Archive by Author

If I Had HIV

1 Dec

If I had HIV or AIDS
would you accept me
talk to me
shake my hand
come to my house
sit next to me in church
eat at the same restaurant
use the same restroom
ride on the same bus
type on the same keyboard
swim in the same pool
work in the same office
attend the same school
because you are afraid
of getting the disease
or think I deserve the disease?

Then you are ignorant
about the truth
about the facts
about me. 

I do not have HIV or AIDS
but my daughter does.
She got it from her birth mother
who got it from a man who lied to her
or who raped her.
With medicine she can live
a long and happy life
go to the playground
go to school
get a job
get married
have children
and put no one at risk.

If you knew she had HIV
would you hug her
hold her hand
change her diaper
teach her in Sunday School
let your children play with her
come to her birthday parties
accept her as you would me?

Don’t be ignorant.

There Is No Me Without You

15 Sep

I recently finished Melissa Fay Greene’s excellent book, There Is No Me Without You.  It chronicles the life of Haregewoin Teferra’s, an ordinary Ethiopian who finds herself doing something extraordinary.

The book weaves Haregwoin’s story with the story of Africa’s HIV/AIDS pandemic.  It’s not a work of fiction.  Haregwoin wants to die after her daughter’s own death, but instead finds herself caring for one orphan then another then another.  Her care for AIDS orphans becomes one of the first of its kind.

Besides the amazing, sometimes heartwarming sometimes heartwrenching, story of Haregwoin and her orphans, besides the fact that I have two adopted children from Addis and one is HIV positive, I really appreciated the information on HIV/AIDS.  I think anyone with an HIV positive child would benefit from Greene’s journalistic perspective (which also happens to be the perspective of an adoptive mother herself).

Greene addresses the origin and catastrophic rise of HIV/AIDS.  “Where had HIV/AIDS come from?” she asks.  I remember hearing some story about monkies in Africa.  That’s where Greene starts.  But it’s a lot more complicated than that, and more interesting.  Superstition, syringes, epidemiologists, pharmaceutical companies, UNAIDS.  Greene addresses everything and its not sensationalized.  There’s a little human face on all of this.

“By 2003, Ethiopia had more than a million AIDS orphans, Haregewoin had twenty-four of them living in her home, and more children were headed her way.” pg. 155

Even if you haven’t adopted from Ethiopia, parents of children with HIV will benefit from There Is No Me Without You.  It will open your eyes and educate you, at least it did me.  And it will touch your heart, especially with your own children in mind.

Red Letters

28 Jun

Tom Davis, CEO of Children’s Hope Chest, has written a little book applying Jesus’ teachings (the “red letters”) to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa and other needs around the world.  I found it helpful in stirring my heart to care like Jesus does for the “least of these.”  Even though I’ve adopted two children from Africa, I can still be guilty of ignoring the overwhelming need I left behind there.   

Reading Davis’ statistics and stories moved me as I thought about my own daughter.  There are countless others like her orphaned due to a disease they had no control over.  “The worst thing about HIV/AIDS is how it destroys the lives of its innocent victims.  I’m talking about babies who are born HIV positive…These victims are dying by the hundreds and thousands.” (pg. 58)

“Early in 2003,” writes Davis, “over a third of the adult population [of Zimbabwe for example] was infected with HIV.  It is estimated that at least one in three of today’s fifteen-year-olds in Zimbabwe will die from AIDS…Over a million children in Zimbabwe have lost one or both of their parents to AIDS.” (pg. 71)

Davis argues that the church has not done enough to help.  He pleads for Christians to practice Jesus’ words, including: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  He offers many suggestions for how an ordinary person like you and me can make a big difference, and adoption is only one.  Children’s Hope Chest has several programs for getting involved, like 5 for 50.  He lists many other organizations as well.  My mind is whirring with the thoughts and ideas presented in the book.

If you are not familiar with the HIV/AIDS crisis in the world and need your heart stirred, then I recommend the Red Letters.  Some books of this nature can be very negative and accusatory about the church but I didn’t get that from Red Letters.  I thought it appropriately challenged Christians to take Christ’s commands seriously. 

One clarifying remark I would like to add concerns what the Gospel is and isn’t.  I totally agree the Gospel is meant to be lived out in our daily lives.  The Gospel doesn’t just inform us, it affects us, it changes us.  But I disagree, in so far as Davis meant this, that the acts of compassion we do are what the Gospel is all about.  (see pg. 14)

The Gospel is all about the compassion of God in sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to live and die in the place of undeserving sinners like you and me and how we can be reconciled to God through faith in Him.  The Gospel is a message about what God has done for us – not what we do for others.  The Gospel motivates and compels us to extend compassion to other people.  We love, the Bible says, because He first loved us (I John 4: 19).  But our compassion is not itself the Gospel.  It’s an example of the Gospel, lived-out imperfectly in Christians’ lives, but the Gospel stands alone as what God has done for us. 

Jesus Still Touches the Untouchable

3 May

Leprosy in first century Palestine was worse than a life-threatening disease – it was known as the “living death”.  Victims slowly deteriorated from, as best I understand it, a bacterium that affected the peripheral nerves.  The obvious signs of leprosy were lesions on the skin.  Eventually, the skin, eyes, limbs and nerves would suffer permanent damage. 

To make matters worse, it was highly contagious.  Lepers were ostracized from their communities for fear of infecting others. They were untouchable.  Leviticus 13:45-46 describes a bit of the Old Testament Law concerning the poor soul who might have leprosy. 

“The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’  He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.”

What a terrible label “unclean” is.  The Jew who had leprosy wasn’t merely diseased, he or she was defiled.  Their very appearance was supposed to serve as a warning to others.  They couldn’t come home.  They couldn’t return to work.  They couldn’t attend worship services. 

Perhaps worst of all, it was the common misconception in those days that lepers were somehow being uniquely punished by God for sins they had committed.  They didn’t understand medicine like we do today so people often equated illness and disability with spiritual punishment.  It didn’t help that on three well-known occassions God did in fact use leprosy as a punishment for a specific sin (Moses’ sister who complained in the wilderness; Uzzah who stabilized the ark with his own hand; King Uzziah who offered incense in the temple). 

Leprosy, then, didn’t merely have physical or medical implications, it had social, relationtional, financial and spiritual implications.   What an awful stigma the leper lived with – alone.  In the eyes of the people he or she was an appalling spectacle.  Someone to avoid.  In the leper’s own eyes he or she was a miserable wretch. 

It was just such a person who approached Jesus in The Gospel of Mark, chapter one.  Such was his desperation for healing and belief that if anyone could help him Jesus could that he fell on his knees and cried, “If you are willing, you can make me clean!”  It was a risky act of faith.  What would Jesus do?  Previously He told His disciples that He had come to preach the gospel, not heal the sick. 

He does just what we hoped.  He was moved with compassion for the man and He does something risky of His own – He touches him.  Jesus doesn’t care what other people will think.  Jesus doesn’t worry about catching the disease. (I wonder if He could have caught the disease if it were in God’s plan.  He was a man, after all, and His body was not sheltered from pain and suffering.)  This may have been the first touch this man had experienced in years. 

Of course, Jesus didn’t have to touch him in order to help him.  Like on other occassions Jesus could have helped from a distance or through a messenger.  All He has to do is say the word.  But He touched Him.  He touched the untouchable. 

Then He healed him, or rather, He cleansed him.  “I am willing, ” Jesus said in reply, “be clean.”  And just like that the leprosy was gone, the bacterium was gone, the skin lesions were gone, his damaged face and hands were restored instantly.  Not only was he physically healed, but this meant he could return home to his family and to work.  The end of misery.  The end of condemnation.

Compassion for those with HIV
Perhaps the closest we can come to understanding the plight of the first century leper is to compare it to the plight of the 21st century victim of HIV or AIDS.  It is worse in Africa than in America.  HIV has treatment as does leprosy now, but without it victims suffer a living death, a slow deterioration and it is contagious (albeit through narrow means). 

Ostracism awaits the woman, man or child discovered with HIV, especially in Africa.  They will be looked down upon.  They will be stereotyped.  They will be stigmatized.  Some will think God is punishing them for sins they didn’t commit.  Its a blessing that attitudes are changing in the U.S. – though maybe not everywhere.   Still, the person with HIV or AIDS is pretty much considered the “untouchable”.  Orphans with HIV are “hard to place” children for this reason.

But, Jesus touches the untouchable.  He still does.  He has compassion on them.  He welcomes them.  He cleanses them.  He restores them.  How?  He is not here on the earth, how does He still touch the person or child with HIV and AIDS? 

1.  Through the gospel.  The gospel is good news for everyone, especially those who feel themselves to be miserable wretches.   The gospel is the good news that Jesus, the Son of God, lived and died in the place of unclean sinners so that their sin could be wiped clean and they could be reconciled to God the Father.  It is the news that by faith alone in Jesus alone sinners can become adopted sons and daughters of God. 

The gospel even takes HIV and AIDS away.  It really does.  Not immediately.  Not in this short life.  But in the next life, the resurrected life, there will be no more such diseases.  Meanwhile, He permits HIV to remain – not in order to punish – but for some good, sanctifying reason.  We may not know why He doesn’t heal HIV now but we know HIM and He does not make mistakes or do things without purpose.

2.  Through us.  The second way Jesus still touches the untouchable is through His Body, the church, the you and me who are Christian.  I’ll skip all the ways Jesus’ Body can and does show compassion to those with HIV and AIDS and go right to adoption.  Adoption is no less than radically touching an orphans life with love and acceptance and real big bear hugs without worrying what othes think or anxiety over catching the disease ourselves. 

When parents bring home a child with HIV they are virtually healing the disease ’till Jesus comes.  With the medical care parents can provide their children, the virus can become “undetectable” in their blood or at least managed.  They can have a normal life with normal interactions and normal ambitions.  They do not have to feel ashamed and will not feel “untouchable” anymore.  Countless benefits await the child brought into a loving parent’s home, not the least of which is exposure to the gospel itself. 

Through us Jesus still touches the untouchable.  Better yet, when a parent cares for a child with HIV we are saying, “They are not untouchable.”  People sometimes want to make adoptive parents out to be heroes but Jesus is the real Hero and this is one attempt to deflect all praise to Him who touched and saved an untouchable like me.