Change of Heart in Lesotho. 11/06

Report by Joseph Teboho Rapitse in Nov 2006.

World Vision training transforms pastor’s attitude towards HIV For 15 years as a pastor, Thomas Lebiletsa (38) hated people living with HIV. It took a five-day training with World Vision, five months ago to completely transform him into a man who embraces and loves people infected with the virus.

In February this year, 2006, Lebiletsa, a pastor of Calvary Hope of the Nations, based in an area covered by World Vision’s Lenkoane Area Development Programme in Lesotho, was trained under the Channels of Hope programme, which aims to engage churches and faith based organizations in the response to HIV and AIDS. He left the training a changed man. Said the pastor: “I would tell my congregation almost every Sunday…Those with HIV must repent.

You will come back to the church when your legs are as thin as the pole holding up this tent and ask for forgiveness… and I will be ready to conduct your funerals.” He would refer to the poles holding up the tent from which he was preaching to scare those with the virus and scare others from engaging in activities that put them at risk. “After going through the training with World Vision, I was the one who had to repent,” he said. This Lebiletsa made it public at one service after the training where he repented openly before the congregation.

Lebiletsa notes that the training made him realize that instead of embracing and providing hope to those affected and infected by HIV, he was casting them away and making their situations worse. He remembers how a question posed during the training had really touched him. “How many in your congregations have died of AIDS when they could have lived if you had supported them?” was the question. He clearly remembered two, who he felt, with the appropriate support and counseling could have still been alive. “All I did was prepare for their funerals. I clearly did not think they deserved any love or support from me or the church,” remembers Lebiletsa.

Indeed, World Vision’s programme changed his approach and today he has linked two members of his congregation to anti-retroviral treatment. In the church he has a session dedicated to sharing about HIV and AIDS, one Sunday every month. Whenever possible he has people living positively with HIV sharing their life experiences to provide hope to others in the congregation. “It is difficult to talk about sex and sexuality especially in the church but we are doing it because we want to bring hope and love to those infected and affected,” he adds. Ever since he went through the training he has been celebrating the decision he made to accept the invitation to attend. He chose the training over preparing for a crusade, which he was supposed to lead at the same time.

Some of the challenging issues that he was asked to face during the training included; putting Jesus in the time of the HIV and AIDS pandemic and figuring out how He would have responded to people infected with the virus. He also had to search deep inside to find out his own attitude towards people who are infected with HIV. “I realized I hated people with HIV and I knew that those who were suffering because of the pandemic could never come to me for support even though I am a pastor… unless my attitude changed,” lamented Lebiletsa. Since his involvement with World Vision’s Channels of Hope programme, and subsequent change in attitude, he has become a member of the Berea District AIDS Task Force.

This makes it easier for him to link patients to professional support including antiretroviral treatment. The church has since established a six-member committee of four 4 women and 2 men who volunteered to spearhead issues related to HIV and AIDS to make sure that women, men and children affected in different ways get the care and support they require. Pastor Lebiletsa was already running a feeding programme for orphans in the village even before attending the Channels of Hope Programme but the training helped him to realize an even greater need to care and look after the orphans especially because the increase in HIV infection has also resulted in an increase in orphans.

The children get supper at the pastor’s home from Monday to Friday. So far he is proving food to 28 children whose ages range from three to 15 years. He also built a two-roomed house for a child headed family of two boys, a 15-year-old and a 10-year-old who live on their own after their mother died. “My life as a person has definitely changed and I want to play an even bigger role in responding to HIV in this area,” he said.

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