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« on: December 01, 2004, 10:44:49 PM »

Religious Leaders Observe World AIDS Day With Calls to Action

by Allie Martin and Jenni Parker
December 1, 2004

(AgapePress) - An official with a Christian relief and development organization says the answer to stemming the worldwide AIDS crisis is not more government dollars, but a call for people to lead transformed lives through a relationship with Christ.

Recently President George W. Bush promised 15 billion dollars over five years to fight the AIDS/HIV pandemic. However, officials with World Vision say churches can make a big impact in the global AIDS health crisis by witnessing to people and "discipling" new converts.

Steve Haas, a vice president with World Vision, says this crisis is too big for the United States government to handle on its own. "There are some nearly 65 to 70 million people that have been infected with HIV," he points out, "and some 25 to 30 million have actually died of the disease. The pandemic is growing, and so it's critical for those of us who are being impacted or those who have infected community members to begin to speak up and speak out on behalf of those who are suffering."

A recent United Nations report found that nearly half of the 37 million people worldwide are infected with HIV, and in sub-Saharan Africa, the number infected with the AIDS virus jumps to 60 percent of the population. But a new survey conducted by a Christian research organization suggests that believers in America, where the effects of the AIDS are somewhat contained by the availability of drugs and modern healthcare, are not getting involved in numbers that keep pace with the escalating crisis. For instance, in recent years there has been only a small increase in the numbers of evangelical Christians who say they would be willing to give money to help children orphaned by the disease.

The recent survey by Barna Research Group found that 14 percent of American Evangelicals said they would be willing to donate funds to AIDS education and prevention in sub-Saharan Africa. That is a slight rise from two years ago, when only five percent of U.S. Evangelicals said they would be willing to give money to assist AIDS orphans.

Haas urges the Church in America to realize its important role in addressing the current crisis. "There is something that the U.S. can do, that churchgoers can do," he asserts, "and that is to get behind organizations that are actively on the frontlines, caring for those who are not only infected but also impacted. Many of these communities are seeing a large swath of their community get wiped out, and the five-to-forty-year-old age group are finding themselves very much at risk."

As the international community observes World AIDS day, other religious leaders are also appealing to their constituencies for more help in combating this deadly disease that is spreading so rapidly in some parts of the world. The Associated Press reports that one group, a coalition of Christian organizations and networks known as the Global AIDS Prayer Partnership, has issued a call to prayer and action, and many prominent Christian are stepping forward to share insights and challenge believers to get involved.

Evangelical Leader Says Pandemic Is Only Beginning

One such leader is Tet Yamamori, international director of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. He recently observed, according to AP, that the world is only at the beginning of the global AIDS pandemic, and the ravages of the disease in Africa represent only the first wave in the crisis, with China, Russia, and India likely to follow.

Yamamori agrees with the Committee's Holistic Mission Study group that something has been missing from the fight against AIDS -- a global commitment on the part of all Christians to use the most important resource God has given them to help victims and resist the spread of the disease. Still, he feels Christian liberals have focused more of their effort in the war on AIDS on the social action front, meanwhile neglecting evangelism, while Evangelicals have done just the reverse.

"There has been kind of a chasm between the Evangelicals and [those] that belong to the National Christian Councils and the World Council of Churches," the Committee spokesman notes. However, he says churches are beginning to come together to respond to the epidemic and increasingly "have been involved in ministering to the needs of the people horizontally, just as they are informed vertically ... in the theological dimension."

Yamamori adds that he is encouraged to see that churches are mobilizing, with "many Christian relief and development agencies as well as church networks that are in contact with or having ministries in Africa, Southeast Asia, and other parts of the world where AIDS is on a rampage." It is imperative, he points out, that the Church "get informed about this horrendous scourge of history that is the AIDS pandemic and get involved."

Speaking on World AIDS Day, the Lausanne Committee's international director called upon believers to do more on every front, saying they must "get involved by participating not only in prayer on this day, but in trying to support [the crisis response] financially so that those partner agencies that are working in Africa and other parts of the world will be able to implement their fight against HIV/AIDS."


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