Eight years ago, I went on a small mission trip to Swaziland, a tiny little kingdom in southern Africa, a (scary) 5-hour drive east of Johannesburg. One in four adults there is HIV positive–and that is just reported cases–ranking that country’s rate of infection among the highest in the world. Poverty and gender inequality were, and remain, key factors in the spread of the disease.
As one often learns on a mission trip, our time there was spent not so much ‘doing’ anything that would change lives, so much as it was being present, learning, and connecting. That trip was a great reminder to me of the power of just bearing witness to the pain and suffering of the world–and then going on to tell the tale.
Meanwhile, AIDS is one of those suffering places where just seeing and telling is not enough, in the grand scheme of things. A friend who went on that same trip has since been back several times, with other groups of people, and they continue to do good work–real work–with our local mission partners there on the ground. They work to educate, equip, and even feed people at the local level, so that disease and despair will not have the last word.
I’m grateful that i had the experience to go and see for myself what life is like for those living with this (still too-silent) killer; and also, that I caught a glimpse of joy and life there, as well. I saw how small communities organize to care for orphaned children; how women find strength to care for themselves and others, using whatever resources they have; and i saw hopeful, happy children, just happy to play and be and sing silly songs. We also experienced worship on that trip that was filled with a spirit i’ve never encountered in the U.S. (Hint: there was no powerpoint). And, I’m especially grateful for people who continue to go and share the presence and love of Christ in places of such pain and loss. My hope, on this World AIDS Day, and as we enter into the Advent season, is that we continue to seek the balance between being present, and being active–and that, some day soon, this disease will be one for the history books, a dark few pages that work to illuminate a brighter chapter.
God of spoken word: create over this darkness a space for light and life.
Let us be witness to suffering; courageous enough to see and tell, to sit without answers and to serve without reward.
Teach us the ministry of presence, to sit in silence with those who wait,
to bear in love that which we cannot explain.
Let us also be sound and truth; to bear witness, to break this silence that kills,
to echo your cry that all is not well.
And then, if we might still be the hands and feet of Christ,
teach us to go and do so.
Strengthen us to hold that which hurts, to re-shape the world in your image.
Let us heal the broken body–which is ours, which is theirs, which is Yours–
and show us your goodness in the land of the living.