Nineteen year old Meryl Wetton, of Russellville, was able to experience something recently that has changed her life forever. She was not only able to visit a mission her great-grandfather started in Kaloma, Zambia, but was given an opportunity to help others, which lead her to a soul changing epiphany in her life, one she will carry with her the rest of her days.
“It’s crazy everything that I experienced while there. I took away so many things, but most of all how big God is, and how much He does,” said Wetton.
Meryl is a 2011 graduate of Logan County High School. She was an outstanding student there and it wasn’t shocking she continued on with her education at Harding University in Searcy, Ark., where her mother graduated. Meryl is the daughter of Mark and Beth Wetton.
In her first year at Harding, Meryl decided she wanted to study abroad, get a feel for what it was like for different cultures, and to try to help others as much as she could. It didn’t take much thought, if any, where she would go, as Meryl has deep roots in another part of the world already, one which she had her sights on going since she was small.
“After hearing all the stories growing up, there was one place I knew I wanted to go,” said Meryl, and that was Zambi in south Africa.
The Republic of Zambia, is a landlocked country in Southern Africa. The neighbouring countries are the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Tanzania to the north-east, Malawi to the east, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to the south, and Angola to the west. The population is 13,817,479 (July 2012 est.)
Meryl’s great-grandfather William Leslie Brown started the Namwianga Mission in Kaloma, Zambia 84 years ago. He and his wife were both Americans, but decided to live most of their lives as missionaries in Africa trying to bring Jesus to those who did not know who He was. One of his daughters Betty (Meryl’s grandmother), has shared with her grandchildren many stories about what it was like growing up at the mission and in Africa, and it astonishes her that Meryl was able to go where she began.
“I think it’s so amazing that my granddaughter was able to go to the place where we were 85 years ago,” said Betty Wetton, who is now 85 years old. “She has such a beautiful heart this granddaughter of mine, and I love the desire she has for others.”
Betty’s spent eight years of her life at the Namwianga Mission and then moved with her parents to Zimbabwe to begin yet another mission. Betty lived most of her life in Africa, married and had children there. She moved to the United States in the 1980’s to Nebraska where one of her daughters lived.
The Namwianga Mission has grown considerably since its beginnings now involving medical care through a clinic, education by way of a college and orphan care through the Havens and Eric’s House.
It took Meryl several weeks to prepare for her three month trip to the mission, which began Aug. 22 through Nov. 27, 2012. She underwent classes through the college, had to endure lifestyle changes to prepare her for the culture change, and got her vaccinations to help prevent from the many diseases she could contract. While there Meryl was subject to Malaria and Tuberculosis.
She was among 28 students that lived, worshiped, and worked at the mission. She learned how to speak Tonga, took classes on mission work, helped vaccinate people at a measles clinic and was entrusted to take care of two children at the Havens while she was at the mission. She became very attached to “her” children as she referred.
The Havens is a home for displaced or orphaned children in the area near the mission. Since its start, there have been 430 children to come through. Some are raised for a period of time and then reintroduced to the families who could not take care of them, while others have no place to go and live at the home. A lot of the children that come to the Havens are sick and malnourished and have lost a parent or both. It is sad, said Meryl, but it is good there is some loving place for them to go.
Meryl’s “kids” were Owen, four months and Deacon, two months. When Meryl came to the mission, Owen was about to die, his sister had already died and they weren’t sure Owen would make it. It was soon found that Owen had tuberculosis, but Meryl nursed him and eventually he started to get better. The change in him from the time she came to the time she left is remarkable.
Meryl said she learned while there that the people were strong Christians because God was all they had. It is a different lifestyle there, she said.
Meryl says she has a stronger faith now. She realizes the importance of God and what he is doing in places like Africa.
“I grew spiritually from this experience more than ever. There is a difference in growing up in church, knowing about God and reading about Him, and then going somewhere where the people have to depend on Him,” said Meryl.
Another aspect Meryl took from her mission was that time is not the same for parts of the world. She said people would walk for miles to get to the mission. There are also none of the distractions there that Americans have, which allows your focus to be on God. When Meryl said she would go out and visit different churches it wasn’t about what you wore or about getting dressed up or about you, it was about God.
“It totally changes your outlook on life,” said Meryl, who has learned more in three months than most of us learn in a lifetime.
Meryl is studying to be a speech pathologist. She is minoring in missions and says she definitely wants to go back to Zambia again and maybe bring her specialty with her.