Mhlengi was only three when the crowd arrived. They sang loudly and wailed long into the night. He watched in disbelief as they lowered his mother’s body into the ground, wanting to move closer for one last glimpse. But he didn’t dare.
Children are unwelcome guests at funerals—even if the deceased happens to be their own mother. When Mhlengi asked his grandmother why they had thrown sand onto the body, she promptly sent him off to collect water at the village well.
They never spoke of that day again.
Mhlengi’s grandmother or “Gogo” had nursed her daughter—Mhlengi’s mother—through a terrible sickness. The neighbors said she was crazy and that she would also get sick. In the rural community where they lived, the sick and dying are often neglected and left to suffer on their own. Instead, people are showered with blankets and gifts at their funerals. Everyone knows it’s better to appease a deceased ancestor than care for a dying relative.
While societal norms didn’t prevent Mhlengi’s Gogo from caring for her own child, she didn’t realize that the open sores on the hands she was usingto care for her daughter were silently exposing her to the AIDS virus that would soon take her daughter’s life. Confused by the news that she too was infected, the grandmother began to worry. “What of the little boy? Was he going to die as well?”
Testing at a local medical clinic revealed that indeed, Mhlengi was also HIV positive.
Now 12, Mhlengi isn’t old enough to know all that is required for life on his own—but his Gogo won’t live much longer—and neither of them knows who will care for him when she dies.
Mhlengi’s plight isn’t uncommon where he lives. With third-world poverty and low-education rates, his village stands in stark contrast to much of the modern and thriving areas of South Africa, even though they are only minutes apart. South Africa as a whole is believed to have the highest HIV-infection rates of any country in the world. And while access to proper medical care and survival rates for people who are HIV-positive are steadily increasing in South Africa, Mhlengi is missing two things that might save his life: the support of loving adults and food to coat his stomach and protect it against the heavy doses of medication.
Mhlengi’s Gogo loves him, but she is coming to terms with her own disease and no longer has the ability to care for herself or others in such grave circumstances. Additionally, she is too old and frail to walk to the clinic to get their medicine. Even if she could, she would have to endure the wrath of nurses who shout and shame her for previous failures in administering the medication to herself and the boy.
For more than 10 years, missionaries, motivated by compassion and Christ’s love, have used basic medical concepts like hygiene and disease prevention as a way to meet practical needs and create meaningful ways to share the gospel with people like Mhlengi and his Gogo.
Seeing incredible needs in this village 35 minutes away, Grace Baptist Church—planted in South Africa in 1987 by ABWE missionaries—created 7 Rivers Outreach to bring help and hope.
With the full support and oversight of Grace Baptist, four missionary families, with a total of 65 years of cross-cultural missionary experience, have united to develop 100-acres of rural land into a working farm. It will become a teaching center for Zulu pastors and a training center for basic job skills. One micro-enterprise on the farm is already providing income for several families. Others will soon be started. Five hundred macadamia nut trees have been planted.
Significant for boys and girls like Mhlengi, 7 Rivers Outreach will have a children’s village on-site to provide protection and support for vulnerable children. A generous donation has already fully funded the first of eight planned homes. Each home will house orphaned children under the loving care of Christian “parents.” Construction can begin once the land is purchased.
A Zulu-speaking church, started in the village by Grace Baptist, is at the center of the 7 Rivers Outreach and will provide long-term follow-up to all of the ministries and the foundation for evangelism and discipleship. Already, lives in the community are being impacted by the gospel.
By God’s grace, 7 Rivers Outreach will touch the lives of vulnerable children like Mhlengi, entire families like Gogo’s, and whole communities like this one in rural South Africa, for eternity.
LEARNHOW to transform a community and provide medical care, support and shelter for children like Mhlengi: www.abwe.org/givejoy
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