Any Christian with a conscience has to ask the question every now and then: am I really serious about serving Christ by serving others? Am I afraid even to “talk the talk,” for fear I’ll be reminded that I’m not walking the walk?
I was reminded of that perennial question on Sunday when I read an article about how South Africa — whose Minister of Health has been known to recommend garlic for AIDS — is finally getting serious about dealing with its worst-in-the-world problem with HIV/AIDS.
The article mentioned my old friend Julius Bonani, a pastor who planted a church in the notorious Barcelona shantytown outside of Cape Town. I first met Julius in 2000, when he was working to plant a church in an area called Yanga. The church met in a school: I had the privilege of preaching while Julius translated in Xhosa, a fascinating language that features lots of clicks, pops, and gutterals.
In 2005, I met Julius again, this time in Barcelona, where he and his faithful wife Irene had successfully started another church. It had not been easy, but they had brought hope and found acceptance in a dangerous, poverty-ridden place. With help from two more established churches, they had converted five old shipping containers into a church building, using the containers as outside walls and rooms, then stretching steel girders between the metal containers and putting a roof on the top.
At the time, Julius and Irene were caring for two grandchildren and five other children who had been orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Three years later, according to article I read Sunday, they are caring for 18 children who suffer from HIV/AIDS.
They do this with very little in the way of financial resources, but much in the way of love and a great willingness to obey Jesus’ call to love “the least of these my brethren.”
[Above: Julius Bonani stands in the door of a “windy house” used by his family in 2005. Bottom: Irene Bonani (left) leads a choir of young people, practicing inside a shipping container.]