"Sermons about how to avoid AIDS are good but provide no solace to those 40 million already infected with the virus," said Franklin Graham during a Prescription for Hope conference held in Washington, D.C. last year. "As the church of Christ, we must reach out with open arms in love, encouragement and compassion rather than condemnation."

 

Taking those words to heart, Graham's international relief organization, Samaritan's Purse, is actively involved on the front lines of the pandemic. The organization's latest effort brought together 150 leading Christian HIV/AIDS workers from across Africa to attend Prescription For Hope - Africa.

 

From Feb. 10-13, HIV/AIDS caregivers, pastors and health professionals met in Kampala, Uganda to share their successes and strategies.

 

Ken Isaacs, the international director of projects for Samaritan's Purse, spoke with Crosswalk.com a few days after returning from Uganda. "We chose East Africa for a regional conference for a variety of reasons. We have a lot of program activity there, from AIDS education to refugee feeding to hospitals in Sudan to war relief."

 

Most importantly, according to Isaacs, "Uganda is the only country in the world demonstrating success in stemming their prevalence rate, which went from nearly 30 percent to about 5 percent."

 

While some may debate the accuracy of the figures, said Isaacs, "nobody disagrees that the country of Uganda is not successful. The extent of success is the only debateable issue."

 

According to Isaacs, "Dating back to 1986-87, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has taken bold and dynamic leadership on the HIV/AIDS issue and he has never failed to bring it up in his speeches. He has really raised public awareness.

 

"His wife, Janet Museveni, has been a leading advocate in the Christian community for full-fledged action and responsibility," Isaacs continued. "Both of them have heavily promoted programs based on abstinence, fidelity and monogamy. There is conclusive evidence that Uganda's HIV rate has gone down and it's due to the programmatic approach they have taken."

 

Isaacs explained that Mrs. Museveni is "very outspoken" in her belief in Jesus Christ. "She is very comfortable talking to Believers - teaching them and challenging them. She is a very gracious lady."

 

Because Uganda has taken this approach, said Isaacs, it has been successful. "So, you know what? If you want to learn how to do something, you want to go to somebody who knows how to do it."

 

One of the conference speakers talked about the fear that Ugandan people have lived with for years. He quoted an HIV-positive woman who said, "What do I have to fear? I am living with a killer in me."

 

"To a certain extent, said Isaacs, "Uganda is like that. AIDS has been so prevalent in Uganda; they have been living with a killer. Now they are seeing effective results of their efforts to stem this tide, and I think they are to be congratulated for it."

 

According to a Samaritan's Purse spokesperson, First Lady Museveni challenged the audience to resist complacency and indifference in the fight against HIV/AIDS in their countries: "We may look at our present efforts exclusively in terms of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, but God is doing a more permanent and lasting work in us as the Church. He is preparing us and building in us a culture of caring and oneness, which will stand us in good stead in the hard times ahead for the whole world. The Church must not be caught sleeping. Indifference would be unforgivable at such a time as this; for this is the time we must stand and be counted regarding what we believe and what we are willing to do for what we believe."

 

Franklin Graham said in a welcome letter to conference delegates, "The shining example of Uganda is a tribute to church leadership and influence that has not only transformed thousands of lives but has gained the attention of the world."

 

Graham added, "The world's finest doctors, richest donors, and strongest governments cannot match the worldwide Church in terms of earthly care and eternal hope. Our response to HIV/AIDS will be a defining moment in the history of the Church."

 

Uganda was the first in a series of regional Prescription for Hope conferences organized by Samaritan's Purse to strengthen the Christian response to HIV/AIDS. In the coming months, similar meetings are planned in Latin America and West Africa.

 

Prescription for Hope began last year with an unprecedented global conference in Washington, D.C., and now encompasses dozens of HIV/AIDS ministries supported by Samaritan's Purse.

 

Through leadership and partnership, Samaritan's Purse seeks to strengthen the international Christian response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic; mobilize private, church, corporate, and government resources; and develop a unified plan to defeat the deadly disease through Christ-like compassion, action, and hope.

 

Other Articles in This Series:

Could AIDS Pandemic be 'Golden Opportunity' for Church?

Part Two: Christians Respond to AIDS Pandemic
Gazing into the Human Face of AIDS
Christians Wrestle with a Biblical Response to AIDS

Responding to AIDS: A Look at Cultural Practices in Africa