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Back to Africa

Pa. couple plans to spend four years helping AIDS-infected community

Pa. couple plans to spend four years helping AIDS-infected community

November 23, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -Sometimes to see something great, you must embark on something difficult, explained Dr. Jon Fielder, 37. For Fielder, that means returning to Africa on yet another missionary trip.

This time, he and his wife, Amanda Fielder, 30, will spend four years in Malawi. The task will be helping a community crippled by HIV and AIDS, Jon said.

The couple plans to leave on Nov. 30. They will live in Malawi's capital, Lilongwe. In two years, they plan to come back to visit Chambersburg, Amanda's home town.

Their young boys, Matthew, 3, and Aaron, 14 months, are coming with them. Devout Christians, Jon and Amanda say they will act as living examples for their children on how to live their faith.

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"The ultimate measure of a person is not by the things you own, but what you've done for other human beings," Jon said.

The Fielders are going to Malawi through Africa Inland Mission International, an nondenominational Christian group whose missionary aid to impoverished African countries includes medical assistance.

Malawi is a land-locked country in east Africa. Located east of Zambia, the country was colonized in 1891 as a British protectorate and gained its independence in 1964. Today, population growth, declining agriculture and the spread of HIV/AIDS pose major problems for Malawi.

Jon and Amanda Fielder did missionary work in Kenya from 2002 to 2006. The couple also performed HIV-related missionary work in Texas.

For the Malawi trip, they've received monetary support from churches in Texas, Illinois, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Earlier this month, Amanda's home church, St. John's United Church of Christ in Chambersburg, held a benefit concert at The Capitol Theatre featuring Christian singer Fernando Ortega. The church has donated nearly $15,000 toward the couple's missionary trip, said Amanda's father, Douglas Martzluf, who also attends St. John's.

"They live to serve," said Martzluf, a physician in Chambersburg.

According to the World Health Organization, Malawi has a population of more than 13 million. The average life expectancy is 49 for men, 51 for women.

Statistics for HIV infection rates are inconsistent - reported to be from 11 percent to as much as 14 percent of the population depending on where you look, Jon Fielder said. But most international aid groups agree that the disease has had a crippling effect on the country and that obtaining safe, proper health care is a challenge for HIV-stricken Malawians. Jon said he has seen statistics that suggest there are 7,200 HIV patients for every doctor in Malawi, compared with the U.S. rate of 0.5 patients for every doctor.

As with other countries dealing with AIDS outbreaks, there's a lot of death.

Jon and Amanda remembered a little girl they met while they were in Kenya. The girl was HIV positive and wasn't reacting well to medication. The girl's grandmother was caring for her because the girl's mother had died. It was a slow countdown to death, Jon said.

"I told her grandmother that there's not much more we can do for her," Jon said.

The grandmother said that the little girl had a request - much like a last request, Jon said - to spend the night at Jon and Amanda's house.

The sleepover went well. The girl tasted ice cream for the first time and used a "wazungu" toilet, which, in loose translation from Swahili, means "Western" or "white people's" toilet, Jon said.

The little girl only lived for a few months after the visit. But death is everywhere in AIDS-stricken countries.

"I don't know how Jon handles that," Amanda said.

Still, Jon and Amanda are headed to Malawi with hope - hope that they gained from their experience in Kenya.

Early in Jon's stay in Kenya, it was treated as a social stigma to have HIV or AIDS, Jon said. Families would not learn that a loved one had AIDS until they read the death certificate, Jon said. But as time passed and education about treating the disease became more available, people's attitudes toward the disease changed.

He said he hopes the same will be true in Malawi.

"If something goes wrong now, they know that they're not going to die unloved and alone," Jon said.

Find out more



To find out more about Jon and Amanda Fielder's missionary trip or to learn how you can help, call St. John's United Church of Christ, 717-263-8593. Learn about Africa Inland Mission International at www.aimint.org/usa.

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