I told them the story of these two fathers

I told them the story of these two fathers

Rocks, gravel and gullies make the Mlevelwa road a bad one to drive over -- and it requires all of my concentration -- so much so that I almost missed seeing the old man so intently trying to wave me down. I did see him though and I stopped. Sitting further off the road behind him was a very sick and emaciated young man. During our conversation, I learned that the old man had accompanied his son John on the long journey to the mission hospital at Mudabulo where John had just tested positive for HIV. The old man wanted to know if there would be room for his son to go on our bus to the Lugoda hospital. People from these villages can maybe make the long walk to the mission hospital at Mdabulo perhaps one single time in order to get tested, but after that, their only real hope is to use our bus to get transported far away to the Lugoda Hospital where they get the drugs and the treatment and the on-going monthly care they need. I told him not to worry that there would always be room for them to go on the bus together, no matter how many trips it would take. I smiled, I was enthusiastic, I congratulated John on going to get tested and told him how thrilled I was that not only was there medicine and treatment for the disease at the Lugoda Hospital, but that God had given us a bus here in our village so that we could help him get there, and that we were going to be with him all the way. What a wonderful father John has! I had never met the old man before, but everyone knows Panzi, my little blue car, and the old man knew my name and he had heard that we would help people in trouble ...

It was that same week that they were telling me about another young man Gofrey who was so weak when the bus returned from Lugoda that he had to be carried off the bus and then carried to his home. When they told me that Gofrey looked like Kevin, the young man who had died last month, I knew that Gofrey was in bad shape. When I went to his house, I found a 20-year kid with nothing left of him, and his medical records from the hospital showed that they had tried everything and had failed. He had been sent home to die. And he did indeed die. At the funeral I sat next to the father and asked him about his son Gofrey. I learned with great sadness that Gofrey had come back to the village from the city four months ago, but that he had come back to hide, refusing to go get tested and to get treated. His father said that it was only at the end that he finally intervened and took him to the hospital. But it was way too late ...

And so it was that when I was asked on World AIDS Day to speak to the huge crowd which had gathered in the village of Igoda, I told them the story of these two fathers. Two fathers faced with very similar situations. Two fathers who made very different choices. And I asked every person in the crowd which parent they would choose to be if their son or daughter came back to the village sick. The parent who agrees to let a dying child try to hide, or the parent who responds in hope, accompanies the child to get tested and to make a chance at life possible. I could see on their faces that they understood the questions I was asking, that they knew my questions were far from just theoretical, and that they knew the implication of whatever choices they eventually would make.

As I sit here today and reflect on it all, my heart is filled with gratitude to everyone who God has used in one way or another so that we have the ability to offer transport parents and their children to get to that hospital. I look to this new year with great hope and anticipation. I sit here and think of how different it would be if we had no bus. How different everything would be here for all of my friends, for all of their children, for this whole community. What if I had no blankets, no milk powder, no medicines? My heart cries out in thanksgiving to all of you, and to God who has brought all of this to pass! Thank you for all that you have done this year, and last year, and the year before that. I am so thankful for all you have done so that our love for these people -- indeed God's love for these people -- is shown not just in word but also in very tangible deed. Thank you so very much!

Merry Christmas to you all!