Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Today I sat in a hospital with Esther, the director of the MFHs, and Danny- a 14 year old boy, who at 68 lbs probably more resembles a 7 year old boy.

Danny, a boy who is HIV positive.

I think that the AIDS pandemic is something that we have all heard about, all read about; but in reality, know nothing about. Today, that all changed.

I sat in a hospital, waiting with Esther to see a specialist doctor who could help Danny become more mobile, as his knees and hips have been extremely sore and have stopped him from being able to attend school, as it requires walking too far. Danny doesnt know that he is HIV+, as the staff here agree that he is not mentally stable enough at the moment to cope with his reality. That news shocked me at first, how could he not know? But then I remember what Lugasi, one of the elder 2 children who had questioned me on my first full day here, had said: people hear they have HIV and just commit suicide, because it seems as if their is no hope.

But what is there no hope for? A long life? A good life?

As we waited for the specialist to come, we sat in the waiting room. A TV was playing music videos, and there was a table of magazines. I went and picked one up called "Zaran", because the cover captured me. On it was an article grieving the fact that America's PEPFAR plan (President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief, 2007) had stipulations that kept it from being highly effective in Zambia. Stipulations that encouraged 'Abstinence Only' sex education, instead of a comprehensive sex education that would encourage condom use in order to prevent HIV spread. In addition, the plan excludes reaching out to sex workers, of whom approximately 70% are HIV+ in Zambia.

As I read the article, my thoughts were spinning. I am all for abstinence. I think it's what God calls for when one is not in a marriage relationship. Yet, in this culture of rape and abuse, knowledge of a condom could go a long way. Plus, sooner or later (hopefully after marriage!) a couple will have sex. And what then? The article on the back page of the magazine addressed this, as the husband was HIV+ and the wife, not. With condom use they could still have a normal, husband-wife relationship; but without it, he could end up killing his love, and once again all of the children would become orphans. I am also very much against sex workers. Beyond prostitution, pornography makes me sick to my stomach when I think about the abuse that takes place during production, degregation of humanity and sexuality, and just pure slime that the industry is.... never mind what they produce and how it influences our culture. Nevertheless, even in America there are laws set up to keep pornographers somewhat 'safe' from HIV by requiring monthly testing. To have sex workers in Zambia be excluded from prevention programs and programs designed to create hope for those living with the disease seems almost inhumane. But yet, Zambia doesn't have money to invest in prevention programs, so it relies on America... and thus, it is done the American way.

Why does everything have to rely on America?

One of the other articles in the magazine highlighted the recession in America, and the effects it was having on the world-wides fight against AIDS. With the economy down in the Western World, organizations were not donating as much to the cause anymore.... and thus individuals are being pulled of ARVs.. which (like any antibiotic that you stop use of too soon) actually creates a resistance to the drug, and continued hopelessness for a normal life.

Why did I have to pick up this magazine? Why couldn't I have just watched the music videos like everybody else?

As I sat there contemplating the Western World's effect on everyday Zambian life, I couldnt help but remember the staff meeting yesterday morning.

We start everyday at EOH with devotions. Singing (usually in Bemba... I'm getting better!), praying (everyone praying, normally quite loudly, all at once) and a reading and discussion of Oswald Chamber's "My Utmost For His Highest." Yesterday's subject was that of Abraham trying to help God solve problems. Abraham had been promised descendants... lots of descendants. Yet, Sarah was unable to bare children. So, Abraham and Sarah went ahead and solved the problem themselves--they gave Hagar, Sarah's maidservant, over to Abraham to have babies with. And thus there was Ishmael. Ishmael, being a descendant of Abraham, was blessed by God. Yet, he wasnt the answer to God's promise--Issac, the son that God had planned to give to Abraham all along, was the fulfillment of the promise. So God had told Abraham that Ishmael would surely fight against his brother all of his days.

I had never really thought about that before. All the problems that the Israelites faced, were probably mostly due to Ishmael's descendants. Essentially, because Abraham had tried to solve his 'problem' in his own way, this eternal hindrance was in place to God's true plan.

Upon finishing devotions, we started talking about orphan sponsorship more in depth. Although I won't go into too much detail, we were discussing what occurs when a child is no longer sponsored. Mrs Harawa painted a much different picture for me than the simple phone call that would 'cancel' my subscription to any sponsorship program in the USA. She explained how someone has to go into the home of this previously starving, uneducated child... and look them in the eye... and tell them that they are no longer going to be sponsored, and thus will no longer be going to school, or no longer having full meals. The child will cry, the parents will be distraught, feelings of unworthiness and 'what did I do wrong?' will abound.

To me, it seems more loving for the child to never be sponsored in the first place.

But in America, we don't think about these things. We see a name, with a cute little face, a set sum of $32 a month.... and decide to give up our coffee money for a year and support a child instead. All along, we forget that it's actually a child on the other side of that $32 a month. And we forget that $32 isn't a set amount that will mysteriously and divinely meet all their needs. $32 here buys about as much as $32 at home. Honestly, I think some basic foods (cheese for one!) are even more expensive here. Never mind healthcare and pharmaceuticals. Plus, even public schools require expensive school fees, uniforms, and examination fees (which are required for students to pass onto the next grade). But we set ourselves up as self-righteous people and play 'savior' to a kid for a while--until we lose interest in that program, or our 'hearts are pulled else were', or we realize we miss having our daily $5 cup of joe from Starbucks. And a kid in Africa sits and cries, feeling more alone, abandoned and hopeless than ever before.

We try to solve the problems in our own way, and end up with an Ishmael. A thorn in the side of God's true work.

As I sat in the waiting room with Danny, I couldn't help but wonder if America was creating another Ishmael. AIDS prevention in Zambia has to be done in a Zambian way, or it will never work. But we're Americans. And we like to see results. We like to see percentage points and graphs and smiling faces of all the 'good' things we have accomplished. So we try to do it our way.

By the time we finally got in to see the doctor, I was already feeling sick to my stomach. It is pretty common for me to get woozy in hospitals. Especially when talking about blood diseases. But this was a different type of woozy. It was an anger, mixed with sickness at the state of our world. Before the appointment was over, I had to step outside to sit on the curb. But this time, instead of trying to recover from blackouts over my blood-phobia, I sat trying to hold in the tears and crying out to God.

In the Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne makes an adage to the old quote that says 'Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime' by pointing out that not only must we teach a man to fish, but we must break down the walls around the pond and ask who polluted it.

I'm at the point where I want to know who polluted it.

I want to know why this quiet, smart, adorable boy is suffering so much pain by a disease that most people consider a curse. I want to know how it is possible that he doesn't know his own birthday (a fact that is heartbreaking when I consider the 100+ birthday messages I received yesterday via internet, as well as the huge chocolate cake and chocolate-chip muffins that were presented to me as a birthday feast). I want to know how such incredible misconceptions about HIV/AIDS can exist that would make a person commit suicide the day they have been diagnosed, or cause an infected person to rape a virgin (as it was once said that sleeping with a virgin would cure an infected person of the disease). I want to know how I can HELP instead of just create more Ishmaels. And I want America to wake up and realize that these are real people living and dieing according to her whims.

A few evenings ago the power went out. This is a fairly typical occurrence, so I went into my bedroom and read for a bit and slowly drifted off into a nap. Eventually I woke up, and wandered out into my now-lit kitchen... where I saw something scuddle across the floor. A lizard? A rodent? I wasn't super sure, but I decided I didn't really need to eat at that moment, and decided instead to walk into the office portion of the house and check to see if the internet was working. While sitting at the desk, a huge (5 inches long, minus the tail) rat darted from one side of the room to the other. Freaking out ever so slightly, I grabbed my computer and cord (didn't want it getting chewed!) and made way towards my room. As I did so, I saw what was definitely a 2nd rat of the same size dart across the kitchen floor again. Safely huddled in my room (with a towel shoved under the door to prevent rats from sneaking underneath) I sat and contemplated how Zambians probably wouldn't be upset by this, but I was freaking out. It took me approximately half an hour of praying and pumping myself up (note: 'All the Above' is actually a rather good pre-rat killing song) before I emerged from my room with my rain boots, long pants, jacket and head lamp on... swinging a broom. I tried to shoo the rats out, and the guard outside helped... but it was to no avail. I slept with a towel under my door, and my heaviest shoes and water bottles shoved against the towel to make sure no rat could push through.

The next day I discussed my escapades with the other EOH staff, fully expecting them to ridicule me. However, instead, all of the women surprised me by saying they would have been equally freaked out. Equally freaked out? Isn't this normal Zambian life?

Or maybe Zambians are just like Americans. Maybe we are all just humans, trying to follow a God who we can trust is mighty to save. Even if we're not sure why he's not stepping down in this place and time to save those whom we want to see saved. He's waiting to create Isaac--his perfect plan.

Friday night was a pretty lonely night for me. Those of you who know me well know that I am a 'night person.' When the sun goes down, I go out. It is common for me to be up till 2 or 3 in the morning laughing with a plethora of friends, playing games, watching movies, and just generally loving life. Here, at nightfall, I must be confined to the office, as it just not safe for a women, never mind a white women, to be out alone after dark. So I sat all Friday night, with the internet not working, no movies to watch, and the realization that the one and only deck of regular playing cards I brought did not in fact have all 52 cards (thank you in10sity! haha), thus even a friendly game of solitaire was out of the running. I prayed in earnest that God would give me another option for socialization, and started planning out ideas as to how I could find people to hang out with... all of which were rather far fetched, but it made me feel better to have a plan. My Ishmael.

Saturday morning I was woken up by a pounding on the outside door. I listened for a moment, as I did not think that any of the office staff were supposed to be coming in, and did not want to open the door for a stranger. And after a few moments I realized that the voices were indeed strangers, but somehow familiar. They were American. And they were calling my name. I jumped out of bed and ran for the keys.... and on the other side of the door were two more tall blonds, one a Hope College student and the other a grad from a school down in Mississippi. I had never met them before, but they were quite obviously my answer to prayer. Sophie and Mary-- two girls who had interned with EOH last summer, and had come back to work with the GEMS program, and were living a mile away from me. Sophie and Mary-- my Issac.

So what have I learned?

I honestly have no idea.

I'm learning to wait for Issac.
But I'm eager to see the pond free from pollution, and am learning that someone has to stop it from being polluted in the first place.

I learned a long time ago that I want God's guidance.
But I also want to see proper health care and a non-corrupt system.

And thus I am learning that I have no idea as to when we need to just 'let God', and when we need to become his hands and feet.

Orphan sponsorship is necessary for some of these kids to survive. But how should it be done? HIV/AIDS prevention is necessary for this awful state of emergency to be ended in Zambia. But what should we be teaching? More money is needed for EOH to continue it's work in Zambia. But do we invest in trying to make programs sustainable, or cry out to our loved ones and just ask for the money needed to buy school uniforms for a group of 24 students in Chongwe?

I'm sure you haven't heard the last of this internal debate I have going with myself. And you are all welcome to add your point of view. But, in all honesty I feel like I need to stop looking for the answer so hard, and just start looking at God harder. So I ask for your prayers. And you will all be in mine, as perhaps this now has you thinking too.

"And if we follow our dear sun to where the stars are not familiar.
Faces turn to numbers, numbers fall like manna from the sky.
Why, oh why? Oh Father, why?
One village in Malawi now has water running pure and clean.
One church alive in Kenya's full of truth and love and medicine.
We put the walls up, but Jesus keeps them standing.
He doesn't need us, but He lets us put our hands in.
So we can see, His love is bigger than you and me.

And we all can feel the calling,
to make the world a little smaller.
And so a girl got on a plane,
for two weeks in Africa." - Caedmon's Call

It's been almost two weeks now; and I praise God that in all actuality, this journey is just beginning. I think when most people come to Africa, it is for a short term mission. Just long enough to get them to ask the important questions. But I'm hoping that by being here for 6 months, I might start to find the important answers as well.

1 comment:

  1. Annika, this story is heartbreaking, and it is incredible. At Ada this past week we had a sermon about Ishmael. So fitting. I will continue to pray for you, I will pray that you find your Isaac. I will pray for God's work to be evident in your lives and the lives of those around you. God bless!