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,

Kristen

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Year in Review...

As we prepare to turn the page on 2008, we figured this would be the best time to offer a "Year in Review"...

We celebrated our second wedding anniversary on September 23rd, and enjoyed an overall exciting year as we were assigned to a new position with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Global Mission. After serving in Guyana over the course of four years, we now reside in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa (in the province of KwaZulu-Natal), in order to coordinate a new Young Adults in Global Mission Program, which allows American young adults between the ages of 21-30 to travel to South Africa for a year-long cross cultural experience.

As "Country Coordinators", we oversee and facilitate the Young Adults in Global Mission program in South Africa. We facilitate in-country logistics such as visa procedures, finances and stipends, housing, working out individual placements, arrivals and departures, and evaluation of sites and volunteers. We plan the volunteers' initial orientation program, travel throughout the country in order to conduct site visits and consult with local leaders, develop in-service retreats, and manage the program website (http://elcamud.blogspot.com), which includes reflections from volunteers and local hosts, details program goals, and introduces events taking place in South Africa. All in all, the new responsibilities are quite different from what we experienced while in Guyana, but we have found our new roles and environment to be quite exciting and worthwhile. We look forward to serving in this capacity for years to come.

In addition to our "formal" roles with Global Mission, we are involved in a variety of projects and activities in our new community. Kristen assists with the local university soccer team, serves as a consultant with the medical unit of Project Gateway (a local non-governmental organization), facilitates exercise testing and nutrition labs at the Nelson Mandela Medical School in Durban, and is about to begin Ph.D research in the area of Exercise Immunology among South Africa children at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Westville campus. Brian is involved with the local university basketball team, assists with the national Young Adults League of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, meets with students and faculty for discussion at the local Lutheran Theological Institute, attends lectures and seminars on theology and development, and guest-preaches at Lutheran congregations around the country. In our free time, we continue to enjoy jogging, hiking, yoga, swimming, reading, and updating our blog.

We will be in the United States in 2009 as we conduct “Global Mission Home Assignment”, where we plan to visit close to thirty Lutheran congregations who financially support our service. We plan to be stateside from mid-March until mid-May, and again during the month of July. We look forward to the opportunity to see family and friends face to face!

Thank you for all the ongoing love and support! God’s blessings to you and your loved one’s during this Christmas Season and beyond.

With peace and love,

Brian and Kristen