Today is World AIDS day… a day to not only unite in the fight against AIDS, be it through medical support, research, and financial support, but also to support those who are currently suffering from AIDS or who are close to those who are suffering (spouses, siblings, parents, etc.). I’m thankful that we have a day set aside to help create this awareness.
AIDS presents a formidable
challenge opportunity for the church of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, Christians were historically slow to engage on the front line due to the initial assumption that AIDS was a “gay plague” upon a group of people that “deserved it.” I don’t have time to address how foolish such statements are, so I’ll simply clarify that I think that initial opinion was light years beyond foolish.
My first memory of AIDS was when I heard the story of Ryan White, a teenager in the 80’s who was initially kept from attending high school when his sickness was made public. His story inspired me and raised a lot of interest on my part for those who were afflicted by AIDS. Both my wife and I have had friends/family who have either had or currently have AIDS, and the several times I’ve traveled to Kenya I’ve had the opportunity to interact with people who were HIV positive. According to WorldAidsDay.com, “an estimated 33.3 million people have HIV. More than 25 million people between 1981 and 2007 have died from the virus, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.” Imagine how many lives around us have been shattered due to this disease.
Due to the way that AIDS was handled by many Christians, it has often been viewed as a “challenge” or a “problem” that we have to deal with, similar to the “homosexual problem” or the “Christians should be Republicans” type of thinking that sometimes takes place in our churches. But it really isn’t a problem; rather, it’s an opportunity. What kind of an opportunity? A gospel opportunity. Today, Ed Stetzer wrote,
“We know that the ultimate remedy for the global HIV/AIDS pandemic is not a medicinal remedy, an educational remedy, or a moral remedy. It is a gospel remedy. Like Jesus, we can show the love of Christ to those hurting the most. And, here is a case where we can both show and share the love of Christ.”
I know that Stetzer is not suggesting that a medicinal cure is not greatly needed, but is simply reflecting on the “bigger” picture, and I agree. After all, Jesus said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). But we certainly need to work at engaging those suffering with AIDS before their is a cure and even if those we are working with reject the gospel, right? I certainly think so. Who knows if today’s “no” will not lead to tomorrow’s “yes.” Only the Lord!
But what can we do? Ed Stetzer offered a number of insightful thoughts. He suggests:
1. Pray for those who are facing the disease. World Vision has a helpful page for a prayer emphasis on World AIDS Day.
2. Be aware. The Centers for Disease Control has a web page with lots of information. Yes, it’s graphic since AIDS is primarily spread by sexual content, and I do wish that there was some mention of abstinence education, but many of the fact sheets provided by the CDC are enlightening. Facts are our friends and people need to know more, not less, about AIDS.
3. Give of your time and talents to those who are fighting the disease or ministering to its victims. You and your church can partner locally with health care ministries, pregnancy centers, and even hospice in your area and globally with other ministries to fight the spread of the disease in third world countries.
4. Show courage. Too many people have lacked courage to learn about the illness, to be around those who have the illness, or to care for those who do. If Christians had more courage and less fear, I would have heard something different that first time, and we’d hear more about the illness in our churches today.
I like these suggestions. I also am challenged to continue to not only pray for those who are on the front line, but to take those opportunities that are presented to me to also be engaged.
How will you express the gospel to those suffering from AIDS?