Keith’s Sabbatical Journal — August 15
We stayed last night at the home or Ron and Joanna Zeiner again. What a blessing this couple has been to us. They had a wonderful bible study on the gospel of John chapter four. What a refreshing time it was to be among the ESSA community (Evangelical Seminary of South Africa) in their home.
Joanna picked Darlene, Timothy and I up around 8:30 am soon after we returned from our night in the Sobantu Township with Thulani and his family. We took the 30 minute drive to the community of Mpophomeni and as we drove into the very rural township, we could see lots of people walking around. We parked in front of a health clinic with a “surgery” sign out front. Surgery here means doctors office. If you have to have an operation here, you go to the theater where they will actually cut you open. Soon, we broke into three groups with Darlene and Tim going with a woman named Nora (who appeared to be in her late 50s) and young African man whom I later learned was a Pastor in the community. I went with a woman name Margit, a woman in her late 60s who had been in South Africa as a missionary since 1953.
She told me the story of how she came to the Lord at the age of 14 after being what she called ‘a very naughty girl’ She later met her husband who had come here in 1951. She and her husband were now retired from ministry and are a part of the Howick Church, a economically stable and primarily white community about 5-7 miles from Mpophomeni. The Howick church is the primary ministry to those who are HIV positive in Mpophomeni. Both Margit and her husband were both from Sweden. In the car with us was a woman from the Mpophomeni community named Annette. There was a third car with Dr. Rouen Bruni. Dr. Bruni began the AIDS visitation ministry in Mpophomeni about three years ago. When we were at Robyn’s home (The YFC director) a few days earlier, we met Dr. Bruni’s wife. They all live in a small community together outside of Pietermaritzburg. Dr. Bruni is a homeopath physician who takes one day away from his practice each week to visit the people with HIV in the Mpophomeni community.
The Mpophomeni community is not small. I was told there were more than 5000 homes in this township situated in a very beautiful area of the countryside near two large fresh water lakes. The houses in the community were very close together and most were concrete block homes with metal roofs but a few were brick. Many of the houses had a small garden. Several of the homes we went in did not have ceilings. The tin roof on the house was the ceiling. Each home had 1-2 windows depending upon its size. Most homes were very small with a room for sleeping and a room for eating/cooking etc. In the past few years (post Apartheid), the government had brought in electricity and a sewage system. Almost all the homes had a toilet now but none had heat.
The purpose of our visit was to go into the homes of people with HIV and bring them food, helpful words of comfort, spiritual encouragement and prayer to sustain their physical and spiritual health. To my shock and amazement, 56% of the people in Mpophomeni were HIV infected and there was an 82% unemployment problem. This explained the overwhelming challenge the church was up against there.
Margit, Annette and I traveled to our first home visit. We knocked on the door and waited but no one answered. Soon a woman from across the street explained that the man was visiting neighbors. After a few minutes, the man returned and we all went into his home. This man has been living alone for some time. He is HIV positive and my guess is that he was in his mid 40s. It was obvious he was very cold. He mentioned that his feet hurt and I was informed that this was one of the problems that AIDS patients have to deal with. It was a cold day for South Africa. It had rained hard the night before and along with the cool temperatures came lots of mud. I was very aware that I was tracking in mud but I didn’t know what to say or do. The women with me were having the same problem but didn’t remove their shoes. The temperature inside the home was cold (I suspect 45 degrees) and the furnishings consisted of two chairs and a stool. There was a kitchen and cooking area. I could see the metal roof and the two or three wood boards holding the roof up. Margit and Annette spoke to the man in Zulu and I listened. I could tell they were trying to encourage and comfort him. Margit read some scripture in Zulu to him from John 15 as he followed along with his Zulu New Testament. She later explained to me that they don’t give out bibles until the person opens their life to Jesus. We closed with prayer and Margit asked that I pray. We dropped off the large container of mealie-meal which is crushed corn/finely ground maze used for portage and is the primary staple of the African community here. I carried in a 15 pound jug of this food and it would last a single person 2-3 weeks. I later learned from Ron that another major part of the African diet is samp which is cracked corn, rice which is very inexpensive, with curry (that is grown from a tree here).
Our second visit was much more intense emotionally for me. We went to the home of young woman in her late 20s who was HIV positive. When we arrived, she was sitting on her bed with her young son and a neighbor girl who was comforting her. I was troubled by the situation I saw. They had so little in their home and I could see the pain in the face of this young woman. On the table was a photo of her young husband (the boy’s father) who had died of AIDS several months ago. Margit and Annette prayed and hugged the children. This woman had so little in her home. The kitchen had nothing in it and the bedroom had beds and blankets. She could not work and was sick and not able to provide much for her young son. He stared at me for a while as if to say “you are the first white man I’ve ever seen”. I found myself on the edge of tears at this situation. I could see the vulnerability of this family and the desperate conditions this woman lived in. I so much wanted to do something but I didn’t know what to do. A part of me wanted to sneak in some money from my pocket to this woman but I didn’t know how this would go over with my hosts. I was aware that I didn’t have perspective yet. Lord, how do you want me to process this visit?
Our next visit was to a home where the husband had also recently died of AIDS. On the last visit, Margrit told me that for the whole last visit, all the woman did was cry. We parked along the street and as we came up to the property, there were several children playing outside. We knocked and entered the two room house. In the kitchen there was the woman whose husband died recently, an older woman (a go-go) sitting on the floor next to a long wooden stool and an older man. Again, Margrit spoke words of comfort in Zulu. I did not know what they were talking about until Margrit said to me “we have a sinner who wants to receive Jesus”. Before I had a chance to experience much emotion, Margrit asked me to pray. I prayed with joy and then she prayed leading the man is a prayer of salvation. Margrit was so excited. The event didn’t hit me emotionally as it did Margrit but then I had not been working with the people there as long as Margrit and I have not experienced some of their stubbornness in the face of death like she had. The older woman on the floor (the go-go) was a diabetic who was large and blind. She did not get up off the kitchen floor during our visit. We prayed together before we left.
Our fourth visit was to a home in a different neighborhood. The house and the family appeared to have some money and there were several people living in the house. When we came in, two women with HIV came into the living room. One woman was coughing a lot as was the little child near her. Margit spoke to them in Zulu and later explained to me that she was trying to persuade them to turn their lives over to Jesus. I could hear the interchange and dialogue and I sensed there was some resistance to the Lord in this house. Margrit sent me out to get her black bag with gospel tracks in Zulu but I got the wrong bag. After that was straightened out, Margrit gave Zulu tracks to three of the women in the house which they immediately began to read. At the end of the visit, we all joined hands in prayer. Again, I was asked to pray in English and the others followed in Zulu.
We left that home and stopped at Annette’s home before we met up with the whole group again. At Annette’s home there were several children outside who stopped to greet us. Annette said that two of the little children were hers and one, a little boy about two years old, belonged to her sister. Annette told us that her sister’s little boy is HIV positive. I have not been around children with HIV. This was a tender moment in our day. These little people are truly experiencing the sins of their fathers.
All around the community of Mpophomeni, there are goats and cows wandering all over the neighborhood. I wondered how the people could tell whose goats and cows they were. I thought the people were growing these animals for their food but I later learned from Ron and Joanna that the goats were used in traditional Zulu sacrifices and funerals which costs each family the goat plus 500 Rand.
Several times throughout the morning we stopped the car when we spotted groups of children so that we could hand them vanilla yogurt shakes. The children would come up to the car and smile and take the shake. One time, two men came along right after the children and asked Margrit for help. She immediately drove off and later told me the story of what happened to Dr. Bruni recently. Apparently as he was handing out some of the yogurt shakes to a group of children a few weeks back, he was mobbed by a group of adults who pressed in and when the crowd got so big, Dr Bruni took the yogurt and left the area and did not give away any thing.
The whole experience in Mpophomeni was most profound. When I heard of Darlene and Tim’s visits, the experience became even more profound. The first home Darlene and Timothy visited was that of a woman who was about to die of AIDS anytime in the next few days. She was so weak that she couldn’t talk. Tim later told me she moaned. One could not help but feel a great deal of compassion for these people. I was so thankful for the church at Howick that did the visits every Thursday. I wondered how these poor and sick people possibly survived with such a high rate of unemployment and the HIV epidemic. I wondered what I would be doing if I lived around that place.
AN INTERVIEW WITH TIMOTHY
Keith: Lets begin by discussing our experience at Mpophomeni, what were your impressions of that community?
Tim: This was a very AIDS stricken community. It is hard to believe that if I were to line up 100 of the people I know, 52 of them would have HIV or AIDS. It is hard to think of how much sadness must be in these cities. AIDS is also a very large contributor to the poverty because every time one of these people dies, the people must sacrifice a goat which costs a lot of money out of their income. So, when AIDS is killing all these people so quickly, and their beliefs say if they don’t do this, they will make the gods angry, they often use all of their money on goats to sacrifice rather than food. They will do extreme things like sell their stove or even their essential items to buy a goat to sacrifice.
KW: How did you feel about visiting people with HIV?
Tim: I felt sad. There are some many different feelings, it is hard to explain. I would mostly say “kind of depressed” They don’t believe it will affect them (HIV). They are too proud to believe it can hurt them.
KW: Share some of your thoughts about our overnight in Sobanto?
Tim: Well, the experience was not as bad as I was expecting. It was a little nicer. I felt like a celebrity. Everyone looks at you, waves at you like you are someone special and you kind of want to scream out loud ‘I’m just another human’. I’m still processing.
KW: What was the highlight of the overnight experience?
Tim: Being able to see Zulu culture and a Zulu home.
KW: What do you like about the Zulu culture?
Tim: It is interesting to look at and watch like letting the visitors have as much food as they want even if you don’t get any left for you as the host.
KW: How was the food?
Tim: The food was very good, tasty. It was one of the best meals I’ve eaten in a long time. It was also one of the most ‘American like’ meals I’ve eaten in a long time.
KW: What do you believe God is teaching you here in South Africa?
Tim: I believe He is teaching me that I am very gifted and He is teaching me about reaching out to people who are different than me.
KW: What are you learning about the problem of racism?
Tim: Racism is still an issue.