"The body does not consist of one member but many." + 1 Corinthians 12:14
I spent twelve weeks in southern African countries ravaged by HIV/AIDS. I saw signs of the disease everywhere - from free condoms in the bathrooms to church initiatives promoting safe sex. You’d expect as much, given the scope of the disease.
What surprised me, however, was the lack of urgency and panic. That’s what you’d have here. Remember anthrax? West Nile virus? Mention a bad ﬂu season, and people stockpile food and build bunkers. Not in Africa.
On my second trip, I came closer to understanding the African context when our group met with Paul Germond, a professor from Lesotho. He offered a rich look at the culture - from religion to health to community - highlighting the places of connection and disconnection with our North American context.
Take the word for “health.” The Lesotho language has no corresponding word, for they know nothing of “individual health.” A person is only healthy if the whole community is healthy, if the land is healthy.
We hear “health” and think about my cholesterol count, my weight, my heart. Germond was in the United States during the Terry Schiavo case. He was struck by the obsession, on the part of many, to keep her alive. To westerners focused on individual ambition, death is a radical end. Not so in southern Africa. They grieve the lives cut short from AIDS, but the individual is not everything. The church, the community, even the country will look different after HIV/AIDS, but it will survive.
In their culture, to die well, just as to live well, is to be honored, cared for, and, ultimately, remembered by the community. They have a word for that: buphelo, the health of the community. Our language may not have a corresponding word, but our faith does: shalom. It’s more than individual peace. It’s health, wholeness, harmony, bounty for all.
The witness and example of our sisters and brothers in southern Africa can deepen our faith and more - they can save us the expense of futile life support and a bunker in the back yard.
Holy One, you have made us for one another. In life as in death, may we ﬁnd peace as we take our place in your body. In Jesus name we pray for this and all things, Amen.
A SALT community thanks to Jeff Kubina for this striking image. And thanks again to the ever eloquent Holly McKissick for this thought-provoking devotional!