AIDS just another way to die in Lesotho
Jace A. Williams, Baptist Press
December 02, 2009

AIDS just another way to die in Lesotho

AIDS just another way to die in Lesotho
Jace A. Williams, Baptist Press
December 02, 2009

KATSE, Lesotho — Death and

funerals. Prayer for the dying and their families. More death.

It’s a way of life for the

Basotho people.

“They think HIV/AIDS is just

one more way to die,” says John Younker, a short-term missionary serving in

Lesotho, a country surrounded by South Africa. “When you meet a person in

Lesotho, or you meet a person in my village, chances are they have AIDS, or

chances are they’re HIV positive.”

The nurse at the local

clinic estimates more than 400 people out of roughly 750 in the village are HIV

positive, says Younker, who serves in Lesotho through the Georgia Baptist

Convention’s collegiate ministries in partnership with the International

Mission Board (IMB).

“They live such a hard life

that if you test positive for HIV, it’s not a life-shattering, a life-shaking

event because (you think), ‘Well, I’m going to die in the mines,’ or, ‘I’m

going to die falling off a horse,’ or ‘I’m going to get in a car accident,’ or

you’re going to die of something else,” he says.

“Why not AIDS?” asks Drew

Hooks, Younker’s teammate, also from Georgia.

In this area, someone dies

of AIDS every week.

Younker says some of his

Basotho friends purposely contract HIV/AIDS because they know their families

will get help from the government or an aid organization. Sometimes this

sacrifice is all that will keep family members alive for one more year.

In the surrounding villages,

more than 65 percent of the population is infected with HIV/AIDS, says IMB

missionary Alan Dial. Most will be dead within the next 18 months. That

knowledge brings a sense of urgency.

“I know a person sitting

there might not be here next week,” says Alan’s wife, Babs. Along with her

husband, she works to spread the stories of Jesus as quickly as she can before

there is another death. “I gather them; he tells them about Jesus,” she says.

When people are too sick to

walk any farther to hear Alan tell stories of Jesus, Babs gently shoulders

their weight to help them the rest of the way.

IMB photo

Babs Dial plays with a boy in a mountain village in Lesotho. She and her husband Alan are Southern Baptist missionaries in a country where 25 percent of children are HIV/AIDS orphans.

“There is always someone

sick,” she says. “All I can do is pray for them and share about Christ.”

She tells of numerous

friends who have died from tuberculosis and pneumonia, complications brought on

by AIDS.

“Twenty-five percent of the

Basotho children are HIV/AIDS orphans,” Alan says. Even though most families

have very little, they try to absorb these children into their homes, sharing

food and clothes.

But life is hard, and it’s

not uncommon to see a child in a blizzard wrapped in nothing more than a towel.

Roughly 12,000 of these

children have HIV themselves.

Alan believes the Basotho

people are dying off. A people of more than 2 million, approximately 270,000

Basotho have the virus and about 50 people die every day.

The first known case of AIDS

in Lesotho was in 1986. By the early 2000s, the government had declared it a

national pandemic.

“The hardest thing for me is

to watch the Basotho die day in and day out without being able to get to them

(with the gospel),” Alan says. ”Statistically, if nothing changes in

Lesotho, the Basotho will cease to exist as a people in less than 26 years.”

Some of the Basotho villages

are tucked into the mountain ranges, hidden by deep valleys and ravines. The

Dials hire guides and rent mountain ponies, sometimes traveling entire days to

get to the villages. Pitching tents to sleep in, they spend as many days as

they can telling Bible stories.

The Basotho want to know

about Jesus, the Dials say. Often some will run after them as they leave the

village, asking for one more story.

With tears in her eyes and a

loving smile, “Mema Khotso” (“mother of peace”), as Babs is known, leans over a

dying man. She prays with him, knowing he doesn’t have long to live. Thin, with

skin just hanging on his bones, he is in the final stages of HIV/AIDS. Lying on

a tarp in the warmth of the sun, he asks Jesus into his heart.

“It can be discouraging when so many die,” she says. “But

it’s also an opportunity to give the gospel.”

“What they really need is a saving relationship with Jesus

Christ so they can know what it means to live and not what it means to die,”

Younker says, “because everyone is on the path to death here.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Williams

writes for the Baptist Press international bureau. To read more about the Dials

and their love for the Basotho, visit prayforthebasotho.org.)