Paula had the extreme privilege of flying to Joburg to attend the NFI southern Africa forum on the churches' response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in our nations. She was one of 30 people in attendance. Many run reasonably well established, thriving projects, either as part of their church response to the pandemic or as projects attached to a body of local churches, and others were there (like Paula) representing small new beginnings of HIV/AIDS work. It was an exciting, humbling, challenging time and she came back with a sense that she had been privileged to be involved at the beginning of something terribly significant for the church. It was exciting to be involved in debate and setting strategy for the next 3 years at the very least.
Key messages to go back to our churches are that we must not treat HIV like apartheid. It is true to say that whether we like it or not, every one of us in southern Africa is daily touching the lives of a person either infected or affected by HIV and we as the church must respond. We must all start with what we've got, where we are and build from there. Our aim is to build centres of excellence in HIV/AIDS work and then with a mission mentality, go and replicate things that are working really well. NFI had a key prophetic word a few years ago that "we can and will do more together than apart" and we believe that this is particularly key in the sphere of HIV/AIDS work.
It was particularly thrilling for Paula to meet up with an old friend from Zimbabwe who is now fully involved in the home based care and medical work which was birthed from our church in Westgate. How wonderful to learn that CEDAR, which started with 4 untrained church leaders' wives in 2002 now has branches in 67 sites all over Zim. How great is our God, we would never have had the faith to believe this! God is granting them such favour in that difficult nation. It was also humbling to hear news from Zambians who are doing incredible HIV/AIDS related work, often in the middle of nowhere, with no real financial support. Their beauty as people and love and compassion for the hopeless is inspirational. On top of this we heard of other home based care projects; ministry to prisoners; peer education work in high schools and primary schools; work with street children and orphans - the list goes on and on.
During the 48 hours Gary Welsh inspired us with the story of Jesus and the blind man in Luke 5. We must all keep going, just as Jesus did. It is no good thinking that we are not making a difference or that the need is too huge. Jesus never gave up. We must also take the opportunity to take the gospel into hopeless situations as the heart of all that we do. The biggest need in southern Africa is actually SALVATION! We were also encouraged to become praying communities and individuals, just as Jesus so often withdrew to be alone to pray.
It was particularly useful to spend a morning with the TEARFund rep for southern Africa who talked to us about what they are looking for in partners to support. It was good to discuss and pull apart tricky questions such as how can we help people without taking away what they can do for themselves and making them helpless. Also how to take an excellent model of work and culturally adapt it. Do short-term international teams do more harm than good? Perhaps teams should come out short-term specifically to minister to the carers? All of this was real food for the brain as well as the heart!
So, we now await the arrival of the new strategy document and the response from the local churches to it. In the meantime, we will all get on with our work and seek to do so excellently, trusting God for big things because, as in the story of Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, together we are doing a good thing despite still being able to see all the gaps and things that are missing.
Our dear Dr friend Rutendo from Zim
Binwell from Zambia sharing about their HIV/AIDS work