To say some nice things about my wife

To say some nice things about my wife

Very quietly and calmly, with fanfare only in our hearts, the AIDS clinic that our students have worked so hard to build, that so many of you have given so joyfully to build, opened its doors today, all totally unexpectedly. After such a long series of frustrating delays, sometimes because no one seemed to be able to figure out which government official should get the honor of "cutting the ribbon", sometimes simply because the wheels of bureaucracy turn ever so slowly in department after department, at the point when we had nearly despaired that the big wonderful building we had built would ever actually be used for its intended purpose, Godfrey got the phone call last Friday that ready or not, whether there was a grand opening celebration or not, whether there were any politicians present to give speaches or not, a carload of doctors and nurses would be coming on Friday January 21st to provide the medicine right there in our village.

The timing couldn't have been worse. We're in the midst of training our new short-term missionaries, our new school year is just starting, we're up to our ears in paperwork, we've got so much government business we have to take care of with new schools we are registering, plus 4 weekends in a row of workshops for our friends living with AIDS -- the news was close to the proverbial straw that would break the camel's back. And yet it was the culmination of years of work, something we had prayed for, despaired of praying for, picked ourselves up again and prayed anew for -- and it was going to happen no matter what.

And so on Friday the first 41 people didn't get on our bus -- they didn't get up at 4 in the morning, they didn't sit there at the Lugoda hospital, hungry and tired, waiting until the last person had seen the doctors and gotten their medicines, they didn't return home at night, tired, but clutching in their hands the medicines that would keep them, or their child, alive for another month. Instead the doctors came to our village and person after person walked calmly into the beautiful never-been-used building, received their medicines and calmly walked home. A dream that a few years ago no one would have dared even to dream possible, something that we knew and were told was impossible in fact. We're not a hospital, we're not even a clinic, Village Schools Tanzania has hundreds of teachers, but we don't have a single doctor, a single nurse -- and therein our weakness became our greatest strength. If you have a hospital, you need to get it upgraded in order to be an AIDS hospital. If you have medical staff, they need to be sent away to get upgraded and retrained to be AIDS doctors and AIDS nurses. But we had nothing, and we still have nothing -- other than a building, a big, beautiful wonderful building -- and so someone figured out that since there is nothing to upgrade, no staff to retrain, nothing to do, that the hospital could just come with everything and simply use the building and call it an extension of another hosptial that has already been upgraded, that will use the same staff that has already been specially trained, and there it was -- the wonderful medicines being distributed right here in our village.

The months ahead of us will be difficult ones of transition as we move people's records around. Our buses will continue to transport the sickest people to that "real" hospital, but for all those who are well enough, the doctors have arranged to come to them. I remember very good friends of ours back in America who told me that they were dreaming of the day when we would have a hospital right there in the village so people would get their medicines right there -- and I must confess that I thought how wonderful they were that they cared -- but naive to think of something so utterly impossible. We are all about schools -- we're here to educate kids, share the Gospel with them, watch the great and wonderful transformations that they bring to their villages -- we only got involved in this AIDS work because Susan couldn't turn a blind eye to the needs of our neighbors here -- and now what began with helping a few people, has mushroomed into home-based care for over 1050 households in our villages. Our buses will definitely not go into retirement -- but the pressure is off to buy a third bus, and slowly the numbers of people who need to go to the hospital will go down as we transition in the coming months, moving more and more of people's files to Madisi. It is the beginning of a new era ...

We still do want to have a party one of these days -- we have to thank the old man Lunyali, Festo's father, who donated the land for the AIDS clinic, we want to give praise to God for all of the people back in America without us even asking who have given money so that we could build this building, we want to recognize the hard work that our students have done, many of them so that their parents could get their medicines here, and I want to express my shame that I lived in their village for six months building the school with them in 2005 without ever knowing that there were so many people dying silently in their homes -- too weak to come out to make bricks and haul stones -- and I want to say some nice things about my wife, who found out the truth once we opened the school, all because she didn't remain just in the classroom but because she visited her students in their homes and found in house after house the family members who were slowly dying. No politicians. No fanfare. But we'll have a meal together, Susan and a couple thousand of her friends. We'll have a lot to celebrate. Her friends are alive.