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"I have been so bad in my lifetime that God could never forgive me—God will never forgive me," the emaciated woman whispers. She lies motionless atop a pile of old blankets on a cold, mud-packed floor, looking off into space as Busi Mdamba, a pastor's wife, encourages her to eat, then leans in close and prays. A lone tear rolls down the woman's face.

As tears fill her own eyes and her usual smile is gone, Mdamba slowly looks away. It's been a rough week in Elukwatini, South Africa. Three people have already died, and this woman most likely will be next.

"People all around us are sick in the prime of their life," Mdamba says. "We cannot sit here and pretend that it is not in the church or [is not] affecting Christians."

Members of the Elukwatini Nhlazatshe Baptist Church weren't used to taking their faith beyond the church walls before Mdamba and her husband, Pastor Sibusiso, arrived a few years ago. The unemployment rate in this town of 30,000 people was high, and people did anything they could to get food, even resorting to theft and prostitution. The township, just kilometers from Swaziland, has the nation's third-highest infection rate. Swaziland, an independent monarchy inside South Africa, also has a very high rate of aids.

The church began a food parcel program. As they distributed food, members found one sick person after another. Most are hidden away by ashamed family members. Members soon saw the great need for ministry, but because of the social stigma surrounding the disease, church leaders decided to care for all of the community's terminally ill, not just aids patients.

Behind Closed Doors

Drawn curtains and a padlocked door don't stop Mdamba from knocking at the simple mud home. She peers into every window ...

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South Africa: Dying Alone
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In the Magazine

July 8, 2001

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