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The AIDS Epidemic

Durban South Africa is the frontline of the AIDS epidemic.  A lack of education, sexual predators, and the absence of a nuclear family has created a perfect storm which allows the virus to move home to home.

There are many stats that can be talked about when trying to educate people on the reality of this epidemic.  But faces can be lost so easily among the numbers.  So let me tell you a story.

I walked into one of Durban's informal settlements on Wednesday night.  I had been on planes for 25 hours, had slept only briefly, and was truly tired.  But this night there was no time to just sit around and rest.  No.  For tonight was visitation night.  I walked into the squatter camp with some trusted workers who have earned much love from the children.  Before we had even begun down the path, kids gathered around the truck and by the time we were walking into the camps we had a mob of kids behind us.  I was traveling with Key of Hope on their weekly excursion.

I was paired up with Key of Hope's founder and president, Dan Smithers.  He is an old friend, and a man on a mission.  It was our goal to visit the homes of 3 dozen children. Dan knows every kid.  He knows if they are in school or not.  He knows what the family is struggling with, and asks important questions based on his knowledge.

The first house we came to wasn't a house at all.  None of them are  They are shanties.  For this was a shanty town.  Zulus have come in from the rural areas with the hope that there would be more opportunity in the cities.  And when they get here, there aren't enough jobs.  So they create these informal settlements and make a life.  The camp I was visiting was on the side of a large hill.  And so the paths wind down and down.  Floors are uneven.  Doors are made out of whatever can be found.  As are walls and roofs and furniture.  

This first house... it is a shanty.  And there is a brick on the outside holding the door shut.  My first thought... how does this person get out?  

We enter and Dan is grave.  There is a young girl.  And she is very sick.  And she is there alone.  Alone with no food.  No father or mother.  No one to scratch her head as she burns up with fever.  Dan enters with intention.  He ask her questions. "When was the last time you ate?"  It had been days.  So we sent for some porridge mix.  And then he asks about the disease.  "How long?  What symptoms?."  She was fevered.  And nauseous.  And weak... Missing her exams due to her lack of health.

I suspected there was more than a flu at had Dan so serious.  And it is.  This little girl has the Aids virus.  And the medicine she takes to hold that monster at bay... well.... she is a child.  And there is no one to make sure she takes it consistently when she is supposed to.  So her immune system is diminished.  She has caught a simple cold and it is  killing her.  Dehydrated.  Emaciated.  Alone in a shanty on the side of a hill.  She is young.  Maybe in middle school.  Maybe in high school.  Young.  Not a woman.  A little girl.  And she is dying.  Dying from a disease that took her mother.  A disease that has taken many in this squatter camp.  And here we are.  Two men in a village where there are few men.  Two men who love Jesus.  Two men who were blind but given sight.  Two men who had no hope and were given hope.  Two men who love the Man that spent so much time with the sick, the children... spent time with people who could give nothing back.  Loving people who had no influence, no money, no praise, no glory.  And who called us to love the same people in the same way.

So... we got the porridge.  And we gave some money to buy some oil.  And we knelt on a dirt floor.  And with no knowledge and with a shaky faith, I asked God to touch her fever.  To see her and know her.  

Days passed.  And word came to me that she ate that porridge and didn't throw it up.  I have never been so grateful for porridge.  But as I prepare to board a plane and fly back to all the gods that stand before Him, I received a different word.  The sickness turned, and she is in the hospital.  I want to go see her again.  I want to bring a word of hope and a hand to hold.  i want to kneel beside her and give her from whatever strength I have.

This is one little girl.  I met more.  More children born of HIV infected parents.  Children who buried their mothers and grannies and aunties.  Children.  Little boys and girls.  Kids the same ages as my own Lina and Nesto.

But there is hope.  I have heard these same kids laugh.  I have seen these kids find those things they desperately need.  Family.  Joy.  Acceptance.  And hope.  Real hope.  Not empty words.  Not the power of power positive thinking.  No.  Something deeper down and further in.  They are learning that this land that breaks them isn't their home.  There is something else.  A far country.  We want heaven on earth, but it's not here.  Heaven is on the other side.  And it is home. 

There is hope.  Heaven is home.  And for these little ones who have no hope and no home I will pray and sacrifice and live.  So that they may have some light in the midst of the darkness.  

"Come Lord Jesus.  Come."

NEXT: Key of Hope.