Jon and Dawn Barnes - South Africa
She wore pearl earrings. Not just any pearls, but BIG pearl earrings. She wore them every time I visited her. They were part of her personality... part of her sweet spirit. And I visited her many times, in her home, in the TB (tuberculosis) hospital and in the public hospital. On my last visit with her, she was not wearing her pearl earrings. I knew then that her time here on this earth was coming to and end. She died the following day. Is it not amazing what we learn about people when we know them well... even what we learn from pearl earrings?
"Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy." Proverbs 31:8-9
Buli was a patient at the Samaritan Care Centre in East London, South Africa. The Samaritan Care Centre is providing home based care and an inpatient unit to those who are terminally ill (mainly those infected with HIV). Buli had TB and was HIV+. She spent her last days of this life fighting against these killer diseases at the centre and then at the public hospital. It was not a pretty fight either, it was a nasty fight. Enough said. But Buli was a woman of beauty; she donned an amazing smile, a sweet spirit and her BIG pearl earrings. She was not simply a client, patient or another TB/HIV statistic. She was a child of God. She was a daughter, a sister, a mother, aunt and a grandmother. She will be sorely missed.
You may ask, "Why do you share this story with me?' or "We hear these terrible stories all the time, what makes this one any different?" Well...Buli reminded me that we all have a job to do, we as Christians especially. I recently attended the Third Annual South African AIDS Conference and the AGM (annual general meeting) of the Hospice and Palliative Care Association (HPCA). And there was a theme at both of these meetings that reminded me of this job. Proverbs also speaks to this by telling us that we are to defend the rights of the poor, needy and destitute.
HIV and AIDS, as well as its not too far behind competitor TB, are leading killers in Sub Saharan Africa. I see HIV everyday. I feel the effect of AIDS everyday and I hear TB in the people that I work with. And everyday, I fight against these killers by helping to defend the poor, oppressed, abused, needy and destitute brothers and sisters here in South Africa. And I do this only by the grace of God and with the support, love and prayers of each of you Disciples and UCC who support us as missionaries. But, I feel there is much that you can do in the United States as well. And I wanted to give you some hands on suggestions to check out for yourselves as well as for your congregations.
Some suggestions are:
- Include prayers for those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS in your daily devotions and in your congregation every Sunday.
- Find out what is happening in your local communities surrounding HIV/AIDS and find out how you can assist or get involved.
- Have an information session on HIV/AIDS for your children, youth, young adults, senior adults, mission committees, congregations, and/or outreach ministries about HIV/AIDS. Help others know what an impact HIV/AIDS is having on our world. (Information can be obtained on the web or from your local HIV/AIDS organizations, or from the Health Department)
- Contact or view the website for Global Ministries (http://globalministries.org/) to find out how both the Disciples and UCC are assisting partners around the world in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Maybe your congregation can take on one of these projects to support.
- Keep up to date on the latest news of HIV/AIDS so that you, your children and your family can be healthy and safe but also to help others be accurately informed.
- Join Church World Service (http://www.churchworldservice.org/) or Amnesty International (http://www.takeaction.amnestyusa.org/ ) to receive updates on issues that are happening world wide and how you can help.
- Be informed of what the US government is putting into policies and legislation and how this affects others worldwide. Writing letters to your local, state and national government is a very effective means to let your voice be heard.
- Find out what is happening in pharmaceutical companies and policies that affect the HIV/AIDS epidemic and what you can do to ensure that the needy and destitute receive the medications that they so desperately need.
We all have a job to do...a role to play. When I see pearl earrings, I will always be reminded of Buli, but also of the job still to be done in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
Revs. Jon and Dawn Barnes
Jonathan and Dawn Barnes are missionaries with the Kei Regional Council of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa, South Africa. They serve as development officers in the Kei region of the Eastern Cape of South Africa.