BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe (BP)–Banners stretch across the width of the street. Posters and fists pump high in the air to rhythmic chants. Masses of determined youth march down the street.
The excitement electrifies the air. Merchants and vendors leave their shops to see what the commotion is about.
In Zimbabwe, political marches are as abundant as the elephants in the bush, but this rally stands out above the rest. It is a celebration of a commitment that could change the future of Zimbabwe, a celebration of new hope.
This rally is one of six in Zimbabwe this summer that will cap a two-year campaign for True Love Waits, a Southern Baptist program that emphasizes abstinence and marital fidelity as God’s plan for human sexuality and the only foolproof way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. More than 65,000 youth resisted peer and cultural pressures to take this stand — one that will keep them sexually pure until marriage.
The celebrations come just as Zimbabwe’s government officially declared a six-month emergency period to deal with one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS infections in the world. Youth attending the rally are certain that they have found the best way to combat the deadly disease — True Love Waits.
One girl stands up and tells the students that she and her friends had decided it was finally time for them to have sex. The next day, however, journeyman missionary Greg Benno and his crew visited their school and talked about True Love Waits.
“That’s when I realized that sex is for marriage. Sex is for love,” she announces to the crowd. “This is a commitment that I’ve made to Jesus Christ and to my future husband.”
When Benno started traveling across Zimbabwe, talking to government and private schools about True Love Waits, he had no idea that so many youth would respond to a call for purity. His original goal was to find 5,000 students to sign commitment cards.
He hopes that many students realize that not only can they be rescued from AIDS, but also from their sin. He wants Zimbabwe’s youth to discover for themselves the power of Jesus Christ to deliver them from sin.
“Most likely, any kid who doesn’t follow True Love Waits will die,” Benno says. “I’ve heard people say that one out of two 15-year-old boys will die of AIDS in Zimbabwe.”
Zimbabwean health officials say an average of 2,500 citizens die from AIDS every week and that at least 20 percent of the nation’s 14 million people have HIV, the virus that causes the killer disease.
“Anyone who follows True Love Waits will be a witness,” he says. “When they are old and the young ask them why they didn’t die during the great AIDS pandemic, the youth of today will bear witness to the youth of tomorrow about God’s perfect plan.
“Can you imagine 65,000 people pulling out their True Love Waits cards and explaining why they didn’t die? It’s just going to be awesome!”
Students attending the rallies are just as excited about the future as Benno and local church leaders. As they sit in the grassy field, the students’ school uniforms create a rainbow of colors — a rainbow that reflects God’s presence and promises for the future.
This promise is one that student Melanie Ncube sees being fulfilled in the very near future.
With chants of “True Love Waits” echoing behind her, Ncube tells the group: “When we grow up — those who are here today will be the ones filling the gap — we will be the ones working and running things. Our peers who did not sign and keep this commitment will most likely be dead by then.”
Sitholizwe Sibanda, an athlete, stands before the packed crowd and confirms his commitment to wait until marriage to have sex. Girlish squeals of delight come from all directions. The young men in the crowd sit up and take notice that this well-known city athlete believes God’s way is the best way.
“According to our culture, this stance in not a manly stance,” Sibanda says. “But this is God’s way. Therefore it is more of a manly stance than you can ever imagine. God’s way is the only way to survive.”
Heads nod in agreement and chants erupt from the crowd again: “Who wants to be like Jesus? … Jesus?”
And other youth answer back: “I do! I do!”
— Learn more about True Love Waits: http://www.lifeway.com/tlw
— Serve as a journeyman missionary: http://going.imb.org/Journeyman.asp
Editor’s note: Greg Benno grew up in Plano, Texas, and attended Baylor University. He worked at Lynn Gardens Baptist Church in Pueblo, Colo., as a youth minister before heading to Zimbabwe.