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Loving—No Matter What

Kami Rice

I sat on a bench inside the home made of mud and sticks. Rain fell steadily on the thatched roof. We had finished our chai tea, a staple of Kenyan hospitality, and prepared for the little speeches that are customary before visitors depart. Mostly the adults talked, but some of the younger kids and a classy-but-quiet high school girl gave it a try. My friend Linda, who is a missionary, whispered to me that in rural Kenya, learning to speak in this type of setting is part of growing up.

 

devozine Kami & New Friends in Kenya

Finally, it was my turn. Sammary, the Kenyan ministry partner, translated my English into Kipsigese while I tried to communicate what was pounding in my heart. I thanked these beautiful women for showing me what family and hospitality were supposed to be, and I promised to tell others of their example.

 



Uncommon Hospitality

devozine Joyce & family FtrEarlier that day, when Joyce, her baby, Linda, Sammary, and I first arrived at this family’s home, I had watched as Joyce’s mother-in-law reached for her grandson and as Joyce’s arms were filled with another of the family’s babies. The women held the babies up to each other, smiling as the older one reached out for the younger one.

Such smiles and embraces are familiar to families around the world; but this scene was profound because, under the circumstances of our visit, it is not a common one in Kenya. Joyce is HIV-positive. In Kenya, the social stigma around HIV and AIDS is so severe that many Kenyans are afraid to be tested. They don’t want to be shunned by their families and friends if they prove to be infected. This is part of the reason the AIDS pandemic in Africa has been so hard to check. It is almost taboo to talk about the disease.

 

The Prodigal Returns

Joyce’s story contains elements of the prodigal son’s story (see Luke 15:11–32). She was married and had a son with her husband before he died. After his death, she embraced a lifestyle of drinking and sexual promiscuity. She had four more sons. When two of the men Joyce had slept with died from AIDS, she knew she might be infected; but she was afraid to be tested.

devozine Joyce with her sonsOver the years, loving Christians crossed Joyce’s path; and finally, she invited Jesus into her life. After some early struggles, she gave up drinking and the relationships that had dragged her down; and she embraced a path toward life. She started taking antiretroviral medications to slow the progress of the HIV and is growing stronger physically. She has also found people who help her grow stronger spiritually by praying and reading scripture with her.

Now Joyce says, “I’m very happy because God is protecting me in a lot of ways. . . . God is our provider.”

 



A New Home

Currently, Joyce’s two oldest sons live with relatives because she is not able to provide for them. Her prayer is that she will be able to move to a home where all her sons can live with her, where she can teach them the word of God and train them in the right way.

devozine Joyce & oldest son on site of future homeJoyce’s once-sad eyes were clear, and her smile was radiant during our visit to see her late husband’s family. We went to see the property they are giving Joyce as an inheritance from her husband. The local church and the missionaries are working with the family to build a house for Joyce and her sons. There she will be able to grow food and have a cow for milk, and she will live in the midst of a family who loves her.

Only the women and children were home when we visited. Their smiles were as radiant as Joyce’s. When we asked how many of them were Christians, all of the adult women in the room raised their hands. This is the source of love that has prompted them to act against cultural norms to welcome Joyce back into the family.

 

 

DIG DEEPER

One of Joyce’s favorite Bible verses is John 14:1: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (NIV). How can this verse help you to love people who have been shunned by others? What does it teach you about God that can help when others reject you?

devozine VCT Centre AIDS ClinicPray for Joyce and for people around the world who are living with HIV/AIDS. Pray that those who are afraid they may have the disease will find the courage to be tested, that medical care will be available to those who are sick, and that God will provide loving people to help them embrace life.

Kami Rice traveled, through God's generosity, as a writer in Africa for four months in 2007 and met a wide variety of God’s beautiful people.

—from devozine (July/August 2008). Copyright © 2008 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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