An Orphan's Tale: Fighting AIDS with Love

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ENTEBBE, Uganda -- Uganda has one of the largest AIDS orphan populations in Africa

Lydia Teera is one of them.  She was a teenager when her father and stepmother died of AIDS.  Grief-stricken and parentless, Teera began a very personal journey of healing that eventually led her to reach out to people suffering with the disease

Nestled on the northern shores of Lake Victoria --Africa's largest lake-- is the Ugandan city of Entebbe, where Teera lives.

Family Secret

George: When you were 17-years-old, something that in some ways, perhaps, changed your life-- turned your life upside down.

Lydia: Yes, daddy died of AIDS. He died of AIDS after a long illness that we hadn't even known about.

George: And when you heard AIDS, take me back to that moment.

Lydia: I felt betrayed at that time.

Her father was a well-known Christian leader in Uganda, but he'd been living a double life. 

George: Do you know how he got AIDS? 

Lydia: Oh, yeah, later on we got to know that he had an affair.

But no one knew that he was dying of AIDS.  He had kept it a secret.

George: Did you feel angry? 

Lydia: Yes, I was angry. 

George: Angry at God, angry at your father?

Lydia: My father and God and everybody, you know. I looked at him as someone who should have been a perfect person because he gave me a really perfect picture of who he was.

A year later, her stepmother also died of AIDS. It all left Teera asking some big questions.

"I was asking God, why did this have to happen," she said.

But Teera was not alone.  An estimated 1.2 million children in Uganda have lost one or both parents to AIDS.

Spiritual Turning Point

As shocking as it was for Teera to discover that her father had died of AIDS, she says that it was a real spiritual turning point, because she experienced God in a whole new way.

A close family friend decided to foster Teera.  Kibirige Timothy pastors one of the largest evangelical churches in Entebbe. 

Soon after the death of Teera's parents, Pastor Timothy and his wife made a commitment to love and care for her.

"We invested our time and money and everything in Lydia as pastors," he said.

It was an act of kindness that Teera says started her on a journey of healing and restoration.

"That was a turning point for me," she said.

Teera spent the next several years allowing the Scriptures to speak into her broken life.  She soon discovered that, like her father, she too was a sinner saved by the grace of God.

"I began looking at my father in a very different way," she said holding back tears.  "I wish he was around to tell him that 'I'm very sorry and I understand and I forgive you because now I know that I'm forgiven.  I'm a sinner, I need Christ, just like you needed Him.'"

"The bitterness began to go away and the anger because I realized that I'm not any different from him." Teera continued.

Becoming an African Missionary

Soon after finishing university, Lydia joined Wycliffe, one of the largest Bible translation groups in the world. 

With the blessing of her foster parents and church, she became Wycliffe's first Ugandan missionary.

"I'm saved and I've known His love so we've been called to pass on that love, to pass on the message He has given us to other people," she said.  "There's no exception, I had to go."

Now, she travels around her country helping to translate the Word of God into native languages and ministering hope to people living with AIDS.  But it is not without its challenges.

"It is such an experience to lose someone with AIDS," Teera explained.   "There are a lot of things that happen."

George: Is there still the stigma? 

Lydia: Yes, there's too much stigma first of all, even within the church, and of course, with AIDS comes hopelessness and it feels like you are the biggest sinner on this earth.

Finding Hope In Jesus

CBN News recently traveled with Teera to the northern part of the country, where Wycliffe runs Bible literacy and an AIDS awareness project.  Many in the remote village are living with AIDS. 

Seventeen years after losing her parents to the disease, Teera is promoting hope in Jesus Christ to those living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.

"I want people to know that we are forgiven, it is done," she said.

"It was finished on the cross and so that even through those experiences people may have hope, even when they are diminishing physically, they know within their soul, that one day they will meet Him, even when they die," Teera continued.  "We'd like them to delight in knowing Him, even when they are here and know the power of forgiveness and His love for us."

*Originally aired August 7, 2009.

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