Missionary: 'Africa is about beautiful people who share so much'
Written by Melissa Singer
April - May 2007
May 1, 2007
As a first-time missionary in Southern Africa, the Rev. Adora Iris Lee rose each day to face the plight of those suffering from AIDS and the devastating effects of the disease on friends and neighbors. Whether addressing the issues of education, prevention, and treatment from her office or out in the field, where she visited with and served AIDS victims personally, Lee's calling brought her face to face with a faithful people in need.
Tell us about your mission post.
I just finished three and a half years in Southern Africa addressing HIV/AIDS in South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and Swaziland. I worked as an AIDS consultant with the National Office of the United Church of Christ of Southern Africa … helping to identify needs for services, start new programs, and strengthening those that were already in place to serve those infected with HIV and help those who weren't stay that way.
What brought you to the mission field?
I was working as minister of environmental justice for the UCC when I was called. I had had conversations with Julia Brown Karimu of Global Ministries for some time and, finally, it was time. I had not done missionary work outside of the U.S., but I knew the time was right.
What was a typical day like?
No day was typical. When I was in Johannesburg, I drove to work at a local office building at 8:30 a.m. Every day began with worship and singing African songs. After that, anything was possible. In South Africa, there is no concept of making appointments, so people simply arrived and we met. I also spent time working directly with the people who are caring for and feeding people with HIV and AIDS. I visited rural towns and cities all over the southern part of the continent talking about how to treat and stem the spread of the disease that has attacked one in three people in Johannesburg and one in five in South Africa.
How have your experiences affected your worldview?
I have always been an environmentalist type. But now that I have seen and worked in the context of extreme poverty, I am more conscious of the world's resources. I am more of a stickler about the out-of-hand consumerism that is going on. I will not be counted in that number anymore.
My faith was deepened by observing and living through the faith of others who have so little materially and so much spiritually. One of the really neat things is that they love Jesus. And, they mean it! When I first arrived, more than one person told me that they knew I was coming because they prayed for me. There is so much that the global North can learn from the global South.
What is the most important thing for UCC members to understand about Southern Africa?
Africa is not about conflict, war, disease, and ethnic fighting. It is about so much more. … It is about beautiful people who share so much even when they have so little. Africa is a place of diverse histories, deep faith, and living culture. There is so much to learn from the people of Africa.
What was your biggest surprise?
I did not realize how alive the ancient cultures were. But they are. And they have internet cafes, too. It is an interesting mix.
What do you see yourself doing ten years from now?
Whatever I do, it will have a serving component. People will be touched. I want to be about the business of women and the empowerment of girls. But, right now I am discerning what to do next. I am listening to God to see where I am needed.