Saturday, June 17
Today, we were up early for breakfast and devotions. The weather was perfect – not too warm, not too cool.
Our first daylight glimpse of Nairobi whizzed by as we drove to the Methodist Guest House & Conference Centre, where we met with pastors from different churches in the area that have partnered with Care for AIDS. The purpose of this gathering was to hear first-hand about the problems they face with the AIDS crisis in their communities, and how the CFA program has helped them transform the lives of those in the congregations that are sick and at risk of dying.
Many of you reading this have not heard of Care for AIDS, so I will briefly describe the program. (For more details, you can go to http://www.careforaids.org)
CFA partners with churches in Kenya to offer a program of transformation for those in their communities who are HIV positive or have AIDS. Sadly, there are many churches who won’t accept the CFA program because of the stigma of the disease. These church leaders will not open their doors to the “sinners” who have this affliction.
Forty-five churches, however, have opened their doors and hearts to the HIV/AIDS communities within their larger communities by offering the CFA program to those in need. These churches are located in Nairobi, Kisumu, Mombasa, and Dar Es Saleem.
The 9-month program takes class sizes of 70-80 clients through a transformational process, which consists of 5 different areas:
Spirtitual Transformation – Clients are led through Descipleship to help them understand who God is and who they are.
Economic Transformation – Clients are taught a trade, whether it is making jewelry, soap, etc. This involves 18 different seminars to teach them a trade so that they can become economically savvy and independent.
Social Transformation – Clients are separated into small groups with others who have the same condition, whereas previously, they have been isolated in their communities. Post graduation, they are encouraged to continue meeting with their group for social support.
Emotional Transformation – Clients learn to understand the disease and their beliefs about themselves.
Physical transformation – Clients learn the importance of taking their medication regularly. Often, food is provided to clients and their families so that they can have proper nutrition.
After completing this 9 month program, the clients have a graduation celebration at which they receive a certificate of completion and a Bible. Many of the graduates go on to achieve success in starting a business and overcoming poverty. They are often asked back to provide Empowerment Training new clients that are going through the program. They teach the new clients based on their own experiences.
OK, so that is an explanation of what Care For AIDS does in a rather large nutshell!
The mission of CFA is summed up in two words: Orphan Prevention. (Parents who die cannot raise their children!) This organization takes a proactive approach to the HIV/AIDS crisis, instead of a reactive approach. As a result of their work and dedication to taking care of the parents who are sick, these parents are given approximately 25 more years to their lives. This impacts multiple generations!
At today’s seminar, pastors of many CFA partner churches shared their stories about the challenges of trying to help so many people with little to no resources. They have an unending job caring for their congregations. It is not uncommon for them to arrive at their office to find 20 people standing in line at the doorstep, desperate for help. Some are there to seek help for a loved one who is bedridden and unable to go to the hospital. Some are unable to afford to go to the hospital. Many/most have little to no food for their themselves and their families. They turn to their church for help. The pastors do what they can, but without proper resources, they end up attending too many funerals and finding care for too many orphans.
When I say that “pastors do what they can,” it is a huge understatement. These pastors love their people – so much so that many of them adopt or foster parent as many of the orphans as their household can handle. I sat next to a wonderful gentleman at the seminar named Silas Babu (pictured above, first photo of the 3rd row.) He told me that there are 300 orphans in his community. He and his wife had children of their own, but they lovingly adopted two orphans, who are now well educated, successful adults. This is just ONE example of this type of story.
What we heard today was how much of a blessing CFA has been to each of them, and what a tremendous impact it has had on their congregations. The pastors help their community overall, but the HIV/AIDScommunity is a “community inside a community.” CFA enables the church to reach that group and truly help them.
During our session, one memher of our CFA group provided a brief training session for the pastors on how to interact with people who are grieving. They see a great deal of grief in their community when families have lost a loved one to AIDS – or any other situation. Lanise Shortell, RN and Grief Counselor for the Atlanta Children’s Hospice (pictured above, 1st photo of second row) provided Do’s, Dont’s and tips on how to effectively help individuals and families with their grieving process. The pastors found this information very helpful. Again, CFA does not simply go into a church, run the program and leave. They are on hand to teach, advise and help for the long run.
However, while the program has been very successful for many, many people, CFA’s and the churches’ jobs are not done. Providing information to the entire community, not just the HIV/AIDS community is critical. One of the pastors, a delightful woman, named Reginah Naya, (pictured above, last photo of the third row) represented the Christ Covenant Church in Ziwani, which is in the Majengo slum. She stood and revealed something that was shocking to all of us:
In her community, HIV/AIDS is so prevalent – it is a way of life. That’s not the shocker…the shocker is that the teenagers in her community have a collective mindset that “If you are NOT HIV positive, you are not cool!!” Those who are not HIV positive are ostracized by social groups! If I could insert an emoji here, it would be one with a shocked face falling out of it’s chair.
I will leave you with that piece of information for you to get your head around – after you get your jaw off the ground! This is the desperate reality of the HIV/AIDS crisis in this part of the world.
The gift I received from God today:
I was given the honor of sitting in a room full of heroes – those who have saved so many lives (pastors and the CFA staff) and who will be saving so many more in the future.
Ok, I received 2 gifts, actually, because Jillian and I were able to share lunch with Pastor Reginah, sharing stories about the differences in our cultures. It was truly fascinating!
Tomorrow we will attend a church service, provide Vacation Bible School to the kids at the church, and then have dinner with the founders of CFA. It will be a long day!