First Quarter, 2004
The Millennium Development Goals - more broken promises?
Faith to reach out

In Jesus' time, people affected by leprosy were feared, excluded and discriminated against. Many people living with AIDS today are treated like this. Do we reach out as Jesus did?

IN THE GOSPEL STORY, "a man full of leprosy" approaches Jesus, falls prostrate to the ground and pleads to be made clean. Jesus stretches out his hand, touches the man and says, "Be made clean". And the leprosy is gone immediately.

I often think of that story when I encounter people living with AIDS. In many ways, those living with AIDS are the lepers of today. They are often shunned and feared. They suffer exclusion and discrimination. And many die ashamed and alone, afraid to reveal their disease.

One of the UN Millennium Development Goals is to halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS. To achieve this goal, we have tended to concentrate on education (preventing HIV infection through abstinence, fidelity and condoms) and medical science (drug treatments to prolong life and avoid mother-to-child transmission).

As vital as these approaches are, we have often failed to reach out - as Jesus did - and touch the people living with this deadly disease. We currently have no cure for AIDS, but we do have a cure for many of the symptoms and situations that surround AIDS. We can cure people of loneliness, of shame, of fear, and of isolation. We can provide emotional and material support to their families. And we can offer acceptance and love.

A recent UNICEF study on the response of faith-based organisations to children orphaned or made vulnerable by AIDS in Africa had some noteworthy findings. While faith-based organisations - typically local churches - enjoy very little funding, they are very successful in addressing the multi-dimensional impact of AIDS on children. Local churches are providing food, shelter, counselling, foster care, school assistance, health services, and social and spiritual support to children and others affected by AIDS.

They're able to provide these services because their members volunteer to do the work. And why do they volunteer? Because like Jesus and the leper who begged to be made clean, they are inspired by faith - a faith that sees past the obstacles to the human heart.

Education and medicine are important tools in combating the AIDS epidemic. But faith in a loving God who desires fullness of life for all His creation is equally important.

 Dean Hirsch is International President of World Vision.

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