Petero is a gift from God to me. A breath of fresh air in this weary world.
When I struggle with understanding and interacting with others, Petero is easy as pie. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t speak the same language. And even if we did, Petero is so hard of hearing he mumbles, because in his head it sounds like he’s shouting.
We have many people living with us that cause me no end of headaches, but Petero makes me laugh. He loves me so unconditionally and is so child like in his faith that I gain hope and strength just from watching the way he lives his life.
I always tell him that he’s my own. His mother may have thrown him in a ditch as a infant when she found out he was born with HIV, his family may think he’s a fool because he can’t learn to read, but to us Petero is precious and he is ours.
I have come to understand that the feeling is most definitely mutual. We first met Petero when we had an open air evangelistic crusade and he gave his life to Christ. His skin was filled with jiggers that were literally eating the flesh of his feet and legs. We dug them out, the creepy wriggly little beasts, one by one with a sewing needle. It was agonizing for Petero, as each one felt like fire. It was agonizing for us as well, knowing the pain was necessary but not having the words to explain.
Even before Petero could walk again, he came back to us. And kept coming back. We cleaned and bandaged his feet and he got better.
Petero loved the Lord so much that he wanted to give us something, anything, just to say thank you. But what did a poor, rejected, mentally limited man have to give. At first he began by carrying water. He always made sure our water barrel was full. Then after awhile, he saw that our dishes were dirty. So he washed them. He would always go back to his grandmother to cook and care for her, but his heart was increasingly with us as well.
We noticed that Petero wasn’t as healthy as he should be. It was more than just the wounded feet from the jiggers that had now healed. He was coughing terribly, a chest racking cough that shook him to the core and left him breathless. We took him to the clinic and his HIV+ status was revealed. He also had TB. The hospital agreed to treat him but Petero needed someone to give him his antiretroviral drugs. These are serious medications that must be given on-time, every time. We asked Petero to live with us so we could care for him better. And the rest, as they say, is history.
After awhile, we realized Petero was not circumcised. And in this tribe, a man is not a man without that crucial cultural step. Even though the tribal ceremony is fraught with demon worship, lewd dancing and calling of the dead, it is also an important milestone that Petero needed to reach.
My husband, Pastor Shem, who is also from this tribe, discovered a plot was being hatched by Petero’s uncles. They planned to circumcise Petero by force. Pastor Shem stepped in as a segregate father and had Petero circumcised at a local clinic. This meant the entire procedure was done under sterile conditions with anesthetic. Pastor Shem then watched over Petero during the recovery stage, often cleaning the wound with tenderness that would rival the most nurturing mother.
All this time, Petero was still caring for his grandmother faithfully. After all, she was the one who picked him from the ravine and raised him. After Petero had been staying with us for two years, his grandmother died. He was shaken by the news but also determined to attend her burial.
Respect was something Petero had never had outside our home. His relatives minimized him and were cruel in their insults. I wanted to do something to help him, but the Lord had a plan beyond my expectations.
When the day of the funeral arrived, I decided to take a motorcycle taxi, to save me walking in the hot sun. It occurred to me at the last minute to have Petero sit with me on the motorcycle as well. As we went zooming past the other relatives trudging along in the dusty heat, Petero’s smile became laughter. Then I laughed too.
When we arrived at the ancestral home to view the body everyone stopped and stood gaping at Petero. Here was the despised, handicapped, orphaned son coming home; escorted with honor and dignity.
Later the motorcycle taxi driver told me he heard one of the old men of the clan exclaim, “I don’t want to hear any of you saying anything bad about Petero again. Out of all of us, he is the only one who has come to this burial escorted by a white person and riding a motorcycle.”
Just by treating Petero as my own, I inadvertently conferred upon him the tremendous amount of respect I am afforded in this community. It made me think, really think about what I take for granted and how it can make all the difference to someone else. And after all, isn’t it Christ who has conferred upon me all the rights and privileges that are rightfully His?