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Amid despair of AIDS crisis, hunger relief offers help, hope

SWEETWATERS, South Africa (BP)–When Caroline came to the door, she rejoiced as she saw the bags of food brought by volunteers from a nearby South African church’s Itemba Ministry.

“We slept hungry last night. I prayed to Jesus to send food and here you are.”

Team leader Syvion Myeni and International Mission Board missionary Charles Taylor loaded her arms with a month of provisions, as Caroline said repeatedly, “Thank you, Jesus.” Joyfully she returned to the house and began boiling water to cook a bag of beans.

A widow raising five children and grandchildren with no government support, Caroline is dependent on Itemba’s “Bread of Life” outreach. Itemba, meaning “Hope” in the Zulu language, employs eight employees and operates as a ministry arm of Hilton Baptist Church.

Itemba aids families in the Sweetwaters area of South Africa’s KwaZuluNatal province with $20,000 in funding from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund. The two-year project currently is providing about 420 people from 75 families with monthly food parcels.

Much of the ministry is to the orphans and child-led households in this unincorporated township of over 100,000 people. Sweetwaters is replete with obvious poverty, hopelessness and unemployment. And the specter of rampant AIDS is evident in the hundreds of fresh graves in the yards of homes. During one recent week, 88 residents of Sweetwaters died of AIDS-related complications.

“We believe there are over 1,000 child-led households in Sweetwaters,” Taylor says. “This is due to the devastation of the AIDS crisis. It is estimated that over 40 percent of the population is HIV-positive.”

Itemba’s ministry to hurting families begins with food; as Myeni points out, “It’s hard to communicate the Gospel to a hungry person. Get food for them and then you can talk about Jesus.”

In addition to the food ministry, Myeni leads weekly Bible clubs throughout the neighborhoods. Children may come for the refreshments and games but always receive the Gospel message from Myeni, a native of Swaziland who speaks four languages.

The monthly parcels allow the children to remain in school instead of being out begging for handouts or money. The food also allows family members to take in orphaned children. Many of the needy families are led by grandmothers, or “GoGos” as they are known in the Zulu language.

During his visit to Sweetwaters, Taylor described how Southern Baptists undergird the food distribution effort. “This vehicle, a Toyota Condor, takes us into the difficult terrain of this area. The truck was purchased through Lottie Moon [Christmas Offering] funds and allows us to minister in inaccessible places.

And food provided through the World Hunger Fund “allows us access into the homes and hearts of the people,” he recounts.

Taylor’s wife Robin handles the coordination of the project to ensure that proper accountability is in place.

Myeni and his wife Zandele are newlyweds who are committed to the people of Sweetwaters. Myeni came to the province to attend Bible college and found both a home and a wife who is a native of the Sweetwaters area. One of 33 children (her father, who has five wives, lives nearby), Zandele’s Christian marriage is a strong witness to her community and family.

Taylor, envisioning long-term goals for ministry in Sweetwaters, says, “We won’t always be here, but through mentoring Syvion Myeni and others like him, the Gospel and the good deeds that go with it, will continue.”
Curt Iles, on the Web at www.creekbank.net, is a writer and speaker living in his hometown of Dry Creek, La. The latest of his six books is a historical novel titled “The Wayfaring Stranger.”

Undesignated donations given to the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund will be distributed 80 percent to international and 20 percent to domestic hunger relief projects. Designated gifts will be used as specified.

Contributions can be made through a local Southern Baptist church, a Baptist state convention, the North American Mission Board, 4200 North Point Parkway, Alpharetta, GA 30022 (www.namb.net), the International Mission Board, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230 (www.imb.org) or the SBC Executive Committee, 901 Commerce Street, Nashville, TN 37203 (www.sbc.net).

Visit www.worldhungerfund.com to learn more about how you can help with world hunger relief initiatives.

    About the Author

  • Curt Iles