Fifteen million children have lost one or both of their parents worldwide. Teenagers are heading households, raising their siblings. Grandmothers are raising their grandchildren, having buried their own children behind their simple houses because of AIDS. AIDS is creating widows and orphans at an incredible rate.
Today, the center of gravity of the pandemic is Africa. The pandemic has been raging for over twenty years, while most of the world has slept. African pastors are burying people every day of every week; they are in the burial business. Many of those impacted by HIV/AIDS are our sisters and brothers in the Lord.
We are at the beginning of the pandemic, not the middle nor the end. Africa is only the first wave of an emerging global pandemic. China, India, and Russia – home to almost one-third of the world’s population – have growing HIV prevalence rates and poor prevention efforts that could lead them to the situation in which Africa now finds herself.
Many African churches have taken the lead in responding in prevention and care. A few Asian churches are doing the same. Churches in other parts of the world have been slower to respond. What is missing is global commitment on the part of all evangelicals to provide what God has given them to the fight against this scourge.
HIV/AIDS is a complex and multifaceted pandemic with a wide variety of interacting causes, sustaining factors and impacts. Therefore this pandemic demands a holistic mission response from the churches. We must make our contribution to fighting this disaster by drawing on a Christian worldview that seamlessly unites the material, psychosocial, social, cultural, political and spiritual aspects of life, a worldview that unites evangelism, discipleship, social action and the pursuit of justice.
HIV/AIDS is a biological issue. The virus destroys the immune system God created to sustain human life. The virus is complex and mutates easily. There is an enormous challenge of developing vaccines; promoting prevention and providing medical care for the infected.
HIV/AIDS is a behavioral issue. Values formation takes place in communities of faith. Where churches call for saving sex for marriage and faithfulness in marriage, infection rates are declining. The moral authority of Scripture empowers us to speak to the cause of this pandemic’s spread.
HIV/AIDS is a child and youth issue. Children form the values that shape their behavior at an early age, thus stressing the importance of targeting a biblical education of children. Today’s youth generation is the largest in human history; they have never known a world without AIDS. On the one hand, youth account for half of all new infections. On the other hand, children and youth are the greatest hope of turning the tide against HIV/AIDS.
HIV/AIDS is a gender issue. The virus disproportionately singles out women. In Africa women and teenage girls are 5-6 times more likely to become infected than men. HIV/AIDS takes advantage of the low economic and social status of women, who have little control over sexual practice. Men’s sexual behavior is one of the major drivers of this pandemic.
HIV/AIDS is a poverty issue. HIV/AIDS reveals the fracture, stresses and strains in society, exploiting disorder, inequality and poverty. The virus seeks the weak, the poor and the vulnerable. It destroys more quickly where nutrition is low, where health systems are weak and where governments do not govern effectively.
HIV/AIDS is a cultural issue. Sexual practices are imbedded in culture. Changing culture is hard work. People suffering with HIV/AIDS are stigmatized and there is reluctance to discuss sex, death and dying.
HIV/AIDS is a socio-economic issue. Pastors, evangelists, doctors, teachers, civil servants are dying when they are in their most productive years. Fewer have the strength to farm and famine follows. Livelihoods are lost and economic opportunity fades. Losing productive adults, combined with children raising their siblings, tears the fabric of society with implications for generations. HIV/AIDS is consuming the future of nations.
HIV/AIDS is a justice issue. People living with AIDS can extend their lives through use of antiretroviral drugs if only treatments become affordable. Debt, trade, corruption and poor governance affect accessibility to adequate health systems, nutrition and livelihood. Women, too often, are not permitted to inherit land when their husbands die.
HIV/AIDS is a deception issue. Too quickly and uncritically some churches have yielded to the temptation to wonder who sinned, this man or his father. Condemnation and judgment have replaced grace and compassion. Another deception is that HIV/AIDS can be reduced to biology and condoms alone.
HIV/AIDS is a compassion issue. Throughout history, the church has cared for the sick and comforted the dying. We must do the same today.
HIV/AIDS is a world evangelization issue. At the end of this century, the question will be: Where were you when this diabolical holocaust worked its course in human history? We evangelicals need to decide now what we need to be and what we need to do in order to be able to face our Lord when this question comes.
If the evangelical church cares for the sick and the dying, comforts the orphan and widow, shares its message of redemption and transformation, disciples its members, and works for justice, then the worth and truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ will shine like a light on the hill and the nations will stream toward it.