Friday, December 19, 2008

Holiday of Hope

An entire generation is being wiped out…this is what South Africa is facing as it remains on the top of the list in the world for number of people infected with HIV/AIDS. The current figure is just under 6 million infected country-wide (in a population of 46 million) and the AIDS-related deaths in South Africa as of noon on December 3rd was nearly 2.7 million. It is said that there are between 1,500-2,000 AIDS-related deaths per day in the country in addition to hundreds of new infections. The generation of those between the ages of 25-40 are most devastated by this disease, and children become orphaned on an astronomical scale (of which some of these children were born infected). Many children are then left to be raised by the older generation, including grandparents and other elders and people in the community (typically on their pensioner salary). On a TV program the other day an elderly woman said that she had lost all 5 of her grown children to HIV/AIDS and had taken in 8 children she heard about in the area that were orphaned by the same disease, two of which were also infected.

As December 1st was World AIDS Day, we were able to attend a joint worship and HIV/AIDS commemoration service in Soweto the following weekend. Prayers were brought forth to ask for special blessings on all those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. Prayers also asking for help to accept and face with courage this challenge of our time and to fight the fear, shame, ignorance, stigma and discrimination associated with this disease.

Although the demand on the families, community and elderly are high to assist those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, I am reminded about what it means to embrace, love and take care of those in need. It is such a tremendous challenge and blessing to be able to undertake such a gesture.

As the holidays are upon us, we are surrounded by family and friends as we get together and celebrate. When you look around the room, I wonder just how many of the individuals in the room would take in and care for 8 children who have lost their parents? Would grandparents and other elderly persons take in, raise and support young children? Is it a burden or a blessing? When I put the South African situation in the context of the US , it becomes more and more real as to how this loss of a generation can challenge the community, family and friends who are asked to step in and assist each and every day. It reminds me of just how fortunate we are to have special friends and family who love and care for us in our own lives and in our own circumstances and context.

As you go to holiday parties and functions, take the time to truly appreciate how blessed you are to have these people in your life. Take the time learn more about who they are, listen to stories of times gone by and show the love and appreciation you feel for having them in your life. Look around the room and see those loved ones (especially the elderly) as ‘living history’, and learn something new about their lives. For it truly is the best gift we could receive to feel such love and support…for it is how we continue to do the work we do…as we feel so blessed to feel this from all of you!

Happy Holiday’s from South Africa !

Peace and Blessings,