By Florence Muindi
Africa seems to have more than its fair share of problems. Poverty, disease, wars, famines, poor leadership, violence, and disaster after disaster plague the continent. And now there is HIV/AIDS. Yet, as serious as all these may seem, there is hope—well-founded hope.
The Hope Factor
This hope helps explain why orphaned Rwandan children smile and sing despite the genocide. It gives sense to why rural farmers in Ethiopia rise to plant after a drought leaves hundreds dead. It explains how people keep going in war-torn countries like Sudan and Somalia. And this hope has been passed on through the generations.
Despite the disasters and problems, Africans are forging a solid-gold hope through the efforts of national churches. The local congregations offer hope, through faith, to those who have long suffered. It results in songs and laughter in the midst of disasters, even the HIV/AIDS tragedy. If there has been any good in this tragedy, it is that the door for the gospel has opened as the infected and affected realize how temporary life on earth is. This is the conviction that grows in me as I see the Life in Abundance ministry in seven African countries.
I recently had the wonderful opportunity to be at a Friday fellowship meeting with my dear friends, all of whom have HIV/AIDS. This is a special group of people with whom we work from one of the slums in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. They meet weekly at a small local church.
This group of destitute people grew out of a church-based initiative to reach out to the poor living with HIV/AIDS. Our Life in Abundance-Ethiopia staff envisioned, mobilized, and equipped the church through training, leadership development, and structuring of the ministry. We also empowered this ministry with health education and resources and sought additional financial support.
Home visits brought care and support to the sick. As the tangible love of Christ was poured out, hope was rekindled. Advocacy and support groups were formed, microfinance projects sprouted, and foster care and support of orphaned street children began in church families. AIDS patients were connected to government clinical care centers. Love-based care and support melted away the stigma of HIV/AIDS, and decisions for Christ flourished.
The Friday morning prayer and praise gathering was a natural outgrowth of a weekly distribution of supplies to people with HIV/AIDS. Initially only five or 10 gathered. But it didn’t take long for others living with AIDS to see the joy experienced by those who participated. This is how the fellowship has grown to more than 50 members who come together weekly, even after the distribution activity was phased out.
The number of participants has remained about 50. As some die, new ones have joined the group. The more the church loves the people, the more the people embrace the love of God and begin to practice it on each other.
This group buried one member after another. They have faced grave illnesses together and experienced much pain, along with tears and rejection. Yet they totally identify with one another. These experiences bind them together. The love of God, facilitated by the church, is the banner over them, keeping them replenished and alive!
The local church members, though themselves very poor, have found ways to underwrite their provision. They are there to encourage the sick at a Friday Fellowship meeting and when they are on their deathbeds. Church members have prayed with them, washed their clothes, cleaned their wounds, fed them, and advocated for their children, who soon would be orphans. Most of these sufferers have been baptized in church, but the same love is given to those who have not decided to follow Christ.
Upon arriving for the Friday Fellowship meeting, I realized I had come too early. But soon people began to stream in. There were a few groans as people took their places on the hard benches and bowed in prayer as they awaited their colleagues. Soon, the day’s worship leader arrived and began to softly sing. Some remained seated, while others kneeled to worship. Some rose to their feet and, with outstretched hands, worshiped in song. The presence of God was so rich it was almost palpable. Tears ran down my face, I was so emotionally taken with the realization that we would all soon be home. But until then, we all must live life to the full, and that is why our ministry exists.
My purpose at the Friday meeting was to provide health education embedded in a Bible message, yet I received more than I could give. The people looked radiant. They smiled and responded to my greeting with enthusiasm. The worship had replenished their strength.
Longing for Home
As they sat there listening, I began to envy them. I couldn’t speak as one of them, but their fellowship of suffering formed a lovely language. I finished my presentation on a very high note. I sensed a longing among all of us to be home where we belong. Testimonies of praise and joy followed.
As the formal worship time came to an end with praise songs and even dances, some stayed for special prayers while others huddled to visit. The warmth of love filled the air. As they exited the church compound, it dawned on me that this is the closest I had ever come to sensing how Heaven will be!
It is a unique glue that holds this group together. Their worship is deep and real. It is to the One whom they have known and experienced through the agony of pain and lonely nights. They know they will see him soon, face-to-face. They are so often reminded of it. Blessed are they, for they shall see God.
Such seeds of hope have produced seedlings. We have seen this scenario repeated over and over again in the seven countries where we work. It is the result of a very simple and basic strategy.
We come in as facilitators, focusing on the very poor. Our team’s role is to envision, mobilize, train, and empower the local church to be salt and light in their areas. Harnessing the hope that has been brought about by the unique experiences in Africa, lit by the faith in Christ, church-based partnerships are transforming destitute communities by helping them meet their felt needs.
AIDS is a condition with far-reaching consequences. By infecting one person, it affects the family, extended family, the community, the economy, and the nation. It has social, physical, spiritual, and mental impacts that can be addressed only through an integrated strategy implemented by agencies that are capable and reliable. A holistic strategy implemented by a partnership with a local church can meet these needs.
Africa will definitely survive this tragedy, if Christ delays his return. Secular agencies are doing their best, and local churches can plug into these systems and facilitate the service provision to the sick. But only the church can facilitate a hope that lasts to eternity. Only the church can facilitate through the knowledge and power of Christ and truly changed behavior. After the storm God will hold the church, both in Africa and in the West, accountable to how it has responded to nations, families, and individuals. What part will we play to help them have life and have it in full?
Dr. Florence Muindi was born in Kenya and graduated from the University of Nairobi medical school. The founder and president of Life in Abundance International, a nonprofit religious organization (www.liaint.org), she works with CMF International.