Fourth Quarter, 2001
HIVAIDS - the battle in the developing world
Reversing apathy in fighting the AIDS pandemic

If Jesus were walking through our world today, he would be at the bedside of AIDS-stricken people, providing for children orphaned by the disease, and speaking out against the distorted values that deny prevention, treatment and care. - Rich Stearns

THE INTERNATIONAL AIDS crisis has been called the greatest health calamity since the Black Plague of the Middle Ages. In the southern African countries of Botswana and Zimbabwe, more than 25% of the adult population have HIV/AIDS, mostly through heterosexual transmission. Our world is reeling from an incurable disease.

And yet, a new survey by Barna Research shows that Americans have little understanding of the threats of AIDS, and more important, little desire to be a part of the solution. The survey also revealed something that should shock us: Christians are no more likely to support AIDS-related causes than non-Christians.

Reasons for withholding

The survey of 1,003 American adults revealed 8% of non-Christians were certain they would donate to help AIDS orphans, compared with 7% of Christians. The 92% majority gave a variety of reasons for withholding their support, the most popular being lack of money, and the second reason was the feeling Americans should be focused on solving America's problems first. A statistic that offers a sharp challenge to development workers to better communicate the realities of global interdependence and the unsustainable consequences of injustice.

But even amongst those who are ready to give toward work on AIDS there are issues to be addressed. A scant 3% of Christians said they would definitely give for AIDS education and prevention, compared with 8% of non-Christians.

Why the reluctance?

Perhaps part of the reason is that many people do not realise the magnitude of the problem. Some might be passing judgement on those who are victims of HIV/AIDS, quietly rationalising, "It's their own fault." This latter reason remains as misguided and disturbing today as it was at the start of the AIDS crisis 20 years ago. At a purely practical level, it is impossible to cast blame in a pandemic when two of the largest groups of sufferers are the faithful spouses of unfaithful partners and the children of those already infected. More importantly for Christians, judgementalism is an attempt to stand biblical teaching on its head. St. Paul tells us that the greatest fruit of the Christian life is love. The love he wrote of is an ability to feel for our fellow humans with the same passion felt by God, an absolute love that can never be deterred.

No one should harden their hearts toward the victims of AIDS. That is a message that World Vision is willing to take to any church or community. We have committed ourselves to education and raising awareness across the world on HIV/AIDS.

Why does World Vision take this perception problem among Christians so seriously? Because reaching out to people was Christ?s calling card. And it should be ours. Jesus tended to shock religious people with his actions. If Jesus were walking through our world today, I am certain that he would be at the bedside of AIDS-stricken people, and providing for the children orphaned by the disease. He would be speaking out against the hypocrisy of a world whose distorted values have thwarted attempts to address effectively prevention, treatment and care.

Christians must act as Jesus would act. We must pray, give, keep abreast of the problem, and demand greater action from our governments whose leaders so far have offered more rhetoric than substance.

Whatever our level of involvement, this is our chance to show the kind of radical compassion that Christ holds for each of us. 

Rich Stearns is President of World Vision United States.

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