First steps of surrender
A dying boy in Zimbabwe set me on a 20-year journey and taught me that God can use us in ways we could never imagine, if we surrender our plans to him, writes BCT Director Susie Howe.
I had worked with adults with HIV or AIDS for years when I first met with Taurai â€“ but he broke my heart.
He and his family were living in a decrepit hut in Zimbabwe and they had nothing: no food, no water, no clothing. Tauraiâ€™s father had already died and Taurai was now close to death.
The six-year-old was desperately emaciated and covered in sores. He had lost his hair and didnâ€™t talk.
People avoided him, believing him to be infectious. I had never worked with children before but Taurai captivated me.
God opened my eyes through this little boy. Taurai needed to know that he was a child of the King that he was amazing. And the whole community needed to know this too â€“ and to take care of Taurai.
This was Zvishavane, 1995, and in many ways where BCTâ€™s journey began.
Meeting Taurai put a face to all the prophetic words Iâ€™d puzzled over for a couple of years.
When I was working at Charing Cross Hospital as an HIV specialist in the 1990s, I had won a research scholarship to Zimbabwe. God told me on the plane home that Iâ€™d return to Zimbabwe. So, when my husband Jeremy felt a prompting to apply for a pharmacistâ€™s job in Zvishavane, and got it, I knew it was right.
What was more confusing were two prophetic words I received at work and at church as we prepared to leave the UK. Both saw me â€˜working with orphansâ€™. To be honest, I rather dismissed them.
Yet, within weeks of arriving in Zimbabwe, someone introduced me to a government minister in the local shop. Sheâ€™d heard I was â€˜the AIDS ladyâ€™ and she needed my help. â€˜We have 2,000 orphans,â€™ she said. It was like God hit me in the solar plexus at the mention of â€˜orphansâ€™.
Mrs Msindo wanted to set up an orphanage for a handful of children but I knew then that I had to help them all.
A community-inspired approach
Following a model developed by FACT in Mutare, I drew up a plan to train local church members to become volunteer â€˜aunties and unclesâ€™ (vatetes) caring for orphans and providing HIV care and prevention. The Bethany Project was born.
Tauraiâ€™s neighbours rediscovered their compassion through him. They fed him and hugged and carried him. He regained some strength and lived for monthsâ€¦ really lived. He was so happy.
One day Taurai went to the toilet and never returned. People really grieved him and we made his funeral a celebration.
When we left Zimbabwe in 1998, 6,000 orphans like Taurai were receiving care from their communities. God had proved how he can multiply what we give him â€“ and he would do so again on a far greater scale.
â€˜Many are the plans in a personâ€™s heart, but it is theÂ Lordâ€™s purpose that prevails.â€™ Proverbs 19:21
Despite many challenges through the Mugabe era of intimidation, The Bethany Project is still flourishing.
In some senses it helped â€˜birthâ€™ BCT because, after Susie returned to the UK, she set up a charity to â€˜mobilise and equip churches to respond to the needs of children at riskâ€™. The vision was to â€˜hold up the armsâ€™ of Christian organisations and workers overseas through prayer, financial support and capacity building.
The Bethany Childrenâ€™s Trust was officially registered in 1999. Within five years, it was partnering with HIV-related projects in several countries.
These included Iris Ministriesâ€™ home for HIV-affected children and Project Purposeâ€™s work bringing young girls out of the sex industry, both in Mozambique.
In the Philippines, BCT partnered with Kanlungan Sa Erma, which cared for street-connected children in a red-light district. And in Uganda, BCT helped fund a home for street-connected boys, run by River of Life. It also supported community-based care of HIV-affected children through Abisunzimana in Rwanda and Botshabelo in South Africa.
It was in 2001 that BCT officially partnered with APRECOM in Rwanda and continues to do so. Odeth and her team now oversee projects in Kigali, Bugesera and Bukora, reaching hundreds of children and adults affected by HIV, through training, support groups, childrenâ€™s clubs and youth groups.