I ran onto this video and immediately fell in love with it. It's Colbie Caillat and it's encouraging you to feel beautiful just the way you are. It's a wonderful video, a wonderful song, and a wonderful lesson for all of us. As I watched it, I made a mental note to teach my daughter how wonderful she is just as God created her. At 2, she' s doing just fine in the confidence department and I hope and pray that she continues to love herself and know how wonderful she is as she grows up.
While we were in Zambia, I was reminded of what Zambian girls have to struggle with every day. It's literally terrifying, heart wrenching, and terrible what so many of these beautiful girls deal with on a daily basis. There is a myth, perpetuated by traditional healers, that advises HIV-positive men to cure their disease by having sex with virgin girls. Because of this virgin cleansing myth, as many as ten girls are raped every day. Scary right? The worst part is that many people just take information like this as fact. They don't question it, and if they disagree with it, they are not likely to speak out about it. These Zambian girls are being raped, being mistreated, and are treated like property, and no one is fighting for them. They have watched their mothers be beaten by their fathers over issues such as dinner not being ready when they returned home from work. They have watched their teenage sisters marry much older men for stability. These smart, beautiful, wonderful children don't know that's it's ok to say no when an Uncle climbs into their bed and proceeds to take advantage of them.
When we go to Zambia, we work in the school that my husband and the other members of the Zambian Vocal Group own and operate. There are currently about 250 students from first to seventh grade. This year, we had a team of 15 American missionaries join us for two of the weeks that we were there. They came prepared with VBS lessons, teacher training lessons, and ready to clean and organize the school. They said they were more than willing to help with anything that needed to be done. I'm pretty sure that what I asked them to do was both one of the best and one of the worst experiences of their lives.
I decided that we needed to hold encouragement sessions with the students. On a friday morning, we showed up at the school and dismissed all of the students for a 30 minute outdoor recess. We moved extra desks into the two biggest classrooms and invited them back in. We split them up, boys in 1 room, girls in another. They looked a bit nervous and confused as they all filed into the classrooms and squished into their seats. I had lined up two guest speakers, and had prepped the missionaries on what would be happening that day. The plan was for the speakers to cover topics like Gender Based Violence, healthy vs unhealthy relationships, the value of education, and proper Christian values for students. I feel so lucky that one of the Missionaries works in the counseling field and agreed to help lead the sessions. I can't speak much about what went on in the boys session as I was only a part of the girls session, but I know for sure that this was a day that I will never forget.
The speaker for the girls was my sister-in-law Lillian. She describes herself as kind of quiet and shy, but that's the exact opposite of who she is. She is confident, and strong, and knowledgable, and emotional, and an inspiration to many. She is a single mother of two and has triumphed over many adversities in her life. I knew she was the right person to speak to these girls. When I asked her about it, I thought she might tell me no. I was so proud when she immediately agreed to speak as she told me that she felt like God was leading her to be a role model for young girls. The meeting started with words of encouragement spoken in English by Tara, one of our missionaries. Her words were translated into Nyanja by Lillian just to make sure that the girls were understanding every word. As Tara spoke to these girls, I nearly cried as I realized that for many, it was the first time they had heard it.
You are worth it.
You are a daughter of God.
You are beautiful and perfect, just the way God made you.
You are smart.
You were created by God to do wonderful things.
You are in charge of your body.
All of the female missionaries as well as the female teachers were sitting in the back of the room for this presentation. After Tara finished speaking, Lillian began to share her testimony with the girls. I made a decision to pull the missionaries out of the room at that point. The rest of the meeting was conducted in Nyanja, which they did not understand. I wanted them to be a part of it, but translating into English for them would have taken extra time, and it would have distracted the students from the much needed message. Also, I knew that there was a question and answer period coming next. I wasn't sure how serious the questions would be, or if the girls would be comfortable asking questions in front of everyone. As much as this was an awesome experience for the missionaries to be a part of, it was more important to ensure that the girls were really focusing on the message of the meeting.
Each of the four female teachers that were in the room also got up and spoke to the girls. They shared stories, told of their own struggles, and encouraged the girls. It was wonderful. I love that the session was primarily lead by Zambian ladies. Ladies that have grown up the same way these children are growing up. It was such a powerful day. It was stressed to the students that school should be a safe space for them. Their teachers promised that it was safe to come to them if they needed someone to talk to. The teachers offered to be there to listen, or to pray with anyone at anytime. As the session was wrapping up, we brought in another special guest.
Joseph is an amazing young man and I knew that he needed to be a part of these encouragement seminars. He also just happens to be my youngest brother-in-law. He was the guest speaker for the boys group and from the reports that I got from the male missionaries, he was awesome. He came in to speak to the girls for a few minutes as well. He said many things to them, but one point in particular really made me smile. He spoke to them about the importance of education and how that being educated can help them to overcome many of the things they will face in life. He spoke to them about possible careers in their future and then said something that I think every girl in that room needed to hear. He said that he knew that many of them wanted to get married and have children. He acknowledged that it was a wonderful choice and very admiral to want to do so. He explained to them that education was also the key to a good marriage. He pleaded with them not to drop out of school and marry an older man for money. He told them that education was the key to finding a husband that respected them and treated them with love. An older man marrying a teenager will not respect you, he told them. He will treat you as property and mistreat you. Please, educate yourselves, and choose a husband who treats you with love and respect. The key is to first know and believe that you are worth it. Then choose someone that understands your self worth. I think that it was particularly important for these girls to hear the message reinforced by a young Zambian male. Lillian had spoken to them about appropriate relationships with boys (not men) and it was wonderful for them to hear that there were males out there who would treat them with respect.
Joseph brought his guitar, and performed his original song "Tiyeni Pamodzi". It means United World and is about gender based violence. He taught the girls the chorus and they sang out with all of their hearts. The missionaries came back into the room to hear Joseph perform and to watch the children sing with him. Here is the song that Joseph performed...
is available for purchase through his website
I wasn't sure at all what to expect in response to this. I had paired each missionary with a Zambian interpreter and they formed prayer groups. They were instructed to stay in the classrooms for the next hour no matter what. Even if no one came in, at least they would be available if someone did decide to come in. At first, just a few girls stayed in the room wanting to pray with someone. I was outside the school and watched several girls go and find a friend, grab their hand, and walk in together to ask for prayers. It was wonderful to see how they were supporting each other. There was a line so long for prayer in the girls room that they were lined up outside waiting for their turn to come in. They asked for prayers about all sorts of things. I don't feel like it's fair to share all of their personal stories, but the girls really needed prayers as well as the support of some adults who cared about them. The boys room was much more quiet. Tommy, one of our missionaries sat there for about 40 minutes before anyone came in. Once the first boy had been prayed with, others started to get up the nerve to come in as well. The missionaries and teachers spent hours praying for students one by one.
I could tell by the missionaries faces that the experience was heart-wrenchingly wonderful. Thank you for each and every one of you who sat with a child and prayed for them. And thank you to everyone who has been praying for the students from afar. Many of these children have been broken and will continue to need support and prayers as they try to live their lives for a higher purpose!