Capturing a film on the Aids crisis in Africa has opened my eyes to a tragic reality. We are alive during one of the most serious pandemics of world history. According to Susan Hunter, in Black Death: A History of AIDS in Africa, by 2003, over 28 million people had died of AIDS. This number is expected to jump to over 100 million by 2010. Africa has borne the harshest blow of this worldwide crisis.
Melissa Fay Greene’s book, There is No Me Without You, describes the amazing story of a widow from Ethiopia who after losing her husband and her oldest daughter, despaired of her life. She came back to life when the local Church asked her to take in a few orphans whose parents had been killed by AIDS. As she began to care for the children, more and more AIDS orphans surfaced in need of a home and parental care. By the early 2000’s there were over 1 million AIDS orphans in Ethiopia alone. Many of these orphans had no one to care for them. Common fears and misconceptions about AIDS caused most of them to be abandoned and rejected by society. Having lost both parents, many older children worked to care for their younger siblings in the absence of any adult assistance. Children would set off from their villages to walk into the cities, searching for money or food. Countless children were found sitting alone on the side of the roads. A generation of parents and families is being destroyed by the deadly AIDS virus.
In view of such an overwhelming crisis, the most tragic reality that I face is that I have lived through the worst years of AIDS devastation and haven’t hardly noticed or done a thing about it. A common critique of Christians is that they dismiss the problem of AIDS as the mere judgment of God upon immorality. From our Western perspective it is easy to see things this way. AIDS seems more like an affliction of the fringe rather than the whole of society. It is impossible to come to Africa, to see what has happened here and to retain such a narrow view of this crisis. The problem of AIDS demands our attention. While there is certainly a strong connection between immorality and the spread of AIDS, this does not give us license to dismiss the needs of a world in the grip of this deadly pandemic.
As I consider this accusation that people in the West, and particularly Christians, don’t pay much attention to resolving the problem of AIDS, I’m sad to say that I’m guilty as charged. Sure, I talk about the problem of AIDS in Africa and what can be done about it, but I’ve never lifted a finger to help create any positive change. This is changing, however. Children like Matthew, the HIV-positive little guy on the left pictured above with his brother, have motivated me to look beyond the surface of this problem. History will remember the AIDS crisis as one of the worst pandemics of all time, if not the worst. In the face of such need I will not be found sitting idle, insulating myself with Christianese answers that do nothing to bring a solution.