Mercy's Story-by Brenda Jansen

"Even with HIV, life is still bright"

Mercy had lived through the pain and rejection of divorce, but even tougher times were ahead for this former member of Malawi’s Parliament. Two years later, a chronic cough led her to seek medical help from her brother, a clinician at a local hospital. Observing how sick she was, he encouraged her to be tested for HIV. The news that she was indeed positive came as a huge blow to Mercy. She told me, “I felt shattered, and I wept uncontrollably for nearly an hour.” The emotional wounds from the divorce were behind her, but she now had to face the reality that her husband had left her with this deadly virus.

There was much stigma around HIV then. She feared that her reputation would be ruined. She didn’t want people to be disturbed by her news. She didn’t want their pity. Soon she became too sick to work and had to quit her job. She could not have anticipated the response that her son would have after hearing the news of her illness. A 22-year-old husband and father of two young children, he took his own life. Mercy felt that her life was falling apart. She remembered her brother who had died of AIDS three years earlier, before treatment was available in Malawi. She thought she too was dying, and even asked God to take her.

She became a patient at the Partners in Hope Medical Center (PIH), where the staff showed her much love and care. She told me, “One of the nurses, Anna, spreads hope to us. She welcomes us and treats us with warmth from her heart. She even dances and jokes with us.” The doctors treated Mercy with ARVs (AIDS medications) for a year. However, her CD4 count (blood test indicator) was still very low and she was having side effects to the standard Malawi ARV regimen . At that time, this special regimen was not available at PIH, so she had to be transferred to the government program. She was very happy when PIH was later able to offer these medicines for free as well, and she returned there for her care.

It takes a big effort for Mercy to get to PIH. In the rainy season, the dirt roads in her village turn to mud, so the buses cannot get close to her home. She walks about 12 kilometers to get to the main road! However, she feels it’s worth it, because she trusts PIH. She knows that her case is complicated, having changed her medication regimen several times already. She pays close attention to symptoms and side effects, coming to the medical center when problems arise.

As I listened to Mercy share her story, I could see that she has joy in her heart. She is deeply grateful to the Lord and to PIH for saving her life. She says her faith has deepened because of her AIDS. Her real hope is in Jesus. I asked her if she has been able to forgive her husband (now deceased) for the trouble he caused her. She replied, “You know, he caused me to lose my health, my job and my son. There is still some resentment, but God is healing me.”

“I see a lot of hurting people, overwhelmed by HIV,” said Mercy. “I try to encourage them, to give them hope. I tell them that HIV is like hair. Though you shave it, it will still come back. Instead, look after it. [You can] let it control you, or you can control it. Even with HIV, life can still be bright.” Mercy talks with people wherever she goes, encouraging them about their HIV and telling them about the love of Jesus.

When I asked Mercy to tell me one message she would want to give to others living with AIDS, she said, “Be holy and faithful. Pray without ceasing. Expect the Lord to do His part.” One of the Bible verses she clings to reads: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11). Mercy tells people, “There is still life after HIV.”