Every few steps there is a warm greeting–especially from kids–while walking through the streets of Kasama with the OM Zambia team. Though the team is just three people, they are well known in the community as either Ba Uncle or Ba Coach (‘Ba’ is a term of respect in the local language).
Many children wander the street begging but they do not ask for money from the OM team. Instead, they are drawn to the team because of the unconditional love shown by the three ‘uncles’ who call them by name.
“I have been there.”
That is the reason why a passion for the vulnerable overflows from each team member. They were all once vulnerable, so they deeply understand how great the transformational power of God can comfort a weary soul. They were changed and now each of the men can not keep it to themselves; they’ve dedicated their lives to pouring out the hope they once received to the vulnerable children of Kasama.
“I can still recall all those nights when my mother cried as she looked for ways to provide for our family,” shared OMer Francis Chileshe. His father left when he was in primary school and, unable to pay school fees for all seven children, his mother decided the two oldest daughters would continue school while the rest worked. At the age of 13, Francis started selling snacks and buns to help provide for his family.
Francis felt bitter and angry about his situation until God brought Christians to speak into his life. When he was 15, a deacon shared the gospel with Francis and later connected him to a Canadian missionary family. “They took me [in] as their own and taught me how to love,” said Francis. He started going along for ministry with the missionaries and even mobilised youths for an outreach in a township where churches were too afraid to reach out. This helped him see beyond his own problems and opened his eyes to the needs around him.
“The missionaries broadened my view and gave me a bigger picture,” Francis shared. He was able to return to school and even learnt how to use a laptop–the newest technology at the time. Wanting to let more people experience the hope he found in Christ, Francis prayed that God would use him. “How do I show my appreciation to God?” he wondered. As Francis contemplated this, he met a missionary from Pro Christo (who would later merge with OM) who told him about a discipleship programme. He immediately signed up.
During the training, his desire to serve vulnerable children only grew stronger and was confirmed through a dream. “God always brought the right people into my life. I also wanted to help people where they [were at],” Francis said. Returning to Kasama he joined Project HOPE. Twenty years later, Francis is still in Kasama bringing hope to those who have none.
“My heart burns when I see people suffering like I [did]. I don’t want others to experience the same trouble,” said OMer Gabriel Kabela. Gabriel’s challenges started when his father passed away. With great determination to finish high school he moved around to find a school that would accept him. There were times Gabriel stayed with relatives where he received abuse instead of refuge. His mother brewed beer to provide for the family and, wanting to lighten her burden, Gabriel started looking for work while also attending school. This led him into gambling. For a whole year, he went out into the neighbourhood to get some ‘quick money’ in the evenings–sometimes overnight.
God prevented him from going further down that path by showing him a dream. Gabriel recalled clearly seeing Jesus suffer on his behalf and then forgive him. He also heard Jesus ask him to change his behaviour. From that day, he stopped gambling. His brother took him to a church where he gave his life to the Lord.
Life was still not easy after he became a Christian. Because he kept changing schools, Gabriel repeated grade 6 three times. Later on, his grade 9 results went missing. As he asked God why, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4* came to mind and a voice told him “I have chosen you.” He started to dwell on the Bible and find comfort from God’s word. “I couldn’t put down the bible. The word of God guided me and helped me out of the bitterness,” said Gabriel. The love of Christ compelled him to bring the hope that he received to the vulnerable. Sharing the same passion, Gabriel joined Project of HOPE full time in 2015. Now, he leads a Bible study among the vulnerable to help them discover hope in Christ.
“Through sports, God brought me back to him,” said OMer Noel Zulu. Despite growing up in a Christian home, the desire to pursue fame through sports drove him away from God. His eyes were set on his own glory and his life didn’t reflect Christ.
While focused on sports, he joined a new football team. “[The coach] could understand me and I could share with him about everything, from sports to life,” shared Noel. In fact, this coach was a missionary who used sports as a platform to reach out. Noel rediscovered the power of God and his attitude changed each practice. “I realised that sports are not for personal fame. I could play sports to share the love of God.”
The missionary trusted Noel with a football team and the Holy Spirit started to work in him and helped him live a lifestyle pleasing to God. As a team leader, he knew that he had to change his behaviour to be an example. At the beginning, Noel didn’t want to disappoint his coach. Then, he slowly found he didn’t want to disappoint God.
Seeing how sports could touch the lives of youth, Noel decided to join sports ministry with OM in Zambia, where his passion for sports and God could meet. After hearing the vision of Project HOPE, he moved to Kasama in 2017 to help with sports ministry. “Kasama is famous for sports and street kids. I know this is the right place where God can use me,” said Noel with enthusiasm.
*“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” – 2 Cor 1:3-4 (NIV)