We spent time with the women, who each greeted us with a gentle hug or handshake and "Karibu." Some of them were very shy, however, as a lot of them still battle with the shame of HIV. As we entered, we sat down and spent time chatting with Gladys, who is pretty much the "Mama" of the center. (And that's what we call her. "Mama" is Swahili for a respectful term to an elder woman.) She welcomed us so warmly, continually reminding us that she loves visitors. As about seven of the women trickled in, we began with a song. Steve and Katie encouraged me to bring my guitar because the women would love the music, so together we sang "Nothing But the Blood" and "In the Secret." They shared songs as they clapped and sang, and together we exchanged the common language of music. It was beautiful.
Then one of the women Jane encouraged the group with a passage from Philippians. Because it was the first time at the center for me and Margaret, the ladies went around and shared a short testimony. All of them were very quiet when they spoke, shy in their words, and it was often hard to understand them. A couple of the ladies even spoke in Swahili because they didn't feel confident enough in their English. (Gladys translated.) Many of them shared how they became involved with the WEEP Center. I was humbly blown away by their thankful hearts in the midst of their battles with HIV and the stigma that faces it. All of them praised God.
Lillian, new to the WEEP center, when tested HIV positive was rejected by her brother whom she lived with at the time, who told her "I have no food for you, no shelter for you, no money for you except to buy your coffin." By her brother. So she and her son were kicked out and on their own. Thankfully, Ronda, another WEEP lady, brought her to the center, where she is now learning to sew, so she can help make money by sewing uniforms for schoolchildren. Her son now attends the preschool run by the WEEP Center.
Many of the women share similar stories of the stigma they faced when they were diagnosed with HIV. Friends who would normally buy bananas from them would pass by and spit at them. People would ask Gladys why she spent time with women who were HIV positive. But through the WEEP Center, the women have truly been empowered by the Spirit, and the stigma has gone down from what it was before. They are now encouraged by their God-given value, and they "amen" at knowing they are children of the living God.
I so desperately want to pour my heart out to these women, but I am at a total loss as to how. I enjoyed spending time with them, but I almost don't know how to love them best. I am not feeling discouraged though. I know my God will accomplish great things through the WEEP Center. He already has! They are praising Him! In word and song and deed as they encourage and love on one another.
I look forward to returning. I told one of the women I would teach her a little bit of guitar. I plan to keep that promise. I'm not much of a teacher, but I anticipate the day...