Archive for the ‘HIV and AIDS in Africa’ Category

Message given at Sixty-First Avenue UMC, Nashville, Tennessee

When my daughter started 1st grade, the school allowed parents to walk the child to their classroom on the first day. When I got there, Marissa wouldn’t turn loose of my hand! Each time I tried to leave, she started to cry out, so I just stayed there. While the teacher took roll, while she began lessons, up until recess. We walked outside and I was trying to tell her that she would be ok without me. A little girl who had just moved to Mississippi from Mexico came up and without saying a word, pried Marissa’s fingers off my hand and taking Marissa’s hand, led her to the playground.

Have you ever suffered a problem that nobody seemed to understand? You may feel lonely and alone and frightened, even isolated. And then one person comes along who has experienced something similar themselves and suddenly you don’t feel alone anymore. Cinthia, the little girl from Mexico, knew what it was like to be scared in a new place and she understood what Marissa was feeling. She was in a position to help her like none of the other kids or even me, her mother, could.

A shared experience among people who are suffering is powerful. That’s why Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and other similar groups often see powerful results…people who understand can help each other get to the next place in life.

Tonight we recognize World AIDS Day as we celebrate the first week of Advent. Tonight, we recognize that there are human beings among us, who understand our sufferings – and that Christ Jesus, who came and lived as God with us – Emmanuel – not only understands, but has broken through to the other side – so that one day all these present sufferings can be transformed to beauty. When we walk alongside Christ and those who seek to live in His light, everything changes.

According to the aids.gov website, “1 million are living with HIV in the U.S., 1 in 5 are living with HIV without knowing it, and 1 in 4 new HIV infections is among youth ages 13-24. Globally, 33.4 million are living with HIV/AIDS. While cases have been reported in all regions of the world, almost all those living with HIV (97%) reside in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.”

AIDS is a preventable, treatable disease, but a lack of awareness, knowledge and good practice has been at the root of its spread. I’d like to share a video now about the impact of AIDS on children in Africa, and how their newfound community has impacted their lives.

Watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjgF0u7Y3fU

Purity – the young girl in the video – found someone to help her – to walk alongside her – who understood her plight, and it impacted not only her life – but that of her whole community. Having someone who understands walk alongside you can make all the difference in the world. It can impact the path you take, the things you do along that path, and it can even build your character – the essence of who you are meant to be.

Tonight’s Scripture gives us a vision of what can happen when we walk alongside God:

Isaiah 2 1-5 The Message Isaiah got regarding Judah and Jerusalem:

 There’s a day coming

when the mountain of God’s House

Will be The Mountain—

solid, towering over all mountains.

All nations will river toward it,

people from all over set out for it.

They’ll say, “Come,

let’s climb God’s Mountain,

go to the House of the God of Jacob.

He’ll show us the way he works

so we can live the way we’re made.”

Zion’s the source of the revelation.

God’s Message comes from Jerusalem.

He’ll settle things fairly between nations.

He’ll make things right between many peoples.

They’ll turn their swords into shovels,

their spears into hoes.

No more will nation fight nation;

they won’t play war anymore.

Come, family of Jacob,

let’s live in the light of God.

This vision of how life will be impacts the individual and the community. For the individual, the vision is God: “show[ing] us the way he works so we can live the way we’re made.”

We’re made in the image of God. We’re made to be loving, grace-filled, gift-bearing, obstacle-overcoming, community-driven, creation-building creatures! Each and every one of us! When we walk alongside God, we can live that way – the way we’re made.

Have you ever had a problem with a piece of equipment that had to be reset back to manufacturer’s settings? Maybe it got bogged down with too many programs and didn’t have enough memory to operate! Sometimes we’re like that! We have to be reset to manufacturer’s settings so we can operate the way we were made to…in the image of God.

This Scripture also speaks to how we will live in community when we walk together alongside God: They’ll turn their swords into shovels, their spears into hoes. No more will nation fight nation; they won’t play war anymore.

Can you imagine no more war? Can you imagine the millions and trillions of dollars spent the world over making machines of war, instead making machines that create life? Food, shelter, education, health, meaningful work?

The Christian faith is based on God who created the universe, loved humanity so much, that when sin separated God from human, God sent Christ to become human – showing us the way that we should live – and overcoming death so that nothing could separate us from God again. Christians are people of hope, because if death can be conquered, isn’t all else possible?

Advent is that time of year that we think about God becoming human. God leaving the perfection of heaven to enter the realm that we live in – to experience the things we experience.

The lady I stayed with in the Philippines is from Seattle, Washington and she told me about a time when ladies from Africa came to stay with her. She said that their reaction to her home was interesting. The lady said, “Kristin – your home is so beautiful. You have a beautiful house, food, a lovely family. If I lived  here, I would never leave. Why would you come to Africa?”

We can ask God the same question – why would you have left Heaven to come here? Why would you want to experience the pain and suffering of others? Why would you put yourself in that position?

The answer is the same. Love. Love can take you to difficult places. And God loves you so much that God bears that pain. God’s love is beyond any love we can conceive. We see glimpses of it through stories from ZOE Ministry – where families are based on blood relatives, but on the blood of Christ that creates new family that walks alongside through pain and joy. We see glimpses of this love through people like Kristin who leaves the comfort of her home to go to uncomfortable places and be in ministry with strangers. We see glimpses of this love here at 61st Avenue – where people are planning and preparing to bring Christmas joy to children we may not meet till we all get to Heaven. But all the love we experience here, is just a fraction of the love that God has for us – it’s not dependent on us looking a certain way, speaking a certain language, living in a certain neighborhood or country, or being free of infectious diseases. God’s love blankets the world and includes you – no matter how unlovable you may feel at times. It’s a free gift…all we have to do is open our hearts and our hands.

Tonight we begin the walk towards the manger. It’s a walk that we don’t need to take alone. Remember – who we walk with can impact the direction we go, the things we do, and the character we become. During this period before December 25, commit to walking with the church. Praying and reading Scripture daily. Practicing the actions of the person you want to become. God will be with you in your practice, God will walk alongside.


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Sermon from 4th Sunday of Easter

By now you’ve probably eaten most of the Easter candy laying around your house…vacuumed up the last of the strands of Easter grass…Easter seems like a distant memory, yet we are still living in the Easter season! In fact every Sunday should remind of us Easter!

Signs of resurrection are all around us…the earth is resurrecting in this season…colors coming out, flowers that not long ago lay dormant are now back in bloom, people coming outside of the “caves” of their homes back into the streets. Within sanctuary walls we hear the story of Christ not being overcome by the cross or the grave, but that He is alive…not just for a while, but forevermore.

The song “Easter People, Lift your Voices” was playing in my head the other day and it made me think about what that means. Easter people are the ones who see resurrection and tell others about it! They are the ones who see that resurrection is not a future, distant option but rather a very present one – with people living to testify to God’s goodness here and now! And Easter people are the ones who don’t shy away from the Good Fridays in other’s lives. They’re the ones who remain present – who stick things out – bearing their pain, relieving it when they can, and pointing to the hope that the other person may not be able to see.

Last Fall, a group of deacons from all over the U.S. traveled together to Africa where there were present day resurrection stories all over the place. Where people who might have been overcome by the destructive power of disease and poverty are rising up as communal witnesses to show that resurrection can be sensed and felt in the present, and that when you think all hope is lost, it’s there and more powerful than ever.

Psalm 30 – The Message

I give you all the credit, God— you got me out of that mess,
you didn’t let my foes gloat.

2-3 God, my God, I yelled for help
and you put me together.
God, you pulled me out of the grave,
gave me another chance at life
when I was down-and-out.

4-5 All you saints! Sing your hearts out to God!
Thank him to his face!
He gets angry once in a while, but across
a lifetime there is only love.
The nights of crying your eyes out
give way to days of laughter.

6-7 When things were going great
I crowed, “I’ve got it made.
I’m God’s favorite.
He made me king of the mountain.”
Then you looked the other way
and I fell to pieces.

8-10 I called out to you, God;
I laid my case before you:
“Can you sell me for a profit when I’m dead?
auction me off at a cemetery yard sale?
When I’m ‘dust to dust’ my songs
and stories of you won’t sell.
So listen! and be kind!
Help me out of this!”

11-12 You did it: you changed wild lament
into whirling dance;
You ripped off my black mourning band
and decked me with wildflowers.
I’m about to burst with song;
I can’t keep quiet about you.
God, my God,
I can’t thank you enough.

This psalm is particularly poignant when I think about Project Tariro – a program located at the Old Mutare Mission in Zimbabwe which began as a deacon’s initiative. Tariro in Shona means hope. When you feel as if you’ve descended to Sheol…to the abode of the dead, you need hope. And like the psalmist, those who find out that they’re HIV positive in Africa, often feel as if they have descended to the land of the dead. Because understanding and treatment is often very limited, families will turn out those who find themselves diagnosed with this disease. Can you imagine? Just when you need someone the most, you are all alone. It reminds me of Good Friday – when Christ was given a death sentence, and the ones he loved betrayed him. By God’s grace, Project Tariro others are present to help people through their betrayal and illness to help them realize that HIV/AIDS no longer has to be a death sentence for them, but that they can be resurrected in this life.

Watch video:

Grace, Robin, Agatha, so many others have found through Project Tariro that they can live resurrected lives. First, they’ve found acceptance…when they enter the door of Project Tariro and see Joyce or Evelyn and they hear perhaps for the first time that an HIV diagnosis does not mean death. When they hear that they’ll receive drug therapy and nutritional assistance, can you imagine how that must feel? When they receive handshakes and hugs and know that they’re in a community who will not abandon them to the land of the dead, hope – resurrection – feels possible.

Project Tariro is a partnership of The United Methodist Church of Zimbabwe, The Faculty of Health Sciences at Africa University, and Friends of Project Tariro – led by Rev. Dr. Paul Van Buren. What began as a dream is now a reality thanks to donations from so many.

As you saw in the video, Project Tariro has social workers and support groups, a nutritional garden to feed and to seed future gardens, job training, and an educational program that goes out into the field – sometimes literally – to inform others and provide HIV testing on the spot. Project Tariro is filled with Easter people…people who point to hope when it seems to be hidden…who tend to those who are hurting and who tell others what may seem to be an unbelievable story – that people can live positive lives even after they’ve been diagnosed with HIV.

And it’s not just the one diagnosed who can then live a positive life. In this great web of life, it is the family and the friends who are brought into that positive, resurrected life as well. Children, who instead of becoming known as AIDS orphans, have a living breathing parent to rely on! Grandparents, who instead of having to raise grandchildren get cared for themselves in their old age. Positive, resurrected life for everyone…and even for those like us who choose to stand in the margins with them.

Because you know God…when you go into the margins, you can’t help but be changed yourself! You may even get more than the physical help you’re giving to someone else. You may get a spiritual awakening. A reordering of what is important in life. You may get the very life lessons that nobody else could teach you besides someone living in the margins.

One woman who had suffered so greatly, spoke to me with eyes that see beyond the physical. Telling me of the losses she had endured, she then said that when she gets down, she sings…Because He Lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives. All Fear is gone. Because I know who holds the future, Life is worth the living just because He lives.

People who find hope through Project Tariro – that life can be positive even with AIDS – live out the message of the Psalm…testifying that:

11-12 You did it: you changed wild lament
into whirling dance;
You ripped off my black mourning band
and decked me with wildflowers.
I’m about to burst with song;
I can’t keep quiet about you.
God, my God,
I can’t thank you enough.

(watch video of dancing at Project Tariro: http://www.youtube.com/user/nneelley#p/a/u/1/cJUxGDFa5yY )

Still, when we opt for the margins, we see that in the here and now, all is still not well. There are plenty of Good Fridays still being experienced even as we gather today. We still see those in Zimbabwe diagnosed with HIV/AIDS who feel lost – many times without homes, forsaken by their families, left by others to descend to their own depths of Sheol.

One woman – Nora – who found out she was HIV + – was turned out by her family into the streets. When she discovered Project Tariro – it was there that she found an even deeper meaning of family. That those who were living a positive life were ready to support not only her but also her daughter, Thandiwe. This new family supported Nora through her earthly resurrection…enjoying her presence and her spirit. But there were limits to what they could do for her…lack of transportation, lack of medicine eventually claimed Nora’s life, with her daughter Thandi at her side. Nora’s support group and Project Tariro family once again stepped up…raising money for a decent burial when the blood relatives would not come forward, and taking Thandi when no one would claim her. Nora’s dying words expressed the depth of concern that parents of young children have – who would take care of Thandi when she was gone. By then, she knew with confidence that her new family would do everything they could.

We know that Nora is resurrected with Christ – her care is now out of our hands. But what about others like Nora…who still feel the depths of hell in their lives? They wait on hope. In a country where so many are infected, many do not receive treatment and help.

As Easter people, we believe in the resurrection – that one day all shall be well. That all people’s needs will be met. That the love which we may only have seen dimly as in a mirror will be understandable and tangible for all. That there will be a place at the table for everyone. That there will be no more crying and suffering and dying. But as Dr. Martin Luther King said,

“It’s all right to talk about “long white robes over yonder,” in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preachers must talk about the New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee.” If Dr. King were living today, perhaps he would add to that list Africa and maybe even Old Mutare, Zimbabwe.

The second verse of Easter people says:
(Sorry, I can’t find the lyrics online!)

Will we be Easter people year-round? May God help us to stand with those who need hope as they experience “good Fridays”; may Christ’s mercy help us to do all that we can for them. And may God help us proclaim with our lives that Christ is alive! It’s in His name that I offer these words, Amen.

Note: You can learn more about Project Tariro by visiting www.projecttariro.com

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In Zimbabwe, this Christmas season will continue to be one of isolation for those unable to travel to Old Mutare, where Project Tariro is helping people learn to live positively with HIV/AIDS. There at the clinic, hope is being shared through healthcare, support groups, income generating projects and nutritional gardening. While many at the clinic are thriving because of available drugs and support, many more in the outlying communities are still waiting for their hope to come.

This Christmas, why not provide transportation to those who are waiting?

Project Tariro’s Community Health Workers are in need of a vehicle to transport patients for necessary treatment and prescriptions. The van (with maintenance and drivers) is expected to cost $40,000. Friends of Project Tariro is seeking to raise this amount of money by asking faithful people like you to make a contribution.

Would you want a wheelbarrow to be your ambulance?

It was for one child who needed transportation
to the hospital.

Transportation can be a matter of life and death. One single mother died recently because there was no transportation to get a hard-to-fill prescription. We want to make safe, reliable transportation a reality.

Will you help by giving at least $25?

To give online, go to https://www.support-africauniversity.org/SSLPage.aspx?pid=202, choose your amount and type Project Tariro in the “other” category.

As an added incentive to watch us meet our goal, you can log on to Facebook (Friends of Project Tariro) to follow the assembly of the vehicle. You have the option to indicate which part of vehicle you want your gift to support, which will be monitored by the four, members of the recent Deacon Caravan as listed below. They have agreed to help keep the momentum going to help us “assemble” this vehicle.

Rev. Barbara Schrier’s GPS Group: The directional parts of a vehicle remind us of the goal to find nooks and crannies where people who feel most forgotten are found.

Rev. Gregory D. Gross’s Power Group: Any vehicle needs an engine, gas and power to reach its destination. May we be reminded of the energy needed by staff and volunteers to keep this mission going and keep them in prayer.

Rev. Alicia Cargill’s Image Group: As a car is known for its reliability, so is an important mission like Project Tariro. The Image Group will pray that Project Tariro will become known for its success and reliability in “helping people live positively in community.”

Rev. Denita Conner’s Road Handling Group: Have you ever had a bumpy ride? We pray that Project Tariro , given the circumstances in Zimbabwe, will have a smooth journey and overcome any obstacles.

Following one of the groups will be both fun and meaningful. Take time to share this information with others! Put the brochure in a prominent place – on your desk, coffee table, refrigerator or share with another person. Go online and write about it on Facebook or Twitter. Encourage people to visit the Project Tariro website (www.projecttariro.com). You just never know the impact that your words may have.

P.S. Mark 16:18 says, “They shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” To heal, first we must get the patient to the healers. Your generous contribution will make that a reality. Please give a gift that brings joy to your heart.

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This is my sermon from Sat night Dec 11, 2009 at 61st Avenue UMC, Nashville:

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

We all know the Christmas song, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” It paints such a beautiful picture, doesn’t it?! People there we love getting things ready for us…snow, mistletoe, presents under the tree. Everything we would want! You can just imagine it…surrounded by those you love. Bellies full, toes warmed by the fire. Satisfaction.

These feelings don’t come from just being in a house – they come from that feeling of home and that can come to us at different places. Maybe some of us feel home when we are with family. Maybe it’s with friends. Maybe it’s here at 61st Avenue. Home is satisfaction in the heart – being “right” with the ones we love.

That’s not always an easy thing to have though is it? The Whitney Houston version “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” begins with these words:

“I’m dreaming tonight of a place I love even more than I usually do. And although I know it’s a long road back, I promise you…I’ll be home for Christmas.”

How do we get to that place that feels like home? How do we get our relationships in order so we get that feeling? Tonight’s scripture is about repenting…that word might cause a feeling of dread in our hearts…maybe it conjures up old feelings of someone trying to beat you over the head with religion. But repentance is God’s way of making a home…sweeping out the trash to make way for the good stuff.
It may feel like a long road back to home, but God is near, and will always make a way – even when we think there is none.

Today’s scripture begins with John the Baptist getting angry at people assuming they are entitled to a place in God’s home:

Luke 3:7-18 (The Message)

7-9When crowds of people came out for baptism because it was the popular thing to do, John exploded: “Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to deflect God’s judgment? It’s your life that must change, not your skin. And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as ‘father.’ Being a child of Abraham is neither here nor there—children of Abraham are a dime a dozen. God can make children from stones if he wants. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.”

To make God’s household right, John is saying that we need to turn our hearts around and that it needs to show! That people around us should see us blossoming! And that this happens from the inside out – not just by washing our skin with waters of baptism but by changing our lives.

Have you ever had people say words that ring hollow? Maybe someone who says they’re sorry but they go right back to what they’ve been doing all along? That hurts doesn’t it?! That’s what John is saying here – that God expects us to turn our lives around – to express repentance with our ways, not just our words.

All of us have gotten this wrong – and sometimes we mean well, we just don’t follow through. When we do that with relationships in our lives, we feel it even more strongly because it breaks up relationships. When we do wrong to someone, we need to show that we are sorry by our new ways, not just continuing old ways with new words!

When my sister was raising her daughter Amy, Amy would sometimes say she was sorry about doing something wrong. And Susan would say, “Don’t be sorry. Be better.” That’s kind of what this scripture is saying. Don’t speak words that have no meaning to you and expect things to be better. You’ve got to participate in being the meaning of the word! You’ve got to be the dictionary that explains repentance to others!

Sometimes home feels far away because of something beyond our own doing – something that has happened to us like divorce or death, prison, maybe mental illness, addiction, the list goes on. When a situation is in our hands, we have control over what we can do, right? When the other person in the relationship is not honoring the relationship, sometimes we do what we can and we move on. This can be really painful, but even then, having a good relationship with God – the head of our heart’s household, can provide us with what we need to find that contentment even in the face of sorrow.

I have seen this illustrated in many places, where people who are hurt by others move into Christian community and find a true home among others who know what it’s like to be hurt and excluded. Sometimes the home we find in Christian community may feel more like home than any place we grew up in. I see this lived out in many places, but one place especially touched my heart this October when I traveled to Zimbabwe. It’s Project Tariro – Tariro means hope in the local language – and Tariro provides a community of love especially to those whose blood relatives have turned their backs.

Play Video: http://umtv.org/archives/adult_aids_health_care.htm

While I was there, I met a young girl named Thandi – a twelve year old girl. Her mother, Nora, had been diagnosed with AIDS and her family threw her out. Nora was faced then with raising her daughter amidst unbelievable poverty – the kind of poverty where most people around you have nothing and there’s nobody even to beg from. But Thandi and her mom came to Project Tariro and found that there were others like them who had also been turned out by their families who were finding a way by having a nutritional garden, counselors, health support and more . In March of this year, Thandi’s mother died when the medicines she needed were not available. Once again, her own family would not or could not help. But the Christian community that surrounded them did not let them down. Thandi is living with the pastor there and is able to continue schooling and is getting what she needs to survive. She is not alone.

When we realize what it means to be “home for Christmas” we are able to help others who are without. The scriptures that I read before continue with the crowd’s continued interaction with John the Baptist:

10The crowd asked him, “Then what are we supposed to do?”

11″If you have two coats, give one away,” he said. “Do the same with your food.”

12Tax men also came to be baptized and said, “Teacher, what should we do?”

13He told them, “No more extortion—collect only what is required by law.”

14Soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He told them, “No shakedowns, no blackmail—and be content with your rations.”

When we really repent, we see an outward change that helps those around us.

I’ve seen this at 61st Avenue, in other places in Nashville and again in Africa. I feel uncomfortable when people look at me like I’m good for going there to Africa to help others. I’m no better than anyone. And really, when I go there, I am the one who comes back full. I am the one who has been home for Christmas. Because when I’m there, I see glimpses of heaven in the way that people love one another and love God. The first time I went to Zimbabwe, a child who had an old pair of shoes received a new pair, only to run and happily give the other pair to a child without shoes. I have met elderly people who barely have what it takes them to survive for a day stand and sing with joy that God has shown favor upon them. I have listened as a woman who lost three siblings last year to political violence sing to me her profession of faith – Because He Lives. Because He Lives – I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know who holds the future, life is worth the living just because he lives.

I’m always amazed at how people whose faith is strong can get through tough times. But it’s because I have witnessed this that I can share with you that it is possible! Even when times are unimagineably tough, people who have a strong faith in God persevere and overcome in time. Things are different. Home can be found in the midst of a desert where others find only desolation. This is what happens when we are changed from the inside out.

The final portion of this scripture shows people questioning John who has been saying these things.

15The interest of the people by now was building. They were all beginning to wonder, “Could this John be the Messiah?”

16-17But John intervened: “I’m baptizing you here in the river. The main character in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”

Are we ready for Christ? December 24 is just around the corner…the time that we recognize Jesus’ birth and spiritually prepare for receiving him in our hearts. What trash do we have to be swept out?

Another song sung this time of year is “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” The difference between Santa and the messiah – Jesus Christ – is that Santa comes to those who are nice, not naughty. God sent Jesus especially to the “naughty” as the gift to end all gifts! All God asks us to do is to prepare him room. May we prepare for His coming – making space knowing that maybe this year, we will find the true meaning of being home for Christmas. Amen.

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