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Intersection of Life and Faith

Part Two: Christians Respond to AIDS Pandemic

  • Janet Chismar Senior Editor, News & Culture
  • 2002 12 Dec
  • COMMENTS
Part Two: Christians Respond to AIDS Pandemic

Some 20 years ago, the first person was diagnosed with what we now commonly know as the HIV virus and AIDS. Today, there are 40 million people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, according to UNAIDS and the World Health Organization.

 

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) issued a warning last week that the number of children orphaned by the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa alone was expected to double to 25 million by the end of the decade. UNICEF said sub-Saharan Africa faced an explosion of parentless children because of the spread of the disease.

 

According to CNS News, Carol Bellamy, UNICEF'S executive director, accused the international community of a "grossly inadequate" response to the threat children in the region face. A recent survey conducted by the Barna Research Group seems to bear this out.

Barna reported that just 3 percent of evangelicals said they "definitely" would help children orphaned because of AIDS, compared with 5 percent of all respondents.

 

While the survey showed evangelicals are less likely than other Americans to help children orphaned by AIDS, a number of people and Christian organizations have labored on the frontlines of this crisis for years.

 

World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization serving the poor in nearly 100 countries, started its first AIDS programs a decade ago, relatively early in the international response to the epidemic. 

The agency's first work included assistance for AIDS orphans and their foster families in Uganda, care for HIV-infected babies and children in Romania, and support for teens and young women escaping prostitution in Thailand.

 

Today, World Vision is combating AIDS in several nations in Africa, Asia and other regions of the world. According to World Vision Vice President Steve Haas, programs are comprised of three elements: prevention, advocacy and action.

 

"If you can reach a child by the time they are 5," says Haas, "there is a very good chance they don't have AIDS. If you can reach them before 15, and really help them understand what AIDS is and how it is contracted, and why is it important to abstain from sex until a time when a committed relationship is available to you, you often can save a life."

 

World Vision sees sponsorship of children in high prevalence communities as the critical link. For just $2 a month more than a regular sponsorship -- a total of $30 per month -- people can specifically sponsor AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children. The easiest way to sponsor an AIDS orphan, or to learn more about the organization's efforts, is by visiting www.worldvision.org

 

"What we are finding in the African community," says Haas, "which is dealing with a severe food shortage, a vulnerable child is made far more vulnerable to disease and to greater levels of poverty. Increasingly, this is our sponsorship in southern Africa. Orphans are in such great number that the community is stressed. "

 

Prescription for Hope

 

"Jesus Christ was the ultimate humanitarian and as Christians we should follow his example," says Franklin Graham, president of international relief organization Samaritan's Purse. "Leadership is needed as we face this disease. The Christian community can offer more in this battle."

Graham's Samaritan's Purse operates in nearly every country where HIV/AIDS is most severe.

 

Speaking at the Prescription for Hope Conference on HIV/AIDS, which took place in Washington, D.C., last February, Graham proposed six ways the church can help:

 

(1.) Leadership: "We should be leading, not following or watching this fight.  Let's stop waiting for the government or the medical and scientific industry to solve this problem.  Let's put this issue at the top of our agendas as individuals, churches, denominations and Christian organizations."

 

(2.) Help remove the social stigma commonly attached to this disease: "While many people are contracting HIV/AIDS because of behavioral choices, many others are contracting it as infants, recipients of blood transfusions, and other means beyond their control.  Regardless of how it is contracted, we should demonstrate the same love, compassion and care that Jesus Christ would if He were physically walking among us today."

 

(3.) Education: "Clearly, education about HIV/AIDS should be number one. It is shocking to learn how many millions still do not know the most basic information about how HIV is transmitted and how it can be prevented.  We should do all we can to give people a fighting chance. Sex outside of marriage, whether between two men, two women, even a heterosexual relationship outside of marriage, places people at risk. Why is that?  Because it is outside of the parameters and boundaries that God has ordained. Men and women must be educated to the risk associated with lifestyles and behavior that are outside of God's parameters."

 

(4.) Allocation of resources: "Work with governments and other agencies around the world to allocate precious resources to education and programs that are worthwhile. Government may not have the answer but it certainly has much to offer and can greatly enhance the kind of work many of you in this room are doing with little or no financial assistance. Imagine the progress in the war on AIDS that could result from committing the same level of resources we have recently committed to the war on global terrorism." 

 

(5.) Enlist others to get involved: "Provide tangible, physical assistance to those already affected with HIV/AIDS.  Sermons about how to avoid AIDS are good but provide no solace to those 40 million already infected with the virus. As the church of Christ, we must reach out with open arms in love, encouragement, and compassion rather than condemnation. Let's care for orphans; provide hospice care, medical treatment, educational and vocational training, and other skills and services."

 

(6.) Present clearly the hope that we have in Jesus Christ: "This same hope is available to the entire world because Christ came to earth, died for all mankind, and rose from the grave. Let's reach out in ways we've never reached out before and demonstrate with actions-and not just words-that we care for others because God cares.  The 40 million infected are 40 million souls.  The Bibles tells us that every soul is precious in the sight of God.  Shouldn't they also be precious in our sight?" Graham concluded. 

 

To read Part One of this article, click here: http://www.crosswalk.com/faith/1174618.html

 

PHOTO: Faruk from Uganda   has boils on his face. Many adults and children are still suffering from AIDS in Rakai district, where the first AIDS case in Uganda was diagnosed in 1983. Emmanuel, 47, wife Margaret, 40, have AIDS. So does Faruk, 10, one of three sponsored children with AIDS in Rakai Kyotera ADP. (Photo by Jane Nandawula/World Vision.)