The connection that First Christian Shelbyville, Indiana, now has with Swaziland had its beginnings in 2004, though no one at First Christian knew it at the time. In 2004, Janice Wilson joined a group led by Anne Kleinschmidt, a Disciple minister from Kentucky with a heart for mission. It was to be a fact-finding mission of the realities of HIV and AIDS in Swaziland, which by 2004 had already reached the status of having one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world. The hope of that trip was to learn and listen and become witnesses and advocates - to put names and faces to the statistics and to be able to share the stories and realities back in the U.S. Because the trip was intentionally about “learning” more than “doing,” travelers arrived “empty handed” which was a change from most people’s norm of arriving with something to give. This fostered equality and a sharing which might not have been possible so quickly if the relationship had been built first and foremost around material and financial resources.
Since 2004, groups with Disciple connections from Kentucky and Indiana have traveled to Swaziland every two years, each time visiting church partner Kukhany'okusha Zion Church (KZC). These days, groups are led by Janice Wilson who is now a member of First Christian Church in Shelbyville. The groups have learned about the realities of HIV infection for brothers and sisters in Swaziland and have seen the transition in the KZC as the church confronts those realities more and more each year. Travelers also became well acquainted with the impact that hunger has on the body, particularly the bodies of children in Swaziland, many of whom are orphans as a result of the AIDS epidemic.
The Kukhany'okusha Zion Church runs Neighborhood Care Point (NCP) centers which serve children in need. The KZC had hopes of a program to expand its capacity to feed children but lacked the resources needed . . . until recently. Upon hearing the stories shared by travelers from First Christian Church Shelbyville following their 2010 trip, generous friends and churches around the country have pledged financial gifts to turn initial feeding efforts into a significant feeding program.
Now travelers from all of the churches involved are sharing the stories of their journeys and raising funds to help expand the feeding program into all eight of the Kukhany'okusha Zion Church NCPs.