Today is a big day for me. It is one of those pivotal days when things are going to change. It is one of those days when you want to yell out—“Finally!” Today I hope to see the culmination of a lot of things I’ve been dreaming about for a long time. Or maybe I should say that today is the beginning of a new era.
If you have heard me speak in the last decade, you have probably heard about the commitment that I made some years ago at a Promise Keepers clergy conference. Bruce Wilkinson had just returned from Swaziland and was telling us about the AIDS pandemic there. It was the most powerful sermon that I remember. At the end of his sermon, he had an invitation. The response called for two things. First of all, you had to go to Africa and see first hand the problem. Secondly, you had to devote yourself to helping solve the problem. I responded to the sermon and have tried my best to be serious about my commitment.
Initially my work has been to help with AIDS orphans. That’s why I wear orange. It is the color of hope for AIDS orphans in Sub-Saharan Africa. Through a partnership with Christian Relief Fund and so many helpful people around the world, we have seen thousands of AIDS orphans fed, educated, housed, clothed, and spiritually trained. Although this has been so good, the dream was always to take it a step further. We wanted to do something that dealt with the disease.
The first part of the vision was to start a counseling center that would not only teach people about the prevention of AIDS but would also help people who were HIV positive through every step of their disease whether it was psychological help from the stigma attached to AIDS or the eventual death that could come from it. It became the dream of Kotieno Thomas who lived in the Nyalenda slum in Kisumu to facilitate this center. We started doing everything we could to get Thomas educated and trained to be the leader of such a work. It is called the VCT (Voluntary Counseling and Testing Center) and is accredited by the government in Kenya for excellence in helping with HIV/AIDS.
The Nyalenda slum was the perfect place for this ministry. It had one of the highest prevalences of AIDS in the world. But we quickly realized dealing with AIDS was not enough. This particular slum was the most diseased place on earth. And there was no health care for hundreds of thousands of people living there who were not only suffering from HIV but also malaria, cholera, typhoid, tuberculosis, and other diseases. So instead of just starting a VCT, we built a full-blown clinic that also had a pharmacy. It was a big dream. It was seemingly an impossible dream. Those of us who were connected to it didn’t really know what we were doing. But the progress of this health facility and ministry just kept moving. In retrospect, we saw that we were able to do things that no one had previously been able to do. Part of the reason is that because of our lack of knowledge on how to properly get it done, we unknowingly went around rather than jump through the governmental hoops that had stopped others before us.
It was nearly time to open the place, but we were short the necessary funding to complete it. It was the time in my life when I was leaving my ministry in Seattle of 30 years to move back to Texas. Julie Rawlins had an idea for the church there to give the remaining money needed to open the clinic and VCT as a going away present from the church—and they did. She even had them name it the Jones clinic as a part of my going away present. However, they didn’t tell me that it was really going to open. I had assumed there would be more and more hoops to jump through that would complicate things. But to my surprise, it opened. And they kept it a secret until I arrived in Kisumu and actually got to see it.
But even as great as the clinic was, it still didn’t do the biggest deal. During the process of the development of the clinic, we also saw the development of ARVs (antiretrovirals). With this medical breakthrough, it meant that people who were HIV positive could take these drugs and not get AIDS. This is what happened with Magic Johnson. We simply had to get this technology and advancement for our people in the slum. But as you know, it is hard to get cutting edge help for poor people. But we kept trying.
To do this treatment, you need a CD4 count machine. It helps you to analyze the blood in order to know what kind of medicine will work. Incredibly, one was donated to us. But it broke. And then the laws changed, and we had to have a doctor, nurse, technician, and pharmacist who would all specialize in this treatment. Again we couldn’t afford it. It looked like we were going backwards. But good stories have chapters, and we were not reading the last one.
Today we receive a new CD4 count machine. And today we start hiring three new people to work this new treatment with ARVs. And another person is moving here to help. We had the ability in the past to refer people other places, but most of the time those other places didn’t exist or the people were so tied to the slum that they would never leave it to get help. Now there will be the best help right there in the slum at the clinic. So many have been faithful and gracious to help. I thank those with the initial dreams. I thank those who got the place open. I now thank those who have completed it with the new technology and resources. Obviously, there are more needs now and will be in the future, but I feel like today is another milestone. I can’t tell you how many thousands of lives now can be saved.
When I first went to this slum, I thought that nearly everyone would be dead of AIDS in a few years. But that is not the case. Can you imagine the hope it will produce in people now who after being diagnosed with HIV are told that there is medicine available to keep them from getting AIDS? How would you feel?
Yes, I think today is going to be a new day. I’m writing this at 3 a.m. because of jet lag. But waking up in the middle of the night to anticipate good things is a good way to get up.