The ugly face of AIDS
I escorted a team of thirteen people from a congregation in South Africa to Dwaleni today, the place where we started with our home-based caring project in Swaziland in January 2006. The specific congregation from where the visitors came, have been coming to us approximately every three months since early 2006. They are building long-term relationships with the home-based caregivers but at the same time they are also helping to supply extra training, as they try and bring a professional person with them on every visit to share some form of knowledge with the caregivers to enable them to do this voluntary work even better.
But this is not a matter of one-way giving. From our side these people are being exposed to situations which one will find not only in Swaziland but in the greater part of sub-Saharan Africa and through this exposure they are being sensitised towards a certain part of reality which most people would prefer to deny, but which, I believe, the church can no longer afford not to get involved in.
One of the members on the visiting team, their professional for today, is a medical doctor. On arrival at the church building at Dwaleni and after having welcomed everybody, we divided into smaller groups consisting of three or four of the visitors together with two of the caregivers who then set out to visit some of their patients. Obviously part of the aim was to give the visitors greater exposure to the work being done but at the same time it was also an opportunity to go into the homes of people and to share something of the love of Christ with them. I decided to accompany the medical doctor on his visits and in all we went to three houses.
Our first visit was to an old lady of 78 who had suffered a stroke some time ago and was confined to her bed. Humanly speaking her days on earth are over, but there was great thankfulness for our visit even though we could hardly make out anything she said. But the second home we went to was the one which really touched me. We entered the homestead which consisted of a number of separate rooms built of mud with thatch roofing. It is clear that these people are extremely poor. The caregiver took us to one of the rooms where a young girl was lying on a thin mattress. The typical face of AIDS which I will probably never get used to, greeted us: seemingly oversized eyes in a skeleton-like face, hollow cheeks and in her eyes the bewildered look of someone knowing that the end is close. In great pain she tried to sit up and then uncovered her lower body to show us the bed-sores that had developed. She is 21 years old. And I immediately thought that my second son turned 21 on the 5th of September, a healthy and joyful young man. But this young girl will probably be dead within a week or two! And there is absolutely nothing we can do for her, except what the doctor describes as TLC – Tender loving care. Which is what our home-based care group is all about!
But what was even more disturbing was when the girl’s grandmother appeared in the room. We had already determined that the girl’s parents are both dead and her brothers and sisters as well. She has only one remaining brother who is working in another area. And now the task of taking care of this girl fell upon the shoulders of the grandmother who also has to take care of another woman who has cancer of the womb. And when she saw us, she more or less freaked out, asking us to take the girl with us and to make her healthy again before bringing her back to her home. As she was complaining about the burden of looking after the sick child whose boyfriend had made her pregnant and probably HIV+ as well (the baby had also died) and then dumped her without taking any responsibility, I kept on wondering how this girl must feel, knowing that she is at the end of her life but that nobody wants her – not even her grandmother. But then I also felt for the grandmother who has little or no money and who has to take care of this girl and who will have to bury her when she dies. I’m sure that this is not how she had planned her own life. We prayed for the home, for the dying girl but also for her grandmother, that God will take her frustration away.
As we drove back to the church I felt angry. Angry that so many people are still denying this terrible disease. Angry that people all over (not only in Swaziland) are seeing sex as their right without taking into consideration the consequences of their deeds. Angry that people are still looking for easy answers to this problem. Angry that even Christians are turning their backs and saying that these people made the wrong choice and must now carry the consequences of their choice.
And I wondered what Jesus would have done today, (apart from a miraculous healing). And would He also have become angry about the way in which so many Christians are carelessly shrugging their shoulders when hearing about AIDS?