To put this into perspective, I have just finished packing 140 bags full of school supplies and vitamins. God has provided enough money, through so many generous people, for our team to also be able to buy each child a pair of shoes for school, have a party with a cooked meal for them while we're there, and give out a ton of clothing...but reality is still there. According to that first statistic, only 8 or 9 of those kids will live to be 32...meaning that 132 of the kids I will meet next week will probably die of AIDS (or some disease like TB resulting from a weakened immune system) before they are my age! God, have mercy!
So what has God called us to do in this seemingly hopeless situation? Without wanting to be too morbid or a Debbie-downer, the thing that I keep coming back to is that we must prepare them for eternity. Yes, we can encourage them in school, help them set goals, encourage them to dream about their future, provide them with food, clothes, and school supplies...but we must balance that with the reality that some experts have said that with the current birth/death rates the way they are, Swaziland won't exist by 2050 because AIDS will have ravaged it beyond repair. And James' words come ringing true to my ears....
And for children in Swaziland, this verse describes the frailty of life all around them, that they will be looking at death and eternity all too soon.
"What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes"
So as we go next week...prepared to bless the socks off of the kids and the gogos ("grandmas" that cook, teach, and care for the kids at the carepoints), as well as those we will meet through house visits...in the back of my mind I will be thinking about the best gift that I can give them...the gift of the Gospel that we have been entrusted with. As much as I anticipate seeing their joyful faces when they receive clothes, shoes, and school supplies, the look on their faces when they realize they can have eternal peace and be with the Lord beyond this world is beyond description. To look in the face of a 28 year old woman who has "the peace that passes understanding" as she prepares for her death, to sit with a grieving gogo as she realizes her new responsibility of parenting her orphaned grandchildren...the only thing that can get anyone through those times is trusting in the sovereignty of God and the eternal hope that we have in Christ.
As we go to teach VBS and love on these kids, I hope to be used by God to pour into them, pray for them, teach them, and encourage them as if they were a terminally ill child in the hospital...because they are...statistics have given them only 25 more years to live at most. Yet I go hopeful, because as we trust in what Christ did for us on the cross, we can cling to the promise that
"the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away...for He is making all things new."This world is temporary because we were created for another world with unhindered intimacy with the God of the universe...and we can begin to live in that now!