With World AIDS Day coming on December 1 and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today unveiling the U.S. government’s new blueprint for eradicating AIDS, I was encouraged to read a United Nations Program on AIDS (UNAIDS) report showing that 25 countries have seen a 50 percent or greater drop in new HIV infections since 2001, and half of those were among newborn children. It gives me hope that I will one day witness an AIDS-free generation.
I’m proud to work at Food for the Hungry (FH) as our work is helping to make that day a reality. FH is doing everything such as leading global alliances, fighting the pandemic and impacting American social policy regarding HIV/AIDS legislation. FH U.S. President Dave Evans is building bridges between secular AIDS activists and the faith-based community.
But what brings me to work every day is the transformation that FH is able to facilitate in the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS.
People like Scovia in Uganda.
From hopeless to blessed
Scovia was abducted by the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) at the age of 7 and was used as a sex slave and child soldier for the next decade. During this time, she contracted the HIV virus and gave birth to two children. One of her children acquired HIV from Scovia at birth.
When Scovia was released from the LRA, the stigma of both being a former abducted child and having HIV resulted in alienation from her extended family and community. Feeling hopeless and powerless, she abused her children, refused to travel to the local clinic for anti-retroviral medication and turned to alcohol as a futile means of escape.
Scovia eventually made her way to FH’s New Life Center in Uganda, where she received intensive Christ-centered trauma counseling, literacy education, parenting skills training, income generation support and health services.
FH has now established the New Life Medical Center in partnership with Blood:Water Mission. The center is accredited by the Ugandan Ministry of Health to provide comprehensive HIV/AIDS care. It features a Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission project that extends the reach of the medical center into surrounding communities.
The role of the faith community
- We have a faith that comforts. The Apostle Paul said that God comforts us in our affliction so that we are able to comfort others. In FH HIV/ AIDS programs, we’ve partnered with an army of church-based volunteers. Of them, 85 percent are in local churches. They help carry water, wash clothes, bathe those in need, counsel, pray or they simply sit with people who are afflicted and affected by HIV/AIDS. Many of those affected people have said that those visits saved their lives.
- We have a faith that cares for. Like the Good Samaritan, FH volunteers show a selfless commitment to people affected by AIDS. They show this commitment by going the extra mile both financially and with their time. Church-based volunteers are providing much needed services to orphans. They’re doing prevention of mother to child transmission. They’re engaged in anti-retroviral treatment. There are many areas in which the Church is caring for people who are either infected or affected by HIV/AIDS.
- We have a faith that catalyzes change. The clear central message of the Bible is that spiritual transformation of individuals is possible. There has been tremendous growth in technical solutions to HIV and AIDS. But the technical solutions are only part of the picture for eradicating the disease. The faith community plays a key role in offering biblical solutions and counseling to achieve behavior and attitude changes that are crucial for achieving an AIDS-free generation.
It might be easy to feel discouraged by the large numbers of people who are infected and who die from AIDS each year. But we must not allow that. As Christians, we are called to do what we can, and church-based volunteers are making a difference in the lives of many individuals.
What we can’t accomplish, God can. We must keep moving forward and make the faith-community’s voice heard along with the strong voices of a scientific community that is bringing about life-saving technology.