Today is World AIDS Day. There was a time when Christians weren’t known for being involved with response to this dread disease. Like most others, in the early days of what was then often called “slim disease,” the Christian community failed to grasp the severity of what was coming. There were also many controversies—some legitimate and important, some fear-driven and judgmental—over what causes were driving spread of the disease. The bottom line is that we were late to respond.
In prior eras, devout Christians had been at the front lines of addressing the most feared diseases of their era—often at great risk to themselves—from leprosy to the black plague. This was not initially true of AIDS. Thankfully, it often is today. From small missionary outposts and indigenous movements in Africa to the Sisters of Charity in India to local clinics in the U.S., Christians are coming close to those afflicted by the worst pandemic of our era. Meanwhile, globally, even critics of President George W. Bush affirm how his own Christian faith informed his decision to invest tremendous energy, focus and funds in the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the largest global health initiative ever undertaken by the U.S. Christians are again—like Jesus—earning a reputation for receiving and loving individuals that others hesitate to come near.
This week, some of my favorite people—Kiel and Carolyn Twietmeyer and family—are blazing this reality like a beacon fire. (See this post from a visit to their home last November.) The couple and their thirteen children are featured in the current edition of People magazine, which explores their decision to adopt children with HIV/AIDS and also their ministry through Project HOPEFUL. The People story has also spurred a host of other interviews for the Twietmeyers, including a feature on CBS Evening News with Katie Couric that will appear in The American Spirit segment of the show tonight.
This is what happens when Christians mirror the heart of God to a hurting world. Yes, sometimes we will be misunderstood. Often we will be overlooked. Sometimes, the message we hope to convey through our actions will be distorted. (Carolyn shared with me that this has happened with them a bit, including a unilateral ‘editorial’ decision by one publication to alter her quotes by replacing ‘blessed’ with ‘lucky.’) But even in this, light shines in the darkness of need and brokenness, and the darkness will not overcome it.