HIV/AIDS is a modern-day plague marching nearly unimpeded across the face of the African continent. It threatens peace and stability as it wipes out entire generations, leaving millions of orphans in its wake. The statistics are daunting. Over 39.4 million people in Africa have HIV/AIDS, including 2.2 million children under the age of fifteen. Over twenty million people worldwide have died from AIDS. These deaths have resulted in over fourteen million children losing one or both parents. It is easy to recite statistics and forget there are names and faces to these numbers. It is easy to forget there are mothers, fathers and children dying from this horrible disease and that a generation of children are left orphaned, without parents and often without homes.
When we think about sharing the love of Christ with someone suffering from or orphaned by HIV/AIDS, it is not simply a matter of finding “elevator moments” – a quick two minutes where we share the gospel and disappear at the next stop. These individuals and those who care about them are suffering and desperately need to see the love of Christ in action. They are no different from a friend or next door neighbor. In seeking to reach them, we look for areas of commonality and need in order to help build a relationship. I think about my agnostic neighbor who is also a religion professor. Yes, I could dialogue with him about theological issues (which I do), but I can much more effectively share the love of Christ by having his kids come over to play with my kids. Because they have a new baby in the house, what he needs more than theological posturing is peace, quiet and rest.
Food for the Hungry, http://www.fh.org/, comes alongside orphans and HIV/AIDS sufferers and ministers to them where they are at. We reach out with love and compassion, all toward the goal of bringing hope into their hopeless circumstances. We spend time with them and begin to recognize their faces and come to know their names. We begin to reach into their lives and through the grace of God, we sometimes see light pour into their darkness.
One example of this type of transformation is Peter from Kenya. Peter is an HIV/AIDS orphan. His father died of AIDS in 2002 and Peter was forced to drop out of school to support his mother and two sisters. When his mother died of AIDS in 2005, any thought of completing high school disappeared. Peter’s hopes for the future were overshadowed by the reality of his current situation. As an AIDS orphan left to care for his siblings, he carried a burden too difficult for him to carry alone.
Peter is just one person in the group of millions who have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Do we overlook the dark circumstances of his physical life and only address the internal spiritual issues? The answer is an emphatic “no.” People reached out and ministered to Peter and because of this his world changed. He saw hope and possibilities. He began to see God as a redeemer. He began to understand God’s love because he saw it everyday through the words and actions of those around him.
While it might appear his circumstances are beyond hope, Peter recently wrote a letter to Food for the Hungry which read: “All the world, the people, time and seasons belong to Almighty God. He has made all things beautiful for us…Please accept my thanks once again for the fire of hope that you’ve lit in my life…I’m the most grateful young man for what you’ve done for me.”
His thoughts are a shining example of God’s redeeming work. We consider it an honor to see God stir the hearts of the hurting with hope and healing.
Fire of hope. That is how Peter describes his life. He does not describe it by the death of his parents or his burden of responsibility to his siblings. Only the power of God can transform hearts like Peter’s and bring hope from their despair. With World AIDS Day 1 December, let us focus on hope, the hope that comes when the body of Christ reaches out to make a difference in this world by ministering to one person at a time.
Food for the Hungry is combating HIV/AIDS in Africa and around the world through our Bringing Hope initiative. We are working to mobilize an army of African churches and leaders to provide compassionate care and effective prevention for orphans, vulnerable children, at-risk youth and people living with HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda and Uganda.
Bringing Hope prevents new infections by using abstinence education to delay sexual contact, promoting marital faithfulness, encouraging early detection through voluntary testing and linking women with prenatal care to reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission.
For more information on HIV/AIDS and our Bringing Hope initiative, please go to http://www.fh.org/ and click on World AIDS Day.