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An Auditorium of Plaid Skirts and Teenage Mustaches

April and Luyando

We had 400 pairs of eyes staring at us in a stuffy auditorium on a Wednesday afternoon. As we looked out over the crowd of plaid skirts and teenage mustaches, we saw crossed arms and straight faces. It was clear that these kids did not care what we had to say.

As a missionary in Zambia, my work is to bring hope and healing through mental health support. And part of how we do that is by giving presentations at schools and churches to promote understanding of mental health, depression, and anxiety. And today we were presenting to the whole secondary school of one of the most prominent schools in the city.

I started out the presentation: “Does anyone know what depression is?” Silence. Uh oh. This might be a difficult one. Then one over-eager middle school girl raised her hand. I breathed out. Is this what teachers feel like every day? “It is when you are sad.” I can work with that. For the next 10 minutes, we talked about depression and anxiety, the warning signs, and we even had the students discuss with their neighbor.

Then it was Luyando’s turn to talk. I had broken the ice, but it was clear that the kids were still looking forward to getting out of school after we were done talking. “Hi. I would like to tell you a story about a boy. Let’s call him Andre.” He went on to tell a story about Andre in university, his girlfriend breaking up with him, and his life spiraling downward into a dark place. He told how Andre didn’t see anything to live for in life, so he tried to kill himself. I looked over the auditorium, and the crossed arms had fallen. “I was Andre.” The auditorium went completely quiet. No rustling of papers, no whispering, no shifting in seats. “I tried to kill myself 5 times,” Luyando continued. “I did not see any hope in life. I only felt pain and thought I was a failure.” The kids were glued to him as he described what it was like to have to work through depression and suicidal ideation in Zambia. He described how his family supported him and how he had to take time to heal but now he has a full time job and his own apartment. As they followed his story, he brought them up with him from the depths of depression to the hope of living and creating a positive difference in the world.

As we ended and the secondary students filed out of the auditorium, some of them were already thinking about lunch but some of them were still thinking about what Luyando had said. We stood at the front and students started to trickle up to us. Sometimes they just said thank you. Some of them told us that they knew what depression looked like in real life. My aunt acted like that, but mum always said it was because she was weak. And some of them asked us what to do about feeling that way. What if we feel this way but we don’t think that we can talk to our parents? What if I think my friend is doing those things you said might show he is depressed?

Our prayers had been answered. Just like the heart of Pharaoh, God has softened the hearts of the students. We had started with a cross-armed auditorium of plaid skirts and teenage mustaches and while we hadn’t started a revolution, we had gotten the ball rolling.

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