Speak Up By: Danea Johnson

It’s never a good sign when you are in rural Africa with a van full of teenagers (half who speak no English) and discover your driver is lost. It gets even more real when he pulls over for directions from two men who are digging a grave. Welcome to Swaziland.

We made it to the church community safe and after a few greetings from our new friends, we got to work.  We unloaded seedlings for the garden and organized the structure we planned to build. After everyone was focused and on task the translator came to tell me the pastor was ready to go pray for the sick people. It was urgent that we go now. For some there may not be much time.

The homestead we went to first was like the ones I had seen last year. Simple mud hut and a few other “houses.”  The family came out to greet us with benches for us to sit. I looked up and saw her. She was stumbling behind a woman I would soon learn was her mother. From a distance she looked like she was covered in powdered sugar sparkling in the sunlight.  The two of them sat down in the dirt in front of us and I saw what it was. Her entire body was covered from head to toe in lesions. They had broken open and infection was pouring out all over. The breath escaped from my body. My lips quivered and the tears burned my eyes. “Don’t break down. Not now.” I said to myself.  All I could think about was Grace. As I watched the mother tighten the rags they used for blankets around her, I could feel my heart ache at the thought of what she was facing. The sweet little 6 year old shivered from fever and fear. Her eyes rolled back and she looked away.

The pastor wasted no time and we all rose to our feet while he prayed. The other church members joined in. I didn’t understand the words they spoke (Siswati) but I could understand the urgency they pleaded with. Prayers for mercy, and healing for this child.  I have never felt anything so powerful. I wanted to collapse and hold them both and cry with them. From one mother to another. I could feel her pain and desperation. They finished praying and I said a simple prayer in English for peace, understanding and healing.

We made it back to the church and worked a little more but all I could think about was the sick little girl and my healthy little girl 9,000 miles away.  I went right to Janine as soon as the team got back to the hotel. I told her the story and about the lesions. “Does she have leprosy?” I asked. “No, sounds like sarcoma from AIDS, it’s when your immune system is gone. All too common here.” She assured me she would have someone go check on her.

An hour or so later she found me and told me she was going to follow our driver the next day and try to find the girl to get her some help.  I went back to my room and panicked a little. What if I overreacted? She would go all the way there for nothing. I looked down and found a card that was sent from a friend back home. Inside was a scripture: Proverbs 31: 8-9 “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

We got to the homestead and Janine asked to go directly to the girl instead of them dragging her out to us. We went inside the dark hut to find her laying on the ground next to an open fire. I was choking from the smoke while Janine did the talking. She discovered through broken translation that the mother was HIV positive and on ARVs. The father had already died of AIDS. The clinic they had visited told them the girl had chicken pox. Janine stepped out and got on her phone. In mere moments we were in the car with the mother and daughter with the van driver following behind us. (he would drive me back with them) I asked one of the teenagers (Chase) to come along so I wasn’t alone on the way back.)

The clinic was amazing and the doctor was quick to see her. Janine went with them while we waited. A short time later Janine comes out and tells us that the doctor is certain she has AIDS but the mother has never had her tested (I assume she knew the results) The doctor was going to do a test before giving her medicine and Janine asked us to pray.

“”Pray? For what? “ I thought. I closed my eyes and half heartedly asked for strength for the mother and for what she was facing.  Ten minutes or so later Janine comes out again, this time eyes filled with tears. “It’s a miracle. The test is negative. The doctor is in disbelief. She has been healed.”

I tried to rationalize what had just happened. “Healed? Really?”  I am so angry with myself for doubting what I had just experienced. Why is it so hard to believe that the God who created the universe could heal a little girl? Of course he healed her. Shame on me for my faithless prayer that I had offered. When the Swazis prayed the day before, they did it with fearless faith. They pleaded with their whole hearts to God for mercy and healing and he heard them. I was there and wanted to collapse in the presence of the Holy Spirit but I didn’t even recognize it at the time. They knew  exactly who they were praying to.

We managed to find a grocery store to buy the family some sugar beans and bread to help her regain her strength and then found our way back to the homestead. The mother got out of the van, handed off her child and turned to me. She hugged me and held onto me like we were the best of friends. One mother’s heart to another mother’s heart.

I am so unworthy of the blessing I was given that day. I will be giving thanks for the rest of my life for the love he must have for me, to let me be a tiny part of that. If we only Really knew how great our God is, how much faith could we pray with? I will seek that knowledge the rest of my life.

I don’t know the little girl’s name. I call her Nomsa. I was told it means “Grace” in Siswati.

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