MMAMETLHAKE, South Africa (BP)–People are beginning to see hope amid the ravages of HIV/AIDS in the South African village of Mmametlhake and surrounding areas through the Mmametlhake Family Care Centre.
“I didn’t know that the center was going to be so important,” said Bethuel Motau, director of the outreach that not only tends to HIV/AIDS victims but also shares the Gospel. “We have been able to make a big impact on the people.”
Texas Southern Baptists played a crucial role in the founding of the center. Also, proceeds from the SBTC’s 5K “Race Against Time” last November in Austin went to the ministry in a country with more than 5 million HIV-infected people.
The center began in 2003 as a vision by two men, Andy Wilkinson, a former member of First Baptist Church in Grapevine, Texas, and Motau. Offering a variety of services, the center reaches people from as far as 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) in any direction from Mmametlhake.
The center provides caregivers who have been trained to tend to people with HIV/AIDS; counselors who work with the families of the infected; HIV education programs, which include an emphasis on the importance of building strong family ties; and a jobs program in which the center is working to launch a lab where people will be able to develop computer skills.
Wilkinson’s and Motau’s paths crossed in 2002 and they quickly formed a close relationship when Wilkinson, a former petroleum engineer, went on a mission trip to South Africa to help drill water wells with the Grapevine congregation.
“Andy was very passionate about the HIV situation there and what we as Christians can do about it,” said Jack Harris, a senior associate in the evangelism office of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention who was then FBC Grapevine’s executive pastor.
Wilkinson, who recounts having had a heart for missions since the age of 10, went on a mission trip to Botswana in 1995, at which point he decided that he wanted to be involved in Africa when he retired.
After his visit to South Africa in 2002, he decided to put his oil business and his house in Southlake, Texas, up for sale. He and his wife Gay then applied to the International Mission Board and spent two years in Mmametlhake.
To support the center, Wilkinson began the nonprofit Foundation for HIV/AIDS Relief in South Africa. He now resides in Colorado but remains heavily involved in the ministry, usually taking three trips a year to Mmametlhake.
“We want the Lord to raise up men like Andy,” Motau said, “who see things through the eyes of the Lord. He has encouraged me, built me spiritually and even helped fix my car.”
Motau’s labors for the Gospel begin on a typical day when he and his wife Monica wake up at 4 a.m. He says he musters just enough strength and motivation for his 60-year-old feet to touch the ground.
“Sometimes in the morning I hurt,” said Motau, who has been a pastor in central South Africa since 1982. “But it is the joy of the Lord that gets me out of bed.”
The two listen to a local Christian radio program as they sit down at the breakfast table. Afterward eating, they pray for the church and their community.
The phone calls come as early as 5:30 a.m., often requesting Motau’s presence at the bedside of an HIV/AIDS carrier.
“When somebody is sick, they need someone there next to them … a shoulder,” Motau said. “I try to be available as much as I can.”
At 8 a.m. he arrives at the Mmametlhake Family Care Centre — unless he is called to visit a local chief or speak to youth in a school about HIV/AIDS as well as the Gospel. He stays at the center until 5 p.m. before extending his workday by an hour or more to make another stop to visit an ill person or a grieving family.
“The more I see people coming to the Lord, the more it’s my passion,” Motau said. “There is a joy sharing about Christ, even to someone who is about to die.”
Unfortunately for the ministry and for country’s population, the rate of infection is still above the death rate for the epidemic.
“In South Africa, 1,800 people are dying a day,” Wilkinson noted, “and still 2,000 a day are becoming positive with HIV. That means the epidemic hasn’t even peaked.”
Of the 5 million people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, only 50,000 are receiving substantive treatment, he said.
“There is no hope on the horizon that the masses of people will be saved [from HIV/AIDS]. That’s our strong push for evangelism,” said Wilkinson, noting that the Gospel message is becoming more prominent within the region.
The majority of the workers at the center are born-again Christians. Motau is in charge of five other pastors whom he sends out to minister to area residents.
Christians are beginning to be noticed and associated with healthy living, which Motau said has caused many people in the area to want the hope he and the other workers at the care center demonstrate.
There has been a change in the relationship between South Africa’s government and culture with Christians as well, Motau said.
“One school system is begging for a pastor to come into the school and present True Love Waits to the students,” Wilkinson said, referencing the global abstinence program initiated by Southern Baptists in the 1990s.
“The principal is not a Christian, but he wants them to start a Christian youth movement in the school,” Wilkinson said.
The South African government has tried to implement contraceptive programs to weaken the rate of infection, but they have only incurred more infections, Wilkinson said. People are now finding that in the areas where family morals and programs such as True Love Waits are presented, the rate of infection has declined, Wilkinson noted.
“People are responding well because they are desperate,” said Motau, who recently was invited by an HIV-positive tribal chief to share about HIV and about Christ in his village.
The SBTC’s 5K race in Austin last year raised $13,400 to help pay the salaries of the center’s workers and meet other monthly needs there. The monthly budget for the center is around $3,000, Wilkinson said.
Currently the center is planning to add a computer-training area. Also, they would like to create a hospice-type environment for patients and families suffering from AIDS.
This article first appeared in the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.