One part of our everyday schedule at Faith Alive was called "projects". This was the time you could serve in the area in which you were interested. As mentioned in the previous post, Dr. Chris had helped me realize I could be useful in the pastoral area of prayer and listening to patients' stories. I used to like spending this part of the day walking around trying to comfort people. There is a counseling unit that is part of Faith Alive's social services. The counselors inform patients how to prevent spreading diseases and how to cope with having a disease.
One day I met a counselor who touched my heart. She was a pretty woman wearing a beautiful African dress. She was sitting at the desk in her office and waved to me to come in. After noticing an article on her desk by Rick Warren, who wrote The Purpose Driven Life, I knew she was someone I wanted to speak with. "I am new" she told me. "You are new?" I asked. "Yes, I am new at this," she said. I emphasized "I am new new too! I have never been to Africa or any mission trip before." She told me she was nervous. I reassured her. I told her about our church and how most of us had read The Purpose Driven Life together. She said "I know my life has a purpose now." She then told me her story.
Her husband had contracted AIDS. She took care of him and her three children. It was very hard for her to watch her husband get sicker and sicker and eventually die. Somehow despite her best efforts, her youngest child caught the disease and died. She cried to God how can this be! She felt guilty and ashamed. She felt like she didn't want to live anymore. She told of how the Faith Alive Family helped her regain hope and how they showed her God's love.
She said she had always had religion in her life. Her family took her to church as a child. But something was different now. She now knew Jesus Christ as her personal Savior. All she wanted to do now was to share her faith and to help other people who are suffering like she had been herself. She said He did not mean for us to be alone. We have to go out, share our faith and try to help people.
I was amazed by her story. As I walked back to the guesthouse that afternoon, I thought of how the AIDS disease leaves women and children alone. There is still a very strong stigma in that country concerning AIDS. So most of the men who get the disease do not seek medical help. Then sometimes the wives get it and also the children who have weaker immune systems then also get the disease. They have nowhere to go. There are no shelters or clinics run by government agencies or non-profit organizations. There are no nearby wealthy neighborhoods for donations or handouts. There is only Faith Alive - an oasis in the desert - and Faith Alive depends on the mercy of other countries' donations. I wondered how would it feel to have to depend on the charity of another country for survival instead of it coming from a surrounding neighborhood, community, city or state.
As you walk down the street you see storefronts and houses that are little more than shacks. The Nigerian people wave to you, children run up to you. Everyone is saying, "You're welcome!" and "Thank you so much!" They are so grateful for the help they receive from America. I would have to just stop sometimes and catch my breath to keep from crying. They do not want pity. They need support and encouragement. They look up to our country. I think I was so blessed just to be born in the United States.
After a few days you know the path very well from Faith Alive to the guesthouse. As I looked down the street before entering the guesthouse, I saw some children playing in the street. I remembered when Fr.Emmanuel (born in Nigeria) celebrated the mass at our church and gave the Nativity Nigeria team a blessing a few days before we left on the mission. During his homily he asked, "When you see a dirty little boy playing in the street, will you be able to see Jesus Christ in that child, or will you only see a dirty little boy?"
Well, I saw Jesus Christ in the poor, Nigerian children playing in the streets. I saw Jesus Christ in the soulful eyes of poor and hungry children, in the patients with their bowed heads as we prayed together, in smiling and welcoming faces of the Nigerian people, in the caring, dedicated service of the staff and in the sacrifices that Dr. Chris makes for Faith Alive. I had such a strong feeling that my eyes were seeing Holy.
I played this song over and over on my CD player while I was there: My Eyes Have Seen Holy by Bebo Norman. Here are some of the lyrics and video:
...Mercy, weep over me.
Let your tears wash me clean.
Majesty, be merciful with me,
For my eyes have seen Holy.
Top photo: Some of the Faith Alive Social Services Staff
Bottom photo: The entrance to the Faith Alive Social Services Unit with the welcome banner for visiting missiionary teams.