Just the day before, the dry, red dust had tickled our throats as we stamped across the thirsty earth, distributing food parcels to needy AIDS home-based care patients. Today, the dust was washed away in thick streaming rivulets from the backie (ute) we travelled in, and the rain collected in puddles on the dirt road. It was sobering weather for a sober day.
We had collected Martha from her home earlier that afternoon. A patient with advanced AIDS related tuberculosis, Martha had been cared for by her fourteen-year-old son Kenny in their home, but he could no longer look after her by himself. We had agreed to take her to a nearby Christian hospice, where she could be treated medically. Little Mpho, Martha’s youngest child, cried when the “white people” attempted to give her a cuddle, and Kenny tried to be helpful, watching his Mum being carried out to the car, and smiling shyly when we talked to him.
In the backie, Martha leaned against me and coughed violently into a piece of gauze she held against her mouth. There was no comparison between the now thin, sickly woman who sat beside me, and the healthy-cheeked woman on her ID card that the home-based care worker showed me. I held her hand, and she stroked my fingers, and I told her a story about Jesus, the king of kings, who sits on a throne, but also wants to live in our hearts. She nodded a little, and then shifted her gaze away. I wish now that I had said more.
When we arrived at the hospice, little Mpho was still sobbing, and now being held in the arms of her aunt. Martha gave a forlorn glance back at her child, and whispered pointedly “Thula, Mpho” (Quiet, Mpho), before she was taken in a wheelchair into the hospice.
I did a lot of praying for Martha, Kenny and Mpho that evening. Three individuals, all affected by this deadly disease, all deeply cared for by the Father. What part must we play in this violent battle against HIV/AIDS? I do not believe we can simply sit on the sidelines and watch as people die, missing out on the opportunity to be a part of the family of God; or, to put it another way, I do not believe we can sit and watch as the Father mourns for the children who he will not be able to embrace in eternity.
The next morning I received an SMS from the home-based care worker. “Martha, that we took to the hospice yesterday, that had 2 year old daughter and son Kenny, has just died”.