100,000 Aids orphans in Zambia to hear gospel

Hundreds of churches in Zambia will undergo evangelism training next month in preparation to reach 100,000 Aids orphans with the Gospel in 2008.

Each of the 500 participating churches is challenged to identify 200 Aids orphans over the course of nine months, starting in January. The children will then be invited to church on Orphan Sunday - the first Sunday in October - when each child will be given a personal presentation of the gospel using the Good News wristband.

The Good News wristband is a wearable evangelism tool divided into five colour segments with Scripture references. Trained church members will use corresponding information cards to tell the children stories in the Bible and the meaning behind the colours on the wristbands.

"We have worked with the church [in Zambia] over the last four years in mobilising them for the event (Orphan Sunday)," said Gary Schneider, president of Every Orphan's Hope - the creator of the Good News wristband - to Christian Today. "They have been very effective in providing for the orphans, giving them food and clothing.

"And also, we have already tested this concept with about 5,000 children being reached already. So there are national committees and regional committees in place," Schneider said. "I think in our fifth year now the church is finally ready and prepared for such a large undertaking."

Zambia, located in southern Africa, is experiencing one of the world's most devastating HIV and Aids epidemics. One in every six adults is living with HIV, 98,000 people died of Aids in 2005, life expectancy at birth has fallen below 40 years, and some 710,000 children are Aids orphans, according to the UNAIDS/WHO 2006 Report on the global Aids epidemic.

Churches will begin the project to reach 100,000 Aids orphans next year by first visiting the children and identifying their needs and status - such as whether they are living with relatives, their orphaned siblings, or alone. Visiting church members will also pray for orphans and develop relationships before the October gathering.

"What is so important about this is we are pushing the church outside its walls and into the communities where the orphans are," Schneider highlighted. "So they are going to spend the first half of the year just connecting with the children in their communities who are orphans."

Once the gospel is presented on Orphan Sunday, the children will then be regularly invited to attend the church and become disciples of Christ.

Every Orphan's Hope is an interdenominational evangelical Christian ministry working to mobilise, equip, and assist local churches to reach out to a generation of children in Africa orphaned by Aids.

In addition to evangelism, the Texas-based ministry has also helped fund the construction of six homes in communities where Aids orphans live together with a Christian caretaker - usually a widow. The homes are sponsored to provide food, education and healthcare for each child. Each month, the ministry sponsors about 350 children who are living in the homes and outside in the community.

The ministry's long-term goal is to encourage, equip, and mobilise the church to reach every orphan in Zambia with the gospel. In total, there are about 7,000 churches in Zambia, many of which meet in homes or under trees.