Friday, March 16, 2007

Living Hope - part 1

I’ve recently returned from Cape Town, South Africa, in what was one of the most unusual and probably best experiences of my life. It is implicitly clear that I have no idea how to accurately and concisely describe my trip which is difficult when most of the people who ask about the trip offer only a few moments attention. I say this without criticism but with sympathy as I know how life can be. Rather than formulating a two minute speech, I have decided to write my thoughts down and publish them through this blog to any of you who care to know more about the trip. I know my blogs can be quite long and I have decided to break this up into four or so blogs, this being the first, for the sake of you, the friend and reader.

I’m not going to break down the trip’s details day by day, I’m going to keep my reflections at a limit but if you are curious, I would highly encourage you to check out my team’s blog, It contains daily posts from the trip by people other than myself with views and voices of their own and entries of a more manageable length than my own. Plus, there are loads of sweet pictures that will give better visual aid than my own as I’m still stubborn and shot mostly film rather than digital; anyone have a scanner? AND people are still posting their various after thoughts, including our Zulu speaking driver Mandy who has recently joined in the fun. There is also information there about our church’s chapter of the Mocha Club. $7 a month is changing lives in Africa and I encourage you to please, please read what they are all about. Please.

Before I continue, I want to say one thing. I know that there is a growing stigma about Africa, especially in the culturally hip circles of the world, that it is the “in” place to be concerned and passionate about right now. I’ve heard people express their indifference to Africa as if it were the new Ashley Simpson record due to the celebrity attention (the majority of Africans don’t know where Malawi is but most Americans do) but it is dangerous to turn away. The need is real, it is great, our capacity to affect change is real, and above all, the charge of the Gospel of Christ is real. The gospel, however, is much bigger than Africa as China and India represent much larger mission fields with their own humanitarian and spiritual needs, not to mention the Americas and Europe. The entire planet aches for the loss that is our separation from God and I pray we see global missions through the same lens we view our neighbors through.

I went to Africa because a series of events over the last few years from college courses to personal experience placed Africa in my heart and the ever pressing need to see it in an attempt to understand. I struggled with the cost, wondering if the money would be better spent on things other than my trip but I am now convinced otherwise. The poor and sick need advocacy and seeing it first hand will change the way you care for the people there. Period. Every Christian needs to do missions in a strange place as it will give you perspective for even local missions that your pastor can never give you. More than this, it is a commandment to all Christians to be missionaries. That doesn’t mean you have to go out of the country to be obedient but it is a reminder that Jesus the carpenter built His church without walls and our ministry must reflect this. Now to South Africa.

The United Nations cited HIV/AIDS as the single greatest humanitarian threat in the world today. The epidemic is spreading rapidly throughout Asia, South America, Europe, and Russia but in no place is the issue as pressing as Africa. The continent is huge but one thing unites the dozens of nations together in a unique way from the rest of the world. African nations have long been the victims of European colonialists and as mostly independent nations in the present day, the entire continent is still rife with civil wars and drastically underdeveloped infrastructure as natives fight each other for a piece of the power and land they’ve long been deprived. While other parts of the world possess the resources to fight the spread of AIDS and are doing so quite well, Africa is decades behind in the fight which is why so much attention is given there over other places around the world though the UN addresses HIV/AIDS on every continent.

South Africa is one of the only first world nations on all the continent though most places in the country would indicate the third world is quite alive and well. Twenty percent of South Africans have HIV/AIDS meaning certain populations such as the people of Swaziland in the east have a 60% rate of infection. Imagine three out of five people in your local community with a chronic disease from which they will certainly die. The greater Cape Town area has a 25% infection average. Hundreds of thousands of people live in the squatter camps in Cape Town, some stretching over the visible horizon, entire cities unto themselves. Small tin shanties packed with people cover the city, containing the majority of the city’s HIV positive, ranging anywhere from 25-60% depending on the size of the community. The smaller the camp, the more sharing of partners and the higher rate of infection. Most HIV positive South Africans have tuberculosis as well, due to poor health and close living conditions. All of these numbers are based on known cases, not speculation, indicating the problem is probably much worse.

A South African cannot get a job if they are HIV positive. This means two things: first, unemployment is extremely high as it is in any poverty stricken area and second, most infected don’t tell anyone they have HIV, even their partners. Many don’t know they have it and those that do live in silence. The government has taken a stance of denial since the start of President Thabo Mbeki’s time in office due to poor advising concerning the relationship between HIV and AIDS and because at the end of the day, no one dies from AIDS, they die from TB, hepatitis, or even a cold contracted because they have AIDS. The climate in South Africa, despite its better infrastructure, puts the epidemic in much more of a crisis state than other African nations which are addressing the epidemic with much more success. Uganda is a shining example of this.

In the middle of all this is Living Hope, the organization my mission team worked with. My next blog will deal with Living Hope, their mission, and what we did while working with them. Thank you for reading so far and please check out the rest of the posts. Blessings!