[an error occurred while processing this directive] This article is from the EMU News Archive. The approximate date of publication was in February 2007. Current EMU news is available at www.emu.edu/news

Seminary Student does AIDS Work in Swaziland

by Laura Lehman Amstutz

Rene Hostetter Rene Hostetter (left) shares about her work with HIV/AIDS in the seminary chapel.

HARRISONBURG, Va. —Rene Hostetter, a second - year student at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, says that “ Swaziland and Harrisonburg are my two homes.” But in the same breath, she expresses concern for the future of the African nation.

“Of those who are HIV positive in Swaziland, 80% are persons under the age of 30,” Hostetter told the seminary community in a recent chapel service, “If Swaziland continues at this rate, it is predicted it could be the first country to become extinct in the next 50 years.”

Hostetter grew up in Swaziland

Hostetter, 26, has spent 13 years of her life in Swaziland. Born in Nigeria to missionary parents, Darrel and Sherill Hostetter, her family moved to Swaziland when she was three years old.

They returned to the United States when Hostetter was 14. Following graduation from EMU in 2003, Hostetter returned to Swaziland with Eastern Mennonite Missions to work with those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.

Hostetter spent the first year of her service term working with AIDS orphans at a project called Likhaya Lemphilo Lensha (New Life Children’s Homes). She lived with 16 AIDS orphans at the home. She helped teach a preschool and tutor the older children in school. She spent her second year working with church organizations in training events about HIV/AIDS and information and story gathering from the local congregations.

“I’ve always had a heart for HIV/AIDS. My mom started one of the earliest ministries for HIV/AIDS in Swaziland in the early 90’s. She saw the crisis coming,” Hostetter continued. “When we left Swaziland in 1994, about 15% of the population had HIV/AIDS, but now 42.6% of the population is infected.”

Hostetter’s passion for children, women’s issues and caring for those who have been emotionally and spiritually wounded made her Swaziland mission assignment a perfect fit.

Status of women in Swaziland contributes to spread of AIDS

“Women in Swaziland are often economically dependent on men, so if your husband dies you may have very few options,” said Hostetter.

“Women do not have legal rights like men do in Swazi culture; therefore, women usually do not refuse giving their husbands sex even if they suspect that they have HIV/AIDS. Polygamy is a part of the Swazi culture so a man having multiple wives or partners is not uncommon,” continued Hostetter.

Rene Hostetter Rene Hostetter worked at an orphanage for AIDS orphans teaching preschool and tutoring children.

“The fact that Swaziland was my home made this assignment harder. Not only was I grieving what was happening in Swaziland, I was grieving the deterioration of my childhood homeland.”

Returning to the U.S. isn't easy

The transition back into U.S. culture wasn't easy.

“Any missionary coming back, especially when you come from a difficult assignment, where there’s a lot of suffering, struggles with the materialistic, comfortable American lifestyle. I struggle with how I can be present here while also showing solidarity with my brothers and sisters in Swaziland.”

Practicing awareness work, like the chapel service Hostetter did at EMS, has helped her connect her seminary life, and her life in the United States, with her life in Swaziland.

Hostetter finds way to combine both lives

“Awareness building, intercessory prayer and just staying in contact has helped me reconcile my two lives.” Hostetter has done awareness work with all age groups, including children, high schoolers, college age and adults.

Rene Hostetter

“I feel called to walk with young adults, women and children who have been wounded and need healing and wholeness,” she continues. “I want to learn more about how to be present with other people in suffering.”

Hostetter is studying for a master of arts in church leadership degree with a double concentration in spiritual formation and pastoral counseling.

Hostetter returned to Harrisonburg in December of 2005 and started Eastern Mennonite Seminary in January of 2006.

While she admits that the transition from the intense suffering in Swaziland to seminary in the United States was very difficult, Hostetter said, “My experiences have clarified my call to walk alongside of those who struggle and suffer, guiding persons to spiritual and emotional healing and wholeness in Christ.”

posted 2/21/07