June 21, 2016
The graduation lasted longer than usual. The songs lasted longer because most of the graduates - wearing matching clothes made for the day - came to the front of the church to dance in a circle and wouldn’t let the music stop until they were done. Also, before the certificates were handed out, some of the women presented a play they had written about HIV and stigma. It was beautifully written and had the audience laughing and crying along with scenes depicting situations they were all familiar with. Other clients shared testimonies and verses. Everyone was excited for this day and celebrated their achievements during the past nine months with much enthusiasm.
At one point, the center staff was feeling stressed about time, and tried to cut some of the celebration short. One of the more vocal women, loudly, and in good spirit, proclaimed, “This is OUR day. Let us have it.” Everyone was happy to let her have her way. In Kenya, time is not as important as community and celebration.
When the graduation ended, lunch was served. Some of the CARE for AIDS staff was invited into the pastor’s office to eat lunch. Also invited to lunch were two other pastors from CFA centers nearby.
As we ate lunch, the pastors began to talk about how much the love their partnership with CARE for AIDS.
Pastor Jane from Kongowea said, “Because of this program, we have been able to reach people who we never would have reached. We have muslims in our church every week for the empowerment seminars, and many of them have made decisions of faith. This never would have happened without this program.”
Pastor Robert from Mikindani shared about how they have adopted the practice of home visits. He said, “We saw how the CARE for AIDS clients were so encouraged by the visits and how it made the community in the group so strong. I now require my leaders to visit our congregation members in their homes once a month.”
Pastor Francis from Changamwe said even though they just finished their first program, they already were starting to get a name in the community. “People see our church, and they say ‘that church is doing something different. They are having a real impact.”
They continued talking and sharing stories. It was amazing to hear the passion these pastors have for the gospel and for having impact in their communities, and it was encouraging to hear the pride and excitement with which they speak about the CARE for AIDS program, and here them tell of the ways that they saw their partnership CARE for AIDS helping them achieve the vision they have for each of their churches.
As I listened to them speak, I kept glancing out the window of the pastor’s office. It looked out on the Changamwe slum. I thought about the people living out in those houses, especially those living with HIV feeling cursed and abandoned.
When our churches open their doors and arms to people living with HIV, they are showing honor to people who the world says have lost their dignity. This is how the body of Christ is supposed to be as described in 1 Corinthians 12. There is a place for everyone in the family of God, and we treat people differently than world says they should be treated.
Part of the vision of our partnership with churches is that we help them become what they were intended to be - places of community and healing where love and hope are preached and lived. Seeing that happen is one of my favorite aspects of the impact we are having in Kenya.
How are you showing honor to people your church and community? How are you fostering love and hope in your daily interactions?