I've been learning so much through running these past few weeks, but I figured I would spare you from another introspective blog entry and instead give you some information on the cause that I'm running for. After all, if one of my goals is for this to be informative, I should probably share what I've been learning about HIV/Aids over the past few weeks. (If you want to find out more about the race or my journey of running you can read the previous two posts or go here.) So today I'm not going to give you a complete overview of what HIV/Aids is (I'm no doctor), but I will give you bits and pieces of information that I've been learning over the past few weeks. Much of this information is from resources that Samaritan's Purse "Be the Virus" staff has provided or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So I've been learning HIV/Aids 101 and I've found that there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding it, so let's answer the question "What exactly is HIV/Aids?"
First off, they are two separate diseases that are linked to each other. One very important thing to note is that just because a person is HIV positive does not necessarily mean that they have Aids. HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The disease does exactly what the name says. It is a virus that destroys the immune system. Specifically it attacks the white blood cells (T Cells or CD4 Cells) that help the body fight infection. Aids is the final stage of HIV and it literally means Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (CDC). When a person has Aids that means that the immune system has weakened so much that their T-Cell count drops below 200 (the average healthy person has 500-1500). Obviously, that is not good, not good at all.
How is it transmitted (or NOT transmitted)?
Not: It isn't transmitted through hugging, shaking hands, casual kissing, drinking fountains, toilet seats, or mosquitoes. So if you meet a person with HIV/Aids, please don't be afraid to touch them! You're not going to catch it from just being near them.
According to the CDC, HIV is mainly found in blood, semen, or vaginal fluid and is transmitted by having sex (anal, vaginal, or oral) with an infected person, sharing needles with someone infected, or by being exposed as a fetus or infant to HIV before/during birth or through breast feeding.
So how bad is the Aids Crisis?
I'm going to cite Pastor Jim Nicodem from Christ Community Church on this one. He had an awesome sermon on "Confronting the Aids Crisis." Much of what is in this entry is inspired by his sermon.
"Just how bad is the AIDS crisis? They’re calling it a pandemic. A pandemic is an epidemic on steroids. 33 million people worldwide have HIV and/or AIDS. 6,000 new people are infected every day. 70 percent of people who have AIDS live in sub-Saharan Africa. In countries like South Africa, 800 people a day die of AIDS. In Zambia, the life expectancy is 37 years old. What is going to happen when the disease hits full force in Asia. It’s called the sleeping dragon in Asia. 2-3 million people a year die of AIDS. If it will help you to have a mental picture, that’s the equivalent of 20 747s crashing every day of the year. 15 million AIDS orphans. How bad is the crisis? There’s no cure for the crisis, the disease is so adaptable it has the ability to mutate, can’t pin it down. AIDS is destabilizing governments."
So to put it mildly, we've got a problem on our hands. Actually, I guess Pastor Nicodem said it better: we have a pandemic on our hands. But what exactly does that mean? What are we supposed to do about it??
I guess everyone responds differently, but here are my thoughts on the matter.
1. Doing nothing is not an option for Christians. Aside from Jesus Christ's obvious compassion for the less fortunate here are three verses that I want you to consider.
James 1:27: Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."
Isaiah 1:16-17: Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.
Micah 6:8: He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
No, these verses do NOT say exactly "Christians be actively involved in the HIV/Aids crisis," but it does say that we are to seek justice, love those who are less fortunate than you, love kindness, correct oppression, etc. We can conclude that we are called to be actively involved in showing Christ's love to a fallen world. We can conclude that we (the church) are called to be a picture of the ultimate reconciliation that is spoken of in Scriptures. We are called to give a taste of what is to come! This compassion that we should impart on HIV/Aids victims, is a mark of Christ and therefore should be a natural mark of the church.
If doing nothing is not an option, how exactly do we stop a pandemic??
2. Choose to do something! The reality is, I cannot stop the Aids Crisis. In fact, what little I contribute will not even make a dent. But as I've quoted SP so many times before, "Every action, no matter how small, can bring about change." I have chosen to partner with Samaritan's Purse because I believe in their organization. They are an amazing humanitarian organization that brings relief all around the world in the name of Jesus Christ. For some, it might mean just writing a check. For others it means going and volunteering for a summer. Some might want to move across the world permanently to make a lifetime of ministering to victims of HIV/Aids. For me, right now I'm in school. I'm broke. I have zero free time. So I decided to run and ask people to educate themselves about the pandemic and to give to the cause. We are all gifted differently, so figure out how you are gifted and how you can contribute. Get creative and contact your church or a trusted humanitarian organization! Just don't standby and wallow in the materialism of the American Dream and turn your back to a hurting people.
3. Recognize the physical need, but realize their spiritual need is much more pertinent. The greatest need that any person suffering with HIV/Aids has is to be brought into good standing with their Creator who loves them. Pastor Nicodem is exactly right when he said, "If we're out there on the frontlines [and we should be], and we're offering care and compassion to people with AIDS. We're caring for their orphans. We're bringing them ARV's. If we neglect to tell them 'you need to turn from your sin and you need to turn to faith in Christ,' we have failed them miserably. We may have helped them out in this life, but we've done nothing to help them out for eternity."
I'm 7 weeks out from the race. This running journey has had its ups and downs, but I'm excited. I'm excited about what I've been learning over the past few weeks. I'm excited about the work that Samaritan's Purse is doing. AND I'm excited about what God will do with the little money that is provided. I don't want this to only be a race. I don't want people to give and then feel better and not think about HIV/Aids victims again until the next fundraiser. In order for us to make a dent in this pandemic, we all have to work diligently together with a fiery and consistent persistence. Please join me in this fight. Join Samaritan's Purse in their fight.
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Much Love - Brit
(Photo provided by Samaritan's Purse Essay of Hope for HIV)