The Meeting today had a couple of great events. In the morning we heard from three formidable African women who have shown amazing faith, hope and charity in terrible circumstances: civil war and AIDS.
Marguerite Barankitse is a Tutsi noblewoman who has grown a ministry looking after orphans of war and AIDS in Burundi, while Vicky Aryenyo contracted AIDS from her husband. They were introduced by the woman who helped Vicky and her sick young son, Rose Busingye.
In both cases, hope and forgiveness are closely linked. Dozens of Marguerite's family were killed in the civil war and genocide between the Tutsi and Hutu, and battle she refused to take part in, and in which she helped everyone irrespective of tribe. She was forced to watch as Tutsi troops killed dozens of her friends in front of her. But despite this suffering she has no bitterness, and has devoted her life to her 1,000 orphan children. She is assisted by members of the Movement from all around the world.
Rose is a nurse who works with HIV infected women in Uganda. Many of these women are ostracised and abandoned by their husbands. Vicky's story (she speaks English) was that her husband infected her with AIDS, then abandoned her and her three children. After several hellish years of poverty and isolation, she and her family came into contact with the Meeting Point group led by Rose. Both she and her infected son are on retroviral drugs now, but Vicky says the biggest change came when Rose once said to her: "Vicky, there is more value in you than the value of this disease." Vicky has forgiven her husband (who she no longer sees) and now works with other HIV-infected woman in the group.
Just before lunch, I heard a close friend and biographer of Alexander Solzenitsyn speak. Solzenitsyn, who died a few weeks ago, survived the Gulags of Soviet Russia to speak for all who didn't survive. There is an exhibition here about his life, and the saddest exhibit is an enlarged copy of a page of mugshots of about 100 people who were imprisoned and later shot as 'enemies of the people'. They don't look like enemies of anyone, just annoyed, baffled, scared or sad. They disappeared from human sight. But not from God's sight, as Solzenitsyn reminds us.