossians.

Colossians 1:28-29 “We proclaim him, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we man present every man perfect in Christ Jesus, for which I also labor, striving according to his working, which works in me mightily.”

Habakkuk 3:19 “Yahweh, the Lord, is my strength. He makes my feet like deer’s feet, and enables me to go in high places.”

The next day, I was teaching one of the resident young girls how to play Ukulele.

In the evening, Joy, Hopper, Theara (my Cambodian roomate), and I hiked the gorge. Apparently, I’m very sure footed and quick, as my brother-in-law Reece knows. And I was amazed that I did not tire quickly but had as much energy as the day before. We wrote “Lo-winski” in very large rocks on the sand, because he didn’t want to come hike the gorge that day as he had the day prior.

Then, we had supper and I played with another little girl named Addy. We did gymnastics and goofy walks, etc. After that, we played soccer with a lot of the staff and students.

My tentmate was Theara, a man that Joy calls “Cambodian Hopper.” He has a lot of energy when he speaks and it’s fun to talk to him.

First Expedition

It was time for our first expedition so we loaded up our two massive trucks and departed for Salumbwe. It was quite a distance, made even more so by the slow sand roads that rocked the trucks back and forth and the branches that slapped our faces. When we got there eleven hours later, we set up our tents and prepared our new camp. We had all the necessities, the Zambians had even built us some “long drops” which are huts with holes inside them that we can “wash our feet” in. To “wash one’s feet” is an African euphemism for peeing and pooping, or maybe just peeing… We had a campfire for cooking, lots of jerry cans for water, and some tables set up for our kitchen.

It was late, so we didn’t do much except eat dinner that was so deliciously prepared you wouldn’t have known it was cooked in the middle of nowhere over a fire. Sure beats oatmeal with bugs in it.

The next day, Sunday August 25th, we divided into our teams for ministry. My team, Casey (the AMT leader), John (Overland Videographer and cook), Reuben (our translator, and the one who is in charge of discipling the area), Amy & Thanak my Cambodian friends, Nicole, Grace (another Cambodian friend), and I went to the new apostolic church. The service was very enthusiastic, the choir performed some old hymns, but in the Lozi language, that were the most beautiful renditions I had ever heard. They were crazy skilled, I felt a bit inferior with my simple mandolin and flutes. After the preachers were done preaching, they asked if any of the makuas had anything they wanted to share. I jumped up and introduced myself and complimented their music and began sharing about how in Christ we are new creations and that we have the same spirit he does and that we thus can and should do the same things he did. I was the first white man to ever preach in that church I later found out.

They then asked us to do some songs, so I pulled my mandolin out and we did, “God is so good,” and “I Love You Lord.” During the latter song, one of the choir directors joined in on his recorder, I was glad to see such a fine instrument that I love so dearly. This was followed up by John teaching them the song, “Jesus is number Shani. Number wani, number wani. Jesus is number two? No! Jesus is number three? No!” etc. It was really fun.

Reuben and Casey shared some message too, then we went outside and greeted people. I started playing my Coda flute (double chamber ocarina that I carry around my neck everywhere) and Brian the Zambian recorder player joined in, it was great.

After that, we went house to house, or rather outside people’s huts in the shade to share the love of Jesus with them. I wasn’t apprehensive like I thought I would be, but confidently taught about Christ and our identity in him. We prayed for the sick, and they were healed. A boy we prayed for who had sickle cell anemia seemed to be in perfect health every time we saw him after that.

Some of the nights we had night meetings where our Zambian ministry partners (translators and more) lead us, and the Zambians in fun worship songs around a fire by the soccer field. There was much dancing and silliness involved. Every day we visited people and saw salvations, healings, deliverance from demons and more. The people in those villages rely on witch doctors, but they’re even less effective than the doctors in the US. Christ came to set us free from sin and death.

Children’s ministry was fun, the kids enjoy my gymnastics moves as well as my “air fighting.” It was great working with such great teams of people from around the world united for the gospel.

I don’t honestly miss my family so much, yet, because my family is the family of God, and wherever I go on this earth, my siblings in Christ are there. Well, Hopper and Joy are here too. It’s fun watching them grow and encouraging them, I hope I’m growing too, but that’s hard to judge.