Christians Challenged to Confront AIDS
April 1, 2002 - There's no denying that Jesus ministered to high-risk people: Lepers, adulterers, the dying, the demon-possessed. Yet many Christians have not followed Jesus' example of compassionate ministry to those stricken by the HIV virus and AIDS.
by Tom Layton
To confront the disease and its complex ramifications, Christians from 87 countries met February 17-21 in Washington, D.C., for Prescription for Hope, an unprecedented international conference dealing with the Christian response to HIV/AIDS.
The conference, sponsored by Samaritan's Purse in cooperation with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, was designed to empower Christians already working in front-line AIDS ministry while also encouraging other Christians around the world to greater involvement.
"I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ should be at the forefront of the HIV/AIDS crisis," said Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. "I believe that if Jesus Christ were walking the Earth today, we would find Him showing love, compassion and His healing power to those affected by this horrible disease."
HIV and AIDS have infected or killed 65 million people—about one for every 100 people alive today. And the pandemic is destined to get even worse, as new infections outnumber deaths by nearly two to one. In some parts of southern Africa, more than one-third of the adult population has been infected.
Such grim statistics are the staple of international AIDS conferences that focus on scientific, medical and political problems. Prescription for Hope was distinguished by abundant testimonies of prevention and salvation due to God's intervention. For once, the hope was as infectious as the pandemic.
Sobering news from Christian medical researchers—who said that they believe a vaccination against HIV is at least 10 years away—only emphasized the urgency of a comprehensive church-based response. "Science alone isn't going to solve this thing," Franklin Graham said. "We've got to have God's help."
That message was affirmed by Janet Museveni, First Lady of Uganda, whose emphasis on Christian values has resulted in Africa’s most successful national campaign against HIV/AIDS. The prevalence of infection among adults in Uganda is less than half of what it was in 1995. Mrs. Museveni urged all Christians "to reach out to a world that is hurting and to demonstrate the compassion of our Lord Jesus."
Speakers included African church leaders Simeon Havyarimana and Antoine Rutayisire, from Kenya and Rwanda respectively, as well as research pioneer Dr. Arthur Ammann, U.S. Senators Bill Frist and Jesse Helms and apologist Ravi Zacharias, from the United States. "In this fight against AIDS, no institution is more uniquely situated to help the poor and needy than the church is," said Senator Frist, the only medical doctor serving in the Senate.
The participants included 325 who were invited because of their leadership in a variety of front-line HIV/AIDS ministries. The conference also included 260 church and denominational leaders and dozens of doctors.
Participants issued a declaration that outlined Christian responses to AIDS, based on prayer, leadership, education, prevention, influence, partnerships, hospice and orphan care, and above all evangelism.
Samaritan's Purse offered to help develop model projects. As an example, Franklin Graham said that Samaritan’s Purse will build the "City of Hope," a home for children and the elderly who suffer when AIDS decimates the middle generation of parents, workers and teachers. The City of Hope is a church-centered community envisioned by the Reverend Angelo D’Agostino, a missionary serving in Kenya.
"With God's help, there is hope," Franklin Graham said. "There is much we can do that we have not been doing."