A Quiet Sacrifice

Posted Jul 10, 2012 by 4 Comments

The year was 1993, and HIV/AIDS was running rampant through South Africa. Thousands were dying as this plague swept the nation. The country was overwhelmed by victims they could not treat and orphans they could not care for.

There was little to no known treatment. Of the countless individuals that had AIDS, a great number were orphans. Without treatment, these children were, quite simply, waiting to die. And with their families gone or unable to care for them, they were waiting alone.

But into this horror, Lily of the Valley came. Not long after, Kanyi (name has been changed) became one of the first “house moms” to orphaned children.

A Beginning

I first met Kanyi on my way back home after a day of games with the local community children. Hunched slightly, and with a shuffling gait, she made her way along the dirt road ahead of me. It wasn’t long before I caught up.

After a few polite greetings and some broken attempts at Zulu on my part, I found out she has been taking care of a household of Lily children for 15 years now. And as she began her story in broken English, I could only listen in wonder.

Lily of the Valley began not as an orphanage or school, but as a sort of children’s hospice. With countless dying of an incurable disease, I couldn’t imagine what would inspire someone to serve in such a seemingly hopeless cause.

More than two-thirds of the children at Lily are HIV-positive.

“Back in ’97, AIDS was bad… very bad,” she said. “And I said to my heart, ‘I want to raise these kids like their mom would have.’”

Quite simply, Kanyi chose to be the mother these children had lost. She chose to be the love that was missing from their lives.

In the first year, three of her children died.

As she said this, her shuffle slowed so much I thought she had stopped walking. We paused for a moment, and then she began again.

A New Mission

But mercifully and miraculously over time, a treatment for HIV was developed and anti-retrovirals, or ARVs, became available in South Africa. Although they could not cure HIV, these drugs allowed it to be treated and prevented it from progressing.

Suddenly the children stopped dying. Not only were they surviving, but they began to thrive.

Lily of the Valley found itself a hospice with all its patients getting better. But while other parts of the world were declaring HIV/AIDS battle over, Lily was just beginning.

Instead of releasing these children to broken homes or dangerous communities, they chose to expand – building schools and additional housing and creating new programs and partnerships with local universities and businesses.

Under the care of Lily, the children have moved from suffering to thriving.

The same radical love that motivated the staff to stand by their kids as they were dying compelled them to fight for their kids now that they were surviving.

A Proud Mother

But to Kanyi, the greatest joy came from seeing her children grow.

“When I see them now, I am very, very proud,” she says, beaming at me.

Yet despite so much success, I cannot help but wonder how she avoids despair. Despair over the children she has lost to disease. Anguish over the few children who have grown and left Lily and forgotten the lessons of love taught here.

We had reached the split that lead to our separate houses. From where we stood, I  could see the impoverished town of Mopela below. Perhaps she guessed my question, because without looking at me, she said,

“I think that when I get to heaven, because many, many of the children died, they will see me and say ‘Mom!’ and there will be a big, big family because there are a lot of them.”

There was not a trace of bitterness or despair in her voice. She turned and fixed me with a big, grandmotherly smile. And strangely, I find I am smiling too. Too stunned to even offer a proper reply. And with a few mumbled pleasantries, we parted ways.

On a checkup day, a preschool classroom becomes a makeshift clinic.

Sacrifice and Hope

As I finished the journey home, I played our conversation over and over in my head. I couldn’t fully understand her story of sacrifice. And I still can’t.

There was an epidemic that had no cure. My instinct would be to try and fix it. To cure it. To make the kids better. But her response was not to wait for a cure, but to be present with those suffering.

And once a treatment was available, once the kids were no longer suffering from the disease, I would have felt like my job was finished. At the very least I would have thought it was time for someone else to step in.

But her response was to stay and raise them, through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood. She didn’t sign up for a week, a month or a year, she signed up for a lifetime.

This wasn’t volunteering, it was sacrifice.

And it was in that distinction that I understood what makes Lily so different. I thought Lily would be just like any other orphanage – doing the noble work of protecting and raising children. But seeing its history in the life of this woman, I have come to see it as so much more.

Before Lily, many of these children lacked a safe home. Now they have a home, education, medical care and a loving community.

The staff of Lily offer not simply their time and talents, but their lives. And they have proven their dreams for these children go beyond the HIV/AIDS crisis, In fact, they extend beyond this life.

So as I walk around Lily and see the faces of the staff members I once considered ordinary, I realize they are not volunteers bound by a heart for a common tragedy. They are living sacrifices, united by a common hope.

In the midst of disease, poverty, discrimination and anything else the world may throw their way, these children have a loving family to help them achieve their dreams.

 

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Next Steps
    • LSA provides critical, sustainable funding for Lily. Consider donating to LSA to help them continue this vital work.
    • Pray for strength and encouragement for the amazing staff here, they face long hours and great challenges as they seek to provide these children with everything they need.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Brad Miller is a year-long fellow with WND. A student of Psychology, Biology, and Theatre, he's worked as an actor, teacher, balloon artist and last-minute fill-in guy for any number of projects. He loves camping and tinkering with broken and discarded things. Brad's passion in life is to unleash the potential in others.

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Comments

  1. Laura Stump said... 

    Reply

    July 12th, 2012 at 2:23 am  

    “They are living sacrifices, united by a common hope.”

    Great way to start my morning, Brad. Thanks for this beautiful story.

  2. JimM said... 

    Reply

    July 17th, 2012 at 10:19 pm  

    Love this Brad. You have seen an angel, and brought her here for us to see. Thank you!

  3. Michael Rosenbauer said... 

    Reply

    July 30th, 2012 at 5:14 pm  

    Thank you for this post Brad. It is so inspiring. My family and I are anxious to get to Lily and begin our work there as house parents. Your post so perfectly communicates our desire to be part of what Lily is all about. You can be sure we’ll be sharing this post with as many people as possible!

    • Brad said... 

      Reply

      July 31st, 2012 at 12:45 pm  

      I am so thrilled to hear you will be working at Lily! You are in for the adventure of a lifetime and I have every confidence that God will meet your service with both challenge and reward. Feel free to email me anytime, I would be honored to share in your journey!

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