Wednesday, February 13, 2008

God, how can i impact Zambia?

since we've arrived in austin i've been looking for opportunities to plug in and get connected at our new church. when i heard about the opportunity to serve at world vision's impact AIDS exhibit on gateway's campus i decided to sign up.

i visited the exhibit friday night so that i could have some time to absorb it, and i'm really glad that i did. a quick overview: this is an interactive exhibit. you walk through a large tent wearing a headset which takes you on one of three paths on the journey of one of three children affected by HIV/AIDS. friday night i experienced olivia's story. olivia is a 17 year old young woman who became pregnant after being raped. she contracted HIV and became pregnant again after being raped a second time.

one of the most startling facts that i learned friday was that many africans believe that having sex with a virgin will cure AIDS. this is why education is so important in stopping the spread of AIDS! this was just one of many myths that is actually perpetuating the spreading of HIV/AIDS instead of stopping it. this issue is so complex. i am so grateful that God laid it on my heart to take the time to sit down and learn the facts!

sunday morning i walked in the shoes of little 7 year old beatrice. i listened as beatrice's older sister, who was HIV positive, went into labor and delivered a baby girl: miriam. my nostils filled with the smell of burlap as i stood listening to her tiny newborn baby cry, imagining myself there in the room with them. then something goes wrong. beatrice's sister has died. i soon learn that because her sister was HIV positive none of their relatives will care for the baby. beatrice can't just let that baby be left out to die, so she takes little miriam and for two years the two somehow survive before receiving aid. i truly don't understand how they survived. to be honest i believe it was nothing short of a miracle.

after walking through beatrice's story i volunteered to work in the health clinic. in the exhibit at the end of your journey through each of the stories you arrive in the health clinic to find out if you have contracted HIV. after waiting in the waiting room you approach the window, state your name and receive your test results: positive or negative. i was the one who stamped your hand. you can see photographs of the exhibit (including a couple pictures of me working in the health clinic) on the austin american-statesman newspaper's website. the photographer ralph barrera did an amazing job capturing the experience in photographs.

i was amazed, after some reflection, that even the simple act of doling out a stamp was impactful to me. at first i would say "please state your name". half of the time the visitor would state their own name and i would have to point to their headset and say "no, your character's name". then i realized something. something profound. these were not simply characters. these were real people.

i was also impacted by peoples' reactions to getting their stamp/diagnosis. two of the stories ended in a negative diagnosis; one in a positive. i could tell that not too many people were totally immersed in the story they were following. they were just observing. listening to a story of a "character". i know that's how i went through the first time. i also think it's something we sometimes have to do to protect ourselves emotionally, otherwise it's too painful. it's a protective mechanism. i did see a few people who looked wholly disappointed when they got the big red plus sign on the back of their hand. often they would shake their heads, but not as if to say i'm sad that I have AIDS. it was always a "that's too bad for her" reaction. finally instead of saying "thank you" i started saying "i'm sorry".

the other reactions that really touched me were when i would stamp the back of a person's hand with the black negative sign and they would take a deep breath, a sigh of relief, and their shoulders would relax. that was powerful to me. to see people empathizing with these young people. they're half a world away, but by seeing the AIDS crisis through one pair of eyes instead of just looking at a staggering and unimaginable statistic it brought it home... for them and for me.

after working in the health clinic for a few hours, i headed in for sunday morning service. i was able to catch the end of worship. the message (like they planned it or something) was about serving. at first i was very encouraged. john was sharing some great verses. i'm salt, i'm light, i'm going to feed the hungry, i'm going to visit the prisoners, i have power from the Holy Spirit...

...and then i started becoming overwhelmed by the great need. a need too large for me to bear emotionally. millions are dying every year of starvation and disease. there are thousands in our own country who are in severe poverty. we have it sooooo good. what can i do? what can little ol' me really do to make any kind of impact at all? would it even do any good?

then i remembered something someone told me in the tent. you can make a difference to one. even if i only make one person's life better, i've made one person's life better. a human being. someone who deserves to have their life made better. someone who deserves love.

i took a moment and prayed right then and there: God, what can i do? what should i do? (see the note i wrote to myself during church)

as i listened to the remainder of the message God answered me. "feed the hungry" he told me. gateway is working on putting together some kits to be sent to africa. i can do that. an announcement was made that there will be a mission trip to Zambia in june. i don't know how that fits me and my life right now Lord, but i will pray about it and watch for an opportunity.

john reminded us about the opportunity to sponsor a child through world vision. dave and i have been sponsoring jhonathan from bolivia through food for the hungry for years now and have been so blessed by him, seeing him grow and receiving his letters. in his last letter he asked us when we were going to come and visit. wouldn't that be amazing?

during service i heard the story of one man and his wife who adopted 56 children. no, not sponsoring them from a distance. real life adopting. can you imagine it?

i left church feeling a heavy weight on my shoulders, but also knowing that God would guide me and help me carry that load. in a way i was honored to have it. how will God use me to bless others? isn't it exciting to think about the fact that we get to be a part of what He's doing?!?!

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so monday night i'm sitting at the kitchen table having dinner with jonah when dave hands me a letter from our friend brandi. i open it and what's this? brandi is going on a missions trip. can you guess where she's going? i'll give one guess. if you guessed Zambia you'd be correct! (if you don't understand the crazy God-incendenceness of this please refer to four paragraphs up.)

but wait. that's not the best part. i asked dave to pray about how much we should give and God revealed something to both of us at the same time... our old church christ community is just wrapping up their imagine campaign. it began the week of Faith's birth (march of 2005) and went for three years. so if you do the math, that means the weekly amount we had pledged to imagine is now freed up for other things... say to support a mission trip to Zambia! (i can't believe Faith is going to be 3 in less than a month, btw).

wow God. i don't even have the words to express my awe and amazement. i'm speechless actually.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

I was so encouraged by an email Brandi sent our sharing my story with some friends. At the end of her introduction she said "If I had any doubt that this is where God wants me to go, this message will eliminate that."

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11