He is mean, unpleasant, swollen and probably dying. His name is Kari. I first met him while I was passing through his village. One look at him and I knew that he was one of my friends. But unlike the vast majority of my friends here, he was far from likeable. I learned that he had refused to allow his young wife and his child to get tested, and that he had let them both just die at home in December. Now he was alone and he was angry and bitter, suffering from AIDS, TB and Kaposi Sarcoma in his mouth. Pulling out a glob of blood from the Kaposi, wiping it on the stool next to him as if to dare us to continue to visit, emphasizing his anger and misery, Kari was doing his best to drive us away as he had driven everyone else in the village away long ago.
I remember at one of our seminars the nurses from the Lugoda hospital hosted for my friends the facilitators emphasized the wisdom of making yourself a person people would want to visit. "Take a bath, put lotion on your skin, dress well, and certainly wear a smile." They were telling people that sometimes prejudice wasn't necessarily totally the community's fault and that it was the responsibility of people living with HIV/AIDS to make themselves respectable, inviting, likable people in the community. Kari was leading a life of the exact opposite. He was alone in his house because everyone had been afraid of him before he became sick and were even more so now that he is dying. A once powerful and strong man, he was reduced now to laying on a mat. He complained that no one would help him. He complained about everything. He wanted to be angry. Two times when he was very sick we paid for his hospitalization. Those who helped him last time he was in the hospital claimed that he was impossible to care for. The nephew who took care of him the first time refuses to help again. Kari has burnt bridges with just about everyone in the village. And he was clearly trying to see if he could burn bridges with me as well.
I asked him about his spiritual life. He told me that he had been to church as a child, but hadn't ever been there again. A lonely man indeed, needing the peace and forgiveness that can only come from God Himself. ARVs are free at the hospital and available to all. And I can help buy medicines for his infections. But Kari needs more than just medicine. What my friend needs is for his tormented soul to be redeemed. It is indeed impossible to visit Kari. He wants it to be impossible for us to come. But something compels us to return and to help a man who no one else will anymore. I seldom go on my visits alone -- I always have students, or other teachers, Msafiri, or someone going out with me. Part of that is because I need the help. Part of it is that I want to inspire others, particularly our students, to get involved in helping others. And so we end up talking about why it is that we are compelled to return to visit Kari. We don't go because we want to or because it is an uplifting, inspiring experience, or because it makes us feel good afterwards. We go out of a recognition of the grace that was extended to each of us, and out of an understanding that this grace is also available to him, and that in truth it is a privilege to be able to extend grace to another, even to someone like Kari. But it is not mere kindness that will melt Kari's heart. It will take a miracle of God working in his heart. In Tanzania these past few months, people are all talking about rumors of a pastor in some village far to the north who claims he can heal those sick with AIDS and TB and cancer and all manner of disease. People look for those kinds of miracles and they will go to great lengths and expense and trouble to try to get them. The miracle I pray for and long to see is Kari transformed so that he will be kind and pleasant and a joy to be with. The ARVs probably will produce the miracle of bringing Kari back to good health -- and I want to help Kari come back to good health! But I want even more than that for Kari to one day be not only healthy physically but also transformed on the inside. Transformed so much that everyone in the village will actually want to be around Kari.