11 June 2007

Seminar complete

We closed the seminar last night in a flurry of certificates and chaos. There were dramas and songs, there was a feeling of tiredness, but also brotherhood, unity, accomplishment. There were things that we’d planned that didn’t get done or said, but more importantly God brought to the forefront some other issues that were completely necessary and met great needs that we hadn’t even known about. One unexpected issue that was addressed was that men are not attending church, are not being ministered to. There was study of scripture about what it means for men to be Godly leaders in their homes and churches and communities, and several participants left feeling called to begin to teach and encourage men in Christ-centered leadership and nurture their spiritual growth in small groups within their parishes.

In all, it felt like the Holy Spirit was guiding and leading, that people were touched, that they were thankful and convicted. I personally learned more than I can begin to articulate about the dynamic of the body of Christ coming together to search out and encourage one another about following Christ, ministry, and being messengers of healing in the midst of fear and suffering. And how to even begin to grasp or practically live within the hope we have in Christ in the face of such a disease? We need guidance and humility; we need faith.

One of the small groups shared the song they had composed:
“If we go to the mountains, we will not escape.
If we go to the good doctors, we will not escape.
If we go to the clinics, we will not escape.
We ask: Lord, have mercy on us.”

I had to make an effort to not fall apart as they shared these songs. It was humbling and moving. I turned to a friend and told him that I think Tanzanians are some of the best people. As I stood in the back watching these new friends, the words of a song (I think it is Kirk Ward’s) were in my head as a prayer: “Restore us, O Lord Almighty. Make your face shine upon us. Restore us that we may be saved.”

It has been overwhelming to begin to hear the stories beneath the stories about AIDS. The published infection rate for Tanzania is at about 7%. But talking with Rachel Tarling, the doctor in Mpwapwa who has built the birthing center, we found out that it is much, frighteningly, higher. They have received blood donations for their center which have to be screened for use. They said that among those who donate, the numbers are probably closer to 30% that come back HIV+.

There are many laws protecting those who may be infected, so from what I understand, people cannot be told that they have tested positive unless they ask. A guest speaker came to share with us in the seminar about voluntary testing and counseling—urging the people who have been under a blanket of silence, terror, suspicion, and denial—to be counseled, and then tested. He understands the importance of counseling before you even test, understands that these who feel they have received their death sentence must have some idea of how to pick up and continue on, how to tell their families, how to live with and combat the disease that will eventually ravage their body.

Lord have mercy. Bwana uwe na rehema. My heart grieves.

There is mourning in the hearts of these gentle, friendly and joyful people. As I spend just a few weeks here, standing with, learning from and walking among those who have lost friends and family, among some who may themselves be infected, the word of God comes to my mind for this broken part of the body of Christ. It must be our hope here and in the brothels of Calcutta, and in the streets of Nepal, and in the homeless shelters of St. Louis, and in the cosmopolitan streets of New York where others face the affects of AIDS on their lives:

Jesus said to her: “I am the resurrection and the life.
He who believes in me will live, even though he dies:
and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
(John 11:25&26)

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
(Lamentations 3:22&23)

I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit.
You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears to my cry for relief.”
You came near when I called you, and you said, “Do not fear.”
(Lamentations 3:55-57)

Have mercy on me, O God,
have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
until the disaster has passed.
(Psalm 57:1)

and, courtesy of the chaplain of CTS library:

The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble.
He knows those who take refuge in Him.
(Nahum 1:7)


Blogger Heidi said...

Anna H. and I were talking the other day and she was mentioning a desire to do a stint as an AIDS nurse in Africa... you and she should talk, yes?

Thankful to hear of your time.

9:41 AM  
Anonymous outDORAble said...

this makes me appreciate all the more my brother's work at the Mayo clinic working on a cure for AIDS. there is a video of his clinic on my myspace page near the bottom.

11:04 PM  

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