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It all starts with a conversation

For the third Sunday of Lent, our reflection is presented by Time Baluwa, coordinator of Integral Youth Development, a program that forms part of the Youth Office of the Jesuit Province in Zimbabwe. 

Today’s reading is about one of the outstanding stories in the bible (Jn 4:5-42) What makes it unique is the fruitful relations it portrays. From our childhood Sunday school teachings, we know somehow that the Samaritans and the Jews were not really on speaking terms. Yet the Lord found this as a rich opportunity to plant a seed of mutual respect, common good and love within mankind. He did not worry himself about perceptions, social constructs and widespread beliefs about Jews and Samaritans. He was crossing boundaries to reach out to others.

Working with young people over the past 10 years, I have experienced three main scenarios in relation to HIV. I have seen children born with the virus maturing into their adolescence (thanks to ART). I have encountered young people infected mostly through sexual contact and I have met others infected by accident. All had one experience in common when they shared their status. They felt alienated, as if a drift similar to that between the Jews and Samaritans has been created. They spoke of obvert stigma, which is easily noticeable, and most importantly of the silent stigma that families, friends and the community consciously and unconsciously directed towards them.

The young people are very much present in our midst. They have so much that burdens them and yearn for conversation, an opportunity to generate mutual relations and love. Unfortunately, most of us are stuck in social constructs, beliefs and attitudes, so profoundly stuck that we can’t cross boundaries as Jesus did with the Samaritan woman. If we open up to those among us who are HIV-positive, and generate a relationship, the outcome can be electrifying. The Samaritan woman couldn’t contain herself after her encounter with Jesus. She simply had to rush to share the good news with others. This is the same with young people who are struggling with their HIV status. Once they find genuine support and strength, the will to live positively is generated.

Our drive to reach out to those living positively is sometimes mistaken to be one-way traffic. Yes, we give a lot in our encounter with our friends and relatives who are HIV-positive, but we must not forget that we also receive much from their gifts. These gifts, which are suffocated when we stigmatise and isolate people living with HIV, can really blossom and benefit mankind when we all embrace each other and accompany one another towards wellbeing. We gain a lot when we start to appreciate friendship, wisdom, expertise, enriched reflections and experiences from friends, family members and specifically young people who are living with the virus.

Our Lord Jesus teaches us today that it all starts with a conversation. Let us pause a moment and reflect on how we have been welcoming young people in our communities or sphere of operations. Let us ask Our Lord Jesus Christ to help us to go beyond the boundaries set by our social constructs and attitude, boundaries that inhibit us from reaching out to those who are in need, particularly young people who are HIV-positive. Amen. 

Second Sunday of Lent: Joyful transformation in AIDS ministry

First Sunday of Lent: Making choices with Christ

Ash Wednesday: Come back to me with all your heart

To read this reflection in French, please go here: Tout commence par une conversation



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