Monday morning, almost 60 of us (2 youth groups and Next Step Staff) crammed onto a bus and headed to the All Saints AIDS Camp. I sat on a cooler in the back wondering about a few things. One, this is going to be the coolest I’ll feel all day. Two, I wonder what is going on in the minds of our first-timers and lastly, I can’t wait to see how the camp is different since we left, how much work has been done since two years ago, and how much we’ll get done this week, and what about the feel of the camp since the missionaries arrived and … my mind kept racing (It’s been like that for months).
If I can be honest, upon surveying the camp, I was a little disappointed. Not the type of disappointment of “I can’t believe this is all that got done – they should have a Starbucks here by now!” But more the disappointment of, “Wow, none of the cabins are completed and none of the residents can move in yet.”
The reality started setting in and I realized that I was thinking like a typical Northeastern American with my unrealistic expectations and projecting my sense of suburban entitlement in the middle of a forgotten AIDS Camp. As I looked around, I realized a good amount of work had been done and heard about some of the developments
like how the “model house” that we first worked on was now going to be a Nurse’s Station. Three other houses could be completed by the end of this summer if electricity and plumbing can get figured out. The sidewalk is becoming safer (my crew helped was putting in a handrail. I’d say at least a third of it is completed). Another of our groups put in a small parking lot that can fit about 5 cars for deliveries, work crews and visitors. And more plans are in the works but of course it highlights the need for volunteer groups to keep coming and hustling.
There were some other developments that I was discouraged about. Like when I heard how one set of parents abandoned their 4 year old to what is believed to re-enter a life of drugs and prostitution. Last time we were here, we spent a good amount of time talking to this family and playing with their daughter. We also started to understand a little more about how the camp is organized (or unorganized). This led to a few other questions speculating about motives and such. It reminded us of how poverty is always punctuated by among other things, broken relationships and oppressive systems.
I was happy to hear of some of the other improvements. The new missionaries (Tim and Felicia who moved from Wisconsin and arrived just after our first trip in the summer of ’09), have arranged for clean water to be delivered throughout the week, organized hot meals, have advocated for better medical care, have connected the camp with more local organizations and have prayed/ministered at countless opportunities.
Then there were some things that haven’t changed. Like our friend Arthur still sings hymns to all who come to visit him on his porch (if you could hear this man with HIV sing “I Am the Lord Your Healer”, it would bring a tear to your eye). Miss Moxie still hugs everyone who comes in her door and asks for Psalms to be read and Brother Vincent is still listening to his Bible and preaching as often as he can. Wheelchair bound, malnourished and blind, they are still praising the Lord.
Earlier this post, I mentioned the need for volunteer groups to continue to come to help with the construction, but that’s only half the story. They are also needed to help with relationship-building. They are needed to help bring a sense of justice to this camp and they are needed to share the hope of Jesus to these souls. We’re glad that we have discovered the virtue of returning to the same places on our short-term mission trips. Because although we’ve been here before, it was a different experience this time and I am sure it will be different the next time too.