What can we do? At the very least, we who are believers in Christ can admit that we must do more than we have done.
Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization, wrote this:
Two thousand years after Jesus gave the church the parable of the Good Samaritan, we still are asking the question, “Who is my neighbor?” And we’re still getting the answer wrong.
The US church is, for the most part, getting it wrong on AIDS. We often judge the victims of this devastating plague, but we fail to recognize our own sin of indifference to human suffering.
In an updated retelling of Jesus’ parable, the rock star Bono would be cast in the title role of the Good Samaritan. The lead singer of the Irish band U2 recently traveled to Africa on a 10-day trip with US Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, visiting schools, AIDS clinics, and World Bank development projects.
On a continent where poverty fuels the spread of HIV, Bono’s goal was to prod [the US government] into supporting economic development and fighting AIDS.
Bono has the answer right. . . . America’s churches and faith-based organizations must respond as well. Two thousand years after Christ first spoke it, the story of the Good Samaritan remains relevant and legitimate.
The church will be neither if we continue to get the answer wrong on AIDS.12
Those are very strong words. But a global crisis of this magnitude demands heightened awareness and legitimate response. That response can come from two different directions.
A CHRISTLIKE ATTITUDE TOWARD THE SUFFERING
What was the heart of Jesus for suffering people? Not condemnation, but compassion:
When He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd (Mt. 9:36).
When Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick (Mt. 14:14).
Jesus had compassion and touched their eyes. And immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed Him (Mt. 20:34).
Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed” (Mk. 1:41).
Jesus . . . said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you” (Mk. 5:19).
Help and hope formed the response of Christ to human suffering. That response is still desperately needed today, especially when considering the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Wess Stafford of Compassion International challenges believers this way:
The first thing we have to do is ask God to break our hearts with the things that break His heart, and recognize that one of the greatest tragedies in our world is AIDS. We have to stop being so judgmental of those suffering from this disease. Approximately 1.5 million of the HIVinfected people are in the United States, but you don’t see them often in our churches. We must find ways to reach out in our own backyard and across the world.13
Richard Stearns of World Vision agrees:
When evangelical Christians were surveyed last year on whether they would be willing to donate money to help children orphaned by AIDS, only 7 percent said they definitely would; 56 percent said they probably or definitely would not.
According to the Barna Research Group poll, even fewer would donate to faith-based AIDS education and prevention efforts overseas.
The same survey found that non-Christians were significantly more likely to say they would help people affected by AIDS overseas.
Why is the church ignoring AIDS? Aside from our historic footdragging on social issues like the denial of civil rights to African- Americans, I believe we are especially loath to care because of the way HIV is spread.
Scripture makes it clear who has the right and the responsibility to judge: It is God, not us.
Yet we judge people with AIDS. Death is the ultimate penalty for sin; we shed few tears for those whose death comes more quickly than most as a consequence of sexual sin. Never mind that we all would be dead if we faced such a certain death for any of our sins— including indifference to the suffering of our fellowman.
That sin, of course, is the only one Jesus condemns in the story of the Good Samaritan.14
Paul, one of the greatest Christian minds of all time, said, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Tim. 1:15). If Christ came in compassion and mercy to reach out to sinners, how can we—the sinners to whom He reached— withhold compassion and mercy from other sinners?
With the love of Jesus Christ, we must offer help and hope to the multitudes in our world who are suffering from the agony of AIDS. Would Jesus Christ, who reached out and touched lepers in a day when any such contact was taboo, do any less?
A CALL TO ACTION ON BEHALF OF THE SUFFERING
Wess Stafford of Compassion International gives a challenge that frames how the Christian community can respond to this deadly global crisis:
When you go to a place like Africa, where AIDS is so dramatically affecting people’s lives, it is the church that is at the forefront of doing something. They’re just not getting enough help from their brothers and sisters in the western world.
It’s time for Christians . . . to find organizations that are enabling the church in the worst parts of the world where this horrible pandemic is going on and support them. . . .
Evangelical Christian[s] ought to look deep within their heart and say, “So, what am I doing about this?” 15
If we are to be the hands and heart of Christ to the hurting people, families, and nations at the center of this crisis, we must:
• Make every effort to respond to the pain of those impacted by the AIDS crisis by supporting efforts to find a cure.
• Make every effort to show the comfort, compassion, and love of Jesus Christ— personally and in partnership with AIDSrelated ministries—to those who are dying.
• Make every effort to support, comfort, and help those who grieve for loved ones taken by this disease.
• Make every effort to share the love of Jesus Christ and His offer of eternal life with all involved—victims, families, and members of the medical community.
The song at the beginning of this booklet spoke of a “hole in the world . . . a cloud of fear and sorrow.” Yes, this global tragedy is that and much more. But we can make a difference. As the songwriter said:
There’s a hole
in the world tonight—
Don’t let there be a hole
in the world tomorrow.