One of the biggest parts of our ministry is the CROSS class. We go into churches and meet with pastors and leaders for more than 16 weeks, searching the Word of God for answers to the challenges in Zambia today. We talk about things that are not talked about in the church but that affect each person in the room. Things like HIV and AIDS, stigma, and gender-based violence.
“I have been in church all my life. I have taught Sunday school and been an elder. But I never knew these things you have taught us. I did not know that the Bible had these answers.” (A graduate in 2017, aged 82.)
Why did we change our curriculum? Because things change. HIV and AIDs in Zambia is not the beast it was a decade ago. Today, with proper treatment, the life expectancy of someone with AIDS is similar to someone without the disease. The infection rates, however, have not declined as anticipated, and it is estimated that over 21% of people in the greater-Lusaka area are positive. The numbers are difficult to assess since fewer than 40% of the population has been tested. Sadly, the numbers within the church reflect the same rates as the nation. (Ask Andy what the greatest risk factor for a woman in Zambia is when it comes to contracting HIV. You will be shocked and horrified.)
The change in the demographics of the disease has meant a change in the needs of the church. An entire generation has been decimated, leaving orphans being cared for by the elderly and a gap in the workforce of the nation. Thousands of men and women are receiving treatment, but this requires days off work and increased costs from the nutritional support they need. It is estimated that there are nearly 1 million AIDs orphans in Zambia, taxing the demands of the school system and the families and communities that help them. A decade ago, CROSS was training people to provide hospice care in homes for those dying of AIDS. Today, the church needs help for those living with HIV.
Our new curriculum also addresses a huge problem in Zambia: for too long, Westerners have come in, beginning projects with shiny new things and plenty of funds. But there are more than enough churches and pastors in Zambia. We work with dozens of godly men and women who care about their church body and community. (There are also hundreds and thousands of corrupt leaders and church groups, but let's focus on the positive). The simple fact is that we get more requests for our program than we can ever meet. Because of the intensive and personal nature of the program and life in Zambia, we do not have the time to provide the class to every person who requests it. Eventually, we won’t be here to teach this curriculum, so we want to empower the local church to continue the work. We want this program to multiply!
To that end, we have created a curricula with 3 modules that each address a different challenge in Zambia today while providing clear discipleship and Biblical literacy. Our first module focuses on the Gospel and HIV/AIDS. Participants discuss the disease and stigma, learn basic health and nutrition principles, see what the true hope we have in the Gospel really is and how to share that with others, and engage in planning ways to reach out to people in their own churches and communities with HIV and AIDS.
The second module focuses on the family and Gender-based violence. Previously, we had a short curricula that addressed only violence and abuse. However, this did not give people hope as they had no teaching on God’s plan for family life. Due in part to the HIV crisis, the family unit in Zambia is splintered even from its cultural norms. Our new program not only addresses abuse and violence, but also has 5 lessons on what the Bible says about family, culturally relevant stories about healthy families, and action plans to utilize in families and churches.
Finally, we realized that we were not addressing one of the biggest challenges to the church in Zambia today: the economic impact of HIV and AIDs along with a developing economy where more than 65% of people live on less than $2 a day. Our final module is centered around Stewardship and serving God and others with our resources. Because Zambia is still primarily an informal economy, our lessons are based on agrarian principles in a SunSaharan African context. With clear discipleship steps, lessons on budgeting and saving even without money, and relatable stories, this module is already generating excitement especially among churches that have already participated in CROSS lessons before.
While to some it may seem that we are departing from the initial focus of CROSS to address HIV and AIDS, we are instead enlarging our focus to the broader causes and effects of HIV in Zambia. All of our curricula now has a clear trajectory of discipleship with a new emphasis on Scripture. We have also reformatted our curricula so that we can reproduce it and give it to the participants, encouraging ownership, review, and passing on the information to others.
All these changes have been time-consuming and difficult to implement. However, the reception to the program has been more than we hoped for. So many pastors and church leaders are asking us to come, and churches we have worked with in the past are asking us to come again and teach the entire year! While we will still be teaching at least 3 classes a week, we are already providing seminars to equip others to take the materials to their churches and present the materials themselves. The relational nature of our work also means that 3-4 days a week are spent with pastors and church leaders, encouraging them and discussing Scripture. Over half our Sundays are spent in various local churches where we have taught or churches that want us to come share. Our desire is to empower and equip Zambians and the local church!
What does this mean for our ministry? More work. More opportunities! We are considering investing in a high-capacity printer because our cost to reproduce the curriculum is extremely high (durable goods and technology are very expensive here). We need a larger vehicle for transporting our team to the churches, especially as we go further and into more remote areas. Somehow we also need to invest time and energy in teaching people how to read, as the literacy rates in Zambia hover between 50-60% with vernacular languages being only around 10%. This means that our printed materials and the Bible are inaccessible resources for half of the population! The BBC reported in sub-Saharan Africa that "88% of children and adolescents will enter adulthood without a basic proficiency in reading". While literacy is not a panacea to the challenges in Zambia today, being able to read the Bible and other materials opens up endless doors of possibility.
"The key to real, lasting transformation is in the local people themselves as they discover and employ their own strengths, knowledge, and capabilities."
Andy Gray and Craig Greenfield, The Alongsiders Story
The hope we find in Jesus is not outdated or irrelevant news in Zambia. The clear goal of our new curricula is to spend more time discussing Scripture with people and to give them practical tools to apply what they are learning. As the saying goes, "It takes a spider to repair its own web." We sought to provide a wholistic approach to learning what the Bible says while also providing applications to personal living and the needs of the family, church, community, and culture. We are excited!