The heartache that AIDS brings into a person’s life and family was driven deeply into my own heart in the late 1980s when I was pastoring a church in Southern California.
Although I pastored there for only 3 years during the early days of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, I encountered two families that had been attacked by this disease.
The two people stricken with AIDS were a study in contrasts. One was a man, the other a woman. One lived in a same-sex relationship, the other did not. One was buried with only family at the graveside, the other was remembered by family and a host of colleagues and acquaintances.
Interestingly, these two individuals also had some things in common. Both were in their thirties when the disease claimed them. Both had contracted AIDS as a result of sexual activity. And both had grown up in Christian homes.
One thing became clear as I tried to comfort the parents during the separate experiences of the two funerals. The only thing that mattered to these heartbroken families was the immense feeling of loss and pain at the deaths of their children.
After our time in California, my family moved to another church ministry in Michigan. It wasn’t long before we discovered that our next-door neighbor, who was part owner of a significant family-owned business in the community, was grieving the loss of a brother who had died from AIDS-related complications.
He had contracted the AIDS-producing virus as a result of a blood transfusion and left behind a wife and children, as well as many friends. The weight of the loss was a severe burden for yet another hurting family.
These incidents brought one great, overarching reality into focus for me— the overwhelming human cost of this disease. I was struck deeply by what should have been an obvious truth: AIDS is not about statistics or chemical formulas. It’s about people who suffer. It’s about their need for some sense of hope, comfort, and peace in the midst of a situation that robs its victims of those very things. It’s about grieving families and broken lives. It’s about people for whom Christ died.