For two young orphans, ages 5 and 9, the future looks grim. They are East African siblings who are HIV positive. In 2007, HIV/AIDS accounted for an estimated 2.9 million deaths globally and orphaned 12 million African children.
When Bill Potma, member of Mundy Park Christian Reformed Church in Coquitlam, British Columbia, met the two siblings, he was forever changed. “They face a lifetime of needing anti-retroviral drugs and specialized meals,” he said. “We need to step out of our comfort zone once in a while to learn the issues facing others and how to help them.”
Potma was one of six people who participated in a service-learning tour to Kenya, Uganda, and Zambia in October 2007—part of the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee’s Embrace AIDS campaign to raise $3 million to improve and expand HIV/AIDS programs worldwide.
The invitation-only tour was facilitated by ServiceLink, a CRC program begun in 1995 to provide volunteer opportunities to CRC members. Potma joined five others who are excited about the work of CRWRC or who act as a “champion” on its behalf.
Mary Dykstra, Service Learning Coordinator for ServiceLink, said the tour provided the opportunity to learn firsthand what the CRC is doing to address the pandemic of HIV/AIDS.
Tour participants met with CRWRC’s partners in East Africa, such as the Anglican Church of Kenya-Mount Kenya Christian Community Services, which brings together leadership committees to address community needs such as soil and water conservation and organic farming.
For Liz Cantu, a member of Vintage Faith Church, a nondenominational church in Santa Cruz, Calif., the HIV/AIDS tour was a way to live out the commandment to love our neighbors. “It’s a simple matter of compassion,” she said. “It’s our fortune to minister to a friend in need. If one suffers, the whole body suffers. That’s the golden rule for any denomination, for any follower of Christ, for any person who has a compassionate heart.”
“When we left [the children] didn’t ask for money, they asked for prayer,” said Cantu. “After the prayer their goodbye was, ‘Remember us.’ I simply replied, ‘I’ll never forget.’”