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On a Sunday morning in the town of Chambe in southwest Ethiopia, Pastor Bilu Demissie Shorbote explained to his congregation the words of Psalm 23. “In Christ,” he said, “there is a place of healing and comfort. Has anyone here experienced God’s comfort?”
“Amen.” The people responded together.
In recent months, the town of Chambe had experienced new and tangible evidence of God’s comfort through a booklet about HIV and AIDS. The booklet, originally titled Kande’s Story, tells the story of a young woman whose parents die of AIDS and how members of the local church respond with support and healing.
Kande’s Story is a true-to-life account based on stories told by a church leader from northern Nigeria about children in his community. The story was first written in 2004 by Shellbook Publishing Systems, who then allowed SIL to further adapt and use the story and add a facilitator’s manual. Since then it has been translated into 139 languages, including thirteen in Ethiopia. Among these is the Guji dialect of Oromo spoken in the village of Chambe.
As people read and discuss Kande’s Story, they uncover ways to apply scripture to their everyday life as the facilitator’s guide includes Bible passages. Together participants discuss Jesus’ treatment of lepers, God’s view of sexual sin, justice for orphans and widows, and much more.
An estimated 2.1% of Ethiopian adults were HIV positive in 2007, but that number has been climbing toward the Sub-Saharan African average of 5%. A staggering 22.5 million people across Sub-Saharan Africa are HIV positive, and nearly 15 million children are orphans due to AIDS.
The stigma of the disease remains strong in Ethiopia. Communities often ostracize those suspected of having HIV and their family members. Churches commonly teach that HIV is the wrath of God and a proof of sin in the life of the infected person. Many people will not touch an infected person, and they even fear to pronounce the name of the disease, calling it instead “that thing.”
The impact of the story is noticeable. In Kibre Mengist, a city near Chambe, a group of HIV positive people have started meeting every Friday in a public place. Together they share coffee, friendship, and support. Their public presence boldly announces their HIV positive status to the community with an openness unheard of before Kande’s Story workshops.
“I used to be afraid of people who are HIV positive,” said Hamero Kedir, a young woman from the region. “Now I will say hi, shake their hands, and come close to them to try to help them.”
When government leaders in the region surrounding Chambe heard about Kande’s Story, they became excited. They approached the presenters and asked for the workshops to be repeated in each of the 15 districts across a region of four million people. Previously in this region the fliers, posters, and radio broadcasts regarding HIV and AIDS were only in the national language, Amharic.
“The government has given training on HIV, but this one is special because it is in our mother tongue and whoever is given the training should give the training to another,” explained church leader Worku Mute, who is referring to the method where those who read the story and participate in the workshops are asked to teach others about the disease, so the story spreads exponentially.
Others can help spread Kande’s Story. Guji translator Danbala Elema said they need more copies of the translated booklet to distribute. The first printing included 20,000 copies, but some four million people speak the language.
“My wish is that it could reach every people,” said Worku, who coordinates the sending of local missionaries through Evangelical Church Fellowship of Southern Ethiopia and would like every missionary to have a copy.
As the church service closed in Chambe, Pastor Bilu Demissie Shorbote and the congregation sang, “Jesus saved me from dying, cast away my sin. Now I am free and happy.” Today, as people read Kande’s Story in their mother tongue in Chambe and across Africa, Jesus is giving those affected by HIV and AIDS a new taste of freedom and happiness.