A battle that I know will be worth the fight

A battle that I know will be worth the fight

Fonita looked like an angel as she sang in the seventh grade choir. No concern on her face, just joy! It was the big day for the Mwefu Primary School, their very first seventh-grade graduation and I was honored to be their special Guest of Honor. Being the Guest of Honour means that when I stand up, everyone stands up, when I sit down, everyone sits down. It means I get to hand out the graduation certificates and it means I get to give a speech. I think that the people like me as a Guest of Honour because they are sure that in my speeches I always cover the two biggie issues here -- education and AIDS. And as an added bonus, everyone knows my speeches are always short!

Mwefu is my beloved village that has given me both headaches and joys over the last five years. As I looked out over the huge gathering of students and parents, I was thrilled to see the parents celebrating the day with their kids. Almost all of them would have been dead by now without the ARVs from Lugoda Hospital. I look at them all and I marvel at God's plan to have placed us here at this particular time so He could use us to "bridge" to get the people of these villages to the hospital three hours away and get those drugs which keep them alive. Godfrey and Emmanueli and Steve and I were ready to go anywhere in the country to start Village Schools Tanzania -- but these are the villages where God sent us. But He didn't just place us right smack in the middle of this huge problem and then abandon us to just do the best that we could. He also provided in some many ways for everything we could need to help these people -- two busses, carton after carter of medicines from a well that never seems to run dry, blankets, baby formula, doctors at critical moments, funds to build our clinic we're finally just about ready to open -- and the list goes on and on and on.

These graduations are long affairs, and I was so thankful that dear, sweet Fonita and her mother were there to enjoy every moment of it. I knew that Fonita's father, Kevin, was very sick, too sick to even think of coming for the gradutation. He's been on my list of those who I consider as "not going to make it without a miracle of some kind". If he died, he would leave behind a lovely wife and two wonderful kids and Fonita would grow up without her father. I so wanted him to get better.

After the graduation, the tons of food that had to be eaten, and all of the headshakes, we traveled up to the next village to check in on Kevin. He was laying on a mat outside his house under a blanket. Both his father and his father-in-law were there beside him. Kevin was just a skeleton. His dark brown eyes latched on to mine. He said he couldn't eat anymore. Nothing would stay down. Inside those eyes was a soul in desperate need of peace. I had rehydration fluids to keep him hydrated enough so we buy come time to try to figure out what to do, and so we could buy some time to pray with him.

Graduation was Friday. Two days later, on Sunday afternoon, we went back to check in on Kevin. I had more medicines and other things I had prepared to try to help Kevin. The neighbors met us to say that it was too late. Kevin had just died, a couple of hours ago. His father met us at the door and told us of Kevin's last moments. There was Kevin covered with the blanket we had given him to keep him from the cold at night. And there was his beautiful wife, mourning at his side. And there was Fonita, siting on the floor in the next room, looking shocked. My heart sank. Poor Florita. What would Kevin's wife and kids do? Fonita had just started the Intensive English course with us at Madisi -- the first step to prepare these kids for secondary school. Another girl at school without a father. Another mother at a loss.

Kevin died on Sunday, and today is Wednesday. The traditional three days of mourning have passed. I went to check in on all of the students at school, wondering in my heart if Fonita would be there or not. And there she was! She had come back to school.

She smiled at me when I acknowledged her presence. I know from experience that it will be a battle, a tough battle, to keep her in school. But it will be a battle that I know we have been sent here to fight. And it will be a battle that I know will be worth the fight.