SANYATI, Zimbabwe (BP)–The elderly woman sits in silence just outside the hospital’s open door. The electricity is off, but she doesn’t notice the darkness.
For the past few days this elderly woman sat next to her daughter, holding her hand, coaxing her to eat. When the daughter shivered from burning fever, she added an extra blanket. As visitors came and went, the mother made sure everyone greeted her daughter, even after she was comatose.
When the room filled with the sickening, sweet smell of death, everyone left but the mother. Still smiling. Still hoping.
In the hallways of Zimbabwe’s Sanyati Baptist Hospital, no one dares to mention the cause of this death. But knowing and experienced eyes speak. Here it is called “slimming disease.” AIDS.
Most do not know how or when they caught the virus. Many never know they have it. And many who do know don’t tell. Doctors and obituaries don’t name it as a cause of death.
AIDS in Africa bears little resemblance to the disease in America. It does not just affect individuals, but entire societies. Few families remain untouched.
Thirteen million Africans have already died of AIDS. Ten million more are expected to die within the next five years.
In Kenya, where one in seven people is HIV-positive, the list of the dead grows by 500 a day. In Zimbabwe, nearly one in three people carry the disease; in Botswana, it is one in four.
On a continent ravaged by wars and mired in poverty, AIDS is wiping out much of a generation. Families are being destroyed and the most educated and skilled workers in the history of the continent are being cut down in their prime.
It is estimated that, due to AIDS, sub-Saharan Africa will have 71 million fewer people by 2010 than it would have. United Nations AIDS statistics project that by the year 2010 there will be 40 million AIDS orphans in Africa alone.
In 20 years, AIDS has killed 22 million people worldwide — most without a knowledge of Christ. AIDS sufferers urgently need to hear the good news of God’s love and forgiveness.
Chaplain Philemon Satiya counsels hundreds of them each week. “By the time I see the patients, most are already wondering about life and death,” he says.
“Most pray to receive Jesus Christ as their Savior. Even though it’s too late for them to physically survive, it’s never too late for God to welcome another child into his kingdom.”
Last year Philemon prayed with more than 740 people to receive Christ. “We have to leave this in God’s hands,” he says. “No one knows how AIDS will end. But we do know that God is in control and through him, we always have hope.”
Hope is what Zacchaeus has found.
His sunken, tightly drawn face is identical to most AIDS victims, but there’s something different about him. Zacchaeus has a contagious smile that never ceases.
He doesn’t sit around and think about death. He walks around talking and singing about life.
“Sure, maybe it is my fault that I have it,” he says. “But you know, God doesn’t look around and see if you have one leg or two. He wants you as you are.”
God is Zacchaeus’ strength and hope.
“God has rules,” Zacchaeus says. “If you follow them you don’t get AIDS.”
AIDS education is on the rise — in the schools, on the radio and television. As the next generation learns about prevention, Christians join the crusade with True Love Waits campaigns teaching “God’s rules.”
It is going to take a miracle, but God can work miracles — and his children can pray and work.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: AT DEATH’S DOOR.
— Compelling on-line video: http://www.tconline.org/Stories/July01/aidsvid.html.
— Africa AIDS photos: http://www.tconline.org/Stories/July01/aids1.html.
— A full-color map tells the story of AIDS in Africa: http://www.tconline.org/Stories/July01/map2.html.
— True Love Waits resources for teens, parents and leaders: http://www.lifeway.com/tlw.
— Read about a True Love Waits project in Zimbabwe: http://www.imb.org/southern-africa/true_love_waits.htm.
— Free 14-day prayer guide on the Africa AIDS crisis: http://www.imb.org/resources.
— Free Africa prayer map: http://www.imb.org/resources.
— 2001 PRAY — a worldwide prayer movement for Africa: http://2001pray.org/home.htm.