LUSAKA, Zambia (BP)--Collins no longer sleeps among the dead. He stands in a junkyard on the northwest side of Lusaka, Zambia, near the graveyard he used to call home each night.
The 17-year-old sports a fresh haircut and wears a blue dress shirt, slacks and black shoes. A "True Love Waits" button pinned to his chest completes the outfit. He doesn't fit in with the scruffy band of boys who top the hill with bags full of bottles and scraps. Collins now sings in his church choir and hopes to one day help the poor and other street kids.
"I couldn't imagine ever coming back here to live," Collins says as he watches smoke billow from piles of trash burning in the distance.
Collins is a success story in a country where tales of redemption are becoming more common.
At the age of 12, he lived on the streets. He slept on plastic bottles at night and smoked gas fumes out of them to get high during the day. He danced for spare change and scavenged for food in a dump truck he and other street kids called "the Holiday Inn." He bathed in a small, stagnant pool of water in a junkyard and experimented with casual sex with women from the street.
Collins had been kicked out of his home and was well on his way to falling victim to Africa's most notorious killer -- AIDS.
Then Collins met pastor Bennett Kayembe.
"When I found Collins, he couldn't even write his name," Kayembe, senior pastor at New Hope Ministries International in Lusaka, recalls.
"He couldn't read ... sleeping under old cars ... it touched my heart."
The first time Kayembe spoke to Collins, the conversation didn't go well. Collins was drunk.
Kayembe told Collins about Jesus and how he could start a new life off the streets. He asked Collins if he would like to move into his home with his wife and children.
Collins eventually accepted the invitation, but his troubles did not vanish simply by moving into a new home.
"We took a step of faith," the pastor says. "It was not easy. He couldn't cope at the beginning."
At first Collins was resistant to rules, curfews and any voice of authority. He continued to struggle with an addiction to drugs, sexual temptation and the lure of life on the street.
"Slowly he adjusted," Kayembe says. "Drugs, alcohol ... going here and there with girls would not be tolerated."
The pastor took Collins to school in Lusaka. Collins attended True Love Waits classes, an abstinence-before-marriage ministry. These teachings and his new home changed his life. Collins soon put his faith in Jesus Christ.
The Kayembes eventually adopted Collins. Kayembe is an example of local Christians who are stepping up and impacting the youth and young adults in their community.
For nearly a decade, International Mission Board missionary Troy Lewis has worked tirelessly with pastors and their churches to help fight AIDS.
"If you can get young people to think about their future and the decisions they're making, I've found it to be much more effective than trying to shout at them or pounding the pulpit," he says.
Through providing home-based care ministries and promoting True Love Waits initiatives, lives -- like Collins' -- are changing.
"For me Collins represents really what I think Jesus wants to do with all of our lives," Lewis adds. "He takes us out of the deadness -- out of the trash heap of life -- and sets our feet on a higher place."
Alan James is a writer for the International Mission Board.
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