Nine members of Connections Church in Ramsey recently visited a province of South Africa in which 37 percent of people are HIV positive, according to the church’s lead pastor.
This was the second trip that Rev. Ray Fritz has made to South Africa with other adults and young volunteers to share a simple, but important message, which is that promiscuity leads to these alarming statistics.
“We start out by asking the students, and these are junior high and high school students, what age are kids having their first sexual experience in South Africa,” Fritz said. “We heard all over the board, but the average age was 14 to 15 years old.”
The students also said many kids will have multiple sexual partners before they are married.
According to a United Nations UNAIDS report from 2011, approximately 5.6 million people are living with HIV in South Africa. Just over half are women ages 15 and up. There were 270,000 deaths that year.
“I made a commitment when I was younger to stay sexually pure until my marriage day. It’s just how many people are dying and how many kids are orphaned by AIDS really kind of touched me. It was so many,” said Fritz’ daughter Alexis, who will be a senior at Anoka High School this upcoming school year.
Her father said having the students speak is what really adds to the message.
“When these guys share with the kids from Africa that they are going to remain sexually pure until their wedding day, that’s almost unheard of in their culture, let alone our culture and what they know about our culture from television,” Rev. Fritz said. “For them to hear that from an American really hits home for them.”
Alexis was one of four students and Fritz was one of five adults who went to the Esikhawini and Nkandla villages of South Africa from July 29 to Aug. 14. These are two of the four villages in the KwaZulu-Natal province that Fritz led a group of 19 to in 2010 when he was a youth pastor at Meadow Creek Church in Andover.
The group did not stay in hotels, but rather with host families. The home one of the groups stayed at in Esikhawini had just put in running water in their bathroom. In the village of Nkandala, there was no electricity or running water in the home where they stayed.
The missions trip group once again partnered with the Zion Evangelical Ministries of Africa.
“I just really believe in what they’re doing there, as far as training up pastors, but also working with the youth in the area of AIDS and HIV education,” Fritz said.
They shared their personal stories with large groups of students and asked those willing to do so to sign a sheet of paper that promises they will remain sexually pure until they get married. In one group, about 700 kids signed the pledge.
The idea for this True Love Waits program came from Zion Evangelical Ministries. They met one woman who honored the pledge and is now married and has four kids. Another woman they stayed with signed the True Love Waits pledge a decade ago and is now 26 years old, Fritz said.
Alexis was inspired by her older sister Katelyn’s stories of her trip to South Africa with the Meadow Creek Church group in 2010. Katelyn also joined the Connections Church group on this recent journey.
While Alexis helped paint a room and build a library and basketball court at an Australian school on a 2006 church trip, she considered that more of a fun trip. She has always wanted to go on a missions trip where she could talk to kids in another country about the Bible, Alexis said.
“I had been doing a lot of school projects on AIDS in Africa and apartheid in South Africa and it just got me very interested in learning more and going and teaching,” she said.
Many teachers thanked the group for sharing this message after their presentations. One who would be the equivalent of a health and home economics teacher in the United States told them, “You made my job much easier.”
Beyond visiting a dozen middle and high schools and one college classroom, the Connections Church team led a Bible study, painted homes and visited the Lungisisa Indlela Village that is specifically set up for orphans to have a family to live with and a school to attend instead of staying in one institutional building.
A Bible verse they shared with every student was Jeremiah 29:11. It reads, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org