Stigma and Marginalization. Still, The Deep Quest for Wholeness

ET women covered faces



Of course, she would want to be free of HIV—the scourge on her life! Of course, I could pray for her and her sisters-of-another-mother. However, the center of my thoughts was how much I desired wholeness for each person in this room; not just freedom from disease, but a full embrace from the living God. Particularly, the one woman in the back. I knew that gathering with others monthly at KHC in Addis Ababa brought mixed feelings: the marginalizing reminder that she is part of the group labeled PLWHA (People Living with HIV and AIDS) perhaps contrasting with moments of felt freedom each time she attended . . . maybe evidence of God’s presence?

Joining a roomful of women wrapped mostly in white cotton—40+ packed together in a dusty cool room at the end of a long day, we listened to a woman they knew from months of talks and practical assistance. The speaker’s face was bright and confident as she finished preaching in Amharic. I suspected that she also lived with the disease; but she looked different, she knew liberation of a different sort. What kind of liberation did the group want for themselves?

I sat in the back near a woman who clearly didn’t want to be there. While others followed the words of the speaker, she tolerated. Everything about her body said she wanted out. Perhaps she was not a Christ-follower, perhaps Orthodox but suspicious of Evangelicals . . . maybe secular, traditional or Muslim-background in her beliefs. No matter, KHC served all with kindness. Following the message we guests were introduced by our Ethiopian team member.

As he spoke, my thoughts returned to how much I wanted each woman to know healing from the brokenness she felt: from a sense of distance from God, persecution from those close to her, memories of abuse and hardship, shame, lost loved ones, or continuing anguish over her circumstances. Boldly, I responded to the internal prompting and asked permission to follow the leading. As others prayed and sang, I moved though the room, laying my hands on each woman in prayerful petition—touching her shoulder, head or back. Many were already weeping. What would the God of all creation desire for each broken life? How shall I pray? The Spirit guided.

Charles Ringma writes in Whispers From the Edge of Eternity, “At the heart of the gospel is a welcome. That welcome issues in an embrace. And that embrace invites us to see ourselves and to live our life in the light of God’s amazing love for us.” He continues, “The generous embrace of God is often full of surprises. Unlikely people are invited to sit at God’s banquet table. Those who have little are given much. Those who never thought they were good enough are welcome.” Those who are broken are healed.

Arriving at the back of the room, I hesitated when I came to her but rested as, through her direct gaze, she invited my prayers.

© 2011 Susan McDonald