Last week I was in Freedom Park, a local squatter camp. I was visiting AIDS patients; praying with them, and bringing them food. I’ve visited hundreds of AIDS patients during my time in South Africa, but each time I’m shocked at the hopelessness that I find there.
Truly without hope, beaten down, defeated, no end in sight, despair.
The word most often used by Jesus to describe hell is “Gehenna,” translated literally, “valley of Hinnom.” In Jesus’ day the valley of Hinnom was an actual place. It was the city dump where a fire constantly burned and wild animals fought over the refuse, gnashing their teeth. When Jesus used the word “Hell” people knew what he meant; they didn’t have to imagine it, they could walk to the edge of town to see “hell.”
Imagine that you are a single mom, inflicted with AIDS. You are so sick, you can’t rise from your bed to care for your children. All day, all night, you lay in a 4ft by 6 ft shack with no floor, no windows and a low tin roof, baking in the hot African sun. You have no control over your bodily fluids. Your children cook their own food in the shack using paraffin, a waxy petroleum based substance that puts off noxious fumes, burning your throat and eyes.
I can’t help but think that if Jesus wanted to describe hell today he wouldn’t use the word “Gehenna” he would use the word “Freedom Park.” For those of us blessed with the opportunity to reach out to AIDS patients in Freedom Park, we know hell.
We’ve seen it, smelled it, touched it, felt it’s heat breathing down our backs, its stench has burned our throats, and its fumes have burned our eyes. To me, hell is not only just a place in the future. It’s a place here, now, with real people suffering.
Why is this important? I take the Lord’s prayer quite literally when he says, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” I’m confident it’s not the Lord’s will for this mother to suffer alone, dying of AIDS. I’m confident it’s not the Lord’s will for her children to live as orphans.
My mission is to bring Heaven to earth. Or more accurately, to destroy Hell with the incredible, overwhelming, life changing, life bringing, renewing, sustaining, healing love of God.
I’ve seen hell.
I’ve seen God’s love.