Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Stories of Death to Life, Magdalene, Grace and Jen

There was a day in the trip where we did a few home visits of clients from other centers. We got to see a client in the first phase of the program, the middle phase, and a graduate who had finished the program over a year ago... please read their stories below. I pray you find in them, strength, encouragement, conviction, and hope. Please pray for these amazing women and the journey God has them on!

We walked in the small 8x10 corrugated metal home that was big enough to house a bed, couch, TV and small table. It was the first time in the trip I smelled the stench of death and sickness so intensely. I prayed God would give me the strength to engage fully. On the side of the bed sat Magdalene, a frail soft woman under 100 pounds who struggled to swallow and breathe.  At first she would not make eye contact and just sat slumped with her head down. We started to talk and ask questions and she began to share, with each passing story her gaze was more frequent in our eyes, her tone strengthened and even her words became stronger with each passing sentence. Magdalene had to be between 24-30 years old, it was hard to tell in her condition. She had been working in a factory, pregnant, and realized she was becoming more and more ill. 
One day she passed out at work and was taken to the hospital. At the hospital she was given a test and diagnosed as HIV+. She was so ashamed of her status and feared the shunning that would come from her community. She withdrew until she birthed her child and became bedridden thereafter. Her neighbor, Grace came to visit her and told her about the Care for Aids program. The 9 months was already underway, but Grace knew Magdalene wouldn't make it to see the start of another program. She got her enrolled. A neighbor was caring for Magdalene's new baby as she couldn't get herself out of bed. Once she started the program and started on her medicine with food supplements, she could walk again with help. The spiritual counselor, Matthew, who was with us, said he would walk with Magdalene as she leaned on him. He said she couldn't even carry a 1 kilogram bag of rice, when wind blew she would stumble down. Now over a month into the program, she was getting treatment for tuberculosis and getting stronger. We asked Magdalene how we could pray for her and she said first- strength in her body so she can care for her son again. Her next request floored me as she said it through difficulty talking, she asked us to pray for strength in her body and soul because she needs to minister to others with AIDS. She continued on how there are so many like her that just need to hear, they need a helping hand to make it to this program. She said, "I knew of God before I found Care for AIDS, but I did not meet Jesus so closely until now." Magdalene's story shook me. I have never seen a person so close to death from HIV. Magdalene truly would not have lived much longer. Also such a powerful display of community, without Grace who was already started in CFA, coming into her home and physically taking her, she would not be here. She would not be able to raise her baby. She would not know Jesus as the source of her healing and strength. I know God will answer Magdalene's selfless prayers, she will be healed and be a blessing to others and her son will grow up with his mother by his side. Magdalene's story is one of life, healing, help and hope.

Grace's story
Grace came to the van to meet us, next to her was a sweet and shining face she introduced as Josephine. They walked us to Grace's front door and Josephine went back to braiding her client's hair who was sitting outside the home. 
Grace had a strong smile, a tight hug, and a joy in her face.  But as she told us her story, Grace had had an impossible year. Her only son had recently died after being struck by a car. Her sickness was getting worse, so she spent a year, isolating herself, fearing it would be HIV and she did not want to be outcasted so she kept quiet and didn't get tested. She didn't even tell her best friend Josephine, who lived next door. Finally, she got so weak she feared she was dying. She asked Josephine to take her to the hospital. She knew she needed to get tested but feared she would lose her best friend Josephine's acceptance. Josephine said "well then I will get tested with you." Grace's fears were true, she was positive. After she heard Josephine tested negative she knew their friendship would be over, but she told this part of the story with such joy "You know, Josephine embraced me even more now knowing my status!" She heard about the Care for Aids program through their local church and got started right away. As she was talking to us, she grabbed her pill bottle of ARV medication and shook it and said to us "I am not afraid anymore, these are mine. My name is on this bottle. I don't care who knows." What a powerful display of overcoming her own self-stigma. When we met Grace she was only in month 4 of the 9 month program, but she had already learned to accept and love herself despite her status. A few months earlier she had been isolated for a year, too afraid to even get tested because of fear, now here she is full of joy shaking her pill bottle proudly. This is also the Grace who introduced Magdalene to the program. She is radically changing the face of AIDS in her community. She chatted on about learning to make a cake in the program in one of the skills training. She told us how they would heat firewood to heat sand in a bowl and put all the ingredients in a different bowl and cook it on the heated sand. She couldn't wait to sell her cakes. Grace is a story of the power of community, breaking the chains of self stigma, and physically and spiritually loving your neighbors as yourself. As I looked at Grace, I realized I was the one in poverty. I lacked this beautiful picture of community that she has. In America, we don't need to depend on others for our very lives sometimes, we also rarely reach out to our neighbors, draw them in, tell them they are loved, and walk with them side by side through trials and joys. Grace moved me. 

The story of Jen
I was curious of what meeting Jen would be like. She had graduated the Care for Aids program almost a year and a half previous. Her house was a modest wooden shed type in the hills near Limuru. As we hiked up the terrain to get to her home we passed a wood slatted outhouse and six chickens and a young cow. Jen arrived a few minutes later, her smile beaming from the back of a motorcycle taxi. She quickly ran up the hill to us and greeted us each with a huge hug and high fives. She unlocked the padlock on her home and invited us in. Inside she awoke her two 1 year old twins and sent them out to us. Chickens roamed in the house as she settled herself and us around the couches in the main room of the home. She talked of being on her deathbed a few months before the program. She had found out her HIV diagnosis and her husband left her with 3 children because of it. Now her source of income was gone. Time passed as her condition worsened and times grew desperate and then she heard from her husband again. He explained how he wanted to get back together and rebuild, however she was used for his advantage for a night and she became pregnant with twins.Through the 9 month program she learned skills of how to take her medicine, how to raise chickens, how to be a part of a community again, how to find strength in the most hopeless of situations and how to find strength in Jesus. In her words, Jen explained that through all she learned through CFA "God has taken me from Dust to a palace" as she talked of being bedridden before and now raising chickens, selling potatoes and providing for her family as a single mom of 5 children aged 1-15. We asked her connection with CFA currently and she said "I am now courageous to tell people my status because If they don't know from me how will they know how to heal?" 
She goes back frequently to empowerment sessions in the program and teaches other clients how to raise chickens for eggs and income. She also invites others to embrace their status instead of fearing stigma. She shows them her strength and the success and life hat still remains after an AIDS diagnosis. As we sat around the small living quarters, she beamed as any mother would as she told us about how one of her sons has been ranked 1st in his class for 6 years. Potentially beating the odds of coming from a single AIDS infected mother in poverty. You could see the hope she had in her son. A cycle of poverty that would stop in her children. Her smile and positivity was so inspiring. Her spouting of scripture and the source of where she draws her strength was encouraging. She sent us away, having filled our cups with her joy and strength. It was a privilege to have met Jen, to see how she has risen above a statistic. She has become a beacon of hope in her community. It is such a privilege for our family to see people like Jen, that Jesus brought from literal death to life through the program of Care for AIDS.
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