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Stories

By Jennifer Agee (first published December 1, 2010) Today is World AIDS Day. Living in a country so devastated by the virus it is impossible to look past the effects the AIDS crisis has had on this country. There are commercials here about how to have an HIV free baby when your partner is positive. There are Sesame Street type shows for kids about HIV/ AIDS and in the schools the examples given in their elementary school books often have a character with HIV. It is always heartbreaking to see someone in the final stages of AIDS, the sores, the pain the dementia characteristics. What breaks my heart even more are the children who have to fight this battle. Yesterday, I received a call that an 8 month old baby girl at one of our children’s homes passed away. Her tiny body just had no fight left. At 8 months old she weighed only 4.5 pounds. I cannot begin to tell you the number of times that women here have asked me to take their children because they fear what is going to happen to them once they pass away. The devastation is so bad that you cannot even make plans in a village or township on Saturday because that is the day they have the funerals. Everywhere you look on Fridays, there are tents in front of homes to accommodate the funeral guests. It is a weekly visual reminder of why we are here and a kick in the pants to not get lazy or to give up the fight. True story, I carry condoms in my purse at all times – much to the embarrassment of my children. You may laugh but here’s the deal, there is a gas station on our way to the Transkei that has free packs of condoms in the bathrooms. Whenever we are passing through I pick one up and stick it in my purse. I always want to be ready in case a teachable moment presents itself. Yes, I believe in abstinence and that is the first thing I tell people. I also believe in education, this is power. I teach the mama’s who have sexually active children about how to talk to them about condoms and show them the proper way to put it on. The women always laugh when give a demonstration but their eyes are glued and they ask questions. We must keep the...

By Becky Voigt Driving from East London, South Africa toward the Transkei, down into a steep valley, crossing the Kei River – hence this area’s name. I find myself sorting through a mixture of feelings: excitement, awe, fear, sorrow. The Transkei of South Africa is a 17,000-square-mile area with approximately two million residents speaking the Xhosa (pronounced “Kosa”) language. This area is a place of exquisite beauty with rolling hills and lush landscape, yet an incredibly sad history. It was a designated destination during the forced removals of black people from white South Africa in the 1970’s and 1980’s. A part of this people’s history is one of being servants – providing labor in exchange for food and shelter. Once they were banished to the Transkei, they did not know how to provide for themselves. Their mindset is one of pure survival. Predictions are that it will take one or two more generations before the Xhosa people can wrap their minds around the idea of sustainable living. There are huts scattered across the hillsides. Some are the traditional round rondovals with a thatched roof. Some are made of salvaged scraps of wood and metal. Goats, cattle, dogs and donkeys wander everywhere, including on the highway. People also walk along the highway, waiting for someone to pick them up and transport them to the nearest village. Driving these curvy roads after dark is risky. AIDS has run rampant through the Transkei, with infection rate estimates as high as 75%. A large number of young adult men and women have died, leaving children to be raised by their grandparents. Each family receives a monthly government stipend amounting to approximately $20 yet food costs are comparable to those in the US. Enter…my heroes…the mamas. The mamas of the Transkei are older women who have stepped up to help feed the thousands of hungry children. These children wander the streets or highways; some attend school, many do not. They may have living relatives yet alcoholism or disease dominates lives, leaving the kids on their own. With the help of organizations such as Village South Africa, soup clubs have been formed where the mamas prepare food five days a week for as many as 250 children. I watched a mama prepare food in her meager two- or three-room home, then bring it outside to where the children were waiting in a line, holding their “bowl” which may be anything from a...

By Brad Rauch I have travelled to South Africa nine times in the past several years. Every trip to serve there has its own stories! One in particular, had an amazing impact on me and it does to others whenever I share it. Even though it is South Africa, the Transkei region still gets cold in winter time. Many of the rondoval’s do not even have doors or windows. Most people do not have adequate clothing or blankets either. Our amazing friend, Mama Nomtandanzo is a missionary in Transkei from with the Dutch Reform Church. She ministers to people living with HIV/AIDS, administrates our soup clubs and always knows where the needs are within the community. We took blankets on a trip a couple of years ago and asked “Nomi”, where they could be best used. She took us to a home with no windows, doors or even coverings on the cow dung floor. The disabled grandma was sitting on the ground surrounded by her 11 grandchildren. The grandma’s three daughters had all died from AIDS, leaving her to care for them on her meager pension (approximately $107/month). When the grandma passes away, it will be left to the oldest to care for the younger siblings. Because of the culture, sex is permitted at an early age. Often, the young mother will not have the participation of the father in raising the child or children which places an additional responsibility on the mother’s family. This is a typical situation and one of the reasons we have committed to help empower, educate and equip those we have the opportunity to serve. As you look at this situation, please pray and ask the Lord to bring workers to this field to share the hope of Jesus and the changes that only he can bring....

By Becky Voigt While serving in the Transkei, I met a young man, Raphael, who had lived in an overcrowded orphanage as a child. When he got into trouble, he ran away from the orphanage and was living on his own. Raphael had come into contact with a mission organization that provided him a place to live. Though now 20 years old, he was working on finishing high school. He is a humble, gentle, young man who didn’t seem comfortable visiting with us noisy Americans, yet he was always respectful. One day, I was preparing a meal when Raphael and his friend walked through the kitchen. They saw me taking chicken off the bones and putting the skin and bones in a bowl to throw away. The garbage was thrown in a pit behind the house and burned as necessary. In the meantime, there were always stray dogs around, digging through the garbage for something to eat. Raphael approached me and asked if he could have the bowl of scraps when I was done. Without even thinking, my American mind went straight to “he wants to feed the mama dog I see hanging around here” and that is what I said. Raphael got the funniest look on his face and his friend responded, “First Raphael will eat, then the dog.” I have never felt more foolish and humble in my life. Later, I apologized to Raphael. He downplayed it; after that, I shared all the scraps with him. Raphael knew that he was invited to eat with us but most of the time he was more comfortable eating alone in his room. I don’t take chicken scraps for granted anymore. Being in a third-world situation changed me for the good. It softened my heart and mind to the plight of my fellow human beings. It made their struggle personal for me. It has shown me that the problem is way too big for any of us alone. We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus and through Him, hope will come to the souls of the Transkei and areas like it....

By Jennifer Agee As I walked into the shack the home was tidy, the floors were clean, there was a clean school uniform hanging on the wall and the dishes were neatly put away.  There was a faint smell of cooked rice that hung in the air. The mama was smiling from ear to ear and she gave me the biggest hug. You know those hugs you get when you can tell somebody really means it. While we were still holding one another I whispered in her ear with tears in my eyes, “I am so proud of you mama. I am so, so proud.” The power of the moment was huge because I could not have honestly said this to her 8 months ago. Here is the story of a life – a family transformed. 8 Months Ago – When I walked into the shack the place was a mess. There was a young girl about 14 who was desperately trying to clean the place up. I could see in her eyes that she was embarrassed. The floors were so dirty your feet stuck to them, there were papers, dirty laundry and very dirty dishes everywhere and the smell was awful. I asked where her mother was and she said sleeping. It was about 2:00 in the afternoon. I asked her to please go and call her mother for me, which she did. When the mama came out of the room she sat on the bed next to me. I could smell her before I saw her. She was drunk.  I briefly looked around the room one more time and as I locked eyes with the young girl something inside me welled up with righteous anger and sadness. I quickly asked one of the mama’s to take the girl for a walk outside and not to come back in until I came out. Thankfully, I had two Xhosa mama’s with me so one could stay in the shack to assist the conversation that was to come. I don’t know what it was but something inside me snapped and I did the one thing that as polite people we are not supposed to do. I said exactly, and I mean exactly, what was on my heart and mind. Words flowed out of my mouth that I could not believe were coming out. My heart was broken for this little girl. In a country where...