"Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny. Whom have I in heaven, but you? I desire you more than anything on earth. My health may fail and my spirit grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever." ~Psalms 73:23-26
When I got on the connecting flight from Detroit to Amsterdam, I was visibly shaking. Call it nerves or fears, but I know I had a the heartbeat of a hummingbird at that point. I was worrying about a million different things that could go wrong on this trip. I was also about to put an ocean between me and the security and comfort provided by home. Doubts about why I was on this trip, and what was in store for me still plagued me as I boarded the flight.
During the flight, I pulled out my Bible. I started reading and came across this scripture. It really gave me the comfort and reassurance I needed. If I relied on God's strength, he would take care of me. No matter what would happen, I had God. Nothing could change that. All I had to do was just to seek God, give him my fears, and take that first step. Right before I was saved, I remember having that same feeling of fear and anxiety. Stepping out of the pew seemed like the biggest obstacle at the time for me. I think it was my Mom who saw me crying, bent down, and told me that if I took the first step God would get me down the aisle. And, he did.
The fears I had on the plane weren't the only ones I've had. There have been a great many since I arrived in South Africa. Through prayer and trusting in God, I have been able to overcome each one. Taking that first step, the leap of faith, always feels like the hardest thing. But looking back, if I had let those fears immobilize me and turned back at the airport, I wouldn't have been able to enjoy the incredible experience God had in store for me here. If I had tried to rely on my own strength, and not God's, who knows what fears I would've let paralyze me. Actually, I might still be in WV.
Instead, I've been here for a month now. I have one more week at the clinic, and then on August 1st, I go to Pretoria to stay for the remaining week with a family. There I'll be working in local elementary schools with some of the teachers. That's about all I know so far. I fly out on the 9th. It's gone by so fast. I'm writing all this now because, once again, I don't know when I'll have Internet access again.
The things God has taught me here are innumerable: trust, compassion, patience, strength, courage. .. my relationship with God has grown stronger. Saying that I feel blessed doesn't seem to encompass everything God has done for me here. Having the opportunity to work here and serve these people has been a privilege. All of the staff seem to have ministered me in one way or another while I've been here.
Just last week during morning devotion, Dr. Margie Hardman, the medical director and founder of ACTS, was in tears. She had been given a notice that a mistake had been made, and ACTS now owed the government R1,500,000 ($200,000+) for lab testing. This was a blow to the clinic. At the last monthly meeting, it had been made known they were already over budget. Previously, there had been an agreement that the government would cover all testing costs. With it now gone, she was in a state of despair and exhaustion.
Another thing I learned while I was here is that each member of the staff is constantly fighting. They battle with the politics of the country, with 'traditional' medicine in the community, misinformation among the people, and many make their patients' battle with the disease theirs. Others are actually battling AIDS themselves as well. So, they constantly are being drained emotionally, phyisically, and spiritually. However, to see that they rely on God alone for strength to go on is inspiring.
Dr. Margie, though in tears, was asking for the staff as a whole to pray that ACTS would be provided with the money it needed. She had been disheartened, but then you heard 40+ people begin to fervently pray for this need. Other staff members went over to her to give her support. Not only were they placing their trust in God for this huge need, but they were lifting each other up as well. Seeing how they put full trust in God and supported one another, I understood why this clinic has been so successful.
Though they're still in negotiations with the government and their sponsors, the sponsors have let the administrators know they're willing to cover the costs. When you trust in God, he provides. It was incredible (I'm at a loss for new adjectives to replace amazing, great, awesome, etc.).
So who knows what this last week will show me. Lately, I've been working on an information booklet and shadowing doctors in the children's ward. Last week I literally had kids climbing all over me. One girl in particular was latching on to my leg, my arm. . .my ankle. She was a beautiful and energetic little girl who proved to be a handful in the waiting room. However, some people might be afraid to be near her if they knew what she was being treated for.
In America, people with AIDS are generally shunned. Modern day lepers is what we've made out of them. I didn't realize how deeply seeded this fear was until the first day. I went to take the pulse of a man who was HIV+ and paused. The fear of contracting AIDS flew threw my head. I was actually afraid to touch his arm. It was an absurd thought. Everything I'd been taught told me it was impossible. But, I still had that hesitation. Of course, I recovered and took his vitals, but I was so ashamed that I had a moment's hesitation.
I put myself in his shoes. What would it feel like to feel like people were afraid to be around me or give me a hug or even a handshake? Living with a disease like that is hard enough, but to be isolated from society would be incredibly hard as well. The epidemic of AIDS has been aided not only by misinformation, but by the fear of those who have the disease to let others know. Their fear is a direct result of the way our society treats people who have HIV/AIDS which is caused by our fears. Our fear for our own wellbeing gets in the way of our concern for another's. Remember the dying woman who was 'buried alive?' What about the neighbors who wouldn't step in as a caretaker? Thinking of that brings to mind all of the lessons charging Christians with the responsibility of taking care of the poor, the widows, our brother's keeper . .. etc. Another lesson I learned firsthand.
I'll be going out into the community again shadowing doctors for the next two days. Please be in prayer for the staff and patients of ACTS. Thank you for all of your prayers and comments. They're great, and I love reading them. If you don't hear from me again, I'll see you in two weeks!