Remembering World AIDS Day in Zambia

Today is World AIDS Day, and for the last six years Kristin and I have lived and worked in Zambia and spent four of those years primarily ministering with and through the CROSS Project HIV/AIDS ministry in the compounds of Lusaka. This has been a distinct privilege and also a heart breaking reality at times. On World AIDS Day, let us remember the unbreakable hope of the Gospel found in Jesus Christ and pray for countries like Zambia, where every one is either “infected or affected” by HIV/AIDS.

Below the numbers(below) is an article that I (Derek) wrote in 2014 about “When You’re in Ground Zero,” it’s shares the story of Vera, an HIV positive child who passed away in the summer of 2014.  _______________________________________________________

Zambia 2015 (information below taken from Avert)

1.2 million people living with HIV

12.9% adult HIV prevalence rate

60,000 new HIV infections

20,000 AIDS-related deaths

63% adults on antiretroviral treatment

“In 2013, over 54,000 adults and 12,000 children became newly infected with HIV in Zambia.1 These figures represent the plateau of HIV prevalence in the country since the mid-nineties; HIV prevalence is neither increasing or decreasing. At its height, HIV prevalence in Zambia was 14.5%, and as of 2013 is still high at 12.5%.”

“One in every eight people in the country are living with HIV, and life expectancy is just 58.1 years.3 However, this is a considerable increase from the 2012 life expectancy of 49.4 years, partly thanks to improved access to antiretroviral treatment.”

Children, orphans and HIV in Zambia

“Children have been severely affected by the HIV epidemic in Zambia, where 150,000 children are estimated to be living with HIV, alongside 600,000 children orphaned by AIDS.”

“However, these figures are declining and Zambia is expected to reach its target of reducing new child infections by 90% by the end of 2015.19”

“A huge part of this progress is due to the implementation of a rigorous prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) programme, which has seen the percentage of children born HIV-positive drop by 51% between 2011 and 2012.20 Over 96% of women received PMTCT support in 2013, meeting universal target levels.”

“Latest data also shows that 60% of men under the age of 50 have never been tested for HIV, and only 33% of young people have tested. Couples counseling and testing is also extremely low in the country, despite this being an effective route to testing more people for HIV elsewhere.”

“A study in 2012 found a combination of reasons explaining why people were not testing, including a fear of stigma, rejection by their sexual partner, a fear of antiretroviral treatment, and a belief that traditional medicine would keep them healthy if they became ill. These beliefs are ill-informed, but also reflect the continued stigma around HIV in Zambia.”

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When You’re in Ground Zero

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Ground zero is defined as, “a site of devastation, disaster, or violent attack.” It seems like it would be pretty obvious to someone to know if they are in “ground zero.” And most of the time, it is. But sometimes you can be in ground zero and not even know that you are there. For instance, the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Southern Africa is very deceiving, and one can hardly realize where ground zero is, until you find yourself there, in that “site of devastation, disaster or violent attack.” That happened to me (Derek) on May 28th.

The CROSS Project HIV/AIDS ministry that we coordinate has been helping out at a local feeding program that happens three times a week for over a hundred children who are all HIV positive. Mostly, we help with some counseling, basic medical care, and some administration work. However, it is run and operated out of a local church in George Compound by Pastor Wozifera and his wife, Easter, both of whom are on staff with ACTION Zambia.

Pastor Wozifera sent me a text on Monday morning, May 26th, and informed me that Vera, one of the children from the feeding program had passed away at a local hospital that morning – the funeral was on Wednesday. Myself, Pastor Wozifera, Easter, and Eta, one of our national workers with CROSS, all went to the funeral. Vera, who was only 14 years old when she died, had lost both parents to HIV and was living with her grandma, so the funeral was held at her grandma’s church. Because I was the only westerner attending the funeral, Pastor Wozifera, Eta, and myself were quickly ushered to the front of the church and were instructed to sit near the family (an awkward situation that many Westerners find themselves in).

As I sat across from Vera’s family in the front of the church and started to think about the situation with Vera and what led to her death and what was being said in the funeral, I realized that I was in the middle of ground zero of the HIV/AIDS crisis in Southern Africa. And the reason that I knew I was there was because of the silence about HIV/AIDS that pervaded the situation with Vera and the funeral itself.

Vera’s family never told her that she was HIV positive. Vera found out about her HIV status inadvertently two years ago through a staff member at a local clinic. This led to Vera feeling a lot of bitterness and anger towards her family for not sharing her status with her and wondering why this was happening to her. Why did she have to get HIV from her Mom at birth? She had done nothing wrong. Right before her death, Vera confessed that she had stopped taking her ARVs (immune system boosting drugs that help suppress HIV) for the last year. She did this out of bitterness, anger, fear, and the depression that she was feeling over her HIV status; because of the silence and mistrust that had grown between her and her family; and as a way to rebel against her family and, in some way, get back at them. Pastor Wozifera said he also felt that Vera had never really accepted or, probably in may ways, understood her HIV status and all that it involves.

The characteristic silence during her life spilled over into the funeral. There was no mention of HIV or why Vera had died. The Pastor officiating at the funeral did not take the opportunity to talk about how important it is to share one’s HIV status with their family, to talk to the affected children about HIV, etc. HIV/AIDS was completely left out of the the entire funeral service, even though the entire reason why the funeral was happening was due to HIV and the unnecessary and tragic consequences in a young girl’s life because of silence about HIV.

Going to Vera’s funeral and burial was extremely sad, because her death was so unnecessary and she was so young. But it was also a powerful reminder to me of why we are here in Zambia and that the ministry that we are doing with HIV/AIDS and churches (the CROSS Project) is so important. There is still a lot of work to do, a lot of prayers to pray, and the hope of the gospel to share!

img_1666A picture taken at Vera’s funeral

Home Assignment Starts in One Week

Well, we are down to the final seven days before we leave Zambia for our third Home Assignment of our almost six years that we have been back in Zambia. We have been busy trying to get done everything we need to get done before we go. Thankfully, two of the biggest things, like getting our work permits and Zambian Driver’s licenses renewed were able to get done and with over a week to spare!

img_3803Our Christmas Tree this year. Even though it won’t be up very long, we decided to put it up for the boys. They were both thrilled, and Sam is generally pretty thrilled by it each and every morning.

Now, we just need to get our house ready and packed for one of our Zambian colleagues and his family who will be staying here while we are gone, and we ourselves also need to pack for the States. We are trying to dig out all of our winter stuff here to bring back to a Midwest that is getting pretty cold compared to a Lusaka that is in the upper 70’s and rainy. We also look forward forward to this Saturday as we welcome back the Huckabys from their six month home assignment and say goodbye to Tracy and Karen Singleton as they head back to the States after 9 years of ministry with ACTION Zambia working with pastors and leaders.

Every Home Assignment makes me feel extremely blessed. Blessed by Teammates and National Workers here who take up responsibilities as we leave and those right now back in the States who are getting vans ready for us to use, digging out winter clothes from storage lockers, and preparing places in their homes for us to stay in and the list could go on and on. We are so very blessed by everyone on both sides of the Ocean that do so much for our little family to travel back, speak, connect with family, friends and supporters and, hopefully, also get some rest, which we feel like we could really use.

We would greatly appreciate your prayers as we travel back starting next Wednesday at 9:30pm Lusaka time – prayers for safety and also for our kids that they would travel well from Lusaka to Dubai and then on to Chicago.

Thank you so much for your love and support and we look forward to seeing so many of you very soon!!

Sam and Charlie getting ready for America…

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Fall 2016 Newsletter

Greetings from a very hot and dusty Zambia!

In this newsletter, we give an update on some ministry things and that we will be on Home Assignment soon – we leave Zambia on December 7th! Click here to see out latest newsletter.

Thank you so much for you love and support!

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Sam trying to stay cool 

New ACTION Zambia Deputy Directors

AZ logo BEST transA week ago, our ACTION Zambia Board of Trustees, approved my recommendation for Kelly Huckaby and Pastor John Chitambo to both become our new AZ Deputy Directors. I have known and worked with both Kelly and John for almost six years and am very blessed to have them both now helping out in a greater leadership capacity within AZ. They will also both continue on in their roles at Camp Ciyanjano for Kelly and the CROSS Project for John.

We would all greatly appreciate your prayers as we lead this team forward and seek to glorify God by strengthening the local church, especially among the urban poor, here in Zambia through the various ministries of AZ. Also, special thanks and appreciation to Tracy Singleton for serving as AZ Deputy Director for many years up until the end of 2015.

Both Pastor John and Kelly, besides many other qualities, are two of the funniest people I have had the privilege of knowing. In that spirit, below is our newest (and only) album cover. We don’t plan on releasing any music, just the album cover.

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Piling It On

There have been moments in the last 6-12 months where I have wondered, “Really, God? Was that petty annoyance really necessary? Because it feels like insignificant frustrations are getting piled on.” And, of course, the answer is that God is sovereignly, lovingly working Christlikeness and worship in my broken heart…though it hurts and burns.

But, as I have thought quite a bit about the phrase “piling it on” – because the power still goes off at unscheduled times and just when I am ready to put the bread in the oven or wash a load of muddy boy clothes, or the hot water doesn’t work…again, or the water tank starts leaking out of the blue, or the boys are exceptionally needy and naughty when we’re about to host 13 people for dinner, or… – I was reminded of a different kind of piling it on this morning from Romans 5.

5:1 – we have justification through faith

5:1 – we have PEACE with God through Jesus

5:2 – we also have obtained access by faith into grace

5:2 – and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God

5:3-4 – not only that (!), but we rejoice in our sufferings…because we know that God is working good things (endurance, character, hope) through the suffering

5:5 – God’s love has been poured into our hearts

5:5 – we have the Holy Spirit

I hope and pray that, in all the “piling on” of God’s carefully designed “petty annoyances,” I will remember the much greater piling on of the incredible and totally undeserving riches of God’s glory.

Bethlehem Baptist Team (Part 2). The Retreat.

(Left to right) Jack, Lydia, Laurie, Monica, Liz, Steve, Tyler, Sheryl, Kate, and Kate

(Left to right) Jack, Lydia, Laurie, Monica, Liz, Steve, Tyler, Sheryl, Kate, and Kate

Insignificant. Small. Don’t know very much. Unworthy. Limited experience.

Great. Mighty. Strong. Big. Exceeding.

The first set of words/phrases is how I heard members of the Bethlehem Baptist team refer to themselves in comparison to the ACTION Zambia missionaries and national workers.

The second set of words is how I would describe the actions of the Bethlehem Baptist team as they humbly, energetically, graciously served the AZ team on our AZ Staff Retreat. “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant” Matt. 20:26, ESV. They achieved greatness in God’s eyes through a thousand small acts of self-sacrifice under a few big categories.

1. Through the word of Christ and worship. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” Col. 3:16, ESV. Jack Delk (who I – Kristin – have known since I first started going to Bethlehem in 1999) primarily led the teaching time, with Steve Stein bringing up the rear with a slam-bang finish. A few highlights of this time for me, personally, were…

  • worshiping with our team (led by Tyler Stitt, who did a great job!),
  • sharing with each other what the main burden is that we each carry these days,
  • being reminded of what the gospel is,
  • assessing the motivation behind why we do what we do,
  • looking at the incredible bigness and power and sovereignty of our God in the universe and then applying his specific and good love to each of us.
Liz, beginning each session with an ice breaker

Liz, beginning each session with an ice breaker

2. Through trusted childcare. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me” Matt. 18:5, ESV. “Train up a child in the way he should go” Prov. 22:6, ESV. Liz Stein and crew provided times for the missionary kids to learn about God’s care for them through his promises to them. I know that Liz put plenty of time and thought into addressing the felt needs of each child there, and God honored that! When I told Charlie that the retreat was over and it was time to go home, he cried and said, “No, I just want to stay here forever!” One of our teammate’s children said, “It’s like Miss Liz knows what missionary kids are like!”

And not only was there structured teaching/activity time for the kids so that the parents could participate in adult teaching without distraction, there was free babysitting during the down time! Charlie especially adored Auntie Sheryl and Uncle Tyler, who walked with him and played with him and listened attentively to his endless observations. Sam loved the independence of being able to wander wherever his little legs would take him with the comfort of knowing someone was right there in case he needed help.

3. Through gifts. The entire retreat was paid for by the Bethlehem team. This included delicious meals and snacks, comfortable accommodations, fireside chats, lots of fun activities – swimming (brrr!), billiards, safaris, cheese tasting tours, boating, and fishing – and then giving each of us a stack of fresh reading material to build up our souls.

4. Through questions and prayers. It was apparent that the Bethlehem team sought out not just practical ways to bless and serve the AZ team, but they took advantage of moments to talk, listen, understand our lives, and then pray. They were moments of total giving – not seeking to be heard or having a platform to talk, just asking and listening and affirming and caring. They were sweet and life-giving.

Thank you, BBC (Steve, Liz, Jack, Tyler, Laurie, Sheryl, Monica, Lydia, Kate, and Kate!!!!), for giving, serving, teaching, and investing in us!! You loved us well.

The BBC and AZ Teams

The BBC and AZ Teams

Bethlehem Baptist Team and Hospice Seminar

Well, after all the planning, preparation, and then, by God’s grace, the execution of those plans, the Bethlehem Team trip is all wrapped up, and they safely left on Tuesday night and arrived home very early on Thursday morning in Minneapolis. Because of the August 11th elections for President, Parliament, and a referendum, plus other offices, we were a bit worried with BBC coming and how everything was going to come together. We were also concerned just with safety, since the lead up to this election has seen a lot more violence in Lusaka and around Zambia between the two parties than in times past.

We did run into some (actually, kind of a lot of) political cadres in George Compound on August 1st, as we did three home visits with the team and Pastor Wozifera Ngoma and his wife Easter. There was a political rally going on close to the houses we were visiting. But God gave us safety, and we were able to visit three homes and pray with and encourage those folks, plus the nurses on the team also did some trouble shooting. But it was helpful for the team to see compound life and where people are coming from and the conditions they face and the challenges compound life brings for caregivers as they seek to care for loved ones, friends, and others with very little.

Hospice Training 

Then, over August 2-5, the BBC Team conducted a basic Hospice Seminar, similar to 2014, for former CROSS Project (CP) participants. Over 110 former CP participants from churches we taught in 2015-2016 went through six different stations on hospice care –

  • Hand Washing and Sanitation
  • Wound Care
  • Nutrition and Dehydration
  • Bed Bath
  • Turning, Transferring, and Positioning Patients
  • End of Life Care

As with the 2014 seminar, we heard encouraging stories about how the stations were very helpful to the caregivers. We even had one nurse’s aid remark this time how the things they were being taught were so helpful and practical and were things that she never learned in nurse’s aid training.

Below are some pictures from the Hospice Seminar and BBC in action (sorry, Liz – we can’t find the pics of your station!). We are so thankful, as AZ and the CROSS Project, to have BBC come and help us!! Please pray that God would help people remember what they have learned from this seminar and that God would be glorified as these former students seek to help people physically, share the gospel, and share this important information with others in the compounds of Lusaka!