When the idea to take on the worst AIDS problem in the world came, it required that I basically take a sabbatical from my regular life.
It was crazy, but I did it. And I could do it because that’s the kind of crazy life-altering risk I ask others to take all the time.
For a long time I had prayed that God would use me to raise up a generation of radically committed disciples. In 2004, He took me at my word.
I was well aware of the plague that AIDS is in Africa. Over 30 million people are living with a death sentence in southern Africa alone, as the virus claims more than 2.5 million lives annually.
But when Bruce Wilkinson challenged me to help him turn the tide in Swaziland, the country with the highest AIDS infection rate, I knew I had to do something. Jesus may have come to bring us abundant life, but the only thing that is abundant in Swaziland, the country with the highest AIDS rate in the world, is death. I prayed about it, and I went.
So, that summer I led nearly one thousand college students over a two-month period to conduct one-week abstinence campaigns in every one of the 192 high schools in Swaziland. But it was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I began with no budget and no staff and just five months to set up the massive project. Two U.S. colleges went with us, and one of them was the most difficult group I’ve ever had to work with.
But along the way, I met boys like Derek who after we’d gotten to know him, said, “Hi, my name is Derek and I am 16 years-old. I have really enjoyed the week you spent with us, sharing your message of abstinence. I have been an orphan for five years, and I have watched both my parents die of AIDS. I believe that your message is the answer to this crisis. I live by myself in a shack up in the hills. I haven’t eaten for days now, and I am so hungry. Will you please buy me food?”
When you look into the eyes of boys like Derek and hear his heart-breaking story, you begin to understand what it means to watch a country in the process of dying. And you understand why you laid it all on the line.
It’s taken three years since then, but we’re finally beginning to get some traction in Swaziland. Maybe in 20 years, if we’re faithful, we can help a generation of Swazis save their country from the jaws of one of the worst pandemics in the history of mankind.
Tomorrow – how Swaziland pushed my faith to the limit.