Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.” In a culture that thinks quantitatively, my longtime brother Richman Syabbamba taught me daily what it means to live life qualitatively.
Richman lived fully alive and present in the moment. Even in the most extreme cases of despair and in the darkest of places we’ve been together, he had a brilliant smile and a goofy little chuckle that made me forget about the gravity of the moment. Though he lived in the moment, he always carried a deep sense that all will be well.
Almost everything I know about health education, AIDS prevention, and development, I’ve learned from Richman. He was a futurist, who deeply sensed the plight of the poor in his country. His whole family has been so affected or infected by HIV that he often said that he felt that he was HIV positive himself. In preparation for his first tour to the US with the AIDS orphan choir, his eyes were opened to the need for the gospel to break the cycle of poverty in Zambia in the face of HIV.
He was a pastor, worship leader, and educator; a true practitioner that used every available tool in his belt to bring hope and healing to the fatherless. He invited me into the most beautiful work of redemption and restoration that I’ve ever seen.
A man of his character, talent, and vision needs to be empowered, not employed. It’s too restricting, too limiting. Not even his own organization could contain his dreams. True empowerment is to give the ultimate authority to the ones best equipped to address the complex needs that they face. This is difficult for westerners. It’s too messy, too risky, and relinquishes all power and control to others.
But what I witnessed through his ministry is not something that can be reproduced or replicated. He definitely received his vision from the Lord, but it was a vision that was shaped uniquely through one extraordinary Zambian man. No one can carry if forward the way that he could.
In the wake of this tragedy, God is showing us that He carries this vision in the hearts of the people that Richman impacted: the orphan, the widow, the sick. The terrifying part is that much of his vision resides in me. I can’t imagine moving forward without my best friend at my side, making the heavy moments lighter. I can’t imagine uttering a word about HIV and issues of exploitation without his nodding in approval on the front row. I can’t imagine walking into the hovels of the poor alone. Richman gave me the confidence to pursue justice that no amount of kwacha could buy.
We’ve traveled that road from Lusaka together a hundred times. Evening was always the worst, as the lights from oncoming traffic would cause the tarmac, the turns, and the trees to disappear. Even in the closest of calls, there was always a peace that our ministry together had a long future. That night in September was different. I had no idea that he was making that 4-hour trek back to Choma alone, so that he could spend a few more days with me before I traveled back to the US. What a gift to spend eight weeks together accomplishing a work we had never imagined was possible. What a treasure to experience the 3-day “Kepharbbamba 2012”— what the kids dubbed the family vacation we had always dreamed about. What a gift to see his last breath, to worship at his funeral, and to see him return to the dust. What a gift to carry the mantle of his ministry and to carry the burden of his family. What a gift to experience the quality of life that only Richman could bring. This experience reminds me of the tragedy of hope. It doesn’t exist without despair. Life does not exist without death. There is no resurrection without the cross.
I owe my life’s work to this man, and I will give my life to see his dreams come true—dreams that will change the face of HIV and human exploitation in Zambia, and even beyond. The night before he died, we had a profound time of prayer with friends from the U.S. He sensed that it was time to explore our work in new countries. I asked him if he knew that his dreams were bigger than Zambia. He replied with all humility, “Yes, I know. We are ready.”
As God grants us favor to continue our work, I hope and pray that he will give me the grace to live in the moment as Richman did; to strive for a quality of life that my brother embodied, and to believe that the Kingdom of God is coming to earth one changed life at a time. Thank you, Richman, for giving us the gift of yourself, and through your life, the very spirit of Christ in our world. You will not be forgotten. Dalumba meningi mwana.
Micah ”Mr. Zambia”
Look at all the uncles at Crosswinds Church. @poetice @jjwerzinger @chrisstephens @livepoetice Jon Stephens Justin Baker Eric Houppert and Adam Chimbabwe! (Taken with Instagram)
New site for Academy of Music Livingstone. Director Max and teachers Oscar and Jacob. (Taken with Instagram)
Me and Ry (Richman’s 5 year old son) at the burial service. (Taken with Instagram)