by Sue Schumann Warner –
MEMBERS OF THE Malala Corps in Zambia
The latest “reality” shows have nothing on Salinas, Calif., soldier Brent Church, 21, who recently spent three months in Africa as part of the Youth Ambassadors Initiative (YAI).
Just two weeks after winning a place on the team in a lottery at the Western Youth Institute (WYI), Church—who quickly had to get a passport—found himself in Lusaka, Zambia.
There, he joined with seven other young Salvationists from Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya. Brent—who came to be known as ‘Moonga’ in Tongan—was the first non-African YAI member.
“It revolutionized my life,” said Church, who was on a three-member team with Gaylord Diakanwa Luditomtalla, 22, from DRC and 24-year-old Mary Nzuki from Kenya. After an orientation, the team was assigned to three different communities; each had an active Salvation Army presence.
In Harmony, Zambia, they spent each day going from house to house and talking with the inhabitants. “We visited homes, talked with the head men (chiefs), attended funerals, and kept an open heart and mind on what we saw and learned,” he said. “Our goal was to learn as much as we could in the three months. We would ask people, ‘How are things going?’ and ask if they had an income-generating activity.” Most people were caring for AIDS orphans and vulnerable children—death from AIDS was rampant.
Walking everywhere in hot weather on dirt paths—up to 10 miles round trip some days—and a bout with sickness caused him to lose 70 pounds during his time there.
In Malala—the area in which the Army’s Chikankata Hospital is located, the ministry was much the same. “We helped extend the corps building in Malala,” Church recalled. “Three hundred people would crowd on benches for the Holiness and Salvation meetings, which lasted up to three and a half hours.”
The slums of Lusaka were the last stop for all the teams. There, in the Army’s compound, the team members provided psychosocial support to orphans and vulnerable children, played games and interacted with kids in the community school.
“I’m a lot closer to God than before,” Brent said. He credits Canadian officer Captain Danielle Strickland, who was in Africa at the time, with motivating him to get into the Bible. “It was a big turn in my Christian walk. Now, I pray wherever I am—out loud.”
Deeply affected by the tragic effects of AIDS on the communities he lived in, his goal is to do a HIV/AIDS campaign in the Salinas area. “People [with AIDS] need to realize how to live, how to go on with their lives.”
For Brent, life turned on a dime at WYI. “I will never be the same.”