India (MNN) — What causes a grandmother to turn her back on her grandchildren and ignore the desperate situation of her daughter-in-law?
What quickly becomes a life sentence for entire families and often drives mothers to suicide?
What draws a successful and happily-married couple to leave their comfortable life to face a harsh reality in a different country?
What can be so terrible and at the same time cause a woman to fall to her knees and thank God for it?
The answer to all of these questions is: HIV.
Tim and Karri are a couple working with Pioneers USA in India. In 2007 God opened their eyes to the reality of HIV in India. They took a survey trip to India in 2010 to see what God was calling them to.
Tim says, “We were happy in our life here in the U.S. We were ripe with business, and we were actively involved in our church and serving. We thought that’s what God had for us. But then as He opened our hearts and our eyes to the struggle that these women were facing and children were facing, the hopelessness that they have and the hope that we have–not just this world of comfort and the things of the world, but the hope we have for Christ, it was more of a question of how can we not go?”
Tim and Karri moved to India two years later and started a business called Tabby’s (named after Tabitha from the Bible) in 2013. This business serves to provide women with HIV vocational training and basic sewing skills.
Tim says, “It allows them to have, first of all, a safe environment to work, a consistent means of earning. The earnings these women are making through Tabby’s are about 2-3 times what they could earn through field work or construction work. And then it offers them community.” You can see and purchase their products and support them here.
Tim continues, “Most importantly, it’s a vehicle that offers us the ability to offer the hope of the Gospel to them as we do Bible studies with them and teach them about the love and compassion that Christ has for them.”
These women have no community before getting involved in Tabby’s, and it’s through no fault of their own. Tim explains, “The pattern is: the husband goes outside of marriage, usually to a prostitute, and contracts HIV. He then brings it home to his wife, and subsequently to her children through birth and nursing. Usually the pattern we see is these women will work and they’ll expend and go into debt to care for the husband who eventually dies from HIV, leaving her widowed, infected with HIV as well as her young children.
“And so, [because of] the isolation and rejection that these women face, many of them resort to suicide because of the despair. And there’s just no social support for them, so they get kicked out of their homes; their in-laws want nothing to do with them. They lose any inheritance.”
Why are they shunned so horribly? Tim says it’s mostly just a misunderstanding: “The biggest challenge is education about how HIV is transmitted. So because of lack of education, and primarily because of the myths and stigmas, people feel that [through] their daily interaction, they can contract the disease.”
All of the women that Tim and Karri work with are married or have been married. Many of them have children. Tim and Karri also help with an orphanage for children with HIV.
Karri says, “It’s been really amazing to see many of these women have come from Hindu backgrounds. And they have been rejected not only by their family and their villages, but the very idols they have placed their faith in. There is no help there.
“And so as they come into an environment where they’re certainly getting help for this life in job training and in community, they are exposed to the hope of the Gospel and the love that Christ has for us is a sacrificial love. They have never been loved in that way, and it is amazing to see hard hearts being melted and being softened by what Satan wanted to destroy them with. This HIV [which can] take their very life is softening them, and Christ is coming in and revealing Himself to them.”
Karri explains the hope the job training brings cannot hold a candle to the hope that the Gospel provides.
She shares a story of an HIV widow who works in the orphanage. Karri shares the woman’s testimony: “If she had not contracted HIV, she would have never believed in Christ. And she boldly and willingly thanks God for her HIV condition because that’s what it took for Him to bring her to Himself.”
God is using the pain these women are in to draw them to the Truth.
Karri says, “They will never be free from HIV, they will always be on medication, but it’s this very disease that [is] opening them up so that they can hear and trust in the Gospel.”
The work Tim and Karri do is rewarding, but it’s not without trials. When asked why they continue to do it, both Tim and Karri laugh and say there are days they wonder.
But then Karri says more seriously, “God is constantly using broken and sinful people to do His work. And we are broken people that He has chosen to send to India to work with other broken people so that His goodness and His love and His glory can be seen.”
The couple asks for your prayers. They have seen God work through the lives of individuals as a result of prayer. Pray for them to stay focused on what really matters: the condition of these women’s souls. Pray for more women to hear about Tabby’s so they can learn about God and pursue a lifestyle that can support them and their children.
Tim ends with a reminder that HIV and AIDS are a world epidemic. It isn’t confined to Africa. India has the third largest population of HIV affected people and the largest population of AID orphans: over 2 million.