“Lord, I cannot do this without You. I’m depending on You.”
That was the cry from a mother’s heart as her 9-year old struggled for her life. Little Dori had been scheduled to start the ARVs this week, but something as ordinary as the chicken pox can kill our little ones here who are living with HIV/AIDS even before the medicines have enough time to start to do their work. She wasn’t recognizable any more, as every part of her body was covered – even her eyes, lips, feet, everything. It looked to me like it could have been the plague from the Middle Ages as she lay there in misery. Just looking at her, I wanted to cry.
Her lovely mom is my dear friend Blandina. She is the woman we affectionately call “the angel of Igoda.” She was born with a disease that prevented her from growing normally and it has caused her bones to snap with any little bump. She has the added burden of living with HIV/AIDS. She certainly could be angry. She could be bitter. But instead the joy of her life is real and it is infectious and contagious. And it is always a joy to be with her. But the suffering of her little Dori made Blandina cry. My heart became so very heavy and I wanted to cry with her. I thought of Blandina crying out to God, and I realized that I can’t do this work without Him either. I’m so depending on Him to guide us through these uncharted waters of HIV/AIDS, and even more so the frighteningly uncharted waters of HIV/AIDS in children.
God is faithful. And He is kind. I marveled as Dr. Leena, a specialist in pediatrics at a hospital 150 miles a way who often comes to visit me, “just happened” to arrive. I didn’t know if I should laugh or if I should cry. She knew exactly what to do. But of course she didn’t have the medicine with her in her car! BUT, we “just happened” to have it in that wonderfully huge cupboard full of medicine I have at my house – and while every day my heart thanks those who help with the money that keeps that thing full of stocks of every imaginable medicine we can get our hands on, there is no day when I have been more thankful for that cupboard than when Dr Leena pulled off the shelf the medicine she needed for Dori! Dr. Leena said that Dori would have surely died, and I knew from looking at her that it was certainly true. Tomorrow we will take Dori to another hospital to get her CD4 tested so that she can “officially” start on the ARVs – but Dr. Leena has already done a little coaxing and a few protocols might be broken and bruised but Dori is already on the medicine and all I can say is God bless Dr. Leena for that as well!
Little 5-year old Deborah is also still miraculously alive. I’ve been writing to everyone whose emails land in my inbox to pray for her, and all I can say is that I’m so very thankful for all of those prayers. She has had two blood transfusions now, but there’s nothing left of Deborah’s immune system and the transfusions can’t fix that. We managed to keep her going until we could get her CD4 tested so she could get approved to start the ARVs, but the number turned out to be a dismal 3. I wanted to cry about that too. Healthy people usually have 1,500 or so, people who are infected often have a CD4 of 600 or 800, and it’s considered to be full-blown AIDS when the CD4 count has fallen to 200. I have only met one other person with such a low CD4 who has lived. I marvel at all of my sick babies here – they look up at me with such trusting eyes. I carried Deborah around on my hip the whole day at the Community Treatment Center as hundreds of people came to our clinic for AIDS day yesterday. She took my floppy hat off my head and wore it everywhere. I gave her first ARV dose at our house. Her mom is like so many of my friends here – crying out to God to please save her beautiful child.
Dori and Deborah are among those who have their mothers with them. We have so many kids whose parents are already gone. No mothers’ prayers on their behalf. No mothers crying out pleading with God to do the impossible for their children. As I think of all of my kids here who are living with HIV/AIDS, and having to do it without parents, my heart is so heavy. I have one little second-grader Baraka who comes all the way from Iyegea. It is at least a ten-mile walk to get here to the clinic, up and down steep hills, and yet there was Baraka at my door with his 12-year old sister. He is looking so much better now – quite the handsome little boy now that he is on treatment. As the AIDS clinic was ending yesterday, I invited them both up to the house for food before they made the long walk home. After I got home with the two of them, six women arrived and sat on my porch – and I just assumed that they were there waiting to get milk power for their babies. I saw them and asked if they would wait just a moment while I got food for the two little kids and then we would talk about milk powder. And they said, oh no they weren’t waiting for that, they had come to accompany “our children” back to Iyegeya. My heart melted. All these kids are “our children”. Something I will always love about this continent and these villages is how very kind people are to little kids who are hurting. The Lord didn’t provide just one mama to accompany those kids home – He sent six of them! A whole group of mamas to take care of Baraka and his sister on their long, dark and rainy journey home. I imagine Baraka’s mother praying for her son before she died and I see God answering those prayers, providing a whole group of women to call these little children their own.
Sometimes my heart aches when I think of how many kids in these villages are HIV positive. We are beginning to fear that well over ten percent of all of the kids in the primary schools here have the virus. We want them all to come on our clinic days – it is our chance to care for them. My niece Janelle has decorated one of the clinic rooms and she has trained groups of our students to come on clinic days to play with the kids – to tell them stories, to do crafts, to share snacks with them! This week they all learned to brush their teeth and everyone got their own toothbrush and own tube of toothpaste. It’s like having our own Sunday School here at the clinic – the only difference is that it can happen any day of the week! And we don’t have one Sunday School teacher – we have dozens! I love seeing so many of my students involved like this. Some things here break my heart – I can’t run from that. But then some things just make my heart soar. Seeing what our students are doing here for those who Jesus would truly call “the least of these my brothers” – that gives me great joy amongst all this sea of sadness.
We keep on praying for a cure in time to save all of these kids of ours, and we ask all of you who are our friends to help us by doing that as well.
In His service,