How to Respond to the AIDS Crisis
- 2007 16 Jan
During the early years of the AIDS epidemic, many Christians didn't bother to get involved to help. They viewed AIDS as a disease mostly confined to gay people and drug users who were suffering the consequences of their own sin. But as AIDS has ravaged millions of people around the globe in the years since, Christians have finally taken notice.
God calls the faithful to help all suffering people with compassion. The choice isn't whether or not to respond to the AIDS crisis; it's how to do so best.
Here's how you can respond to the AIDS crisis.
Seek to understand the problem. Get to know the extent of the AIDS epidemic around the world. Realize that nearly 40 million people currently live with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and that nearly 8,000 people (more than 1,300 of whom are children) die each day from AIDS. Find out about AIDS in your own community by doing some research through your local health department and contacting agencies in your area who help people with HIV or AIDS. Educate yourself on the global AIDS crisis by visiting the Web sites of health and relief organizations, then contacting them to follow up on anything that most interests you.
Some sites to visit include: World Relief (www.wr.org), the HIV/AIDS Bureau of the Health Resources and Services Administration (hab.hrsa.gov), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's AIDS pages (www.cdc.gov/hiv), the International HIV/AIDS Alliance (www.aidsalliance.org), the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (www.unaids.org), AIDS Education Global Information System (www.aegis.org), the Global Health Council (www.globalhealth.org/aids/), the National Association of People with HIV/AIDS (www.napwa.org), He Intends Victory, Inc. (www.heintendsvictory.com), the International Justice Mission (www.ijm.org), World Vision's Hope Initiative (www.wvi.org/wvi/aids/global_aids.htm), Hope for AIDS (www.hopeforaids.org), the Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance (www.thegaia.org), and ACET International Alliance (www.acet-international.org).
Examine your own attitude toward AIDS. Be honest about any fear you might have about AIDS or any prejudices you might have toward those with the disease. Ask God to help you truly love people with compassion and not condemn them, even though you hate whatever sin might be in their lives. Remember that, in God's eyes, all of us are sinners in need of redemption, and that there's no moral high ground for judging others. Don't alienate people to whom God wants you to minister. If you know of any people who are HIV-positive or suffering from AIDS, ask them respectfully if they would be willing to share their stories with you in private conversation. If you don't know anyone who is infected, read some Internet blogs written by people who are to get a sense for what they're going through.
Imagine how you would feel if you discovered through a routine physical that you are HIV-positive. Pray for the thousands of people who will learn today that they're infected with HIV. Help your church become a safe place of refuge for suffering people. Talk openly about AIDS and make it clear in your community that your congregation welcomes everyone. Don't shy away from addressing the behavioral issues related to AIDS, such as sex and drug use, and help people move away from unwise choices and toward wise ones. But always do so with grace toward the people themselves.
Take action to help. Find out about the work of various organizations (both secular and Christian) that are fighting AIDS. Then list your talents, gifts, and passions, and compare them to the different ways people in the organizations you've researched are addressing AIDS. Consider such areas as science and medicine, social justice, advocacy and the political process, care and support, social issues, epidemiology and public health research, behavior change, and economics. Think and pray about how to match what you can contribute with what needs to be done. Ask God to guide you to focus on specific ways you can help. Then commit to doing so. Work to educate other people on the AIDS crisis to motivate them to get involved as well. Consider preparing a presentation on AIDS for your church.
Support AIDS prevention programs. Honestly evaluate your own life to make sure you're modeling healthy behavior - like sexual purity or a healthy marriage - for young people. Build close relationships with the youth in your life so you can engage in open dialogue with them about the importance of saving sex for marriage and remaining faithful once they're married. Give them accurate information about AIDS and steps they can take to reduce their risk of contracting it.
Reach out to families harmed by AIDS. Realize that it's not just the people who have AIDS themselves who need your help; it's also their families. Work through a relief organization to financially support children who were orphaned when AIDS killed their parents. Get to know a local family who is facing the overwhelming tasks of taking care of a loved one with AIDS, and do what you can to give them some respite from their burden.
Confront the poverty and abuse that place people at risk for becoming infected. Advocate for international and national laws and conventions against sexual trafficking. Change your patterns of purchasing and investing to help support impoverished regions of the world like Africa and Asia, where many people are drawn into conditions that make them vulnerable to AIDS. Work to break the cycles of poverty and abuse that are present in your own community. Help your church reach out to people in your area who are suffering from abuse, to help them heal. Be sure to screen volunteers who work with children in your church to help protect the children from potential abuse.
Provide care to suffering people. Know that sharing in someone else's suffering in the presence of God is a holy experience. Ask God to lead you to people suffering from AIDS and use you as a channel for His grace to flow through to them. Invite the people you serve to freely express their feelings to you - both good and bad - and listen attentively and with compassion. If you know someone who is the primary caregiver for an AIDS patient, offer to give that caregiver some breaks. Regularly give financially to ministries that provide care to people with AIDS.
Adapted from The AIDS Crisis: What We Can Do, copyright 2006 by Deborah Dortzbach and W. Meredith Long. Published by IVP Books, a division of InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill., www.ivpress.com.
Deborah Dortzbach is World Relief's International Director for HIV/AIDS programs. She provides strategic leadership to World Relief's Mobilizing for Life AIDS programs in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. Through the programs, she mobilizes and equips the local church to promote and provide AIDS awareness, sexual education for youth, orphan support and much more. Debbie and her husband Karl first served as missionaries in Eritrea where she was abducted by the Eritrean Liberation Front in 1973. The story is chronicled in their bookKidnapped. In 2002 Debbie testified before a United States Subcommittee on HIV/AIDS and continues to promote active involvement of churches in the AIDS crisis through frequent speaking engagements, radio interviews and articles.
W. Meredith Long is Vice President for Planning and Integration at World Relief, where he previously served as Director of International Health Programs. Dr. Long has worked with churches to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa since the early 1990s. His overseas program implementation experience includes 14 years in Kenya and Bangladesh. He is the author of Health, Healing and God's Kingdom, which examines the interplay between health and traditional religious beliefs.
Original publication date: January 12, 2007