Several images come to mind when Rob Seddon thinks of South Africa— smiling faces, friendly gatherings, rural vistas. But the one that stays is one he has seen again and again—someone dying of AIDS. Just hours after arriving in Mamelodi Township, near Pretoria, on his first trip in 2005, he found himself at a funeral where he was invited to toss red dirt on the grave of a young man who had died of the disease. On his most recent trip in September, Seddon met a man who’d just learned he carries the virus. The man sat alone in his shack, trembling.
The conflicting images of South Africa speak loudly to the complexities of the country—beauty and sadness, hope and death. But they also give Seddon a framework for his new life’s work. Unhappy with his business career, he decided to do something more fulfilling by studying theology and was hired last year to be director of the rapidly expanding mission project between Crossroads Community Church in Cincinnati and its partner church, Charity and Faith Mission, in Mamelodi.
The partnership has already resulted in the construction of a $500,000 AIDS Hospice, but there was a growing desire to do more. So Crossroads asked Seddon to lead groups of volunteers, 300 at a time, to meet church members in Mamelodi, be their houseguests and learn more about the culture. Five groups have gone thus far, building houses, planting vegetable gardens and teaching children.
The next effort is to improve health care in Mamelodi by hiring more health care workers for the AIDS Hospice and the adjoining health clinic. There’s also a goal to build new satellite clinics in rural areas to reach those who have no access to medical care and bring American doctors, dentists and other specialists to Mamelodi throughout the year to provide professional care.
It’s a lot of work, but for Seddon, leading the project is a dream job. “Until you see it and hear people’s stories firsthand, you can’t realize how little hope they have of climbing out unless someone steps in to help.”
And that’s the inspiration Seddon has for the job—hope that the images of sadness and death can be erased from the country, leaving only the beauty. It’s a long-term project, but pieces are already in place. When Seddon was at the home of the man with AIDS, hospice workers came along to give him food and instruct him how to use the AIDS Hospice to get the antiretroviral drugs he needs to live a more normal life.
“They said, ‘We’re going to help you through this,’ ” Seddon says. “I prayed with him and told him, ‘You don’t have to be afraid.’ I saw in his eyes relief just knowing there is someone in the world who cares for him and he’s not alone.”