Leslie Anne Ringger is a missionary-turned-author for Lifesong Zambia, a ministry run by Lifesong for Orphans. What began as a little school and feeding program for orphans and vulnerable kids in the area transformed into an outreach for 350 students and a strawberry farm that employs the mothers and caretakers of the kids. The goal of Lifesong Zambia is to reach the family unit as a whole–to educate the kids as well as employ and educate their parents, while teaching them the love and grace of Christ. To further the work of Lifesong Zambia, Leslie Anne decided to author a children’s book called “Mangos for Christmas.” Proceeds from the book benefit the program and it would make a lovely addition to your Christmas book collection!
1. Leslie, I’ve always romanticized being a missionary to orphans…but I’m sure it wasn’t always easy. Tell me what a typical day in your life as a missionary was like.
Let me get really honest. Oftentimes it feels like an uphill battle. You do the same thing day in and day out and so much time goes by and you think, “Why in the world am I here?” No question, it’s good, too. And even though the majority of the time you feel like it’s very possible you’re failing, there are those moments when a special connection will make you never want to leave. Ultimately it’s about human connection, which can happen anywhere. Honestly, I’ve never been much of a “missionary” even while I was on the field. I just wanted to be where I was supposed to be and live a meaningful life around people I cared about. That just happened to take me to Zambia.
To give you a simple picture of my day, in the morning I would do whatever was needed. Then, after lunch I’d head to the school to teach. After school I’d head back home and often there would be at least a few kids who’d hang out to play around our yard. Then I’d help cook dinner, eat, and we’d usually end the day with a few rounds of Settlers or Ticket to Ride. If you don’t know these board games, check them out–they’re great!
2. What are some lessons you learned while in the missionary field?
Man… primarily that it’s not my job to change people or save them. All I can do is be available and love them. Anything more than that is up to God. Sheesh. Too often I’ve thought it was my job to be someone’s Holy Spirit. I’d feel this heavy weight to save my students… then I’d burn out and fight feelings of anger towards them. Not a super healthy way to approach ministry. But it’s a learning process too. That’s another lesson! Give yourself grace! And others, too, for that matter. We do our best. We love. We give grace. And we pray that God will be merciful when we fail.
3. Where did the idea for “Mangos for Christmas” come from?
In the book there’s this section where Gift, the main character, remembers talking to the Americans living in Zambia and how they asked her about when Mangos came in season. She told them December and they respond with this awe at the thought of God giving Zambia a Christmas gift every year… provision in the form of mangos. This conversation literally happened. When we were told by one of our students that mangos came into season at Christmas time, we shouted, “Mangos for Christmas! Seriously, one of us has to write something and name in that.” Ha! So I did! The actual storyline took a little more time, but ultimately the concept came from that one conversation.
4. A theme of the story is that “even the smallest gift, when given in love, can make a big difference.” How have you seen that played out in your life or your family’s lives?
You know, personal relationship is really what everything is about. It’s what Christ was about… and He gave the greatest gift ever, but it was only great because it was based in relationship. If His death, resurrection, and ultimate gift of life weren’t for the sake of deep, intimate relationship what would be the point? So when I think back on gifts in my own life the ones that stand out are the ones that were based on relationship… on love.
I once had a student show up at night at my doorstep with a group of his friends. They were all visibly nervous because they weren’t really supposed to be there and would have to brave the streets on the way back home in the dark. Honestly, my first impulse was to get irritated. But then he held out a basket he’d made that day in basketry class. Ha! I hadn’t even really thought before about how it resembles Gift in the story, and her basket. Looking back on the writing process, whenever I pictured the little basket she made I pictured the very basket Joseph held out to me that night. Small, loosely woven, sloppy. But I kept that thing and cherished it. And our relationship deepened because of that one simple expression of love. It’s really kind of beautiful how it works like that.
5. I understand you enlisted the help of some kids in Zambia to illustrate the book. Is part of your heart still there even though you’ve moved back to the states? Do you plan to return?
I did! And yes, my heart is still very much there. I’ve never been totally sure how living in a place for such a small portion of my life could affect so much of it. For a long time I prayed about moving back and potentially being a house parent in our student life homes…which will provide boarding for our high school students. But God has never moved in that direction. Interestingly enough though, He has moved with two specific Zambian girls I met while living there. In fact, I head back to Zambia in just a couple weeks to pick them up and bring them to the States so they can live with me while going to high school here. So I guess you could say at this point I won’t be going back to Zambia long term… instead it’s coming to me! A total gift and the beginnings of what I’m certain will be a wild ride for all three of us! Also, while most of the book’s sales will all go directly to Lifesong for Orphans, any sales I personally make will go toward a fundraising account specifically created to pay for their education. So it’s all kind of working together in some super cool and very unexpected ways.
To purchase a copy of “Mangos for Christmas,” click here.