As many of us have been informed over the last couple decades, HIV/AIDS has caused significant damage all over the world, but specifically in this continent of Africa. We as Americans have a pesky habit of getting very concerned over global justice issues, but moving on to the latest causes a few weeks later. We’ve seen this recently with issues like ISIS, Ebola and citywide race riots. Several years ago, when AIDS was at the forefront of the world’s attention, a well-known American pastor made a commitment to pursuing a solution to this devastating problem. In his research, he was surprised to find that sub-Saharan Africa, a part of the world which statistically boasts to be inhabited by eighty percent Christians – more than any other region – was also the globe’s most prominent hotspot for AIDS. Upon presenting this inconsistency to African leaders, he was faced with a convicting response that went something like this:
“Do you have any idea how powerfully your culture influences us? The rest of the world beholds your comfort and prosperity, and longs to experience it. We read your Bibles and sing to your Jesus, but we also watch your movies and listen to your music, and what are they telling us about how to live and behave? Sir, if you’re really interested in making a difference here, then go make a quality movie that speaks to sexual issues while promoting values that line up with your Christian message of hope.”
So he partnered with a South African ministry called LXP and set out to create such a film. While the pastor was quickly sidetracked and backed out of the project to pursue other opportunities, LXP didn’t have this option. Their people were dying, whether they chose to look at it or not. They finished the film and called it Beat the Drum. I believe it’s streaming on Netflix these days – check it out if you’re looking for something to watch!
Beat the Drum has been expanded to be a weeklong program in secondary schools, primarily focused on raising accurate awareness about AIDS and encouraging a commitment to abstinence. It goes without saying that if we indeed expect teenage students to make the conscious decision to refrain from having sex until an indefinite wedding night, then we have our work cut out for us. You’re right – this is an impossible task in our world today. We believe that anything’s possible with God, though, so we began devoting all of our attention to this event a week in advance, most of our prep time being spent in prayer. This week also included classroom sessions with George Mwanza, founder of LXP, who familiarized us with the Beat the Drum curriculum. The event itself includes classes that focus on having good values, exploring true definitions and examples of being a real man or woman and providing clear information to dispel preexisting African myths about sex and AIDS.
It’s one thing for us to stand in front of a crowd of high school kids, telling them what they should and shouldn’t do. It’s another task entirely to face these kids and show them that we know exactly where they’re coming from. Vulnerability is a power of which we as humanity have barely grazed the surface, mostly due to our own shame. Each class I’ve taught this week has been filled with students who are timid and shy about asking real questions on the matter. However, every time I’ve come clean and shared about my redeemed struggles and failures in this area, they’ve opened up like a library of gripping, dramatic, unfinished works of literary art. Throughout the years, LXP has learned to channel this astounding response through something called a Dear Francis Box. In the film, the protagonist is aided by a kindhearted volunteer named Francis. Because of her compassion, students are given the opportunity to anonymously ‘write to Francis’, asking for advice about their circumstance. From there, we’re able to sort these very personal questions into themes and address each theme in class the next day. This process is as difficult and heart wrenching as it sounds. Most of these students have lived through hell in ways I don’t want to describe. Yet the heart of their inquiries is unanimous: “Can I really be free from this broken life? Is there actually healing available?”
As these pleas pile in, we’re encouraged to make a conscious effort to refrain from preaching, simply because these students more than likely already have several pastors and family members filling that role, and nothing’s changing. Yet. As an alternative, we can let the Lord speak through our stories of valid brokenness and redemption to communicate the true hope that we have in Christ. This week, I have seen God take a lot of things about myself that were ugly, hidden and hurting and make them beautiful by using them to provide hope to my new friends at David Livingstone Secondary School. An incredible man who I hope to feature this summer, Bruce Chitambala, may have said it best during a recent debriefing meeting. Hearing so many accounts of students facing their problems and longing for lasting change, Bruce calmly remarked, “I think we’re beginning to see past this film and recognize that the real curriculum for Beat the Drum is all of your honest stories.” What an honor it’s been to see the Lord work through parts of my story I never thought he would find pleasing.
So far, it’s been clear that this week has been incredibly powerful, maybe even life changing. Each of our fifty-ish people here to teach and connect have been pouring into personal relationships and walking in the freedom that only comes in Christ, and students are flocking to that. But we’re not done here, because God’s not done here. We recognize the danger in stirring up all this hurt for a week, only to leave so many raw teenagers alone and undiscipled. Those of us who will be in town through August, as well as others far beyond that, will be remaining in close contact with the school and its students to encourage them in their new lifestyles and provide other forms of support and guidance. I’m so thankful to be a part of an organization that sees life as a process rather than an impulsive decision, and I’m ecstatic to have over a month to walk with these kids on a new, difficult path. Please pray for the follow-up process and the shaken hearts of each of these kids. There’s so much love here; it’s overwhelming!
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR
William McCauley • 2015 International Immersion Intern