Fresh graves appear frequently in Richards Bay, South Africa, where the highest incidence of HIV infection in the country is found.
By DAVID GREEN
In the area surrounding the South African city of Richards Bay, where an estimated 60 percent of the native adult Zulu population is infected with the HIV virus, people come to offer help and then they’re gone.
They arrive, complete their service project and go home.
That’s not the way to get the job done in Zululand, missionaries Kyle and Heather (Fankhauser) Farran learned.
“Zulus thrive on relationships,” Heather said. “People come and help, but they don’t develop a relationship. We’re letting them know we’re here for the long haul. It’s a privilege to be welcomed and have them trust us.”
The AIDS population is a very ostracized group that’s been taken advantage of for many years, so developing a relationship didn’t come easily for a young American family.
“It took a while, a couple of years,” Kyle said, and the Farrans remember the turning point.
“We took our children out with us,” Heather said. “We all shook hands and got hugs. People responded to us differently after that.”
When the Farrans go out to do their work, they’re tackling a job most people would want no part of—ministering to the needs of those dying of AIDS.
“Patients are mostly in the slum areas,” Kyle said. “We go out there to do our work. We’re talking to people very close to dying about how they can have a relationship with God.”
“Loving people to the last breath” is how the Farrans describe their services.
“And we love it,” Kyle adds. “We love doing what we’re doing.”
That’s a marked change from 2005 when the couple first decided to begin work with ABWE (Association of Baptists for World Evangelism). They heard about the suffering of the Zulu AIDS population and they felt the pull to go there and help. But they were initially apprehensive about what might lie ahead with this type of work.
Their attitude changed as they prepared for departure in 2007. Preparation consisted of building relationships in the United States with churches and individuals to secure funding for their work abroad. The Farrans are now back in the U.S. for nine months to give updates to supporting churches.
“We’re sort of an extension of the ministry of several area churches,” Kyle said.
About half of the donations they receive come from churches and about half from individuals. They lose some supporters and gain new ones, and realize that tough economic times affect what people are able to give.
“Finances aren’t something you can worry about in this job,” Heather said, “but it’s been incredible to watch [the support come in].”
The Farrans’ plea for funds has expanded due to the goal for their next term of service in Richards Bay.
The first term, Kyle said, focused on learning the language and determining the best way to minister physically and spiritually to those with AIDS.
“We saw that an AIDS care center would be the best way to do that,” he said.
Funding of the $110,000 hospice center is more than half complete. The Farrans hope construction of the four-bed facility will begin next summer.
“We’re really excited about our second term,” Heather said.
The hospice center will be built in conjunction with a church in Richards Bay, and the Farrans will provide the spiritual aspect to existing hospice services.
Nurse aides will be trained to help staff the center around the clock, but it’s not medical care that will be provided. Instead, the center will simply offer the end-of-life care that should be provided at home.
AIDS victims are ostracized by society in general, Kyle explained, but often face rejection from their own family members. Many are left with only their young children to care for them in their final days. Abused and neglected patients will be targeted for admission to the center.
“We’re trying to make it an easily replicated model,” Kyle said, so other organizations can start additional centers.
The Farrans won’t return to South Africa until late September, but their two older daughters, ages 8 and 6, are ready to get back to the city they now call home.
“The hard part about being away,” Heather said, “is not knowing which of our friends will pass away while we’re gone.”
AIDS victims often experience cycles of sickness and health. A downward spiral might take a turn for the better—at least for a while.
“Some get better just through nutrition and compassion,” Heather said. “They’re able to go back home and care for their children for another two months, or a year or more.”
Children. That’s a tough part of the Farrans’ work.
“For every person who dies,” Heather said, “there are children left behind.”
It’s a simple reminder that there’s so much work to be done.
• For information about making donations to the AIDS Care Center or to the Farran’s mission work, visit www.farran.abwe.org/hospice-care-center or write to them at [email protected] Their phone number is 517/639-0355.