In the sub-equatorial village of Mmametlhake, South Africa, people are beginning to see promise against the spread of HIV/AIDS that has ravaged so much of the population. The village and surrounding areas are receiving help from the Mmametlhake Family Care Centre, which not only tends to HIV-infected people but also offers the gospel.
“I didn’t know that the center was going to be so important,” said Bethuel Motau, the director of the center, which works closely with Southern Baptists. “We have been able to make a big impact on the people.”
Texas Southern Baptists played a crucial role in the founding of the center. Also, proceeds from the SBTC’s 5K “Race Against Time” last November in Austin went to the ministry in a country with more than 5 million HIV-infected people.
The center began in 2003 as a vision by two men, former Texan Andy Wilkinson and Motau. Offering a variety of services, the center reaches people living as far as 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) in any direction from Mmametlhake.
The center provides caregivers, who have been trained to tend to people with HIV, counselors who work with the families of the infected, HIV education programs, which also stress the importance of building strong family ties, and a job creation program. The center is working to incorporate a lab where people will be able to develop computer skills.
Providence crosses paths
Wilkinson’s and Motau’s paths crossed in 2002 and they quickly formed a close relationship when Wilkinson, a former petroleum engineer, went on a mission trip to South Africa to help drill water wells with his church at the time, First Baptist of Grapevine.
“Andy was very passionate about the HIV situation there and what we as Christians can do about it,” said Jack Harris, a senior associate in the SBTC evangelism office who was then the executive pastor at FBC Grapevine.
Wilkinson has had a heart for missions since the age of 10, he said. In 1995, he went on a mission trip to Botswana, at which point he decided that he wanted to be involved in Africa when he retired.
After his visit to South Africa in 2002, he decided to put his oil business and his house in Southlake up for sell. He and his wife, Gay, then applied to the International Mission Board and spent two years in Mmametlhake.
To support the center Wilkinson began the Foundation for HIV/AIDS Relief in South Africa, a non-profit organization. He now resides in Colorado, but is heavily involved in the ministry, usually taking three trips a year to Mmametlhake.
“We want the Lord to raise up men like Andy who see things through the eyes of the Lord,” Motau commented. “He has encouraged me, built me spiritually, and even helped fix my car.”
Laboring for the gospel comes early for Motau. A typical day consists of him and his wife Monica waking up at 4 a.m. He musters just enough strength and motivation for his 60-year-old feet to touch the ground, he said.
“Sometimes in the morning I hurt,” said Motau, who has been a pastor in central South Africa since 1982. “But it is the joy of the Lord that gets me out of bed.”
The two listen to a local Christian radio program as they sit down at the breakfast table to eat. Afterwards, the couple prays for the church and their community.
The phone calls come as early as 5:30 a.m., often requesting the presence of Motau at the bedside of an HIV carrier.
“When somebody is sick, they need someone there next to them ? a shoulder,” Motau said. “I try to be available as much as I can.”
At 8 a.m. he arrives at the Mmametlhake Family Care Centre?unless he is called to visit a local chief or speak to youth in a school about HIV, where he will also share the gospel. He will be at the center until 5 p.m. The day concludes by making another stop to visit an ill person or a grieving family, putting him home at 6:30 p.m.
“The more I see people coming to the Lord, the more it’s my passion,” Motau said. “There is a joy sharing about Christ, even to someone who is about to die.”
HIV rate hasn’t peaked yet
Unfortunately for the ministry and for the population, the rate of infection is still above the death rate for the 20-plus year epidemic.
“In South Africa, 1,800 people are dying a day and still 2,000 a day are becoming positive with HIV. That means the epidemic hasn’t even peaked,” Wilkinson said.
Of the 5 million people diagnosed with HIV, only 50,000 are receiving substantive treatment.
“There is no hope on the horizon that the masses of people will be saved [from HIV/AIDS],” Wilkinson said. “That’s our strong push for evangelism.”
The gospel message is becoming more prominent within the region, Wilkinson said.
The majority of the workers at the center are born-again Christians. Motau is in charge of five other pastors whom he sends out to minister to area residents.
Christians are beginning to be noticed and associated with healthy living, which has caused many people in the area to want the hope Motau and the other workers at the care center demonstrate, Motau observed.
There has been a change in the relationship between the government and culture of South Africa to local Christians too, he said.
“One school system is begging for a pastor to come in to the school and present True Love Waits to the students,” Wilkinson said. “The principal is not a Christian, but he wants them to start a Christian youth movement in the school.”
The South African government has tried to implement contraceptive programs to weaken the rate of infection, but they have only incurred more infections, Wilkinson said. People are now finding that in the areas where family morals and programs such as True Love Waits are presented, the rate of infection has declined, Wilkinson added.
“People are responding well because they are desperate,” said Motau, who was recently invited by an HIV-positive tribal chief to share about HIV and about Christ with his village.
The SBTC’s 5K race in Austin last year raised $13,400 to be used to help pay the salaries of the center’s workers and other monthly needs of the center. The monthly budget for the center is around $3,000, Wilkinson said.
Currently the center is planning to add a computer-training area. Also, they would like to create a hospice-type environment for patients and families suffering from AIDS.