Thursday, June 29, 2006

AIDS in Zambia

The HIV/AIDS virus has taken center stage in feared scenarios of life. When teaching to a group on any subject in Africa, the leaders take the opportunity to teach on STD's, most of all HIV. Zambia had reached an expected life expectancy of 60 years old around 1980; that life expectancy has now fallen to 37 years old because of AIDS.

While teaching on marriage, we had the perfect opportunity to speak about sex and AIDS. While Donna Jestes spoke to the women outside on the role of the wife in marriage, Mike Jestes spoke to the men inside on STD's. In our next session, Ed spoke to the men on the role of the husband and Mike spoke to the wife on STD's.

Misinformation abounds about AIDS. A common belief is that if a man, who is HIV positive, has sex with a virgin, he will no longer have HIV. So, many older men have sex with younger women, infecting them. The group being infected most are 15-24 years women through heterosexual relationships.

Mike Jestes is executive director of Oklahoma Family Policy Council (associated with Focus on the Family). OFPC does the most extensive STD/Abstinence education training of anyone in the state of Oklahoma. His extensive experience was valuable in communicating the facts to both the men and women in Zambia.

Marriage and Family Teaching

Zambians are a peaceful people, our host explained. They do not fight each other or with outside nationalities; but death has a pervasive presence. Many families have four to ten children; often one or two have died, sometimes in an accident, often from disease. Many young women are widowed, children are orphaned. Grief is a constant companion.

One battlefront raging within that country, killing large segments of their inhabitants, is HIV/AIDS. Misinformation abounds about the ubiquitous enemy. Why is AIDS so prevalent in Africa? They asked us.

Without answers to that haunting question, we sought to arm them with information and inspiration to save their lives and their marriages. Their thankfulness humbled us. Their celebration of the Lord showered us with joy. Their great hunger for His Truth captivates our hearts.

We passed out cards near the beginning for them to submit anonymous questions about marriage. The variety of questions included many questions about HIV/AIDS and sex. Others: What can you advise a couple who found his partner in adultery? Why do pastors divorce their wives? How can the marriages be acquitted of traditions that are barriers? Why do men fail to say “sorry and please forgive me,” especially to their spouses? What can I do to make my marriage to be strong? … They have unique challenges due to traditions, low incomes, and the scourge of AIDS, but they also have the same kind of problems we do.

We should never presume that they cannot understand or absorb our message because of the difference in education, income, or exposure to modern ways. We have found that the African people are very intelligent, highly teachable, and have a thirst for knowing more of God’s Word and how to live it out.

Zambian Resourcefulness

Being without power or not having a kitchen would never stop a Zambian from providing a meal or tea for a group, even if it is a large group. The venue where we were meeting did not have kitchen facilities but that was not a deterrent to the women serving the needs of the conference attendees. They went out behind the building and built a fire and cooked lunch. Every morning they had tea and rolls for the group. The absence of a dining hall meant that the men and women found places outside to gather in groups to eat and talk.