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Tampa church partners with mission to help children orphaned by AIDS

Tampa church partners with mission to help children orphaned by AIDS

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Tampa church partners with mission to help children orphaned by AIDS

April 11, 2008   News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0829}

An e-Review Feature
By Steven Skelley**

In October 2006 Paul and Derina Holtzhausen, natives of South Africa and members of St. James United Methodist Church in Tampa, invited Dr. Flip Buys to speak at their church about the needs of African children.

Now, the church is part of an international partnership that is improving the lives and futures of children devastated by AIDS.

The Rev. Paul Butler (center) was one of six members of St. James Untied Methodist Church in Tampa to travel to KwaMhlanga, South Africa, in February 2007 on a fact-finding mission to “check out” the work of the Mukhanyo Community Development Centers, which operates day-care centers for children orphaned by AIDS and a hospice center for AIDS patients. That visit prompted the St. James congregation and other churches interested in being part of the mission to raise more than $209,000 — money that enabled a fifth day-care center to open. Photo courtesy of Paul Butler. Photo #08-0801.

Buys is head of Mukhanyo Theological College and Mukhanyo Community Development Centers (MCDC) in KwaMhlanga, South Africa. During his remarks to the church, he described a community of 500,000-plus people where more than 50 percent of the population is HIV positive and poverty is extreme. He also shared what the development centers are doing to care for people affected by both.

The slogan of the centers, Buys said, is “Masibambisane,” which means, “let us bear the burden together.” Their vision is to improve “the unacceptable levels of suffering in the wider KwaMhlanga area due to large numbers of orphans and vulnerable children, people living with AIDS, and people living in poverty,” according to the MCDC Web site.

MCDC works to achieve that goal through its day-care centers for children orphaned by AIDS and those considered vulnerable or at-risk. It also runs a hospice facility for AIDS patients.

After hearing Buys speak, the Rev. Paul Butler and his wife, Ginah, who attend St. James, approached the church’s pastor about helping them lead a team to South Africa “to check it out.” In February 2007 the Butlers and four other church members traveled to KwaMhlanga.

“We visited all of the centers, went on home visits, visited the college, visited the hospice center,” team member Patina Ripkey said. “It was an eye-opening experience. The sick and dying are loved. … They (workers) exhibit so much love and grace as they gently care for those who are dying.”

Team members were most impressed with the work of four day-care centers, but questioned why a fifth, a new building that stood vacant, was not operational.

“We were told it would not be opened until $60,000 a year was secured,” Butler said.
Right there, team members committed themselves to returning to St. James and challenging the congregation to raise at least $120,000 for two years of funding. 

“Word spread outside of St. James,” Butler said, “and before the appeal was even made to the congregation, a total of $110,000 had already been collected.”

More than $209,000 was raised by the end of 2007 through contributions from St. James and other churches.

In addition to financial support, the St. James congregation has prepared more than 500 one-gallon Zip Loc bags filled with toys and practical items for the children in all five centers. Members also plan to provide MP3 players so the children can hear the Bible in both English and Zulu.

An almost overwhelming need

About 12 missionaries and numerous volunteers from South Africa, the United States and Holland lead MCDC, which works across denominational lines to care for Africa’s orphans, widows and ailing residents.

Each of the MCDC day-care centers helps between 100 and 120 of the most vulnerable children in its immediate community. The children sleep at their homes at night, but receive lunch and dinner at the centers, along with homework help, Bible study and spiritual support. All of the children are required to go to school.

Carli Minacci, a member of St. James Untied Methodist Church in Tampa, shares photos on her camera with children and youth at the Manaleni Center, one of five day-care centers run by the Mukhanyo Community Development Centers in KwaMhlanga, South Africa, for children orphaned by AIDS. The World Health Organization estimates 1.4 million South African children in 2005 alone were living as orphans. Of that number approximately 370,000 had lost both parents to AIDS. Photo courtesy of Paul Butler. Photo #08-0802.

The goal for each center is that it becomes self-sustaining through an income-generating project, such as sewing, making jewelry or growing tomatoes for resale. The mission is that local churches operate the centers so the churches “can be the hands and feet of Jesus to the community,” according to the MCDC Web site.

MCDC leaders estimate a total of 15 centers will be needed to reach all of KwaMhlanga. Even then, they say, the centers will only be able to help those most in need. KwaMhlanga has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in South Africa. The World Health Organization estimates 320,000 South Africans died from AIDS in 2005 alone, 5.5 million were living with HIV/AIDS and 1.4 million South African children were living as orphans, approximately 370,000 of which had lost both parents to AIDS.

Of note to Ripkey from her trip to South Africa was the story of one woman with multiple family members devastated by AIDS. Her name was Nora, and she used to be a housemaid in Pretoria.

“Someone asked her about the photos on her wall,” Ripkey said. “She pointed out people in her family — her husband, her son, her brother, her daughter — all of them gone from AIDS. She has HIV. She hugged me that day and wouldn’t let go. I hated to leave her.”

Bill Roy, who participated in another mission trip to the area last June, said he also witnessed similar despair.

“Every person here has a parent or sibling who is dying or has died of AIDS,” he said. “We saw unbelievable poverty.

Jennifer Smith, director of campus ministries at the University of South Florida, recalled a visit to a family in need of food.

“I met a grandmother of a 1-year-old boy who is HIV positive. The boy’s mother and father have died of AIDS, and the grandmother is all the child has left,” she said.

Smith said the groceries the team had brought with them “were perfect timing.” The family’s food had run out the day before.

Joining the cause

St. James United Methodist Church is not alone in its outreach. Through MCDC, a partnership emerged between St. James and the Reitvallei Reformed Church of South Africa in Pretoria. The St. James team identified children with potential vision problems, and the Reitvallei church made appointments with an ophthalmologist, taking the kids to Pretoria. Now, five children have glasses they otherwise would not have had.

Another partnership was formed with the Church of The Good Shepherd in Chapel Hill, N.C.

The Manaleni Center staff and volunteers welcome church members visiting from St. James United Methodist Church in Tampa. The church began a partnership in February 2007 with the Mukhanyo Community Development Centers, which provides day-care centers — including the Manaleni Center — for children in KwaMhlanga, South Africa, orphaned by AIDS. The organization also runs a hospice center that cares for AIDS patients. Photo courtesy of Paul Butler. Photo #08-0803.

Like St. James, the North Carolina church has visited KwaMhlanga on two occasions. The Butlers have “visited the folks” in Chapel Hill twice since October. Last February MCDC leaders led the two congregations in a visioning session to explore how they can further develop their ministries in South Africa. One of the possibilities receiving serious consideration is the development of a Christian school that would give children a strong academic education with the underpinnings of a Christian worldview.

Funds were also raised recently to build a home for the Nyembes, a family of 12 whose current house consists of one room that’s not much bigger than 12 feet square. Their new house has three bedrooms and a pit toilet outside. Their former home will be used as a place to sell a few select items — a “tuck house” as it is called in South Africa. The tuck house will provide the Nyembes a means of earning an income on their own.

Rose Finkbeiner, a missionary at MCDC, also worked with the St. James congregation to help the Nyembe family with school supplies and uniforms.

“I have been working so hard these last few days arranging for the seven children to go to school,” she said. “Tsepo, who is 15 years old and has never been to school, had to enter grade one. David hasn’t been to school in five years, and it’s been one year since Santos was in school. They are really excited about going back to school.”

Other churches invited to participate

St. James is making plans for another trip to South Africa Sept. 26-Oct. 4 — dates that coincide with school vacation times in South Africa so team members can spend as much time as possible with children at the Manaleni day-care center, which opened last May.

Another trip is tentatively scheduled for March 27-April 4, 2009. Applications will soon be available and will include information about the trips — what will happen, what plans a participant needs to make, dates for the pre-trip orientation meetings and other details.

Individuals or churches interested in participating in the ministry and/or going on a mission trip to KwaMhlanga may contact Butler at 813-495-4956 or

“Those are precious children of God in need of the love and support that we can provide,” Butler said. “Going to South Africa and interacting with the children and the workers at Manaleni allows us a glimpse into the way the Kingdom was designed to work. Going helps us understand what Jesus meant when he told us that it is in losing one’s life that we find it, and that life in all its fullness comes from serving others.”


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Skelley is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.