Journal of Applied Missiology, Volume 7, Number 2

An Intern and AIDS

Janet Allison

"Can you take me to visit an AIDS victim?" she asked me. At the time, I did not know any AIDS victims personally; and I told her so. What I did not tell her was that I thought she had a rather morbid interest in a very sensitive topic. However, I did not realize how involved I would become with the family of an AIDS victim as a result of that question.

Heather Wilson was one of our interns from Harding University for the summer. I think what prompted her question was a research project she was to do for credit for some class. However, her caring heart soon became apparent.

One afternoon, a few days after Heather's question, she, Michele Van Rheenen, who was another one of our interns that summer, and I were walking the six-mile hike with some Sabaot ladies to a women's meeting. As we walked, the Sabaot women were conversing animatedly, as I alternately tried to participate with them as well as explain some to things to Michele, while struggling to take in adequate oxygen for the brisk pace at over 7000 feet altitude. Suddenly I realized that my Sabaot sisters were discussing a man who had acquired AIDS while working in Mombasa and had come home to die.

"Where does he live?" I asked during a lull in the conversation.

"He lives on Latebo's place", they told me. I was delighted when I realized that he was only about a mile from our home. Perhaps, I would be able to grant Heather's request, after all.

As the conversation progressed, I was appalled to learn that this man was completely ostracized, because people feared to touch him, to stand in his presence, or to even step on his compound. I began to realize that, not only was I going to be able to give an intern a unique experience, I felt a great burden to begin an educational campaign to teach Christians how they can minister to an AIDS victim and his family.

A couple of days later, Heather and I stopped by David's house on the way to visit one of the famous Elgon caves. Heather had a list of interview questions, and David was cooperative about answering them, in spite of the fact that we were complete strangers. He told us that he had gotten involved with prostitutes while he was in Mombasa, and he described about how the disease had progressed. As I translated his answers to English, Heather recorded them in her notebook. Before continuing on our hike, we encouraged David and his wife Fanis to turn to the Lord, prayed with them, and assured them we would return soon. Not knowing the Sabaot language, Heather was not able to say much. However, in the limited Swahili she had quickly acquired during her time in Kenya, she adequately expressed her love and concern for a human being in distress.

Not long after that, we arranged for the Kapkirwok church to visit David and Fanis and have a prayer meeting on their compound. This was a result of a campaign my husband Fielden and I conducted teaching, discussing, and showing videos on the subject of AIDS. We had tried to warn of the dangers of certain practices and to alleviate groundless fears the people had accumulated.

We continued to visit this family whenever possible, assuring David that forgiveness was available in Jesus Christ and begging him to be baptized before it was too late. He always put us off saying he would when he felt stronger, though we dept reminding him that he would not get stronger.

Heather had returned to Harding University at the end of the summer, but whenever she wrote, she asked how David was doing and if he had been baptized. One day I had to write to inform her that David died without having put on Christ. Christians buried him and comforted his wife and six children. No family members or friends were present for fear, not only of the deadly disease, but also of malignant spirits.

We continued to visit Fanis encouraging and helping in any way we could. She came to many worship services and women's meetings. Finally, one day, I was able to write Heather and tell her that Fanis had been baptized. Her sisters in Christ have rallied round her to encourage her to leave beer drinking, which had been her way of coping with life's problems.

As we strive to teach, we are often taught by our students. Interns come to us in the summer for training, but often open our eyes to new areas of ministry. Heather's innocent question about a morbid subject led to the conversion of a troubled woman and a new opportunity for growth and service for the Sabaot Christians.


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