Thursday, October 30, 2014

This Place Goes With Us...

The rust red dirt, fine as baby powder, danced through the bus' air vents, focusing the sun into beams of light.  Upon ending the 1 1/2 hour transit from Johannesburg, the powder settled, almost thick enough to create stains as it was brushed off black pants and sweaters.  Under the red soil lay some of the world's richest platinum mines, pulled from its resting place in the earth by thousands of workers housed in barracks, separated from their families for 11 months at a time.

Sifting through the red powder soil, we find the lives of women in mining towns, brought from Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique with the promise of work in mining communities.  Human trafficking and poverty meld and the bodies of Children of God are dishonored.  The metal shacks that the women call home often lack windows. Doors are reinforced with wood in an attempt to keep their bodies safe at night--though, on occasion, roofs have been ripped off, the intruder taking all that is inside.

Women give birth to babies, and, even in places of unspeakable darkness, children grow and play while their mothers wash clothes, cook food, and form friendships with one another.  When their bodies begin to slim, and tubercular fevers begin, the women press washcloths upon one another's brow, emptying latrine buckets, holding babies while their mothers lay motionless on rust red dirt floors.

Close to half of all pregnant women in the community are HIV positive, with no money and no access to antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to combat the disease.

Then the Body of Christ responded.  Tapologo hospice began.

As a priest who lived in the area for much of his adult life, Bishop Kevin Dowling worked to secure treatment services and end of life care to the women living in the villages.  Relationships and trust grew and medications were obtained.  The women in the village were empowered, as they heard of options and possible ways to earn income and break free of those who used their bodies.  However, even as this decision was made, more women were brought to the village, the cycle of AIDS, poverty and trafficking unbroken.

The women began to receive training from nurses and health care professionals.  Empowered to help provide care to their community, the women, even those infected themselves, go door to door, ensuring those with the disease receive ARVs, take the medication correctly, and receive monitoring to promote health.  Chart notes are made, patient's conditions are monitored weekly, and the women, thanks to the support of one another, live.

The hospice beds, once filled with dying women prior to ARV therapy, are now mostly empty with close to 1,000 patients receiving maintenance therapy in their homes.  Mothers who receive therapy are at much lower risk of transmitting AIDS to their babies at birth as they nurse.

Further, the women have become more empowered as they learn trades and skills, which in some cases frees them from those who held their bodies and finances captive.  As a whole, the women have now begun demanding the men use condoms--which, while far from a solution to the dire situation the women find themselves in, has helped reduce transmission.

Loading the bus to leaving Tapologo, red dust footprints covered the floor.  It peppered our hair, filled our lungs, could not be brushed away.  This place goes with us.

New life, new opportunities for the community, new found health provided us with hope and thanksgiving--the Body of Christ was present and transforming.

The beast of trafficking, rape, poverty, and pain remain.  Christ is still on the cross, crying out in agony.

Death and Resurrection.

We give thanks for the power of community, Christ's work in the world, and hope for a future.

We must not be satisfied until women are no longer trafficked.  Babies are no longer orphaned.  Men's lives are no longer damaged by a world that degrades their humanity, leading them to degrade others.

The Body of Christ must look to Tapologo as a sign of light and hope in the darkness.  But we must also take the red powder with us and be the Holy Spirit's very breath upon all that still must be restored.

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