[Image courtesy of Africa /FreeDigitalPhotos.net]
A Guest Post from Jodi J. Jodi shares her heart and experiences from her time serving in South Africa.
What does the word conjure up in your mind when you hear it? Hot sunny days with cool starry nights? Exotic safari? Wide open plains where the elephants roam among the baobabs with the giraffe? A terrific destination for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation? Hunting big game? Bargaining over open market intricate wooden carvings and then showing off the much prized souvenirs on the flight home?
Perhaps the word connotes more negative than positive thoughts? Tribal warfare? Apartheid? Violent crime? Hopelessness and high unemployment contributing to substance abuse? Staggering rape statistics? HIV/AIDS? Child sexual abuse? Witch doctors?
My perceptions were shifting with each passing year for the decade I called the southernmost country on the continent, South Africa, ‘home’. Yes, it is a place of beauty and a place of violence. A place of extreme wealth and a place of dire poverty. A land of contrasts. A land of crisis.
My place was in the communities. 27 of them. Devastated neighborhoods where little girls grow up to sell. Flowers? No. Clothes? Hardly. Food? They wish. Grow up to sell whatever they are told to sell. Sometimes it’s illegal drugs; often it’s their bodies. But how can this be?
The stage has been set. Poverty. Abuse of power. Rampant childhood sexual abuse. Desperation to survive. High unemployment. Common knowledge that there is one sure way of getting cash quickly.
Add to these the words often spoken ” Child, you must listen (meaning ‘obey’) when the adult tells you to do something”, without clarifying for the child to which adults they should submit, the child is left to believe all adults are good decision-makers, wise, kind and of course has no ill intention toward children.
In the midst of much chaos and hardship, enough to cause a mature grown-up to be tempted to retreat, the child of South Africa is asked to grow up and become a community-minded member of society.
And God is transforming lives. Women who were once standing on the street corners later seen standing in the waters of baptism. Women who were once being called every label under the sun are now being addressed “my sister in God’s family.”
[Image courtesy of Africa /FreeDigitalPhotos.net]
Five years ago at this time of year, I had a memorable Good Friday in South Africa. Several of the women involved in prostitution realized their brokenness as a person who has failed to love God above all else. Once these abused ladies saw the reality of their wrong-doing is actually sin against the One Who created them, they asked God for forgiveness because God’s Son Jesus already paid for our wrong-doing when He gave His blood on the cross in our place (for what we deserve). Then we journey on together as each of us seeks to live a life of gratitude to the Lord for the remainder of our days on earth and then continuing into eternity.
Patricia invited me to accompany her in the process of obtaining her life-sustaining medication because she contracted HIV somewhere along the way. It could be from her unfaithful husband, or the rapist as she journeyed to the big city in search of employment to support her family, or from the days of finding no real job so doing what she never wanted to do to get money for food and rent in her new location. We traveled together to her seven am appointment at the city hospital for HIV positive people. Many, many people were already there waiting for the doctors to arrive. A little bit after eight am, the receptionist came out to the waiting room where there were no open seats and announced “The doctor has called in and will not be coming today. Maybe the local doctor will still come, but we do not know when or IF he will come today. So you must each decide if you will stay to wait and see, or if you will go home.”
Two doctors were at the entire hospital, and many patients had traveled far to get to the doctor. Most of these patients walk to get where they want to go (or take a taxi if they can obtain funds for taxi fare). Most of them have children, who need child care arranged for days like this one, when they travel to the city. Finally, the local “doctor” arrived and went one by one down the benches in the waiting room asking each patient to describe why they are there (in front of all the other patients!). Then the nurse came out of the one observation room and announced “I have been working with HIV patients for 17 years and I need to tell all of you that you must drink 2 liters of water each day to flush the virus right out of your system!” I was cringing for most of the morning from my spot on the soiled cement floor as I watched and listened. Then I went to the restroom which was a “walk-through” arrangement which was shared by men and women with open “stalls” with not only open viewing from above eye level, but also a small swinging “door” which does not close and no toilet paper (actually not even a dispenser!). There was no soap, no towel and very little hygiene.
As I sat there on the floor looking at the patients lined up on the benches, I realized it is Easter week and my friend and I may very well be the only ones in this group of people who have hope in our hearts. Hearing the coughing, seeing some faces that look like skeletons with skin, and thinking about the reality that each of these persons has more than likely been told they have a disease that will, unless the Lord intervenes, shorten their earthly lives, touched me deeply. We were ushered into the counselor’s room so that my friend and I could hear about the pills she will be required to take every day for the rest of her life…
What would you do if you were in my spot? Would you have shared with the whole group in that waiting room about Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection offering us new life and forgiveness through Him? Would you have cried with them, knowing many of them did not choose to participate in at-risk behavior but still contracted the “taboo virus” that everyone keeps hush-hush as long as possible? Would you have silently prayed? Would you have sung a song about life’s trials but still having hope? Jesus always knows what the best course of action is, may our lives truly reflect His heart for the world.