In the middle of our meeting, Jackie, a Kenyan woman who had recently lost her husband to aids, asked us directly, "Have any of you lost a loved one to AIDS?" "Do any of you know anyone with AIDS?" We feebly answered, "No."
"How do you expect to be relevant here?" she asked.
We were in Nairobi, where a group from my church was meeting for the first time the Kenyans with whom we would join in responding to Nairobi's AIDS epidemic. Jackie had inadvertently touched on both our deepest fear and our primary reason for coming to Kenya. We feared there was no way to express how we cared for Kenyans awash in the flood of AIDS.
Yet we earnestly desired to give voice to God's hope. We were to learn that despite our inexperience and insecurity, we could show God's love to suffering people and make a difference in their lives.
A Resurrected Calling
Shortly before AIDS was first identified, I lived for two years in the Congo, bringing malnourished children back to health. I saw how infectious diseases precipitated malnutrition and even killed already weakened children. I began to know when a starving child was rounding the corner back to health, when the look in his or her eyes became sharper.
I remember one child we nourished to this point, only to watch him lose his slim grip on life after acquiring an infectious diarrhea. He died suddenly from dehydration.
When I returned to the U.S., I earned a graduate degree in epidemiology to learn how to prevent or slow the spread of infectious diseases. I had intended to return to Africa, but marriage, children, and other events led to an academic career and roots in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
When a friend gave me an issue of Time magazine featuring a cover story on AIDS, I felt an undertow pulling ...