South Africa has one of the fastest accelerating rates of HIV in the world. This deadly disease creates approximately 450 orphans a day as roughly 1014 South Africans die daily due to this widespread epidemic. Despite the immense effect and devastating reality of this disease, it is seldom talked about by the residents as many are shamed by it.
One of our interns Crystal Echols came face to face with this harsh reality while out on ministry in Kya Sands one afternoon.
“Her name was Elizabeth, and I’d been imagining meeting her since I moved to South Africa. We were talking in her friend’s shack, about her family, her 6 older boys and why she named her little girl ‘Blessed’. We were just talking, having a good time getting to know each other and building a relationship. When I was getting ready to go, I asked her if there was anything I could pray for her about. She said that she was having problems. Being the inquisitive person that I am, but not wanting to probe too deep if she was not willing, I ask what kind of problems. She told me that she’s been having a problem drinking too much, and her doctor said she needs to be careful about how much she drinks because of her medication. Again, I asked a question. “What is the medication for?” Her voice dropped down to a whisper, she looked at the table we were sitting at, and tears started to come to her eyes as she said “I’m HIV positive.” She looked back up at me, waiting for my response. But how could I respond? I know how prevalent HIV and AIDS are here, and I know that there is a very high chance that I talk to about 1 person a day with the virus, but I’d never had someone tell me they had it. It’s so easy to label the disease that is killing millions an ‘it’. Just as easy as it is to label the people who have HIV/AIDS. My response depended on how I saw Elizabeth; as someone who has a contagious disease that I didn’t want to be around too much for free of catching it, or as someone who God loves and has a disease. By the grace of God, I saw her as someone He loved, and therefore as someone I loved. We prayed, and I gave her a hug before we left. As I was walking out of the shack, I thank God for the opportunity he gave me to meet and talk with Elizabeth.”
*Names have been changed to protect privacy of individual