Game nights, school, and a little love counter the street’s rule in Zambia

By November 26, 2012

Zambia (MNN) — A faltering economy in Zambia has produced more street kids who are trying to earn a living somehow. Many of them become "call boys" — young men who earn their living by calling passengers to the mini buses and packing them tightly.

However, the life of a "call boy" in Zambia is not a pleasant one. Beyond the job, they are often considered lowest in society, treated with disdain, impoverished, and prone to substance abuse. That is, until Bill and Marci Hoover, missionaries with Christian World Outreach, started befriending these teens in 2002.

Marci Hoover says God's been working in their lives. Bible studies, a church, and meeting practical needs have displayed the love of Christ and provoked change in the lives and practice of the call boys.

However, a new issue cropped up. Marci explains, "The younger boys actually idolize these call boys and  look up to them. They think that's what they want to become in life."

You may wonder why these street kids look up to a group of young men who are treated with contempt. Marci says some of it stems from the image of being a "tough guy" who has limitless freedom to do what he wants. However, Marci says sometime in 2005, the older boys being discipled decided it was time to intervene. "As we've seen the Lord impact them, they've said, "Hey! We want to bring these younger boys who are still hanging out with us, and we'd like to see them introduced to Jesus and everything that you're teaching us."

The older group started bringing around 50 of the younger boys to some of the Christian World Outreach weekly gatherings. Then, the unexpected happened. "About three years ago, these young boys said, ‘Can you start teaching us English lessons so that we can maybe get back into school? This would really help us.'"

The Hoovers initially started work in Zambia in AIDS/HIV education and prevention with the Zambian Police Service, local schools, churches and villages. Together, with local believers, they eventually developed another outreach involving a 24-hour drop-in center for street kids where they conduct weekly outreaches, feeding programs, Bible studies, soccer games, and medical care.

With this request, they began weekly meetings where the boys began brushing up on their academics. Each week, says Marci, "The boys do reading comprehension, which is specifically done with the Bible. We do phonics, vocabulary development, and creative writing, and the most proficient boys now practice their typing skills in the library."

As a result, there was a sudden interest in returning to school, Marci notes. "This wave of positive peer pressure went sweeping through. Last January, Christian World Outreach Zambia was able to assist over 50 of these boys in getting back into school."

Between the hope for a future and the exposure to the Gospel in their studies, she goes on to say that many of these would-be "call boys" no longer look to that lifestyle. "Their hope is now in Christ and not in their circumstances, and they see the Lord using education to give them a future."

The change is remarkable. Marci says they began another form of training that was wrapped in Friday night game nights. On these nights, the team plays board games with the boys. Seem like a frivolous part of their work? Not really, when survival is the name of the game on the streets, says Marci. "In reality, they are learning how to lose with grace and win with grace. When you live on the street, losing is not an option. Losing means dying."

With that at stake, it takes time to help these boys ease off the defensiveness. "To learn how to lose at a game and understand that it's okay, actually takes a lot of growth. So that's what these boys are trying to overcome: ‘Losing is okay. I can lose with grace and congratulate the winner.'"

What's next? Marci says school resumes in January. The CWO program assists the boys financially through the education process. She's careful to note that it's a "hand up" rather than a "hand out" because it's an important part of the road to true independence. "These boys come up with some form of their own tuition. They feel very proud and have an ownership in their education, and it's wonderful to see."

The picture painted here seems like a glowing one. However, there are a few of the boys who come primarily for the hot meal that's served and have expressed very little interest in anything else being offered. To that end, the Hoovers are asking prayer. "Some of these boys have a very hard heart, and we would ask for prayer that their hearts would be softened by the Lord, that they would have ears to hear a little more deeply."

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