In 1999, I was a student at Mission College, Thailand. I didn't know why God had sent me there--but I soon found out. Toward the end of that November, the college arranged for us to visit an AIDS hospice in Lopburi, about one-and-a-half hours drive from the college.
On arriving at the hospice, we were taken into a meeting hall. A Thai doctor talked to us about AIDS and showed us disturbing photographs of sufferers. Then we were taken to the "death room" and saw the preserved bodies of victims. We moved on to visit living AIDS patients. The ward had many odours, but I recognised the smell of death.
As we travelled back to the college, I was relieved I would never have to go to that place again to see those "untouchables." I was afraid.
Eighteen months later, I had forgotten about the hospice. In the meantime, some friends and I had learned massage from a physiotherapist. I practised my massage skills at the Mission Health Promotion Centre, near the college.
One day, a teacher suggested to me that a group should visit the AIDS hospice on a regular basis. With a group of friends, we agreed to go on Sabbath afternoons, once a fortnight. Some staff members also agreed to join our group. My fianc? (now husband), Jared, also participated in this team.
After a few visits, we began to get to know some of the patients. Soon they were not untouchables to me anymore. They were people just like me. Together we had a great time massaging, singing to and talking with our AIDS friends.
We met a young woman called Plah. I liked Plah, and we talked as I massaged and sang to her--and I told her about Jesus. She had heard of Jesus when she was a small girl and she was interested in knowing more about Him. We prayed together every time we met. After some time she told me she now believed in Jesus as her Saviour. In late 2001, we visited the hospice as scheduled and I found out Plah had died the previous day. But I hope to see her again when Jesus returns.
Our visiting group kept changing, although a core group of us were regular visitors. I remember telling them about a man called Pom, whom we thought was particularly unfriendly. He would smile at us politely but always refused to talk about Jesus. However, not long after Plah's death, he began to respond to our visits and began to read the Bible we had given him. But just a few weeks later, Pom became very weak. He cried as we talked with him. We prayed with him and I asked him in the middle of the prayer if he believed in Jesus. He nodded. After our prayer, I asked him what he wanted to eat. He said he wanted "a cup of Slurpee." A group of us drove to the nearest 7Eleven shop to buy the "Slurpee" for Pom. When we delivered the drink back to him, he could not believe his eyes and he drank it with such relish. He died three days later. I also hope to see him again when Jesus returns.
On that same day, I had walked outside to our van to wait for the others in our group, when one of the staff members called me back inside, saying someone else wanted to see me. I rushed back to the ward and found a bed with people crowded around a patient. The small crowd included a foreign Buddhist monk. The doctor had given the patient oxygen and I saw the man was in a serious condition. He looked at me, so I asked him what he wanted. He couldn't respond, but when I asked if he wanted me to pray for him he nodded. So we prayed for him beside his bed and in the presence of the monk and other visitors. I prayed that God would forgive this man and give him salvation. We did not see him alive again, nor did we learn his name. But we also hope to see him in heaven, where my first question for him will be to ask his name.
I lost my fear of the AIDS hospice. I began to love the patients. In time, we realised we had some dear "relatives" in Christ at the hospice. I thank God for His grace and for using us to minister to these hurting people. He felt great pity for the crowds that came, because their problems were so great and they didn't know where to go for help. Matthew 9:36.
–Peempahn Henley grew up in Thailand but now lives in Sydney, New South Wales.