Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On World AIDS Day:

Dear Friends,

I wanted to post a reflection that's become very dear to me. Simple and honest, with a "duh" message for many of you--this is my offering for today. December 1st is World AIDS Day, and I invite you to remember those living with HIV/AIDS for at least a few moments today. Pray, meditate, do whatever you do to bring peace into the world, and then get tested. Getting tested makes it okay for other to get tested, and helps take away some of the stigma associated with the disease. You can read my reflection on my time in Africa here.

In His Peace,


Help Me Be Like You, from The Awake Project
Mary Graham
President, Women of Faith

AIDS is a global problem, and it affects us all whether we know it or not. What once seemed an isolated issue has become a challenge for the whole world. Especially the church.

There was a time when everything I knew about AIDS was in a textbook or a movie. Sometimes a headline in the newspaper was bold and caught my attention, but I don’t think I ever made it through the whole article. Ashamedly, I admit it didn’t seem essential information for me. It applied to a people in a sub-culture in my own world, or in another world far from my own. Through the years, my indifference has changed dramatically to both care and genuine grief.

Last year while traveling abroad with World Vision on behalf of Women of Faith, I visited an HIV/AIDS clinic. I was not prepared for what I saw. The rooms were filled with women, mostly very young. Some had small children who were also HIV positive. Others were in full blown, final stages of the dreaded disease. Some looked healthy but were walking around with a death sentence flowing through their veins.

As I met and talked with each of these women, I felt more and more compassion for their need and passion to scream at the top of my voice, Somebody do something! In a nutshell, the stories went something like this: Young girls, from the ages of eight or ten, had been sold into prostitution by families needing money for life’s basic essentials. The women were sold again and again by their “masters,” becoming sexual pawns, held hostage to the dirt-cheap desires of men. Ultimately, they became infected with the disease, and gave birth to fatherless children who were born with the infection. Then, as young adults, they were tossed aside as rubbish.

I thought about all the discussions and stimulating conversations I’d had through the years with friends regarding “a woman’s choice,” and I felt heartsick. Regardless of who we are or what we believe in America, our choices are myriad. I couldn’t get my heart and mind past these desperate women and their need. They had never had a choice of any kind, and they have non now. My heart was broken, which was God’s gift to me.

A recent headline in USA Today took my breath away, “AIDS to Orphan 25 Million.” Think of it. We cannot bear to think of one child losing her mother. Twenty five million motherless children? And of those, many carry the virus themselves. This is not an isolated issue—nothing remote about it, and it will not solve itself. As has been the case for twenty years, it will get worse and worse. Who will help? Who will do something?

It has to be the church. We must be on the leading edge of those who care. Jesus clearly called us to this kind of action. He burdens our hearts for the needs of others, gives us grace to care, hope that makes a difference, and the courage to step up to the plate, even when the need is overwhelming.

He is the one who ignored the prejudice of his culture and reached out to those who were rejected and forsaken. Religious leaders—right and left—in the time of Christ were make pronouncements about the lack or responsibility of the church and its people. “Wrong!” Jesus seemed to say. Out of his compassionate heart, he looked beyond what was easily perceived, to the deeper issues of the plight of people. He touched the outcasts, the lepers, and those unable to help themselves. He went about doing good. He helped and it changed lives.

And he’s the one we follow. Unfortunately, many of us have not just been oblivious to the problem of AIDS worldwide, including our own country, we’ve just been objectionable to it. We’ve felt offended, critical, judgmental, and averse to the issue. The problem is, it’s not just an “issue.” It is people we’re talking about. People are hurting and dying now by the millions.

I personally know many believers who have given their lives to this cause. They work every day somewhere in the world nurturing and caring for those whose lives are ravished by this plague. Their work is saving lives, protecting women and children, and they are being the tangible love of Christ to those who suffer. Millions have secured life eternally because someone care enough to do what Christ would do. May God give them grace in abundance.

Last year in that clinic there was a woman whose face glowed like the Shekinah Glory—it was as if the divine presence of Christ was in her countenance. Although only in her early twenties, Lydia will live just a few more years. As her story unfolded, we realized her entire life had been spent being tossed form one garbage heap to another…until now. With the love of Christ, someone brought her to this safe place. She found love, kindness and peace. In addition, there was provision for her physical needs. She sand with a little choir at the clinic and even when she was singing she never stopped smiling. She said to me, “I am so lucky.” I cried.

I remembered the words of Isaiah, “Whom shall I send who will go for me?” I silently prayed that the Lord would help me know what to do. Anyone in my place that day would have responded as I did. The love Christ ‘constrained me’, and it would you. I challenge you to get in touch with the reality of the AIDS crises. It is a global problem that cannot be dismissed. Ask God to give you his concern for those whose lives are broken by the disease. Pray boldly that he will give you some personal contribution to make. Frankly, one of the most important first steps is that our hearts will be tender about this emergency. That could be the most crucial turning point for the church. And then do something. Do something. As Christians, we know there are three things to consider: we can pray, or give, or go. Or all three. Nobody can do everything. But everybody can do something. If we won’t, who will?

Oh, God, give me your heart for these who suffer. Protect me from ignorance, indifference, and hostile, judgmental statements. Help me be a part of the solution. Help me be like you.

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