Today is World Aids Day, so I’d like to take a few moments and write about AIDS and this Christian’s response to this terrible disease.
Please note: I’ve been working on this document for several years. Not all of this information is original with me. I’ve gleaned stats, quotes, and statements from many different sources and done my best to cite the sources internally.
My first response to AIDS reflected an ignorance and an apathy of which I am still humiliated and ashamed. Often, when asked during the 80’s, my thoughts on AIDS and people who were dying from AIDS I would smugly proclaim, “I think that everyone who has AIDS should be put on an island so they don’t infect us.”
I’m so ashamed.
Yes, I was young and we knew very little about AIDS when I held this opinion. Still, it does not reflect the kind of love for people that Jesus commands his followers to have.
What is AIDS?
The HIV/AIDS pandemic continues to outpace the global response. In just two decades, more than 30 million people have died worldwide and over 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS today. No region of the world has been spared from this tragedy.
Most likely, you know people who are affected by HIV.
My friend Mike died from AIDS about 20 years ago.
He was funny and full of life, but he also wasn’t careful and ended up contracting the HIV which eventually developed into AIDS. Mike wasted away before our eyes and died.
WHAT DOES “AIDS” MEAN?
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome:
- Acquired means you can get infected with it;
- Immune Deficiency means a weakness in the body’s system that fights diseases.
- Syndrome means a group of health problems that make up a disease.
AIDS is caused by a virus called HIV, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. If you get infected with HIV, your body will try to fight the infection. It will make “antibodies,” special molecules to fight HIV.
A blood test for HIV looks for these antibodies. If you have them in your blood, it means that you have HIV infection. People who have the HIV antibodies are called “HIV-Positive.”
HIV-positive, or having HIV disease, is not the same as having AIDS. Many people are HIV-positive but don’t get sick for many years. As HIV disease continues, it slowly wears down the immune system. Viruses, parasites, fungi and bacteria that usually don’t cause any problems can make you very sick if your immune system is damaged. These are called “opportunistic infections.”
HOW DO YOU GET AIDS?
You don’t actually “get” AIDS. You might get infected with HIV, and later you might develop AIDS. You can get infected with HIV from anyone who’s infected, even if they don’t look sick and even if they haven’t tested HIV-positive yet. The blood, vaginal fluid, semen, and breast milk of people infected with HIV has enough of the virus in it to infect other people. Most people get the HIV virus by:
- having sex with an infected person
- sharing a needle (shooting drugs) with someone who’s infected
- being born when their mother is infected, or drinking the breast milk of an infected woman
Getting a transfusion of infected blood used to be a way people got AIDS, but now the blood supply is screened very carefully and the risk is extremely low.
There are no documented cases of HIV being transmitted by tears or saliva, but it is possible to be infected with HIV through oral sex or in rare cases through deep kissing, especially if you have open sores in your mouth or bleeding gums.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 to 1.2 million U.S. residents are living with HIV infection or AIDS; about a quarter of them do not know they have it. About 75 percent of the 40,000 new infections each year are in men, and about 25 percent in women. About half of the new infections are in Blacks, even though they make up only 12 percent of the US population.
–Article reflecting a theory as to how the AIDS virus came to the U.S.:
AIDS virus invaded U.S. from Haiti: study
Mon Oct 29, 2007 5:43pm EDT
By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The AIDS virus invaded the United States in about 1969 from Haiti, carried most likely by a single infected immigrant who set the stage for it to sweep the world in a tragic epidemic, scientists said on Monday.
Michael Worobey, a University of Arizona evolutionary biologist, said the 1969 U.S. entry date is earlier than some experts had believed.
The timeline laid out in the study led by Worobey indicates that HIV infections were occurring in the United States for roughly 12 years before AIDS was first recognized by scientists as a disease in 1981. Many people had died by that point.
“It is somehow chilling to know it was probably circulating for so long under our noses,” Worobey said in a telephone interview.
The researchers conducted a genetic analysis of stored blood samples from early AIDS patients to determine when the human immunodeficiency virus first entered the United States.
They found that HIV was brought to Haiti by an infected person from central Africa in about 1966, which matches earlier estimates, and then came to the United States in about 1969.
The researchers think an unknown single infected Haitian immigrant arrived in a large city like Miami or New York, and the virus circulated for years — first in the U.S. population and then to other nations.
It can take several years after infection for a person to develop AIDS, a disease that ravages the immune system.
“That one infection would have become two, and then it doubles again and the two becomes four,” Worobey said. “So you have a period — probably a fair number of years — where you’re dealing with probably fewer than a hundred people who are infected.
“And then, as with epidemic expansion, at some point the hundred becomes 200, you start getting into thousands, tens of thousands. And then quite rapidly you can be up into the hundreds of thousands of infections that were probably already there before AIDS was recognized in the early 1980s.”
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The path the virus traveled as it jumped from nation to nation has long been debated by scientists.
The University of Miami’s Dr. Arthur Pitchenik, a co-author of the study, had seen Haitian immigrants in Miami as early as 1979 with a mystery illness that turned out to be AIDS. He knew the government long had stored some of their blood samples.
The researchers analyzed samples from five of these Haitian immigrants dating from 1982 and 1983. They also looked at genetic data from 117 more early AIDS patients from around the world.
This genetic analysis allowed the scientists to calibrate the molecular clock of the strain of HIV that has spread most widely, and calculated when it arrived first in Haiti from Africa and then in the United States.
The researchers virtually ruled out the possibility that HIV had come directly to the United States from Africa, setting a 99.8 percent probability that Haiti was the steppingstone.
“I think that it gives us more clear insight into the history of it (the AIDS epidemic) and what path the virus took — and hard objective evidence, not just armchair thinking,” Pitchenik said in a telephone interview.
Studies suggest the virus first entered the human population in about 1930 in central Africa, probably when people slaughtered infected chimpanzees for meat. AIDS has killed more than 25 million people and about 40 million others are infected with HIV.
In the mid-1990s, AIDS was a leading cause of death. However, newer treatments have cut the AIDS death rate significantly.
The virus will multiply in your body for a few weeks or even months before your immune system responds. During this time, you won’t test positive for HIV, but you can infect other people.
When your immune system responds, it starts to make antibodies. When this happens, you will test positive for HIV.
After the first flu-like symptoms, some people with HIV stay healthy for ten years or longer. But during this time, HIV is damaging your immune system.
One way to measure the damage to your immune system is to count your CD4 cells you have. These cells, also called “T-helper” cells, are an important part of the immune system. Healthy people have between 500 and 1,500 CD4 cells in a milliliter of blood. Fact Sheet 124 has more information on CD4 cells.
Without treatment, your CD4 cell count will most likely go down. You might start having signs of HIV disease like fevers, night sweats, diarrhea, or swollen lymph nodes. If you have HIV disease, these problems will last more than a few days, and probably continue for several weeks.
HIV disease becomes AIDS when your immune system is seriously damaged. If you have less than 200 CD4 cells or if your CD4 percentage is less than 14%, you have AIDS.
If you get an opportunistic infection, you have AIDS. There is an “official” list of these opportunistic infections put out by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The most common ones are:
- PCP (Pneumocystis pneumonia), a lung infection;
- KS (Kaposi’s sarcoma), a skin cancer;
- CMV (Cytomegalovirus), an infection that usually affects the eyes
- Candida, a fungal infection that can cause thrush (a white film in your mouth) or infections in your throat or vagina
AIDS-related diseases also include serious weight loss, brain tumors, and other health problems. Without treatment, these opportunistic infections can kill you.
AIDS is different in every infected person. Some people die a few months after getting infected, while others live fairly normal lives for many years, even after they “officially” have AIDS. A few HIV-positive people stay healthy for many years even without taking antiretroviral medications (ARVs).
Is there a cure for AIDS?
There is no cure for AIDS. There are drugs that can slow down the HIV virus, and slow down the damage to your immune system. There is no way to “clear” the HIV out of your body.
What is this Christian’s response to AIDS?
AIDS is uncomfortable to discuss. Many of our images of the AIDS pandemic are likely to be informed by what AIDS is in the United States, entwined with issues of intravenous drug use, homosexuality, and sexual infidelity. But, in developing countries, the pandemic is affecting faithful wives who are infected by unfaithful husbands, and children born to HIV-positive mothers. When parents die, their children are left with few options, and they often spiral even deeper into poverty.
The reality of AIDS can be overwhelming.
- Nearly 40 million people are living with HIV.
- Last year alone, more than 4 million people were newly infected.
- 8,000 people die every day because of AIDS.
- Another person dies every 11 seconds.
The AIDS crisis demands a God-sized answer. The problem seems overwhelming, but what are we going to do?
Will someone care?
In my opinion it seems like we have 2 options:
Will you care?
1. Jesus cares about sick people.
Just in the gospel of Matthew we read:
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.
Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick,
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.
2. Jesus Wants His Disciples to Care About Sick People Too.
He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.
Right now—as I write this blog post—AIDS is creating widows and orphans all around the world.
- There are more than 15 million children who have lost one or both parents because of AIDS.
- Today, and every day, 6,000 children will lose a parent to AIDS.
3. Jesus Cares About Widows and Orphans and expects us to, as well.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
4. Jesus Has Compassion for People
Sometimes Christians don’t come across as being very compassionate.
Take this picture for example:
This is how much of the world views Christians and how much they think we care about them.
Jesus cared about people.
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.
Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”
Christ’s compassion was compelling.
It compelled him to “reach out his hand” and touch sick people.
Kay Warren, wife of pastor Rick Warren, said this:
There’s a stigma with AIDS in this country. I’ve had breast cancer, and people ask why I don’t advocate for breast cancer, and I say because there’s no stigma. The fact is the gay community was hit the hardest in the U.S., where [approximately] 50 percent of people with AIDS are gay or bisexual men. My response to that is, “So what?” Should that change our level of compassion? Of course not. That doesn’t give us a pass to look the other way. And to the extent that the church has in the past has been a great mistake. That was sinful of us. It was not a Christ-like response. That’s one of the reasons it took me so long to catch on—my sense was that I thought it was largely a gay disease. And I’ve cried bitter tears over that. But the good thing is that it now allows me to reach into the hearts of other evangelicals who think that way and to say that I know where they’re sitting because that’s where I sat and that we’re wrong to think that way.
We live in a sterile and sanitized spiritual existence.
Jesus touched people.
12While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
13Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.
There are no untouchables in this world.
There is no one who is disqualified for compassion!
My Great Uncle Mark Maxey was a missionary in Japan right after WWII. Early on he went to leper colonies and touched the people. They were amazed and many of them gave their lives to Christ, simply because he touched them.
Many people with AIDS feel like they are untouchable.
What can we do? Or, what is this Christian’s response to AIDS?
Kay Warren—who is now one of the nation’s leading AIDS advocates—said this:
I had to start from scratch and educate myself [about AIDS]. I started going to medical conferences and was quickly overwhelmed by its size and scope. I went to one at UCLA, and a woman approached and asked me who I was. I told her I’m a pastor’s wife, and she said, “Well hallelujah, the church is finally here.”
Did you catch that? “The Church is finally here.”
Shame on us!
Sitting in our comfortable buildings with all of our needs met, while sick people are hurting all around us.
Chuck Colson has said, “The crisis of AIDS orphans cries out for the kind of response only Christians can deliver: one that combines compassion with a respect for the truth.”
Here’s some truth from an interview with Kay Warren on how HIV/AIDS can be prevented.
Probably what you are most familiar with is A.B.C. [abstinence, fidelity, or condoms]. Let me address that and then tell you the way that I look at it.
I have yet to find anybody who will look me in the eye and say, Being a virgin is not the best protection.
Virginity is the best protection against HIV, if you look at it sexually. What happens is that people say, “That’s absurd. Nobody can control that. Women are raped. Girls are vulnerable to men who beat them, force them to have sex. Women can’t tell their husbands, if they suspect them of being unfaithful, to wear a condom.”
Yet when you really look at them and say, “Okay, can you tell me that virginity is not the best protection?” They have to grudgingly say, “Yes.” And I say, “Great, we agree on that one.”
How about each partner being faithful to each other in their relationship? Isn’t that an incredible protection for people? And they have to say, “Yes.” They’ll quickly say, “That’s not possible.”
I say, “Let’s just start with the ideal.”
Being a virgin is a protection. A monogamous relationship is a protection. We can all agree on that. And—this is where very conservative people will disagree with me—condoms used consistently, correctly every single time, add a measure of protection against the transmission of HIV.
Because A.B.C. is so controversial, we’ve reframed it.
If you want to S.L.O.W. down the spread of HIV:
S Support the correct use of condoms every sexual encounter.
L Limit the number of partners, because studies have also shown that the greatest risk is in multiple partners.
O This is very controversial. Offer needle exchange. Studies have shown that in some places clean needles can slow down the transmission of HIV.
W Wait for sexual debut. Studies have shown that the younger a person is at their his or her sexual encounter, the more likely it is that he or she will be infected with HIV. So if you can encourage people to wait until they’re older, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, before they have their first sexual encounter you can slow down the spread of HIV.
I have an even higher goal: I don’t want to just manage HIV. My goal is to end HIV. I want the world to be rid of this evil virus.
So to STOP it requires a different strategy.
S Save sex for marriage.
T Teach men and boys to respect and honor women and girls. If men continue to treat women with such disrespect, HIV will be on our planet for a long time to come. So there’s a discipleship element.
O Offer treatment through churches. We think that those things that I told you about, those six things that churches can do, when the church is involved, it can stop the spread of AIDS.
P Partner with one person for life.
When we reframe it like that, barriers go down. We want to do the best for people, which is to stop it.
For more from this interview with Kay Warren click here: Interview with Kay Warren on AIDS
We can be Christ’s hands and feet by caring for orphans and widows through programs that provide food, health care, economic development support, and spiritual nurturing. We can help the next generation escape infection by teaching them the best keys to prevention: abstinence and marital faithfulness. And we can advocate for compassion for the suffering.
My friend Britney Fluharty is doing what she can to turn the tide. On her blog, Life with a Vision, she shares why she has taken up the fight against AIDS and some practical things we can do to turn the tide as well. I especially like her challenge to preachers.
Why AIDS, you might ask me? When this all started, I didn’t know anyone with AIDS or even anyone who had been affected by it. Honestly, I really never even thought about it. Out of sight out of mind, I guess. But then I heard a sermon and it hit me like a ton of bricks. The sermon was not about AIDS or sick people, but about getting out of your comfort zone and taking an interest in the people “out there.” The preacher mentioned AIDS and how he just knew there was someone who would take this on. Of course, he was talking to me, right? I don’t think so. I know God was grabbing my heart and ever since then my heart has been breaking for the AIDS community.
Just take a moment and think how you would feel if you were given the news that you are HIV positive. It is not a disease like cancer where you would let everyone know, so that they could pray for you and support you. Who would you tell? Who would love you despite the disease? People might be afraid of you. People might judge you. People might reject you. Am I saying this is right? No, but it happens. I remember hearing a story at a conference in Orlando about a man in California who was HIV positive. The only family member that would allow him to live with them was his brother. But he had to live in the backyard; the hose was his shower and the ground was his bed. Yes, this was in the U.S. I could tell you story after story of those infected with the virus being rejected by their own church, the very place they should find comfort. Would a cancer patient ever be turned away from church? So when you ask, why, there is my answer. AIDS is different. There is no cure. It can be prevented, but the numbers of those infected only keeps rising. I also believe it is a tremendous challenge to minister to someone with AIDS because of all the complications, the mistrust, the hurt. But that is EXACTLY why it is important that the church gets involved. If we don’t, who will? I say it is time to let go of fear and ignorance and jump in; let’s find a way in. Isn’t that what Jesus would do? Some say it is their fault. Some say it is a “gay” disease. (I could write much about those statements, by the way. I DISAGREE) But I say, even if these statements were true, who cares? The church should be the first place they think of for help, not the last. I know what you are thinking. How can I or my church help? Here are a couple of ideas:
1. If there is an AIDS Walk happening near you during the year, walk in it. And don’t just walk in it. Get a group together from your church and go walk together. Meet people. Make connections. Leave the walls of your church. This experience will open your eyes. The AIDS community would not really expect to see a church group there. You can make a difference just by showing up and being there to show your support.
2. DINING OUT FOR LIFE happens in March/April all over the US. (end of April for most cities involved) Check out the website. http://www.diningoutforlife.com (it lists all the participating cities/restaurants) All you have to do is go out to eat. Get a group from church to go out together and show your support.
3. This one is a little tougher. Get in touch with an AIDS clinic near you and simply ask, “what is it that you need? What can we do for you?” Trust me, they have needs. That is how the baby baskets got started. It takes a lot of time to build a relationship, but slowly they begin to trust. We are still trying to achieve that goal. When you sign on for this, be ready to stay involved. You do more harm than good if you show up once and then disappear- which is exactly what they expect.
4. This one is for preachers/youth ministers/family ministers, etc. Preach. You have so much influence on your congregation. People listen to you and they hang on your every word. Yeah, most of the time, we just wait for you to say something wrong. 😉 But there might be that one person in the audience that God is using you to speak to. Be bold and have courage. I would not want your job. But oh how I would love to have that gift of speaking. Your influence is so huge. You might step on some toes, but think of the difference that one person that hears the truth could make. Have faith. Preach. 🙂
So that is it in a nutshell. I love you if you read this entire blog. I know I can go on and on and I would if I thought you had time to read it. Thank you for giving me your time.
Check out http://www.heintendsvictory.com
We also have moral authority. Government doesn’t have moral authority; nor does the private sector. And on top of that, the church has a motivation that’s different than anyone else’s. The government may feel responsible to protect its citizens; the private sector gets involved because of a profit motive. But people who follow Christ, we have a motivation that outlasts all of those, and that is the motivation of love.
Will someone care?
Will you care?
Now, I know that this post might not sit well with you.
It is what it is…this Christian’s response to the world AIDS crisis.
What’s your response going to be?
For more information on what you and your church can do, I’d recommend the following book: The Hope Factor–Engaging the Church in the HIV/AIDS Crisis
Please comment with resources you’d recommend as well.