Spreading compassion

 

Will Stemen '63
Mathematics major

Will Stemen '63 and his wife, Karis, had been on several service trips with their church—Bethany First Church of the Nazarene in Bethany, Okla.—when their congregation heard from a Southern Nazarene University student in 2007 about her summer spent in Swaziland. With the highest HIV/AIDS positive rate in the world, coupled with a severe drought, the need for medical provisions Will Stemenand service workers in the country was ever-increasing. The Stemens' church wanted to help.

"We entered into a partnership with the country that fall," says Stemen. "The partnership includes areas of construction, education and medical and spiritual needs. Our church sends teams four times each year, and the teams have consisted of doctors, dentists, nurses, educators, construction workers and social workers who work with the already formed HIV/AIDS Compassionate Ministries Task Force."

Stemen, who pastored Nazarene churches for 23 years, says that when the church decided to begin sending groups, it was a no brainer for the two of them to go for 10 days or two weeks. "When our pastor shared that it would be good to have someone on-site to organize things for a longer period of time, and he asked us to prayerfully consider it, we felt led to do it."

The couple set out on a year-long term in June 2008. As on-site coordinators, they organized housing and coordinated activities for the teams whose visits typically lasted 10 days. They spent much of their time traveling into "the bush" to evaluate medical clinics and their ability to test individuals for HIV/AIDS.

The size of New Jersey, Swaziland has four main hospitals in the larger cities and 17 rural clinics. Of the latter, only two are equipped to test individuals for HIV. "To be tested for HIV, people have to travel," says Stemen. "For many that is impossible because of the lack of transportation available. And for communities in the bush that are extremely poor, it's even more impossible."

Making things more difficult is the resistance from the Swazi people to be tested. "Statistics show that only 9 percent of men and 50 percent of women are willing to be tested," says Stemen. "There's a real stigma attached to having HIV/AIDS, and many who are sick with it ignore it. You can't imagine the devastation that is there or the number of young children and teenagers leading families because both their parents have died of AIDS."

Stemen says their overall goal was to develop relationships with people: "As a retired minister, I preached a number of times through a translator, led devotions at a nurses' college and spoke with students in high schools. We wanted to encourage them and educate them, especially with regard to HIV/AIDS."

Due to health issues, the Stemens returned from their post after eight months, but they continue to serve, helping their church to fill a 40-foot container with medical supplies, including donations from area hospitals, and by encouraging local churches to adopt clinics. "The ability of testing and treating HIV/AIDS needs to be more readily available to those who need it," says Stemen.

Read more about the Stemens' time in Swaziland at http://willstemen.blogspot.com/.