September 14th

September 14th

Sometimes I just can’t help but marvel at how people who are dying or losing loved ones have time to remember to make sure you are comfortable in their homes when you go to visit them. How many times have I visited someone near death who quickly comes to life barking orders to “get the chairs for the visitors!” I marvel at it all. In addition to their hospitality, their generosity is simply humbling. As soon as they have something to share, they share it. I might be coming to bring them a blanket, some fruit, a mattress, but in return there is always a gift. If not right then (because I am often coming at a time when they truly have nothing), something will be coming when the rains come and their gardens start producing food again.

This past week I was in Mwefu where I received bunches of bananas, greens, avocados and even a rooster. It is that rooster though that almost brought me to tears. Not that I don’t like chickens, I do! But it was the hands that gave it. Isaa and I have been friends for 9 years, and although our friendship has sometimes been rocky, his family and my life have become intertwined. His daughter Saida was in our first group of children receiving food and medicine before we ever knew HIV/AIDS was the cause of the mysterious illnesses in these villages. Isaa’s family – wife, Isaa, Saida all started treatment back in 2005. Isaa had a hard time “keeping with the program” and probably as a result later added Kaposi Sarcoma to the mix of pain. I even remember telling him once, in utter frustration, that it was over, that I couldn’t help him anymore -- that was after sending him to get a referral for cancer treatment and he came back to the village without the referral and with alcohol on his breath. And then a miracle happened in his heart that changed everything for him and for his whole family – he amazed me by making a decision to follow Christ. I would wander through his village at odd times and would find him reading his Bible, and when people could, they would push him to church on the back of a bicycle. Alcohol just doesn’t mix with the anti-AIDS drugs and giving it up is such a hard thing for my friends here. Bamboo juice and white lightening are such a part of the social culture in the villages and saying goodbye to that part of your social life is something that the doctors and nurses who come from the city sternly tell all of my friends they have to do – because unless they do, they won’t live. But it’s so hard to make that choice and just because a doctor or a nurse tells you that you have to doesn’t mean you’ll have any power within yourself to do it. For those like Issa who make a decision to follow Christ, there is the promise that as new creations that all things are new and that they’ll have the Holy Spirit within them to help them. And it has meant for Issa not only that it’s been possible to live now all these years with HIV/AIDS, but also to overcome cancer. For him, not only his soul, but his physical body was spared.

In October last year though, Isaa’s older daughter Adela was quite sick and so she got tested and unfortunately was very late to start the ARVs. A lot of times children are asymptomatic until it is too late. She was only 14 years old and had just taken her government seventh grade exams. How she ever managed to walk up the steep hill every morning to school, I’m not sure! That shows something about her determination. We got her on the ARVs and within days as her body’s immune system started to work – which is good on the long-term but you have to survive it kicking back in. Adela started coughing up blood. An X-ray in town showed TB and she was immediately started on the TB medications. Unfortunately, she didn’t get better. Her lungs filled up with fluid and there was little space in her lungs for her to breathe. It was beyond painful to watch. But to leave someone and their family to bear this pain alone is something we’ve made a commitment here that we won’t do. So I visited their home often, bearing gifts and as much good cheer as I could muster under those circumstances. And we prayed. And I asked people here and others back in America to pray too. Adela should have been in our school last September, but instead she was placed on a breathing machine in a government hospital. A real miracle how we managed to get that to happen for her! Her genuine sweetness and courage in these circumstances left me in utter awe. If sweetness and goodness could save a person, she would have miraculously bounced back immediately last year. That, of course, is not how things work though. The breathing machine did what it could, but it still didn’t look good. She was sent back home to the village and it was “touch and go” for months. It has taken a year for her to get better and today my heart is just filled with joy because she’s all ready to start school with us on September 14th!

September 14th is going to be a big day for Village Schools – we will have, we hope, thousands of new students enrolling in our schools across the country, and we’re even going to have three more new schools open up that morning – but what will make the day really personally special for me is that I have high hopes that Adela will be in class too! What a brave little girl. The x-rays show and the stethoscopes confirm that her lungs are clear. She has gained weight and this week is even visiting her aunt in the big city of Iringa -- the aunt who never thought that this girl would live. And everywhere the name of the Lord is being praised because of what has happened in Adela’s life.

The brave kids here in these villages who are living with AIDS humble me. Ofina. Zuela. Given. So many others - children who not only live with HIV/AIDS but are the main caregivers of their parents who are too ill to function. They are just kids. Many of them are in primary school. Others are now in secondary school -- the first generation of kids with the AIDS virus in this area to make it this far. We often chuckle about “the empty nest” syndrome ever since both of our sons left in August to go to college in America. My sons are not here, but I have been blessed to have all of these little kids all around me. Kids I love. Kids I marvel at. Kids for whom I hope one day there’ll be a cure. I pray all the time for a cure.