If you get far enough away, anything can feel small. Get far enough away from Everest and it looks like a hill. Get far enough away from the ground and cars begin to look like ants. Even the sun can seem like a tiny star if you get really, really far from it.
Get far enough away from Kenya and HIV feels small. It feels like it can’t touch you - like an other-worldly disease. If you get far enough away from something, it seems to disappear all together. From the relative comforts of our lives in the States, we can find ourselves asking: “HIV? Is that still a thing?” And the answer is that it never actually goes away. To us it can seem small and quiet, but it’s still here. For me, HIV/AIDS was just a whisper until I went to Kenya.
Last month I had the privilege of participating in my first Impact Trip, where I was able to see the work of CARE for AIDS up close in Nairobi, Kenya. I was humbled to sit with individuals in their homes and hear stories of heartache and triumph, of isolation and of hope-filled community. I heard stories like that of Anne, a mother of three, who is teaching the skills she is learning at the local CARE for AIDS center to her 12 year old daughter, and bringing another income into their household. Or stories like Florence’s, whose husband left her after finding out she was HIV positive.
I couldn’t feel far away from HIV/AIDS anymore. Story after story was bringing the disease closer and closer, making it bigger, louder, and scarier with each step forward. Sitting on the edge of the bed next to Janet, who couldn’t work because of her HIV positive status and her small baby, and whose landlord had cut off her water supply, did not allow me to separate myself from the disease any longer.
HIV/AIDS creates the perfect storm. It is a virus contracted sexually, leading to distortion of relationships. Many individuals with HIV/AIDS are shunned by their families, friends, and neighbors, creating an emptiness where community should be. It weakens you, making the body far more susceptible to other diseases and illnesses. Mind, body, and soul are attacked: the perfect cocktail of stigma, illness, and loneliness — a playing ground for the enemy of our hearts. The storm seemed small from my studio apartment in Atlanta, but it was so obviously devastating up close. Thankfully, we serve a God who walks steady among storms.
What can a virus destroy that the man who walks on water cannot restore? Nothing.
As I settle back into life in the States after a short 10 days in Kenya, I am wonderfully overwhelmed by the man walking on the water. How He is using the local church to bring redemption to those suffering from this dreaded virus is beautiful. Relationships are being restored, families are being reconciled, and babies are being born of HIV+ mothers without a trace of the virus. Jesus is using CARE for AIDS and its dedicated staff to break the cycle of stigma and illness in East Africa. The storm that is HIV/AIDS is not too big for Him. Jesus is close to those in East Africa that are suffering with HIV, but He is steady in the storm.