At little Scola's Funeral

At little Scola's Funeral

Sarafina's trial for killing her niece Scola did take place, but not in a court room or a government office, but quite unexpectedly at little Scola's funeral. The head government officials came to the huts where I and a crowd of mourners were sitting outside huddled in groups. They stated that the government had sent them not to mourn but to accuse Sarafina of causing her niece's death. Sarafina was put on a tiny stool in front of the crowd. She was asked to state why she had denied Scola the care that she deserved, especially given that it was all free. She made her statement that she thought that her faith in God would heal Scola. Then the official asked others to comment. Sarafina's elderly father, Scola's grandfather, was the first to speak against what she had done, then an uncle, then there were words from the retired health official, from Sarafina's pastor and then they turned over to me and ask me to speak.

I gave the history surrounding Scola and all that had led up to the death of that little girl. Everyone was focussing on Sarafina but I wanted them to look beyond her and what had happened to Scola and to see the bigger problems that faced us all. It was easy for them to target Sarafina as the guilty one, when there was plenty of guilt to spread around. It was my chance to address the whole huge crowd and to ask them why the village had chosen AIDS as the disease to bash. No one here is opposed to using medicine to treat malaria or TB or any other disease. Why should there be this stigma against using the medicines for HIV/AIDS that are saving so many innocent people, including children like Scola? I spoke positively and joyfully of the tremendous miracle that was in our midst, the miracle that had come to our villages, that God has provided amazingly enough free HIV testing, free treatment, and free transport. How could anyone not see the hand of God in doing for these villages what other villages could only dream of!

But then I also said that it was time to talk about the diviseness that this was bringing to the church. That it bad enough what Sarafina had done to Scola, but how terrible it was that Sarafina and her friend Farida (and so many others!) were so piously claiming that their faith was superior to everyone else's in the church because even though they were HIV positive they were refusing to take the medicines. All because some silly false teacher had come to puff them up with pride and then to leave them to die. I was determined for the funeral to be neither just a time to mourn, nor an impromptu trial, but instesad a forum to finally bring these issues into the open. What kind of faith is this "faith" that killed poor innocent Scola? A twisted faith grounded in nothing other than pride and arrogance. And with the whole crowd on my side and listening to every word, it seemed it was time to also hit straight on the issue of all of the husbands in the village who refuse to allow their sick wives to get tested -- unlike Sarafina who claimed it was because of her faith -- they don't even have that as a reason -- it is simply their pride, their hope that the problem will just go away, their willingness to see their wives die rather than admit to themselves that they too probably have the virus. When I sat down I didn't know what to expect as a reaction, and then the whole crowd clapped and cheered, and I felt that maybe, just maybe, we had turned another corner in the fight against AIDS in our villages.