World AIDS Day
Today is World AIDS Day. Not quite as celebratory of a day as we recently experienced with Thanksgiving, but one that people will commemorate around the world in various ways. Some will wear a red ribbon to show their awareness and support. Some will go to Starbucks and purchase one of their specialty holiday drinks so that $0.05 can be donated to the (RED) campaign. Some will give a speech. Some will examine patients. Some will stand in line for their ARV’s. Some will slowly and painfully pass from this world to the next. And some will go about their day blissfully unaware that any of the rest of this is happening at all.
What will you do?
The vast majority of the people I’m surrounded by on a daily basis are lucky enough to have not really been affected by the AIDS pandemic in a personal way. Many people I know haven’t even ever come into contact with anyone who has HIV/AIDS. On some level I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful that my city, my state, my country hasn’t been so ravaged by this disease that it is commonplace, that part of a person’s daily existence is a constant state of fear over when it will strike, when their luck, or the luck of a family member or friend, will finally run out. On some level I’m thankful that on World Aids Day there are a lot of people who can’t think of a single person with the disease that they can do something for, that the extent of their involvement really is ordering a grande peppermint mocha or joining a Facebook group that at least says they will. I’m thankful that this discussion of this disease can be dealt with in such a manner that junior high students in my country are more educated about it than the presidents of other nations. I’m thankful that we can make movies about it that make us cry and give Oscars to actors “brave” enough to play such a role with true, heartfelt empathy. I’m thankful that some of our largest companies can jump onboard with a campaign that spends more money on promoting awareness of the disease than it raises to help fight the disease. On some level I’m thankful for all these things. I really am.
However, I understand that the world in which I live, in which AIDS is a cause for action and not of death, is not the real world. I’m lucky. I’m blessed. That’s the only thing that separates me from those who live in constant fear and ignorance of this disease every moment of every day.
I understand this because I am not one of the people I’m surrounded by that have not been affected by the AIDS pandemic in a personal way. But again, I’m just blessed, lucky, in that the way in which I have been affected is in perhaps the most positive way possible. AIDS didn’t take a family member from me. Instead, it gave me one I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Most of you have heard me talk about or have read my writings about my youngest brother, Alfie. Alfie is of the Tswana tribe in South Africa. He is four years old (He’ll turn five in January), and his adoption by my parents became official in September of 2007, though he’s lived with them since he was about eighteen months. Alfie is also one of the millions of children around the world that have been orphaned because of AIDS (in fact, a child is orphaned by AIDS every 14 seconds. How many orphans does that make in the amount of time it’s taken you to read this post so far?).
Alfie’s biological father is unknown and his birth-mother died when he was just a baby from AIDS. She was just another one of the thousands living with the disease made more complicated because they are stricken with poverty as well. I don’t say that to make light of her death, but to express the general attitude that is often taken towards those with the disease. When she died, Alfie was sent to live with his uncle who has children of his own, lives in a squatter camp outside Pretoria, and works as a day laborer if he can. He also has a drinking problem. Alfie has very bad allergies. So, you can imagine that a squatter camp wouldn’t be the best environment for him to be in. When my parents found him, he was really sick. They offered to take Alfie to get some medical treatment and to stay with them until he was better. This led to my parents wanting to adopt him. For a number of reasons, it was a really long process, but now he is a Kinsley (to be fair, I’ve just vastly oversimplified his story. Perhaps at another time I can do it justice, but that’s not really the point of this post).
Alfie is lucky. He’s blessed. His story is definitely not typical for these children. He comes from a continent that is ravaged by the disease. It still carries a heavy social stigma with it so that most people don’t want to talk about it and complete ignorance is the norm. I’ve sat and talked with other AIDS orphans who actually contracted the disease from their mother before she died. I’ve listened to their stories, their fears, their worries. I’ve heard them talk about how much they hate their medication, though it’s the only thing keeping them alive. I’ve seen the marks of the witch doctors on children they are “treating,” the same witch doctors that often prescribe to older men with AIDS to have sex with the youngest virgin they can find in order to be healed. I’ll allow you to take that to its conclusion for yourself. I’ve knelt beside a “bed” in a shack in a squatter camp and held and prayed for a young woman no older than myself and prayed for strength in healing as she faces the final stages of the disease.
In some ways I’ve had the opportunity to stare the monster of AIDS in the face, and I’ll tell you this: it scares the hell out of me. Literally. It makes me cling to the things of Heaven, the things of God, to Him and His wisdom and His will and His plan and His timing. I have to trust him. It’s too big for me to deal with on my own. Every country in the world is affected by HIV/AIDS. Every single one. Some, like mine, have stemmed the tide. Others, like Alfie’s native country, are on the verge of being awash in it. Still others are struggling to keep their heads afloat.
But I do what I can, and I hope you will too. Today, I hope you wear your ribbon. I hope you buy your peppermint mocha and join your Facebook group. I hope you have some conversation with someone who didn’t even know there was a World AIDS Day and open their eyes.
But if you want to think about maybe doing a little bit more, here’s some suggestions for you.
1. Sponsor a Compassion child. I know. It seems like there are tons of us within my circle that won’t shut up about Compassion. Well, there’s a reason for that. We’ve seen it first hand, and we know that it works. Some of those hit hardest and most affected by the AIDS pandemic are those who live in poverty. Compassion is releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name. They focus on working with a child holistically throught their local church in six areas of development in their life: mentally, emotionally, spiritually, economically, socially and physically. For $32 a month you can help a child in one of Compassion’s 25 countries to ensure that they are educated and have access to all that they need so that they not only can avoid being a victim of this disease but of all the other trappings of poverty. I have other posts here you can read to hear about just what it’s like to sponsor a child, but I want you to hear me clearly right now. If you don’t sponsor a child with Compassion, you should. It’s easy and it changes their life and will lead to lasting change in their family, community, country and eventually, the world. Do it. Please. You can, very easily, by clicking here.
2. If you already sponsor or, for whatever reason, don’t feel like you can right now, then consider giving toward’s Compassions AIDS iInitiative. I give an additional $8 a month to Compassions work to fight this disease in addition to the children I sponsor. For that little bit (which goes a much longer way than the 10 cents that would be donated to (RED) if I spent that 8 bucks on two Starbucks) I’m able to be a part of making sure that communities are educated about AIDS and that those who need treatment are able to have access to it when they wouldn’t otherwise. Incidentally, the first prority in Compassion’s AIDS initiative is to promote abstinence before marriage and faithfulness inside of marriage. So, if you’re worried about condoms being handed out all over Africa because of your 8 dollars, then consider your fears relieved. Right now they do focus this work on the continent of Africa but have plans to expand it further to all of the countries in which they work. You can find out more about this by clicking here or read a blog post about their work by clicking here or on their blog in my blogroll at the right..
3. Contact your local hospital or health clinic for information about volunteering with AIDS hospice care.
4. Pick a country in the world to which you have some connection and find out how to be inolved there. You can do so by searching the various AIDS foundations through the World AIDS Campaign website by clicking here.
5. Forward this post to someone you know who is one of those going about their day blissfully unaware. Rock their world a little bit. Enlighten them. Make it happen.
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, I think we should pray. I’m a huge believer in prayer. I believe it actually affects change in the world. What if all of the millions of Christians were united in prayer today for God to intervene miraculously in the world with regards to eradicating AIDS? I believe He’s listening.
I know that right now a lot of different ideas are being thrown at us about how we can and should be involved with various causes around the world. That’s great, but I know that it can either be overhelming or just become part of the noise surrounding us. I also know how easy it is to become cynical about it all.
So, my hope is that you can sift through the noise and discover where your involvement can be most effective.
Thanks for reading.