KATSE, Lesotho — Death and
funerals. Prayer for the dying and their families. More death.
It’s a way of life for the
“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.
“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
“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
“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.)