Two Years with SHN︱Alan and Sarah McLucas

Q&A with Alan and Sarah McLucas

Alan and Sarah served in ministry positions as Cooperating Teachers with Special Hope Network from September 2018 to June 2020. They gracefully moved from Virginia to Lusaka, Zambia to join the Special Hope Network team, bringing their knowledge of all things Special Education and adding refreshment, joy, and compassion to our team. We’re thankful for the time and energy they’ve shared with us and the great impact they’ve had on our Special Hope Network community! We already miss them greatly. Below, you’ll find a few reflections on their two years of living in Zambia and working with Special Hope Network.

  1. When moving from Virginia to Lusaka, and joining the SHN team, what were you most excited about and what made you the most nervous? 

Sarah – I was really excited for the Lord to use our skills and experience in new ways and in a new culture, especially within a family context. It was exciting but also daunting to consider engaging with an entire family as opposed to primarily working with students (as we had done at schools in Virginia). It made me nervous to think about how different things could be. Honestly, I was also pretty nervous about driving a manual on the other side of the road, and figuring out how to get groceries. The driving was much more difficult than the groceries. 

Alan – I had never previously had a desire to live outside of Virginia, let alone move to another continent. I was very nervous about learning how to get around the city by myself and about the process of figuring out how to be independent in a different country and city. I was really excited for the opportunity to work with the families at SHN and build some good relationships with the other people I would interact with in Lusaka. 

  1. If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice before moving to Zambia and joining the Special Hope Network team, what would it be? 

Sarah – The Lord really will provide for your needs as they arise, whether you’ve anticipated them or not. 

Alan – Don’t worry about it. Living in Zambia is not all that different from living in the United States. The people are great and the place is beautiful. I had all the same luxuries and amenities that I do now, they were just slightly different or occasionally more difficult to come by.

  1. What did a typical “day in the life” as a Cooperating Teacher look like? How would you translate your role as a Cooperating Teacher at Special Hope Network to a role that someone in another country might better understand? 

Both – We’d describe it as similar to an “Instructional Coach”, which is a role that many U.S. school districts have. Our jobs were to support teachers by leading trainings multiple times a week, while also coordinating the educational programs. During workdays at the Resource Center (RC), we would observe teachers and students, teach example lessons, monitor how specific trainings were being implemented, and check-in about various issues. We’d then prepare for future trainings, perform assessments, write assessment reports, or work on a number of other projects. 

  1. What is your favorite Community Care Center (CCC) memory? 

Alan – I remember leading a training for the CCC moms one day. What stuck out to me was the great sense of community and joy at the center. They welcomed me and enjoyed learning, making jokes, and supporting their children together. I don’t know of any other place in their community where a mother of a child with a disability can experience such free and joyful connection with other people while being with her child.

  1. What was a victory that you were able to celebrate with a child, family, or teacher that will have a lasting impact on your life? 

Alan – It was very special for us to interact with parents who were learning for the first time that their child had autism. Many of these parents had lots of questions and we helped answer those. We enjoyed explaining that having autism would result in some challenging differences for their child, but that there would be many ways for their child to live a fulfilling life. We’d remind parents to be filled with hope! I also spent a lot of time working with teachers at the RC on reading instruction. In particular, I watched as one teacher used the lessons and strategies that we had worked on together to successfully teach her student with Down Syndrome how to read. It was powerful and special to watch as my support of a teacher led her to make a valuable and long-lasting impact in the life of her student.

Sarah I loved seeing parents better understand their child’s behaviors. I watched as parents at our Mtendere CCC began to understand challenging behaviors as the child communicating their underlying needs. For example, a parent would understand that their child yelling may mean the child needed a break and wasn’t just trying to be difficult. Witnessing this change sticks with me because it has a positive and long-term impact on the parent-child relationship.

  1. Describe your Special Hope Network team in 5 words.

Alan – Thoughtful. Flexible. Laughter. Innovative. Capable.

Sarah – Inspired, creative, persevering, thoughtful, so fun.

  1. What did you enjoy most about working on an international staff? 

Sarah – I think the outcomes for the people we’re serving and the work we’re doing is better and more effective due to our staff’s wide range of perspectives and experiences. Witnessing that was especially beautiful. Personally, I liked filtering the skills I’d learned through a new culture and seeing that when paired with the creativity of the teachers those skills and principles held up. 

  1. What character quality or personality trait do you feel was strengthened due to living in Zambia for two years? 

Alan – I think my confidence was boosted pretty significantly. Living internationally requires you to learn how to do many new and complicated tasks while also requiring you to learn new culturally appropriate ways of interacting with others in order to complete those tasks. It makes you think “If I can do this in Zambia, then I can do anything in the U.S.”

Sarah – My steadiness and courage were challenged and strengthened. There were many moments where I faced discomfort and fear, but the Lord provided for us in those moments and strengthened my faith in His provision. 

  1. If someone asked you to tell them the funniest/wildest thing that happened to you while living in Zambia, what story would you tell? 

Alan – I once received a call on a Saturday afternoon from a friend whose car had broken down a few hours outside of Lusaka. They needed me to locate, buy, and deliver the missing car part. I drove downtown and went to a bunch of different shops to negotiate a fair price for the missing part. I eventually found one that sounded similar to their description. I took one of our friends to the bus station at 5am the next day and he rode the bus to deliver the part to our friends (they were fine by the way). When they tried to replace the part, they discovered it was too big. Instead of giving up, they used an angle grinder to literally shave off 2 inches of material in order to make it fit. After that, they drove their vehicle back to Lusaka with no problems! 

Sarah – Every story that comes to mind involves driving a manual Prado through crowded compounds or backroads filled with potholes. The situations slowly felt less hopeless and more comical since they happened so often and always seemed to work out. Examples include: the car tire rod breaking, getting lost with no cellular data, the engine overheating and me blasting the heat in 100°F weather in order to cool it, running out of gas, or making it to my destination without a means of returning. One of these trips included an unfortunate police encounter, but at the police station I ended up meeting a father of a child with autism looking for a school. Getting to direct him to SHN was neat! And of course, after the annual Night to Shine, we coordinated transport for hundreds of people who lived all throughout the city. It still shocks me that we were able to do that successfully and without losing anyone. God is good!

  1. What weekend adventure in Zambia was most memorable to you? 

Alan – We had the chance to go to South Luangwa national park and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We enjoyed God’s creation and saw some rare and sought-after animals like leopards and wild dogs. Sarah and I had an amazing time together. 

Sarah – That time was great, and so was our trip with fellow SHN staffer, Jessalin, and husband Ryan, to Victoria Falls and Chobe National Park. It’s so special to get to show your dear friends what Zambia is like! 

  1. What were your top 5 grocery staples while living in Zambia? 

Alan – Diet pepsi, chicken, salt and vinegar chips, mints, biltong (dried meat).

Sarah – I don’t think I ate any of the items Alan listed, besides the chicken (sometimes). Hmmm, I’d say, onions, peppers, tea, eggs, bananas. 

  1. What did a typical McLucas family dinner look like on a weeknight? 

Alan – It was usually some combination of whatever veggies we had and something like rice or pasta. We either cooked or ate leftovers pretty much every night because “fast food” in Zambia exists, but is never very fast.

Sarah – Carbs and veggies, or some lackluster pizza.

  1. What was it like learning to drive in Zambia? Different or similar to U.S. driving?

Alan – It was not too bad for me. I already knew how to drive a stick-shift and it only took a little while to get used to driving on the opposite side. Honestly, it was pretty fun.

Sarah – I just couldn’t believe I was on the other side of the road, with 3ft drainage ditches on either side, driving a manual. It was bad for a while, but it will remain one of my proudest accomplishments. 

  1. What did you enjoy most about Zambian culture?

Alan – Zambian culture is typically collectivist rather than individualistic. Individuals help and support one another as an expectation rather than as an outlier. In the U.S., we tend to do everything on our own and rarely reach out for support. I think it would be helpful if we were able to adopt some of the communal and familial support systems that exist in Zambian culture as well as many other cultures around the world.

Sarah – I agree, and miss that very much already. Along with that, there is a sense of God working on a larger scale, not just within one’s own life and experience. I really enjoyed that part of Zambian culture in the way their faith operates in their lives. 

  1. Was it more or less difficult than you expected to communicate with friends and family back home? 

Alan – It is pretty much the same as if you lived in a different state. You have the ability to communicate using technology, but that’s not usually the most satisfying way to maintain a relationship. The time difference also played a role in making it more difficult to find times to call and talk with people. 

Sarah – The technology is available, but I felt more distant than I could have imagined, since it is such a sustained feeling for a long period of time. Like Alan said, the time change seemed to play a bigger role in communicating than I had expected. 

  1. Describe the Lusaka, Zambia vibe in 3 words. 

Sarah – Communal, peaceful, creative.

  1. What was the top cultural difference that took you the longest to adjust to? 

Alan – Lots of people in Zambia tend to tell you what you want to hear. It took me a long time to realize this and even longer to adjust to it. Often someone would say something to you that wasn’t true. From little things like, “I am 5 minutes away” (more like 45 minutes), to bigger things like, “This car issue is not very serious” (when it is). 

Sarah – I never really adjusted to being an ethnic minority. Specifically, as a white woman, it was always very uncomfortable to be treated better and held in higher esteem in almost all areas of life. Unfortunately, my ways of resisting that were not usually successful.  

  1. Looking back, what element of American culture were you most thankful to have a break from? 

Alan – In the United States it is extremely easy to become engrossed in all of the stuff you have and the stuff you want. There is always something new or something better that most people seem to be striving to get. I have felt this strongly in myself since coming home. It’s easy to look at your neighbors and your friends and compare what you have to what they have. We often tend to covet the things that others have that we do not. In Zambia, you have so much more than the vast majority of people that it is pretty difficult to think that you need anything extra.

Sarah – Hmmm, that is tough to describe. In the U.S., it often feels like everyone’s reference point for doing something is one “American” way, which makes sense because that’s what people know. Of course that’s not really true since people in the U.S. and beyond live life and solve problems in a variety of ways. It was nice to get a break from this sense of assuming one way and getting to experience another culture’s way of approaching things. 

  1. Which element of Zambian culture are you bringing back to the U.S. and hoping to retain in your own life? 

Alan – I hope to be more thankful for what I have and to be able to continue having interactions with people from other nations and cultures. I also hope to be thankful for the efficiency in the U.S., but continue to value taking my time on things and not being too busy.

Sarah – I want to hold onto the sense that within community we can figure things out and take care of each other. I believe that’s the truth especially when we’re talking about the Kingdom of God. I hope the picture of what it looks like there will help us carry it out here

Thank you, Sarah and Alan for being bearers of hope and light in our community, and for letting the Lord lead you both to ministry positions with Special Hope Network. We’re grateful that you all joined us in partnering with our Lusaka community to reach children with disabilities and their families. It has been a gift to have you on our SHN team! Come back soon. (: