Etembeni ­ a place of hope

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Commissioner David EdwardsFor those of us who regard ourselves part of the African diaspora the continent of Africa holds a certain fascination for us and has a very special place in our hearts. We may have been born elsewhere but our roots lie in Africa. One can easily understand the range of emotions that assaulted us, Doreen and I, on our recent visit to Southern Africa, Zambia and Malawi.

It was our privilege to share in the Congress celebrations in these two territories.

As far as numbers go, The Salvation Army would seem to be at its biggest and best on the continent of Africa, and it is still growing. Someone once told me that Africans found The Salvation Army most attractive for three reasons: our worship and uniform wearing; our system of governance; and the fact that the Army in Africa was part of a worldwide movement.

I believe, however, that it is our faithfulness to the gospel, more than anything else, that Africans find most attractive about The Salvation Army. During our visit that was very evident to us. There was a noticeable desire for the Word and an obvious responsiveness to that Word.


There are several challenges facing the Army in Africa. The biggest challenge is the same as that which faces the entire continent, the pandemic of HIV/AIDS. International Health experts warn that the global epidemic is centered in eastern and southern Africa and that the 278 million people in 34 countries are at grave risk of infection and death.

In a recent article in Christianity Today (February 7,2000) that asks the question “Have we become too busy with death?” the writer deals with the churches’ response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa. The article refers particularly to the role of The Salvation Army in helping to shape that response.


That response began almost 20 years ago and was initiated by the time chief medical officer at the time of the Salvation Army hospital at Chikankata, Zambia. It was the Salvation Army that first introduced a system of home based care which saw people infected by HIV/AIDS being cared for at home by their families rather than being consigned to an institution like the hospital.

The Salvation Army through Dr. Ian Campbell and his team also began a campaign that challenged communities to consider the need for changes in “problem behaviors” which were placing the health and well-being of the community at risk. Such behaviors were both social and cultural such as premarital sex, unfaithfulness in marriage, drunkenness leading to indiscriminate sex, and ‘ritual cleansing’ of widows and widowers and circumcision.

Now, almost 20 years later, it would appear that the message has caught on. At the Migowe Corps in Malawi we were introduced to some traditional initiators. These are the men and women who prepare the young men and women in their tribes to become adults in their society. Essentially they handle the practice of tribal circumcision as well as teach and prepare the young men and women for their social and sexual responsibilities.

They have taken up the message of behavior modification and are passing this message on to their charges. They themselves have amended certain cultural practices and these have lessened the threat of infection coming from these practices.

Two of these initiators who, like most of people in that part of Africa have lost several relatives to

this disease, stated that they wished they had heard this message sooner. It certainly would have made a big difference for them. But it is not too late. There is still hope. The Army continues to lead the way in reaching out to the people of Africa in confronting this, the biggest challenge facing them.


One of the places we visited in South Africa was the home for children with AIDS. Abandoned at birth by their mothers through whom they became infected, these children are sent to the home where they are lovingly cared for. When we visited there were about 58 children between the ages of 6 weeks to 5 years. Not many of them survive beyond five years.

The name of the home perfectly describes the work being done there. It is appropriately named Etembeni. Etembeni is a Xhosa word that means “A place of hope.” There are several commemorative quilts that adorn the walls of the chapel bearing the names of all the children who have died at this home for AIDS babies.

These quilts do indeed address this hope. These children are gone but they are certainly not forgotten. They live on in the hearts of those who lovingly care for them from birth until death.

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