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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Couple found love in Zambia; established Choshen Farm there

Sometimes a love story encompasses more than just two people. Sometimes it encompasses a nation.

At least that‘s what happened to Bethany and Jeremy Colvin.

The Colvins live and work in the Luapuala Province of Zambia. Bethany was recently in Spokane visiting friends, family and supporters, and Jeremy participated in this story from Africa via email.

In 2004, Jeremy, a young Spokane accountant, traveled to South Africa for a short-term mission trip. He had no intention of staying there.

“I never thought I would leave the Spokane area,” he said.

Though he was trained as an accountant, he grew up on a farm in Reardan and had dreamed of starting his own sustainable farm near where he was raised.

But that short-term mission trip to South Africa stretched into two years. While there, he and a group traveled to Zambia to help build a church. That trip changed his life.

“Zambia became more and more on my heart, and I felt I should come here to serve,” he said.

A local church leader had a 50-acre plot of land and offered it to Jeremy to use to start a ministry.

So Jeremy and his friends loaded a small pick-up and took a three-day journey to the site.

It turned out the 50 acres was completely untouched bush, and they had to bushwhack their way in. Once a spot was cleared, he pitched a tent and waved goodbye to his friends, and quickly learned why the remote region of Luapuala is called the “Siberia of Zambia.”

“That’s so Jeremy,” Bethany said, laughing. “He’s not afraid of anything and risk-management is not in his vocabulary.”

He plunged ahead, meeting with local leaders to assess what their greatest needs were.

“He didn’t want to be the colonial American coming in with his vision – the white man that knows everything,” explained Bethany. “He wanted to build relationships.”

It turns out the farm he wanted to build in the states was needed in Zambia much more.

“I had this same kind of work intended for Spokane, and in fact had Choshen Farm on paper and designed four years before I came to Zambia,” Jeremy said. “The methods have been adapted from place to place, but the task of serving people where they are at in their real needs has always been the goal, though I never thought I would do it 9,245 miles from where I was born.”

The location had unique consequences. Jeremy became quite ill with malaria.

In 2007, he returned home to recuperate and to also incorporate the farm as a nonprofit and secure funding.

Meanwhile, Bethany arrived in Zambia.

A native of Ithaca, New York, she joined the Peace Corps after graduating from Cornell University.

Unlike Jeremy, she had always wanted to live overseas for a time.

“I wanted to figure out how I might be useful in the world,” she said. “I was book smart and that was about it.”

Not long after she arrived in the village of Fimpulu to start her work as a health education volunteer, a little boy ran up and announced, “The white man is here.”

Bethany was surprised. She knew he wasn’t a Peace Corps volunteer, and she was concerned that this white stranger might interfere with the work she had just begun.

She followed the boy to the house where Jeremy was meeting with the village headman, and introductions were made.

It wasn’t love at first sight, but they quickly became friends.

“He ended up eating a lot of suppers at my house,” Bethany said. “He helped me with some projects. He became very useful.”

Still, when he proposed over dinner one night, she was shocked and immediately said no.

Bethany knew his future lay in Zambia and believed hers was back in the U.S.

“He was my friend,” she said. “I hadn’t entertained romantic feelings.”

But as the weeks passed and her Peace Corps stint drew to a close, all she could think about was how much she would miss him.

Two months later, she said, “Will you ask me that question again?”

He did and this time she said yes.

“Of course you’re supposed to marry your best friend,” she said, smiling.

They were married July 25, 2009, in Spokane and incorporated Zambian music and dance in their outdoor ceremony.

“Of course, the villagers think they’re responsible for our relationship,” Bethany said. “Their hopes and prayers were answered.”

And in Zambia, Choshen Farm has grown from a few crops, to a self-sustaining farm with chickens and cattle, a school, and a home-based care initiative for those affected with HIV/AIDS.

They also work with the Mansa Pastor’s Fellowship (an inter-denominational body of over 50 pastors) to equip pastors across the region, as well as facilitate Bible study programs and conduct leadership training programs for local church leaders.

The farm models and trains others in conservation farming and animal husbandry and serves to fund the other ministries.

As their nonprofit grew, so did their family.

Bronwyn was born in 2012 and Leonie in 2015. Bethany returned to the States to give birth both times.

“My kids don’t know they’re American,” Bethany said. “Bronwyn gets offended if I tell her she’s not Zambian.”

Currently, the Colvins are finalizing the adoption of 23-month-old Dominic.

“We both have a heart for adoption. There are so many kids in orphanages here,” she said.

They continue to address the issues Jeremy identified when meeting with local leaders.

English is the national language of Zambia, but in remote areas children have zero language immersion. The preschool they started with the focus of English immersion, now includes kindergarten and first grade, and they hope to add a grade each year, all the way through seventh.

With 40 percent of Zambian children malnourished and 60 percent classified as food insecure, the Colvins started layer chicken hens at the farm and focused on nutrition-based products like eggs and soya beans, and later added fish farming to help provide much needed protein.

It’s a life neither Bethany nor Jeremy had envisioned when they were in their twenties, but they believe they are living out God’s plan for them.

“I’m so thankful and so lucky,” Bethany said. “Once Africa gets under your skin, you can’t undo that. There’s something very gripping about the people and the continent.”

Jeremy agreed.

“I love to serve people and love that I can do it where few others are willing to go, and all with my best friend,” he said. “It isn’t what I thought of when I was in high school, but I don’t think I could be happier.”