Friday December 1 is World AIDS Day, and it's not just for secular activists any more.
Thanks to increased education and publicity in recent years and months, the AIDS pandemic now has many allies in the Christian community. Churches and ministries are creating more ways for you to get involved, while Christian publishers are assisting in the learning process with personal stories, statistics, and suggestions for making a difference.
AIDS has always carried the stigma of promiscuity - homosexual or heterosexual - causing some Christians to be turned off to the idea of carrying its flag as a cause worthy of time and money. Things are gradually changing, however.
This week, Pope Benedict XVI condemned discrimination towards people suffering from the deadly virus. "I very much hope this circumstance will foster... commitment to avoid all discrimination against those touched,” said the Pope. The Vatican still has not come out in support of condom use as a way to prevent the spread of AIDS, but according to Christian Aid, the Church might be willing to reconsider. The head of HIV at Christian Aid, Rachel Baggaley commented, “It would be wonderful if the Vatican could support condom use to prevent HIV. Not only would this prevent the shame and guilt felt by some people but countless HIV transmissions could be avoided.” Even so, in Kenya, the premier catholic archbishop Ndingi Mwana lashed out this week at distribution of free condoms claiming, according to ASSIST News Service, that the move promoted promiscuity.
That may be the primary reason why adults have traditionally been slow to respond to the needs created by AIDS suffering. According to The Christian Post, a Barna Group survey conducted a few years ago revealed an alarmingly small percentage of Christian adults willing to support a child with AIDS. Only 3 percent of surveyed adults said they would be willing to sponsor a child knowing that the child was an AIDS orphan. But where adults have stalled, youth have taken up the cause.
The Christian Post reports "college students are mobilizing just as hard as church leaders who are still just waking up to the widespread HIV/AIDS crisis." "Acting on AIDS" is a college grassroots movement that is represented on over 100 campuses now. A part of World Vision's international relief efforts, "Acting on AIDS" participants will spend this World AIDS Day encouraging other students and faculty to pray for orphaned children and the fight against AIDS.
Regardless of whether Christians young or old agree with the politics or ethics involved in supporting condom use, or with the decision of pastor/AIDS activitst Rick Warren to partner with democratic senator Barack Obama in the fight, one thing we all should be able to agree upon is the call of Christ for mercy and compassion. According to Mission Network News and Compassion International, local churches (particularly in Africa) are doing everything they can to help address the problem, but the lack of resources limits them. To that end, here are just a few of the many ways you can inform or involve yourself this World AIDS Day:
- InterVarsity Press has just released a new book with some answers. The book is titled The AIDS Crisis: What We Can Do by Deborah Dortzbach (World Relief's international director for HIV/AIDS programs) and W. Meredith Long (vice president for planning and integration at World Relief). Together they offer personal stories of their work with AIDS victims around the world, provide up-to-date statistics and suggest practical ways for making a difference.
- Ambassador and Compassion are presenting a 25-minute special entitled: "Living Positive... with Compassion: Attacking the AIDS Pandemic." Recorded by Ambassador in Africa -- featuring Wess Stafford, President of Compassion International, and pediatric AIDS specialist Dr. Scott Todd, the broadcast is intermingled with songs and giggles and stories of the children of Africa who are living positive. Listeners will be given an opportunity to send a personal "e-mail of hope" to the children of Africa.
- World Vision writes, "This is a challenge laid at the feet of each and every person on the planet who considers compassion a virtue, and particularly to those who believe there is a God who cares for and identifies with those who suffer in silence." Therefore, they offer suggestions for "5 Things You Can Do":
2. Learn more about AIDS.
3. Get involved.
4. Give generously, and encourage others to follow your example.
5. Advocate for our leaders to put children first (World Vision is asking the Bush Administration to allocate at least $5 billion to the global fight against AIDS in fiscal 2008, with at least 10 percent for programs directly helping orphans and vulnerable children).
Some sobering statistics:
- 40 million people have died because of AIDS. The number is growing steadily each year. (Source: Mission Network News)
- More than 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS today. (Source: InterVarsity Press)
- By 2010 25 million children will have been orphaned by AIDS. (Source: InterVarsity Press)
- Of the 2,000 children who are newly-infected each day, 90 percent live in Africa (Source: Ambassador/Compassion)
- Every 14 seconds, a child loses a parent to AIDS. (Source: World Vision)
And last but not least...
- "Last year alone over 500,000 children died due to this virus. And, the real tragedy of that is the majority of that is preventable." --Doctor Scott Todd, Compassion's AIDS Initiative Director (Source: Mission Network News)
Prevention. An ounce of it is said to be worth a pound of cure. When there is no earthly cure, however, can Christians do anything but contribute to the efforts?
To get involved, please see:
- World Vision
- Compassion International
- The AIDS Crisis: What We Can Do
- Saddleback Church HIV/AIDS Initiative
- Acting on AIDS