HARTSWATER, South Africa Lyndee Joe opens a bag of doughnut-like pastries and asks: "Who wants a Fat Cake?" All the Tswana middle school students raise their hands.
She then shows the youngsters a syringe filled with waterbut she tells them it contains deadly poison. She injects four of the Fat Cakes and says, "As soon as you eat one, you will die. 'Who wants a Fat Cake now?' The children yell, 'Not me, not me!'"
Joe uses this object lesson to teach the students about HIV/AIDS. She explains that a person may look healthy, but you cannot know if he or she is infected with the deadly virus. The children nod with understanding.
Joe, a missionary journeyman with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, wants to change attitudes and behaviors before another generation dies from AIDS. While mankind marks the pandemic through the World AIDS Day each Dec. 1, Christian volunteers work year-round in an effort to eradicate the deadly disease.
Joe does her own small part. She lives in Hartswater, five hours from the nearest IMB missionary, doing HIV/AIDS prevention work in South Africa's Taung region.
This part of Africa ranks No. 1 in AIDS-related deaths. Taung is an especially difficult area, where domestic and sexual abuse by family members is rampant. Spiritual warfare fills the region through satanic churches and traditional African ancestor worship.
Joe ministers in schools and through Christian Youth Outreach activities started by South African Baptist worker Andrew Murray.
She partners with Murray and his wife Ronel in "club work," where she does life skills classes using Operation HIV (He Is Victorious)patterned after True Love Waitsand Decide to Decide Right, another program that teaches abstinence. Classes deal with self-esteem, making good choices, relationships with family and friends, and how to relate to the opposite sex.
"There's so much sexual immorality that happens here that these kids are affected at an early age," Joe said. "I'm trying to get them to a better quality of life and not have to deal with the epidemic that has stricken this area."
Piercing the darkness with God's love, Joe's face lights up every time she teaches a lesson or tells a story. She loves building relationships but admits it was a struggle at first. A few months after she arrived, her journeyman partner returned to the United States, leaving Joe on her own in a country she barely knew.
"At first I was devastated that I was out in Africa by myself, and no one here knew what I going through," Joe said. "But it turned out to be a blessing. ... God took that situation and turned it to glorify Him, allowing me to build relationships with people here on a deeper level."
More help arrives
In August, another journeyman, Paul Weiblen, arrived in Hartswater to work with the Taung Operation HIV team.
Joe now works with three Tswana believers and ministers through Sharon Baptist Church, a congregation in nearby Pampierstad.
"Tumelo is my big brother," Joe said, referring to one of her work partners. "He'll tell me, 'You cannot do this Lyndee' or 'You need to greet those people.' Greeting is very important."
Joe describes her other co-workers, Nonosi and Boitumelo, as "crazy fun we have such a good time together. We'll watch Nigerian movies, and I won't understand a thing. They'll be laughing and then they'll start laughing at me because I don't understand why they're laughing."
At St. Paul Primary School, Joe and her helpers play games with the children, then it's time for Joe's Operation HIV lesson.
That afternoon, she repeats the presentation at Sebitloene Special School for special needs students, where she leads students to act out "The Prodigal Son," encouraging their efforts.
Joe and her team teach children biblically based sexual attitudes and provide HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention from a Christian perspective as an alternative to the promiscuity their society offers. She wants to start house churches but is still looking for that "person of peace" in Taung who will let believers teach the Word of God in his or her home.
After Joe's journeyman assignment ends in December, she says she will follow the motto her students recite daily: "You win or lose by the way you choose, so decide to decide right."