For the past few days Steve, Emmanueli, Sara and I have been stranded in the small town of Njombe, about 6 hours from our home school, Madisi. We left for Lukima, a VSI school near the border of Tanzania and Mozambique and not even halfway into our journey, the transmission in our truck went out. After 5 hours on the side of the road we finally got a tow back to Njombe which was an hour away. We are still waiting for the repairs to be finished. I don't have internet access often and thought I'd take the time to write a blog post. The only problem: Not much to write about when all I've been doing is waiting in a tiny guest house for 3 days. So, instead of a story from me, I'd like to share with you Susan Vinton's latest blog post. She and Steve started Village Schools 7 years ago and Susan has dedicated her life to supporting her friends with HIV in the villages surrounding her home. The sick come to the VSI clinic every day for help, support and friendship. She is the busiest woman I know and treats everyone who comes to her with compassion and love.
Steve & Susan Vinton
Village Schools International
Box 1929 Tomball Texas 77377
February 1, 2012
A beautiful scene – Baba Asia walking with his 2-year old little boy Bekam, as the two of them were coming home from church. Baba Asia had been my enemy for at least five years – he hated me and he hated everything about me – but recently he became my ally and even more recently my brother in Christ. In the midst of all of the death and sorrow that is a part of our lives here, I see God so at work as He draws even the most unlovable towards Him.
Baba Asia was arrogant, angry, mean and oh so very powerful. And he didn’t like me, he didn’t like Village Schools, and he especially didn’t like what I was doing here. Oppressing and being just downright mean to women in these villages seemed to be his specialty, and for some reason I will never understand, he seemed to get away with it. As I tiptoed into the world of HIV six years ago, and as I slowly started putting the pieces together, following the trails of infection, I ended up at his house on several occasions. The first time the trail of infection led to his house, I humbly and politely let him know that getting tested for HIV was a great idea. He was polite and all only because of my nationality and because of age, but his heart was oh so very hard.
I entered into the lives of his many wives. One of my very first friends here was his first wife Sila, who I was shocked to find out was just left to die, after three of her children died. As she put it, he and his new wife would just laugh at her as she turned to skin and bones. When I picked her up and sent her on to treatment, what Baba Asia had planned was thwarted and it made him angry. Sila recovered and her presence made a mockery of his powerful arrogance. And then there was Zaida. She was only 19 years when he married her, but threw her out when she became sick and her baby died. I called Zaida one of my daughters and through many visits to her little house, I grew to love her. I still remember when she became a new creation in Christ. The joy transformed her dying body. Then there was Mama Asia, the wife of the moment in his home at that time. Her misery and unhappiness was apparent to all in the whole village. I could barely watch as sores took over her body. As I privately talked to her about HIV testing, she let me know that she also would be kicked out of the house and she would lose her children. But eventually she chose life and she got on our bus and she started treatment. And sure enough, he kicked her out and sent her back to her parents – without her children. As she left, Zaida entered the house once again, becoming the next wife of the moment. Why would she return when he arrogantly sent for her? I honestly will never know. Poverty and hunger and desperation is something I’ve never lived with, so I have no pat answers, and I won’t try to think I can understand what would cause her to return to his house. But what I do know is that God used the fact that Zaida was there in that house when Baba Asia’s past finally caught up with him. Maybe all Zaida wanted was a child she could love – and indeed that she got – her little Beckam was beyond adorable!
HIV is something that you can’t hide from. It is just a matter of time. Baba Asia used his money to buy all the antibiotics he needed. He used all his money to buy good food. He used all of his money to get good medical care if he did get even a little sick. And it kept him going for a few years longer than all of his wives. But it was TB that finally kicked him hard. And then when he learned that he not only had TB, but that he was also HIV positive, that was when his world unraveled. Within a few months, he went from being all powerful to being a man who was dying. Through my friendship with his scared teenage children, through my contacts with his father, and through my many conversations with the all-forgiving Sila and Zaida, I stayed updated on Baba Asia’s illness and through them I sent him many times practical help. It was through them that I sent him to Kibao Hospital to be admitted, and it was there that he encountered by dear friends, the sisters. When he informed them that he really didn’t have any money to pay for the hospitalization and the treatment and the medicine, they told him, “Don’t worry, Mama Vinton is taking care of it for you.”
“Why would she do that?” he asked.
“She does it for everyone. She serves Jesus like we do.”
And it seems that it was that day at the hospital that the seeds were planted. His dog eat dog view of the world was finally challenged. It took a whole year for Baba Asia to recover. His damaged lungs collapsed twice. Zaida faithfully cared for him, at times as though he were an infant, and then she fell to TB as well. We prayed with him often, and I took any of medical specialists Dr. Leena would bring with her to visit him. Talking to him after his two near death experiences, he finally agreed that God sent him back to take care of his family. He even smiled and had a playful twinkle in his eyes as I talked with him. His heart was finally started to thaw.
And then there as a Christian marriage seminar going on in our village and I asked him to go. Word had gotten out late about the seminar, and we needed some participants fast! And so I just went to him to invite him. Zaida was way too sick to attend, but much to my surprise – and everyone else’s – Baba Asia showed up. Three days later, he told me that it was the best thing he had ever attended. He told me that that he learned that he had just thrown away good marriages over stupid and little things. His heart was thawing even more.
Visiting in November with Sila, she let me know that Baba Asia was visiting her church, always sitting in the back, just listening. It was on Christmas Day though that Baba Asia and Sila’s son both became Christians. I couldn’t think of any better Christmas gift in the world. Sila’s son told me later that he just decided that living without God was hopeless. The new sparkle in the boy’s eyes revealed a new person.
I wish the story had a happier ending, but ten 10 days after Christmas, Zaida, the one I liked to call my daughter, got a headache and died 12 hours later, leaving Baba Asia, her two-year old Beckam and all of the children in Baba Asia’s house who she had lovingly cared for in lieu of their own mothers. Few things shock me anymore these days, but this one broke my heart. We rushed to the funeral and watched her be buried. Mainly I watched Baba Asia watching Zaida being buried. There he was burying the one woman he had finally come to appreciate. I’m glad that Baba Asia is still with us. He doesn’t hate me anymore. His transformation speaks volumes to all those in these villages who have yet to meet the One who is the Great Physician. He heals a whole lot more than just bodies.