Only a few days ago, we lost another little child. One of his friends had been praying for him, just as he had prayed for two other friends, Kamau and Kimani. Now, this friend was gone too. “But I prayed for him,” said the 10-year old, the look of defeat clearly seen in his eyes. “I guess he has decided to go and be with Kamau.” It is evident that questions still lingered in this young child’s mind, but he became silent. He picked up his book and continued to read.
At the funeral, another girl optimistically asked, “Will we see him again?” The caregiver, trying hard to hide her own sadness, shook her head.
“Not here,” she said. “But we will see him when we get to heaven. Remember the story in the Bible where David’s child died? David was so sad, but then he stopped being sad because he realized that although his child would not come back to him, he would go to be with his child. One day, we will go to heaven, and we will see our loved ones again.”
The caregiver wiped her tears and joined in singing “Cha kutumaini sina…” (My hope is built on nothing less…)
The HIV/AIDS pandemic continues to devastate thousands of people around the world. Children have not been spared from the pain and devastation of this merciless disease. Thousands have been orphaned and many more infected. In Africa, many communities are being wiped out. Countless people living with AIDS are being cast aside due to the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. For many, it is a long, lonely journey. We must ask ourselves, “Can the Church be the ‘city on a hill’ that Jesus talked about?” And will the Church be the place of solace and hope that many are desperately seeking?
Indeed, the AIDS pandemic is testing the integrity of the Church. Yet while HIV/AIDS presents the Church with a great challenge, it also offers a great opportunity to be a place where the hurting can find healing. The Church must be a people that will not look the other way, but will instead influence communities to be the hands through which God will work.
Kids Alive Kenya, www.kidsalive.org/kenss.htm, continues to care for AIDS orphans and children living with AIDS. Through this experience, we have learned invaluable lessons about God’s amazing grace. One example of this is in the House of Joy, www.kidsalive.org/hojss.htm, where we receive babies who tested HIV positive at birth. A little while back something happened at this facility. We had taken in babies that were extremely malnourished and that exhibited various infections, including chest and ear infections.
Their caregivers, ordinary people from the same community, received these children and worked with them over many months, feeding them nutritious food regularly and getting them medical care at the clinic. Within a few months the babies had gained weight and showed tremendous improvement. The babies were later re-tested and found to be HIV-negative! They are now in nursery school and enjoy playing outdoors and going out for walks.
In Kenya we are also training churches to educate community members on the importance of HIV testing. This is instrumental in preventing mother-to-child transmission of the disease. The Church can also train those in the community in measures that can prevent mother-to-child infection. In local government hospitals, nevirapine (which helps prevent HIV transmission during pregnancy and birth) is now available. Alternative breast-feeding options can also prevent transmission to the newborn. Proper nutrition helps boost the immune system and helps the child to fight illnesses.
When we encounter a person living with AIDS, it may make sense to walk past those that are hurting, those whose bodies and dignity are destroyed by sickness. Yet HIV-infected people can live with strength and vigor. Children who remain HIV-infected can be provided with quality life that enables them to live positively with HIV/AIDS.
For this to happen, unconditional love and consistent care is critical. In the Rebecca House, www.kidsalive.org/rebhivss.htm, we care for HIV-infected children. Through this ministry we have found that proper nutrition and prompt medical care are extremely important in improving a child’s wellbeing. Anti-retroviral drugs used for children in the more advanced stages of AIDS have resulted in tremendous improvements in their overall quality of life.
We believe it is the responsibility of the global Church to show compassion to those infected and/or affected by HIV/AIDS. The consequences of AIDS are far reaching, and will be with us for some time. The Church must come alongside its people and help them walk in victory. We must care for individuals living with AIDS with the same enthusiasm that we would other members of our congregations. We must share our resources, get involved and be the Church that God called us to be. We must work together, for the task set before us is indeed great.