Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Africa (03/05/09)
TITLE: The pandemic plague
By Gregory Kane
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Richard was only a baby when he lost his mother. She was on a commuter minibus, being taken into Harare by a driver who had spent the day guzzling one beer after another. He pulled out to overtake two men pushing a hand-cart and his minibus ploughed into an oncoming lorry. Richard's father disappeared three days later, unwilling to take responsibility for a child that bawled inconsolably for its mother's milk.
An uncle stepped forward to raise the boy. Tendai already had two wives and a gaggle of offspring, so what was one more mouth to feed? Yet if the man's compassion was commendable, his moral example was catastrophic. Tendai subscribed to the view common in Zimbabwe that no red-blooded man can possibly be satisfied by only one woman. Nor in his case by two. Richard watched a succession of girlfriends and prostitutes parade through the house. He understood that this was how real men were expected to behave. By the time Richard had reached his sixteenth birthday, he had lost count of the number of girls he had slept with.
The church was called the Renewal Centre. Richard had been invited by a friend from college. He loved the vivacious dancing and the down-to-earth preaching. Soon he was attending services three or four times a week. His quick mind brought him to the attention of the pastoral team— could he take on responsibility for the work among the older teenagers? Richard didn't hesitate— it would be an honour to serve. Besides, as his uncle pointed out, being the youth leader meant you could have sex with as many girls as came to the church.
The first that Pastor Musatadze knew that anything was wrong was when he found his daughter sobbing her heart out at the back of the sanctuary. She thought she was pregnant and she named Richard as the father. The pregnancy test came back negative but the pastor's relief was short-lived. The nurse had also taken blood for an HIV test. It was something that she did routinely but the results were devastating. Had it been me, I would have wanted to lynch Richard. But Musatadze was an incredibly gracious man. From that day on, he met weekly with the erstwhile youth worker, making sure that he was properly discipled in the Christian faith. He also checked that Richard had ready access to antiretroviral drugs to slow down the onset of AIDS.
It was about seven years later that I first met Richard. Work had brought him to Mozambique. He heard about my church and immediately threw himself into our various programmes. I was cautious at first yet I couldn't fault Richard on any point. His Bible knowledge was astonishing. He held down a responsible job and even tithed his salary. He abstained from alcohol and although he was dating a girl from church the two were clearly not sleeping together. In short, he seemed a model Christian, a far cry from the promiscuity, drunkenness and blatant dishonesty that seems to characterise so many young people in this part of the world.
The last time I spoke with Richard was at a preaching class. I was about to return home for six months and he agreed to cover some of the preaching load. Sadly my friend took sick soon after. He had stopped taking his tablets and no one who knew his HIV status was there to monitor his medication. Tuberculosis seized him like a frenzied terrier and shook him until his strength was gone. Fever ravaged his body; the weight fell off him; black sputum accompanied every hacked cough. I later spoke with him by phone, but by then his mind had been so trashed by AIDS dementia, he was scarcely aware who I was.
Richard died shortly afterwards. The sheer waste enrages me. Eminent professionals sit in air-conditioned symposiums and pontificate about solutions to the AIDS crisis. But the answer is as simple as it is unpopular: fidelity within marriage; celibacy outside marriage. Even in Africa.
I miss Richard terribly. But I know that another 'Richard' will walk through the doors of my church tomorrow. Another life devastated by HIV, another soul crying out for redemption, desperate for compassionate understanding. I'll be waiting.
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