A faith-based experience

As I left the UN building in Lusaka, I heard the sound of beautiful African harmonies. Intrigued, I followed the sound to find out where it was coming from and was led to a large catholic church across the street.

I had stepped straight out of discussions about civil society and issues related to HIV and tuberculosis (TB), into a community worship session. Every seat in the huge church was taken and many people were forced to sit on stools they had brought themselves. The congregation stretched out of the main door and into a makeshift tent.

At the back of the church lay offerings of chickens, rice, corn and toiletries. The small community led a mass procession into the church, swaying and dancing to soulful music. The collective harmony created a powerful spiritual feeling and a moving ambiance.

A community leader started the mass with the message of the day and, with the grace and command of a priest, he preached to the congregation. He then invited a local woman to share her personal experiences as part of the service. The small woman took to the pulpit and started to speak after a moment of silence.

With incredible confidence, she described the grief she felt when she lost her young son. She said her belief in God had helped her find the strength to keep going.

Her moving account generated a great deal of emotion and support from the congregation. She stepped down to a wave of applause as the mass went into full swing.

In a society wrought with health problems such as HIV and TB, where many live in absolute poverty without enough food to eat each day, the church provides a haven where people can seek solace and comfort.

Despite the hardships in people's lives, the church remains a uniting and protective agent. The congregation was also full of young people, actively participating in the service.

The opportunities within the church for discussions and education on issues such as HIV and stigma are obvious. Why don't we support more faith-based responses in communities where 80% of people attend church regularly?

There can't be a more powerful space through which to reach people. Perhaps we have become too caught up in the politically correct language of 'faith-based responses' when instead we should focusing on discussing HIV and TB in Zambian churches.

We need to do more to support priests and ministers and reach out to members of the community through the church.

Nadine Ferris France - HDN

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