I choose life
by Victor Leslie, Major –
There she stands, immaculately dressed in a bleached white nurse’s uniform, an image of beauty, elegance and grace. She is a woman of faith and proud to be part of the mission team funded by SAWSO to implement innovative community-based strategies and interventions to address and change deeply ingrained cultural practices that were contributing to the spread of HIV in Zambia. Seemingly motionless, she tells her story with the voice of an angel, her eyes glistening with compassion and courage. Her resolve is strong as she recounts the appalling statistics of the effect of HIV on her community: the number of sick, the dead, and the number of orphans.
I unconsciously nod my head to acknowledge the dreadful impact but I am somewhat distracted by the sights and sounds of this little village in Africa. As I gaze at the circular mud huts and the oxcarts laden with children hitching a ride, she passionately talks of the increased hope and the renewed quest for living since The Salvation Army project started. I turn and look across the fields at the images of death that disfigure the countryside and ponder the identity of those in unmarked graves, but I am soon startled back to reality. This African “Florence Nightingale” utters a sentence that shocks my world like an early morning earthquake. She boldly announces that she too is infected with the deadly disease. I am stunned. I stare blankly into the open space. She, however, is as cool as the wind on a humid day, as she utters: “I did not choose HIV/AIDS.” The disease had ambushed her like an intruder that crashes through the front door, without warning, taking her hostage. I had been told that virtually no one in Africa voluntarily admits to being HIV positive, for fear of condemnation, ridicule and exclusion from society. Yet, this African queen, already sentenced to die, her body mercilessly ravaged by this intrusive killer, was somehow calm and courageous when talking about such issues.
She smiles as she gently but boldly continues: “I choose life.” Suddenly, the experience is surreal, unearthly, and I do not hear another word being spoken. Even the wind is silent, and the clouds seem to slither through the canvas of the African sky as I digest the significance and implication of the words. I whisper to my wife that this lady had so delicately provided a parallel between her physical death sentence and her hope of spiritual life at journey’s end. It was as though she had put her finger on her pulse, looked up to heaven, and God was answering her prayer.
“I choose life!” In a physical sense, this is the choice to abandon the despair that comes from knowing that physical death may be imminent, and instead choose to accept that HIV is not the end of the world. “I choose life!” In a spiritual sense, this is the choice to abandon the despair that comes from knowing the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a), and instead choose to accept the good news that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and that whoever comes to him, though he were dead, shall live eternally (John 11:25).
I am intrigued, but the noise of metal chairs scraping the half-paved ground interrupts my epiphany. I look up and see her image against the warm African sun and realize I have just met in person what our theology describes. This woman was living proof of a God who comes to take the sting out of death, making death not the dreadful end, but the doorway to eternal life. This messenger of hope was testimony of the good news that God invites us to come alive in a new way and find our sense of being in who we are as children of God. Her new life in Christ allowed her to have the joy and peace that this world cannot give, and neither take away. God’s love turns tears into joy, desolation into hope and death into life.
I contemplate how tentative and precious time is on earth as I thank for her testimony and pray with her. I renew my covenant to choose life. God ratifies the moment. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).