June 14, 2008

State Nazarenes Target AIDS in Swaziland

By Carla Hinton, The Oklahoman

Jun. 14--"Themba will not live more than a year. There is a very good chance that his 2-year-old son also has HIV. But today the Lord used His people to remind Themba of his hope for eternity, and to give him strength for another day. Perhaps that is enough."

-- The Rev. David Busic, after visiting a man with HIV in Swaziland

BETHANY -- Oklahoma and Swaziland are continents apart, yet they now are connected through a long-term partnership to combat the deadly AIDS pandemic sweeping through the African country.

A contingent of officials from Swaziland recently visited Bethany First Church of the Nazarene and Southern Nazarene University to cement collaborative efforts begun last year.

The Rev. David Busic, senior pastor of Bethany First Church, said the partnership started with his growing awareness of the plight of African AIDS victims.

"I began to have this burden for AIDS in Africa. ... This really began to grip our hearts," Busic said, referring to the number of people dying from AIDS in Swaziland.

According to the Centers fo r Disease Control, the estimated death toll from AIDS is about 16,000 annually in Swaziland.

Cosmos Mutowa, regional director for Helping Hands Africa and field director of Nazarene Compassionate Ministries, said he and other Swaziland health leaders have been grateful for the Oklahoma aid. He said the Oklahomans' plans to provide long-term support are provident.

"The partnerships are an opportunity for us to tap into other resources because, on our own, we cannot really handle the pandemic," he said.

"The situation is so huge. If nothing happens in the next 10 years, we may lose an entire generation."

Spreading health, love, Gospel Mutowa said 39 percent of the pregnant women in Swaziland have AIDS. Dr. Raymond Bitchong with the Nazarene-founded Raleigh Fitkin Memorial Hospital said Swaziland has the highest incidence of HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) in the world. Other Swaziland statistics also are bleak: Life expectancy from birth is 32. One out of five children is an orphan. About 15,000 households are headed by orphaned children.

Busic said the Church of the Nazarene has been concerned about Swaziland ever since Nazarene missionary Harmon Schmelzenbach began working to spread the Gospel and eradicate leprosy among the Africans there 100 years ago.

Today's startling statistics regarding the sub-Saharan African country have made the task before Bethany First Church members all the more significant, he said.

"What we found there was that people were working very hard and doing a yeoman's work but were just out of resources. We thought we could come alongside them," Busic said.

Through monetary donations and other support, Bethany First Church has helped build and equip 17 rural clinics connected to the Raleigh Fitkin hospital in Manzini in central Swaziland. The church also has bought or solicited donations of much-needed medical equipment such as ultrasound machines.

In the next six years, the church plans to continue working with the clinics, along with churches and schools; work with the hospital, providing maintenance and equipment plus mentoring relationships with medical staff; work with at-risk children; and work with the AIDS Task Force in Swaziland to upgrade home health care and HIV/AIDS education.

Meanwhile, Southern Nazarene University is sending a contingent of 10 professors with a group of about 20 people from the church in July. Loren Gresham, SNU president, said university representatives will be determining how best they can partner with the Central Swaziland Church of the Nazarene's School of Nursing and School of Theology.

Gresham, who visited Swaziland with Busic in November 2007, said he was struck by the dire conditions of the Swaziland AIDS victims.

"It's heartbreaking to see men and woman in the prime of their life reduced to disability and not being able to provide for their families," Gresham said.

Busic said, "This has been a 'God thing' from the very beginning."

"We see this as a mutual partnership, not a one-side relationship. We are receiving lessons in faith -- lessons of the heart."


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