OM Lake Tanganyika is using cheerleading as a way to reach out to African young women and girls.
To some it may sound like an oxymoron – Christian cheerleading. How does that make sense?
To Charity Durey, a cheerleading coach from the U.S., it makes perfect sense. “It all wraps together. I see how they combined a sport and the relationship with Jesus, and I see how the girls really love each other and bond together while learning a great skill. When we cheer, we want to give God our very best because He gave us His very best.”
Fellowship of Christian Cheer, (FCC), is an American-based cheerleading league founded 30 years ago by Cary Coleman. “There are four million cheerleaders in the USA. It's a sport, and every other sport has some kind of faith-based outreach,” said Cary. “Thirty years ago when we started FCC there were zero faith-based options for cheerleaders, so that's why we focused on them.”
FCC operates in schools, while Impact Cheerleading, a part of FCC, runs in churches. Zambia was Impact Cheerleading's first African outreach in March 2015, with Charity behind the idea.
“I went to Uganda four years ago, and I'm very passionate for missions and spreading the Gospel. I also love to cheer, and how the two mash together very well, and I felt like the people in Africa have so much energy, so much excitement, that this would be a great sport for them,” Charity explained. “The men have football, and this will give the girls something that will be theirs.”
Seventeen women from across Zambia attended the four-day training led by FCC and SportsLink Zambia in Kabwe. From a police officer to a teacher to a missionary, the participants came from all walks of life, but were united in one purpose: to empower and encourage women and girls.
The new coaches were taught to stretch properly, design a routine, plan devotions, and how to run practices.
“I think (the coaches) were shocked that they had to actually do some of it,” said Alyssa, the 'cheer specialist' from FCC. “They were all complaining a couple days in that their arms and their legs were sore. By the end of it they all got a lot better at the basic motions. I know that they will continue to grow.”
“We use cheerleading as an avenue to speak about Christ,” Alyssa added. “These coaches will hopefully do the same thing.”
Cheerleading at the Lake
Cecilia Kasale, an OM missionary at Lake Tanganyika, is doing just that.
Two days after returning from the training Cecilia met with a group of girls to share her vision of having a cheerleading team. Immediately excited, the girls wanted to start right away.
The fact that none of them had ever heard of cheerleading before didn't faze Cecilia because she herself had not known what it was until just a few days before the training.
“I had no idea what cheerleading was,” Cecilia admitted. “I don't think any Zambian knew what it was, we just heard there was a female sports training in Kabwe and went. When I did find out what it was I thought it was a very good idea. Normally in sports you only concentrate on the boys, for girls there are few things they can do.”
Since March the group has grown from eight girls to 22 girls between the ages of eight and 14.
“Anyone can join,” said Cecilia. “because it's not about dancing, but shaping their lives and teaching them the word of God.”
Practising twice a week, each meeting starts off with devotions and ends in prayer. Since they've started practising there have been visible changes and improvements not only in the girls dancing, but their habits and attitudes as well.
Maureen used to insult and fight with her mother constantly. At 15, she dropped out of school and talked of moving out and getting married. Today Maureen has gone back to school because of the values taught in cheerleading.
“(Cheerleading) is helping her,” said Cecilia. “The devotions are building her morals.”
There are two purposes to having a cheerleading team according to Cecilia. “We want to be attracting girls to come and learn the word of God. When they learn a scripture we tell them to go and share it with their families. That means that if we reach out to these girls, we also reach out to their families. The second purpose it to make the girls feel valuable. Most of them don't go to school, some have gone but don't even know how to write their names, so this is something that can give them value. Something people can see them doing apart from school. Cheerleading is encouraging and keeps them busy.”