At eighteen months, Sammy weighed only nine pounds. Her arms and legs were shriveled; her paper-thin skin sagged limply into her ribs. She was too weak to move, too sick to eat.
"Sammy was born to an HIV-positive mother who died from AIDS about a year after her birth," says Robin Taylor, a Southern Baptist nurse who serves in South Africa through the International Mission Board. "Sammy is HIV-positive and began having thrush [a fungal infection] in her mouth and was unable to eat. She got sicker and sicker. Her aunt and grandmother were unable to provide any medical care for her."
With the baby on the verge of death, a call was placed to Gail Trollip, director of Tabitha Ministries, a Southern Baptist-assisted outreach that cares for more than 1,300 HIV-positive children in a district of South Africa that has the highest per capita rate of HIV-positive individuals in the world.
Trollip carefully scooped the child into her arms and took her back to Hope Center, the facility out of which she coordinates Tabitha Ministries' operations. Nursing aides began feeding Sammy with a medicine dropper.
"It was touch and go as to whether Sammy would live or not," Taylor says. "But after ten days, she finally showed some signs of improvement."
A year later, Sammy "literally has come from death to life," Taylor says.
"Her motor skills have improved and she has begun walking," Taylor says. "Just this month, she said her first words — 'hallelujah' and 'amen'!
"With the help of food and medicines given by Southern Baptists who care, Tabitha Ministries has been able to restore life to children like little Sammy who have no hope."
Stories like Sammy's are tragically all too common in Sub-Saharan Africa, says Mark Hatfield, who directs work in Sub-Saharan Africa for Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization.
"With 1.6 million deaths annually due to AIDS, resulting in fourteen million AIDS orphans, it isn't hard to find stories like Sammy's repeated all across Sub-Saharan Africa," Hatfield says. "When you read about the HIV/AIDS crisis, it's easy to just see numbers that don't really mean anything personally. But HIV/AIDS isn't just about numbers. It's about real people of all ages dealing with pain and suffering in ways most of us will never have to experience."
While HIV affects all levels of society in Sub-Saharan Africa, it deals its most crushing blow to the poor, Hatfield adds.
"Those most affected are people living in poverty who have no margin in their lives for anything that requires physical resources," he says. "I'm grateful that Southern Baptists have cared enough to reach out to people in need here and help with HIV/AIDS ministries."
Gifts to the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund provide food that can extend the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS, Hatfield notes. In addition, Southern Baptist churches in three states recently helped pack 1,378 "In-Home Care Kits" with a wide range of everyday supplies needed by a caregiver — from lotions, ointments, and vitamins to bedding, bandages, and thermometers. The "Buckets of Love," which were packed in five-gallon plastic buckets — were delivered to the Baptist Fellowship of Zambia's human needs program and to Tabitha Ministries. A second phase of the Buckets of Love project will be launched early in 2009.
"Through actions like that, Southern Baptists allow us to give a physical touch from the Lord and show His love and compassion," Hatfield says. "It gives us an opportunity to talk to them about the full and meaningful life God wants to give them."
Families who receive assistance are stunned that someone cares enough to help — and deeply grateful, Taylor says.
"People here live in hopelessness. Poverty is their friend and death is their neighbor," she says. "One very old baba (grandfather) told me, 'Without this help, we would be dead.' Another person said, 'God sees our need and, amazingly, sends people from the other side of the earth to help us.'"
For information about the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund, visit worldhungerfund.com.
Mark Kelly is a member of Peace Community Church in Gallatin, Tennessee, and is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.