SWEETWATERS, South Africa (BP) -- Her name was Kw'nelle (Kwa-nellie). She never knew her biological parents. She was born HIV-positive and was taken in by a local ministry. Medicines that kept the HIV at bay -- combined with the love and provisions of her caregivers -- were all that kept Nellie alive.
All Nellie's friends were deeply saddened when she passed away. She was 8 years old. An infection in her ear had worked its way into her brain. The doctors tried, prayer was mobilized all around the world, but Nellie's little body finally had reached its limit.
At her memorial service, I was overwhelmed by the love of those who knew Nellie: her 30 "brothers and sisters" at the orphanage; the godly caregivers who raised her; people who had known and come to love Nellie. The memorial was for Nellie, but I received the blessing.
There is nothing left we can do for Nellie, except celebrate that she is now at home with Jesus and no longer in pain.
We can, however, resolve to do something about the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which -- just in Nellie's little South African community -- kills about 30 people every day from AIDS-related diseases. Among the ways Southern Baptists are making a life-changing difference for people living with HIV/AIDS:
-- School exercise books. In rural Zimbabwe, two-thirds of school children have lost one or both parents to the AIDS pandemic. Even families with two parents often are too poor to provide their children with the composition books required by the school system. Some children sit on the floor and write their lessons in the dust. Children do not perform well in exams when they lack study materials and cannot take adequate notes. One of the schools assisted by this project ended up moving from being 40th in the district on exam performance to eighth place. Our exercise books, which carry Christian anti-HIV/AIDS messages, are provided free of charge to the most disadvantaged students. In areas where these books are shared with the good news of God's love, new churches are starting to bring hope to people in desperate need.
-- Shalom Delhi clinic. Impoverished and marginalized people suffering with HIV come to the Critical Care Center of Shalom Delhi, a unit of Emmanuel Hospital Association in New Delhi, India. A full 90 percent of these patients cannot afford food, much less drugs and lab costs, during their hospital stays. Many families are pushed into ruinous debt because of treatment costs. Patients helped by this project receive holistic care that focuses on their spiritual needs as well as physical problems. Volunteers from local churches follow up with patients through a home-based care program.
-- Zimbabwe nutritional support. People living with HIV/AIDS must receive adequate nutrition for their medicines to work properly. This partnership with the Baptist Union of Zimbabwe reaches out to demonstrate Christian love and witness for people living with HIV/AIDS in an area that provides no nutritional support for those on anti-retroviral treatment. A local church and clinic have identified 125 adults and children to receive monthly packets of staple foods. The goal is to nurture a healthy community where normal activities are not disturbed by sickness or death.
-- Lerato's Hope food parcels. This initiative provides short-term food assistance to help families survive and become self-sufficient. This strategic partnership with Pinelands Baptist Church in Cape Town, South Africa, identifies vulnerable families in high-density impoverished neighborhoods where unemployment runs as high as 40 percent. Monthly parcels of food staples supplement food drives conducted by local volunteers. The short-term food assistance sustains families while other interventions are being made that will help them learn to deal with HIV/AIDS, find employment and become self-sustaining.
-- In-Home Care Kits. As AIDS kills adults, orphaned children often are forced onto the streets to fend for themselves. Southern Baptists are part of an initiative to work with local churches to provide In-Home Care Kits, five-gallon buckets filled with a range of medical and hygiene supplies, to impoverished families in impoverished communities. Families are stabilized by improving the health of parents, so they can live longer and raise their families. Christian workers deliver the kits to homes, along with physical and spiritual counsel that helps people in need discover how to have the meaningful, abundant lives God created them to enjoy.
We may not understand why we were born with so many advantages children like Nellie never had, but we can determine to be good stewards of God's blessings so more "Nellies" and communities like hers can experience abundant life.
You can make a difference in the battle against HIV/AIDS which robs so many people of the abundant, eternal life God had planned for them. Today, Dec. 1, is World AIDS Day. Will you pray? Will you get involved?
Jeff Palmer is executive director of Baptist Global Response, on the Web at www.gobgr.org. A downloadable video and bulletin insert, as well as other resources related to World AIDS Day, are available at the site.
To learn more about how Southern Baptists are responding to the HIV/AIDS crisis with the love of Christ, see accompanying story, http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=36681
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