Hope Amid the Helpless
By Lisa Samson and Ty Samson
July 31, 2012
Sexual promiscuity is the norm in Swaziland. One pastor shook his head and said his church focuses on people 18 and younger, trying to give them an alternative, a way of respect for their bodies and the bodies of others. "It's just too late fix the older people," he said sadly.
But Jesus wants His love in us to continually reach across our thresholds and away from our easy chairs. It would be easy to lump together all those who have contracted AIDS through their own choices and call them "an issue" or "a problem.”
But this isn't a matter of belief or doctrine; it's an issue of friendship.
Wandile (pronounced Wan-dee-lay) was a good friend of Dennis. She lived a wild life as a crazy teenager—sleeping around, drinking, doing what she pleased—and she wanted nothing to do with God.
Wandile contracted AIDS, and was OK for a while, going about her life. Yet after a while, Dennis noticed she was thinner, and each time he saw her, her feet shuffled along with more difficulty. Everyone knew she was sick and had HIV, but because of the stigma, she was viewed as a curse. Then the worst thing that could happen, did.
Wandile was kicked out of her house by her father. Her mother lived in South Africa—she'd moved away years before. And as always seems to be the case when you think it's darkest, the horizon deepened yet further when Wandile took a turn for the worse. Thank God for the ray of light He sent in Thembie, a single mom and a faithful friend of Wandile, also HIV positive, who brought Wandile into her house and took care of her.
Dennis tried to help Wandile get the ARVs (antiretrovirals) she needed. She had originally tested positive at the government hospital far away, and Manzini Hospital told her to go back to that hospital and start the ARVs there.
So Dennis, along with a friend and Wandile, drove 80 kilometers the next day to the place she was diagnosed. They waited for hours and tried to explain what happened and that it would be difficult to come for treatment so far away. She was given a transfer letter, but tough luck on the ARVs: "Go back to Manzini and get them there."
Back they traveled to Manzini for the ARVs. Nevertheless, Wandile became bedridden. It was hard on Thembie, who was in no great shape herself. They asked the church for help, hoping some relief would come, but people didn't want to help Wandile. Or Thembie, for that matter.
"Maybe Thembie wasn't the best churchgoer," Dennis said. "But she was acting like Jesus to Wandile. She might have not been up to the church's moral standards, but she was doing the work."
I guess America isn't the only place where holiness is based more on what you don't do than on what you do.
Wandile's condition worsened. Despite all this, Wandile gave her life to Jesus in a quiet moment. Sometimes Jesus steps in and does what His followers are too "holy” to do themselves.Thembie had no running water or electricity, so caring for Wandile became impossible. Finally Dennis took Wandile to Hope House. The ministry was founded to give free care, but when they arrived, they found out they were required to pay 300 Rand a month as well as provide their own caregiver and food.
"Wandile was there for about a month, but then people lost interest in helping and we couldn't get caregivers. Not even a family member. Her mother said, 'My daughter is dead already. Call me when you have the funeral.' In the end we had to take Wandile out of Hope House."
She went back to Thembie's house, in such poor condition that by then it seemed she was about to die.
Adventures in Mission, Dennis's agency, had a first-year missionary team in Swaziland during that period. Joe, one of the missionaries, said: "We can't let her die. Let's fast and pray." So they did pray over her and fasted—people would sign up for different times and days.
And then something began to happen over the next couple of months. She started to gain some weight and stopped being combative, and eventually her mind returned.
She lived for another year, back on her feet, walking around, looking like she was doing well. She didn't want to be a burden to Thembie anymore. So the team moved her to her aunt's place, an hour and a half away.
Away from the people who cared, Wandile got sick again, this time with tuberculosis, another widespread disease in Swaziland. Dennis drove her to Nazarene Hospital in Manzini.
"During Wandile's last days we tried to organize a place for her to go, but no one would take her,” Dennis said. “She died alone in that disgusting place. I saved a message on my phone—her last message—asking for someone to take her away.
"I was away in South Africa when she died, and no one had seen her. The last time I had seen her, she grabbed my hand and said, 'Don't let me die here.' I told her to hang on.
"I wish I would have checked on her more. But I have so much to do. I wish I would have made a lot more time to be with her at the hospital.”
Dennis's words pulled down my stomach with grief and sadness. It’s easy to judge the church people and the family; but I have to be careful there because I wasn't around for Wandile.
Sometimes we can mistake our opinions of others for action. We feel right, and that's enough. It's a comfortable trap.
Lord, have mercy on us if we believe it's our job to decide who God is punishing. Lord, have mercy on us if we believe dying alone and wracked with pain, is a fitting end for any of God's children.
Taken from Love Mercy by Lisa Samson and Ty Samson. Copyright ©2010 by Lisa Samson and Ty Samson. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com