I am so privileged

I am so privileged

My Sunday afternoon in Iyegea turned out to be a Sunday afternoon at the Iyegea bars! I can't think of a better place to talk about HIV and the love of Christ! I have to laugh about it because spending an afternoon at the bars certainly wasn't anything that my little group would have thought of and planned. But a medical emergency on the way in the village just before Iyegea made us late. It was our plan to hold our meeting outside the government office in the village, but I can now see God's hand orchestrating things so that we would get there too late and be told that people had disbanded and everyone was already out in the bars.

And so it was that "the bars" -- a cluster of little huts actually -- perched on the top of a lovely mountain became our church that Sunday afternoon. I marveled at the beauty of the valley below and how the clouds gathered and came towards us. All the people also gathered around us. Our Urafiki group (our new HIV/AIDS group of which I'm the team mother!) was there to talk about HIV testing which we will have available at our new AIDS clinic!

The place was silent! Even the babies seemed to stop crying as the mothers and fathers gathered and listened. Fute was the first to talk. He explained his journey of living with HIV/AIDS - how he learned about his HIV status, the shock, the embarrassment (like, how will I ever tell my wife!) the silence and how he got his wife and children all tested and how he is now, as he says, "An Ambassador of Hope."

Samweli was the next to talk. His first wife was from this exact same village - Iyegea. He told them about his life. He had been a Christian since he was nine years old and married in the church. At the time of his marriage though, they didn't require HIV testing. The first indication that something was amiss was after their first baby arrived. Baby got sick and three months later died. After baby number two died, helpful people advised that they leave their house and their village, as witchcraft was surely the culprit. After baby number three got sick, they did indeed leave the village and went to another. Baby number three died there. And it was there that his wife followed their babies to the grave. How HIV entered their marriage, he surmises, probably happened when his wife was a servant girl in the capital city and forced to have sex with the man in the house, making her one of the first to contract the virus and to bring it back to the village. The shock of Samweli learning that he was HIV positive was a big blow to him as a Christian. The Lord kept Samweli close as he got sicker. He told of my first meeting with him three years ago. In great distress, he was covered with sores, suffering from diarrhea all while witnessing the deterioration of his fourth baby's health. We did indeed lose this baby, but because he and his second wife got tested in time and got to the hospital, his family has been saved. The truth saves. The love of Christ heals the soul. And those blows in his life propelled him into his mission of serving others in their distress. He and his wife now care for all the children who have been left behind by the deaths of their family members.

Catherine was the last one to talk. An absolutely lovely woman. She recounted how she was married in the church 17 years ago. Sixteen years ago she gave birth to her daughter and all was well. It was after the deaths of her next three children, she knew something was amiss. It was when she was pregnant with baby number five, that all women at this time were automatically tested for HIV at the village level and it was here that she learned that she was HIV positive. When she confronted her husband, he said that he knew that he was positive and that he had been getting treatment for years! She said it was only by the Lord giving her strength that she could forgive her husband and continue on in this family. Now she is another ambassador of hope for the other ladies in our area. Her baby is now a healthy and happy three year old. Catherine and baby both got proper treatment and were able to get baby formula from the miracle stash of formula that never seems to quite run dry at our house. (The hardest link to solve in the mother-to-child transmission area is baby formula. The reality is that it is financially impossible for people at the village level to obtain, but vital to eliminate infection to newborns, and the fact that we never run out is as much a result of the generosity of so many people as it is Godfrey finding a way to get it for me at wholesale prices in Dar -- we're a "distributor" now!)

Fute, Samweli and Catherine are on the forefront of eliminating fear and death in our area. Their honesty and testimony will save so many. I am so privileged to be "Mom" to them and their little group. I am so proud to know them. As we walked to the car, I was followed by a man who wanted to talk to me privately. He wanted to "secretly" sign up for testing along with wife number one -- he has three. He wanted to be the first. It has taken years for us to get people in our villages to understand what a virus is, what it is doing, how we have medicines to help, and how people can come back to living and being around to raise their children. And now with our own AIDS clinic open right here in our village, the door is open to us to move further and further away, bringing the truth to other villages. Fute, Samweli and Catherine make wonderful ambassadors and I love getting to be with them as they share in a way the no one sent by the government to hold a seminar, or someone coming from the city as part of their job, could ever do. My friends are speaking from their hearts and from their own experience and they speak in love. I rejoice just listening to them.

We pray for a cure -- and I would ask all of you who lovingly partner in helping us to also pray for a cure -- and while we expectantly await that cure, Fute, Samweli, Catherine and I -- and our students and teachers -- want to take the message of hope to as many people and as many villages as we possibly can.