In Her Shoes ~ A Heart Burdened for Zambia

In Her Shoes is a series written by readers to give us a glimpse into their lives – what it is like to walk in their shoes. I am honored to introduce you to my friend Sara Larios. We lived and worked together in a Russian orphanage when we were just out of high school. Since that time, my Southern friend has had quite an adventure. Today Sara is telling us what life as been like for her in Zambia, and what it is like to walk in her shoes. ~ Love, G

In Her Shoes - A Heart Burdened for Zambia

In his book The Grand Weaver, Ravi Zacharias describes our individual callings as “simply God’s shaping of your burden and beckoning you to your service to him in the place and pursuit of his choosing….A call may not necessarily feel attractive to you, but it will tug on your soul in an inescapable way, no matter how high the cost of following it may be.”

I have always liked the metaphor of life being a long pathway and opportunities being doors along the way. The idea of burdens fit perfectly into the Pilgrim’s Progress image in my mind. My life so far has been full of differing burdens, doors, and paths, which have shaped and beckoned me to places I would have never predicted.

My current life adventure started a little over five years ago, when I applied for an overseas fellowship with International Justice Mission (www.ijm.org). Within two days they responded about a last minute opening and within a further 24 hours I agreed to go to Zambia. (I had to google the place first just to see what I was getting into!) Three months later, on January 31, 2009 I landed in the capital city of Lusaka. It has been my home ever since.

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I had agreed to just six months of volunteering with IJM, thinking that would give me time to figure out what was next for me. Do I go back to what I was doing before? Or was this the start of a new direction? Through my work with IJM Zambia, I began to meet local lawyers who suggested I take the Zambian Bar exams. The suggestion seemed outrageous at first. When I found out I had passed the California Bar years earlier I cried tears of relief and declared I would never take another exam again – ever! Yet the idea began to take root in a strange way in my mind. By April, I rather casually decided to knock on the ZIALE (Zambia Institute of Advanced Legal Education) door and ask about taking the year-long course that included the bar exams, thinking all the while it would surely never happen. By the first week of June the ZIALE door had flown open and I found myself sitting in a classroom. 

The one year program that dragged into three. ZIALE became one of the most difficult challenges I had faced. Through it all, a new burden for legal aid in Zambia, specifically Zambian prisoners, began to take shape. This burden began to shape my thoughts and conversations and fill my heart with purpose. In June of 2010 my extended service with IJM came to an end and I began working in a private law firm in Lusaka as I finished up my exams. Leaving IJM was a huge blow and big departure from what I thought was lying ahead for me. But as I worked and studied, new ideas and projects began to take shape and new collaborations and relationships began to form around idea of providing legal aid to prisoners. Open doors and pathways appeared and then sometimes seemed to close and disappear just as fast.

In November of 2011 I thought I had finally arrived at the “big door” and my pathway would stretch out clear and shining before me. I was sworn into the Zambian Bar, complete with robe and wig, and likely the very first American to ever be added the Roll of Advocates of the High Court of Zambia. Yet by the end of the year, one of the most promising doors to do legal aid in Lusaka prisons had closed and it seemed that “real life” would now have to take over.

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2012 and 2013 were very difficult years for me. I was still in Zambia, still bearing this burden for Zambia’s prison population. But “paying the bills” had taken over. I was in survival mode. Little flashes of opportunity came now and then, but they never seemed to take hold, perhaps because of my own weariness and discouragement. While I was taking advantage of professional opportunities in the legal sector in Zambia, my vision of working in legal aid began to get dimmer and further out of reach. I was also barely coping in my personal life. Long-term expatriate life can sometimes feel like you are stuck on on the wrong side of a revolving door. Constantly having to say goodbye to those who had become near and dear was taking its toll.

Feeling discouraged, isolated, and oh so weary, by the end of 2013 I was begging the Lord to take away this burden to do legal aid in Zambia and give it to some stronger, more capable and established person than myself. I didn’t have any clue or really even care what happened next. I just wanted Him to release me from this vague mission haunting me. 

But it is still here, weighing on my heart. After some much needed restoration from the Lord in my personal and spiritual life, I again can see doors and paths appearing in the distance. 

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Just last week I went to spend a few hours in the prison cells where they keep young boys under 18 who are waiting for trial or waiting be sent off to serve their terms in other prison facilities. The stories they shared of their struggles were heart-breaking and compelling. They tried to focused on their challenges of navigating the broken legal system, most without the support of any family and without the guidance of a lawyer. But behind the talk of arrest dates, court adjournments, and delayed orders, you could see eyes that were frightened, frustrated, and hopeless about life. 

I walked outside the gates, my mind swimming with ideas of how to help, but as I talked to my contact who works in the prison system I felt overwhelmed. He and I shared the numbness of not knowing where to start meeting such a huge need and addressing the far-reaching tangle of problems connected to it. And this was only 40 boys in one of Zambia’s 13 provinces. As I drove away from the prison grounds I didn’t feel discouraged or depressed over the scenes of the day. My sense of purpose was growing. But at the same time another familiar thought was in my mind – “What can I possibly do? What can one person do?”

Again, I woke up this morning, lists forming in my head of people I could contact, strategies I could propose, changes I could make in my life to get me toward the goal helping these young boys and so many others like them. But still another train of thought persisted – “You are only one person. You don’t have criminal defense skills. You are not a social worker. You don’t know how to really help these boys.” 

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Then I turned to Jeremiah 1. I had been meaning to start reading Jeremiah for several weeks, after a bible search showed that it referenced prison many times throughout the book. The opening verses jumped out at me and I recognized my own thoughts within them: “Lord God, What can I do, for I am just one person?” (paraphrase of vs. 6). God went on to remind Jeremiah that his own skills had nothing to do with what He intended to do through him and assured him that God would equip him with all that was necessary to the divinely assigned work. 

And so, like Jeremiah, I must take heart from the Lord’s assurances: “Therefore prepare yourself and arise….do not be dismayed….for I have made you this day a fortified city, and an iron pillar…they shall not prevail against you…for I am with you.” (from vs. 17-19).

I don’t really know what will happen next, what doors will open or shut, where my path will lead me. But for now I will continue to shoulder the burden the Lord has given me until He lifts it from my shoulders for another. God knows what one person can do, and that’s all that matters.

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To read more encouraging stories, or if you are interested in sharing your own story, please go to the In Her Shoes tab near the top of the page. I love learning about the people in this series. Connecting with others seems to make the world feel not quite as big and scary. We’re all in this together. I can’t wait to hear from you, to read your stories, and learn more of what it is like to walk in your shoes. ~ Love, Ginger

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6 Comments
  • Wow, Sara… wow. What an amazing story, and I predict there will be many more exciting and challenging chapters ahead of you. I’m an attorney too, and I’ve always felt a little useless when it comes time to put together international mission teams — the medical people and construction people are so useful! And here I am just specialized to one state. (I had the EXACT same reaction after taking the bar, btw. NO MORE TESTS. EVER.)

    Right now I’ve got small children at home so traveling abroad, even for a short term mission trip, isn’t really feasible for me. And I don’t know if I could ever live that far away from my family for a long enough period of time to be of any use in the legal system of another country. But then again, you never know where God will call you… Thank you so much for sharing your story!

    • ginger says:

      Sarah, I’ll make sure that Sara sees your kind comments! 🙂

    • Sara says:

      Sarah – I remember feeling the same way about those mission teams – “With all these doctors and teachers, who needs a lawyer to come help them?” Well it turns out people do! I was so excited to learn about IJM’s legal work around the world. Doing legal work can definitely take more time than the average mission trip though! Thanks for your encouragement!

  • Shana Norris says:

    I love the spirit of hope in your story, Sara. I’ve felt that same “revolving door” when thinking of ways to help and to make a difference, to live out what’s in my heart. It’s so encouraging how you’ve stayed the course through ups and downs. Thanks for sharing this beautiful story!

    • ginger says:

      Hi, Shana! I am so happy that you stopped by to read Sara’s story! I’ll make sure that she sees your encouraging comments! 🙂

    • Sara says:

      Shana – I feel the biggest lesson I am learning lately is I often put limits on myself and on what is possible which have nothing to do with what God knows is possible. Someone recently let me borrow the book “Love Does” by Bob Goff. It opened my eyes to a lot of the self-sabotage that was going on in my mind. Thanks for the encouraging words!

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I’m Ginger ~
I'm a wife to my Beloved, mom of three boys, bookworm, survivor of a broken heart, and Kansas Girl. It is my desire to encourage you. No matter what storm you're going through right now, you are not alone. I promise.
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