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TLC’s Latest Challenge: Convince Swazis to Circumcise

You want The Luke Commission to do what, God?

Incredulous as it may seem, research has shown that males who are circumcised are less likely to transmit or contract the HIV virus – less likely by 60%!

Medical experts in the US believe this remarkable decrease in HIV transmission is possible and have granted TLC a five-year grant to circumcise men and boys right in the rural communities where they live.

Echo and Rebekah with Magagula and his students preparing for circumcision.

“How can I pass up this opportunity, when you’re coming to my school,” said teacher Themba William Magagula.  “Next time you come many more students will agree to do this.”

“It’s a huge responsibility to be dealing with a man’s sexuality,” said Echo VanderWal who performs the circumcision surgeries, assisted by American fulltime volunteer nurses Rebekah Sartori and Melody Miller.

Luke playing cards with Magagula and other circumcision patients during recovery.

Just how does all this work?  By God’s grace and with tremendous, dedicated prayer cover from our supporters, that’s how.

Swazis do not normally circumcise their baby boys.  At each of the 40 TLC clinics last year, staff members attempted to explain the benefits of male circumcision.  

Occasionally Harry assists Echo in an operation.

This year the surgical procedures have begun.  It’s a daunting task to change men’s minds about something so private.  As expected, many are reluctant.  But Swazis admit that the AIDS pandemic must be met with radical measures.

“The boys are afraid of the pain and that they won’t be able to play sports,” said Magagula, who was one of the first men TLC circumcised in 2012.  “I tell them they will heal quickly.”

Magagula has taught at a rural school for 10 years.  His class of grade 7 includes 23 boys and 19 girls. Two of Magagula’s three children live with their mother in Mbabane where she works.  The family is together weekends only.

“I will tell the other teachers the right information about MC (male circumcision),” noted Magagula, adding that misconceptions abound.

“Though MC is not something we ever pictured doing in rural clinics,” explained Dr. Harry VanderWal, “we do not want to limit God’s calling on our lives.  Therefore, we will and try to convince Swazis that HIV can be fought aggressively in this manner.”

“I never thought I would be able to do regular surgeries again, but here we go,” said Echo, who worked as a PA to well-known Dayton area surgeons before the triplets were born.

The five-year grant, of which this is TLC’s second year, was awarded by Population Services International, funded by USAID.

The setup at a TLC clinic - usually in a rural classroom converted to a temporary OR – is laborious and detailed.  When all is ready, however, only the cement walls displaying classroom drawings give away the location.


Boys eagerly await in TLC's circumcision "waiting room."


The American nurses and Swazi staff members return to the rural communities two times to monitor the healing process of each patient.  Those males with potential complications are transported back to Manzini for Harry and Echo to treat.

Add MC to existing TLC services:  medical diagnoses and treatment, free medications for common illnesses and conditions, follow-up care for HIV+ patients to access anti-retroviral drugs, bush wheelchairs for handicapped, eyeglasses for those with sight issues, and extended care for difficult medical cases.

“Getting Swazis to circumcise is our  problem, not The Luke Commission’s problem,” said Magagula.  “TLC is doing a commendable job coming to our community every year.  Our old folks especially are helped, because they cannot travel to the cities.”


TLC's MC (male circumsion) team L to R: Rebekah, Melody, Echo, Fortunate, Sizwe


Boys between 13 and 18 years must have signed permission from a parent or guardian.  TLC also circumcise baby boys up to 2 months, an ideal time to do the procedure.

Rogers Mamba, Swaziland Minister of Tinkhundla Administration (chiefs and traditional leaders), is actively encouraging communities under his leadership to participate in the male circumcisions.  “It’s very important we win on this,” he said.

Change is difficult though, anywhere anytime.  Mamba noted with a smile on this face:  “Swazis are like grass.  They only wake up when there is a fire.”

The HIV/AIDS fire rages in Swaziland.  The Luke Commission seeks to fight the fire on several fronts.  “You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.” Psalm 66:12

Serving together,  Janet Tuinstra for TLC team

Note:  Though this subject is rather delicate, please consider The Luke Commission’s calling to “compassionate medicine.”


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