by Jerry Pattillo
This past July, I had the privilege of sharing the Free Grace message with eleven boys in Zambia, Africa. This was in conjunction with a group of Americans who went to share God’s love with, give hugs to, genuinely care for, teach spiritual truth to, and have our hearts broken for these incredible but severely neglected children. It was an awesome experience.
The eleven boys that were assigned to me were twelve to fourteen years of age and were from the Ngombe compound of Lusaka, Zambia. The compound is one of many in Lusaka, with a high concentration of destitute people, especially orphaned children. Seventy percent of Zambia’s 14 million people are unemployed in terms of formal jobs, so they do whatever they can to earn a little bit of money every day (e.g., by selling goods on the side of the road, washing someone’s clothes, carrying heavy loads, etc.). A major portion of these unemployed people live in the compounds, and if they can’t make money that day, they don’t eat. Most of my boys eat one meal a day consisting of a small amount of nshima (like thick grits). Some of them occasionally go a couple of days between meals.
The Ngombe compound consists of thousands of small cinder block homes, between 100 and 200 square feet, with dirt or concrete floors, and tin roofs held on by heavy rocks. The houses are separated by dirt paths or narrow dirt roads which turn to mud during the rainy season. There is garbage everywhere. Families of five to ten people live in each home, with children sleeping on blankets or trash bags on the floor. Many (if not most) of the homes lack a mother or father (due to AIDS or TB or divorce). And if both parents die, the children find some other relative or friend with whom to live. The average age in the country is sixteen.
The compounds have a community school with a ratio of 150 children to one teacher, consisting of two hours of instruction a day, given by a teacher with a 7th grade education. The children must pay for the lessons, and have approved shoes. Unfortunately, many cannot pay and must drop out. Some of my boys were fourteen but were only in the 5th grade, and that is not even the equivalent of a 5th grade education in America. Nevertheless, the children love going to school and prefer that to almost anything else. Though the children are often somber and stone-faced due to emotional and physical abuse, they come alive when loved.
GETTING THE MESSAGE
We were able to take the children away from the compound each day of the week to a beautiful tree-covered hilltop overlooking Lusaka where the ministry took place. In the course of discussing God’s truth with my boys, it was very evident that all eleven had a church they attended regularly, believed in some form of works salvation (i.e., pray to God, obey your parents, speak the word, etc.), or otherwise seemed fuzzy on the content of their faith. Only a few of them even understood the concept of eternal life. Thus I spent time explaining that eternal life was a free gift that could not be earned by praying, obeying parents, or by doing any other form of good deed or work. I also explained that because Jesus died and paid for the sins of the whole world, He can offer eternal life to everyone. I told them how we can have this life by simply believing the message that we have eternal life because of what Jesus did.
I explained this in various ways, both in discussion with the whole group and in individual discussion with each boy. It seemed to me that, at that time, five of the boys were just not able to understand the message I was delivering, whether about belief or even eternal life. One of those five repeated the right words, but as we followed up on what we shared, he was fuzzy on some of the concepts. However, the other six boys seemed to understand and believe the message. And when we talked to each one individually and asked if he had eternal life, he answered “yes” because of his belief in Jesus. Praise God!
There is one other miracle in this story worth noting. Because of the AIDS problem in the country, we were encouraged to address sex and respect for women with the boys. I took the more “spiritual” (but less direct) approach of discussing Genesis 2, Ephesians 5, and 1 Peter 3 regarding God’s design for sex, how to treat women, etc. There were more chuckles than I expected, but then again, these are junior high-age boys. At that point I turned the discussion over to my Zambian partner who got right down to business and simply asked the boys how many were having sex. At least five raised their hands. And there was much more discussion among some of the other boys (though it was in their native language, Nyanja, so I missed some of it). But two of the boys raised their hand and said they had not had sex. I was blown away that boys this young were regularly having sex, and that two of them were not embarrassed to say they had abstained.
What amazed me even more, however, is that three of the boys stated that they had told their girlfriends the night before that they were not going to have sex any more. Each of them came to believe in Jesus for their salvation the previous day, and apparently the Holy Spirit had already convicted them to stop this behavior, even before we addressed it for the first time with them!
Lastly, I should mention that on Thursday we spent the day in their compound and let them go around sharing about eternal life through belief in Jesus. Two of the boys were strong evangelists, stopping, getting the attention of, and talking to every adult they saw. They gave out copies of the Living Water translation of the Gospel of John, so there are now copies of it circulating in the Ngombe compound.
Please pray for the new and tender faith of Elias, Charles, Joseph, Michael, Isaac #1, and Isaac #2, that the clarity of the salvation message will not be clouded by false teaching, and that their faith may grow to maturity. And pray that the seed planted in the other boys will take root.
There were many tears when we said goodbye at the end of the week, and there have been many tears since. Lord willing, I will return next summer and see these boys again. Regardless, it was an awesome time and privilege that I was fortunate by God’s grace to experience!