“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” – Philippians 4:4
On Wednesday, our team took a road trip to Kiserian in the beautiful Masai region of Kenya. After visiting the Nazareth clinic there, we divided into two teams to visit homes in the surrounding area. Our team’s first stop was the home of a beautiful three-day-old baby girl, along with her mother and grandmother – the mother’s mother-in-law – and other extended family.
The new grandmother was so proud of her new granddaughter – and rightly so. Her joy was contagious, her smile extending from ear to ear. She insisted that each of us in turn sit beside her, hold the baby, and have someone from our team take our photograph.
After my turn, as I stepped through the open door into the yard, I heard the social worker Kimani say – rather loudly, as if he wanted to make sure everyone present heard him – “We are here to meet and celebrate this new baby.”
Certainly, the gift of new life is cause for such rejoicing and the hour-and-a-half drive to do so. But I knew that our team’s visit meant someone in the family was HIV+. I walked over to Kimani and quietly stood beside him, wondering what was going on. Sensing my question, he leaned over and whispered, “The mother is HIV+. Her husband just called me from work and told us that his mother doesn’t know his wife’s status. So he asked that we not say anything.”
Having been to Kenya twice before, I have heard many similar stories of this family dynamic. In some cases, when the mother-in-law learns her daughter-in-law is HIV+, she will ostracize the daughter-in-law – and perhaps her son and grandchildren as well. In a few instances, the mother-in-law may even pressure her son to leave his wife and family because of the wife’s status.
On the long drive home, I couldn’t stop thinking about the grandmother. I found it hard to believe that the joy that was so tangibly present in her might turn so quickly into anger, shame, or grief.
Then again, perhaps it is not so hard for me to believe after all.
I do not claim to understand what it is like to be HIV+ and to live under its accompanying stigma. But I do know what it is like to allow my joy to be flipped on its head in a flash by some unwanted news in my own life – not having things go the way I had planned, watching helplessly as a loved one suffers, an illness, a disagreement, a frustration, or a disappointment.
I pray that nothing will take away the joy of the Lord for this grandmother today. I pray the same for you and for me.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”