by Daniel E. Fountain
In missiology we talk about the “10/40 Window,” referring to the large number of unreached people groups living between the latitudes of 10 and 40 north of the equator. The “15/45 Window” refers to people with AIDS, since most cases of HIV infection and AIDS occur between the ages of 15 and 45.
In missiology we talk about the "10/40 Window," referring to the large number of unreached people groups living between the latitudes of 10 and 40 north of the equator. The "15/45 Window" refers, not to latitudes, but to years of age. Specifically, it refers to people with AIDS, since most cases of HIV infection and AIDS occur between the ages of 15 and 45.
THE LARGEST UNREACHED PEOPLE GROUP?
The United Nations program on HIV/AIDS estimates that, as of July 1, 1996, 28 million persons worldwide have become infected with HIV. Of these, approximately 6 million have died, 22 million are currently living with HIV, and more than 3 million new cases of HIV infection will have occurred during 1996.
An estimated 90 percent of all persons with HIV infection live in developing countries. Fourteen million are in sub-Saharan Africa; almost 5 million are in the southern and southeastern Asian countries of India, Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia; and between 1 and 2 million are in the Caribbean region.1
The vast majority of persons living with HIV, probably more than 90 percent, either have never heard about Jesus Christ or else have not entered into a personal relationship with him. The high-risk lifestyles of many of these people, including such behaviors as multipartner sexual activity and intravenous drug use, serve in most cases to exclude them from contact with the Christian community. Furthermore, the greatest number of all persons living with HIV are in areas where Christianity is not widespread. This means that 20 million persons, with more being added daily, will become sick and die during the next 10 years without a knowledge of Christ or the comfort and help he could give them. Here then is the largest group of unreached people in the world, and they are people who most urgently need to hear the good news.
THE SOCIAL AND SPIRITUAL DYNAMICS OF AIDS
AIDS is vastly more than a medical problem. AIDS affects the whole person. Fear, anger, shame, and guilt dominate the emotions of people suffering from this plague. Socially, the person with HIV is often rejected, divorced, or abandoned, and the expense of treatment and care places enormous burdens on the person, the family, and the whole of society. Spiritually, there is hopelessness and despair.
The factors making a person a candidate for HIV infection are numerous and complex. The moral breakdown in societies around the world has led to the exploitation of persons, especially women, as objects of sexual pleasure. Ignorance concerning health issues favors the rapid spread of AIDS. Poverty leads many into illicit sexual unions, for profit or just for day-to-day survival. And greed on the part of others promotes these sexual activities. We could properly call AIDS a disease of relationships.
THE RELUCTANCE OF CHURCHES TO RESPOND
Over against this stark picture of the AIDS problem is the disturbing fact that evangelical churches and missions worldwide have not yet responded in a significant way to this immense social and spiritual challenge. Some church groups, both Catholic and Protestant, have begun small ministries of compassionate care. They have likewise published books and brochures describing how Christians can educate people before they get AIDS and minister to those already infected. However, few of these publications offer much help in presenting the gospel to such people.
Several reasons could be suggested for the lack of Christian involvement in HIV/AIDS ministries:
1. Fear. Many Christians shrink from AIDS ministry out of fear: fear of death; fear of having to face unanswerable questions and seemingly unsolvable problems; fear of getting close to persons whose lifestyles are unfamiliar, unacceptable, or threatening.
2. Prejudice. Many Christians express unbiblical attitudes of condemnation against persons with AIDS. One man with HIV in a large eastern U.S. city told me of finding a Lutheran pastor who would minister to him, adding that, "It was the only church I could find in the city that wouldacceptme."
3. Tolerance of sin. At the opposite end of the spectrum, many churches and church leaders have come to accept promiscuous sexual lifestyles as normal, and are therefore perhaps not vigilant enough in helping people make the kind of moral choices that would prevent the spread of AIDS. Pastors have told me they are afraid to preach against lifestyles in which many of their own church members are involved.
4. Misunderstanding. Many church leaders seem to feel that AIDS is a medical problem and is therefore outside the domain of the church. They do not recognize that AIDS is a disease of relationships, and that the fundamental problems leading to HIV infection are spiritual and social.
CHRIST IS THE KEY
As Christians, we are committed to following Jesus Christ. This means living in a right relationship with God, with our neighbor, with our social and physical environment, and with ourselves, through the self-affirmation that comes from our new identity in Christ (John 1:12; Rom. 8:1-17). HIV/AIDS is in the world because of a massive breakdown in all of these relationships. Christ offers the solution to all relational problems. He is the true hope both for persons with HIV infection and for those who are combating its spread.
Christ came to save the whole person: body, mind, spirit, and relationships. Christ also came to overcome the works of evil in the world. Because AIDS is a social and spiritual as well as a physical disease, we, the people of Christ, must work medically, psychologically, socially, and spiritually to bring the help and the healing of Christ to all the hurting and broken relationships that underlie HIV infection and its spread around the world.
MODELS FOR AIDS MINISTRY
A cloud of hope, "no bigger than a man’s hand" (see 1 Kings 18:44) does appear on the horizon. In a few evangelical hospitals in Africa, HIV-positive persons are offered inner healing through counseling and prayer. The majority of them come into a personal relationship with Christ and find healing of their wounded hearts and broken spirits. For many of them this renewal of life has remarkable physical effects, and they recover health and strength for months and even years. These physical results are in many ways comparable to the results of using antiviral medications, but without the high cost or toxic side effects.2
In Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), a small group of Congolese Christian doctors, nurses, and church members have formed a group called Action Chretienne Contre le SIDA (Christian Action Against AIDS, ACCS). Starting in hospitals and clinics when AIDS cases are diagnosed, and following up these people through personal witness, counseling, and compassionate care, the members of ACCS try to (1) present Christ to HIV-positive persons, (2) help them find healing of mind, spirit, and relationships, and then (3) accompany them with compassionate care during their remaining months or years of life.
ACCS groups are being formed in other cities and countries in Africa. The leaders are training health workers, pastoral counselors, and teams of committed Christians to counsel the sick in hospitals and visit them in their homes. The goal of ACCS is that every person with HIV infection will hear the gospel and will be given an opportunity to respond. They are also training teams of young people as educators, to go into churches, schools, and other public places to present the truth about HIV infection and to explain Christian moral principles.3
Two years ago evangelical leaders in Burkina Faso established an organization called Vigilance to mobilize churches and the community to face their country’s rapidly growing AIDS epidemic. Vigilance is helping Christian clinics know how to care for people with AIDS. It is training educators to work with young people and parents in efforts to stop the virus, and it is encouraging church and civic leaders to fight against pornography, prostitution, and the indiscriminate marketing of condoms throughout the country.4
In Myanmar,the Myanmar Baptist Convention established an HIV/AIDS committee five years ago with representatives of 16 different language groups. Small groups of Christians are teaching about HIV/AIDS in churches and schools and offering home care to those who need it.
MAP International, working through its office in Nairobi, Kenya, brought together the major church bodies in East Africa to develop a policy statement about HIV/AIDS. This can help motivate Christians in East Africa to bring Christ to persons with HIV infection as they engage in ministries of compassionate care, counseling and education.5
A U.K.-based evangelical group called AIDS Care, Education, and Training (ACET) is working in several countries in Asia, Europe and Africa. ACET organizes seminars to train national Christians and makes literature and some resources available to Christian AIDS programs.6
Although churches and missions in general have been reluctant to develop and implement effective strategies to cope with the challenges of HIV/AIDS, small beginnings have been made and are growing. A few effective ministries exist, and their methods could easily be imitated by other groups desiring to start an AIDS ministry. The vision of reaching 20 million unreached people for Christ the "15/45 Window"needs to be communicated to more and more churches worldwide.
Christ died for people with AIDS. He overcame the evil powers that lead people into activities that expose them to HIV. His grace is sufficient to bring them into eternal life, to heal their hearts and spirits, and to deliver them from bondage to evil and harmful habits. His power is sufficient to keep millions of children, young people, and adults walking in the way of life and away from those things that lead to HIV infection. He is waiting for us to take his saving and healing power to all those suffering from or at risk of contracting AIDS.
1. "The HIV/AIDS situation in mid 1996: UNAIDS AND WHO, Fact Sheet," 1 July, 1996, Geneva, Switzerland.
2. Daniel E. Fountain, M.D., and Rev. Mrs. Matala Masieta, Care of Persons with AIDS in a Christian Hospital, American Baptist International Ministries, Box 851, Valley Forge, Pa. 19482.
3. Action Chrétienne Contre le SIDA, B.P. 778, Limete, Kinshasa, the Congo. 4. Vigilance, 04 B.P. 8276, Ouagadougou 04, Burkina Faso.
5. MAP International, P.O. Box 215000, Brunswick, Ga. 31521-5000; and MAP International, P.O. Box 21663, Nairobi, Kenya.
6. ACET, P.O. Box 1323, London W55TF, U.K.
Daniel Fountain was medical doctor of Vanga Baptist Hospital in the former Zaire from 1961 to 1987. For the past several years he has traveled in Africa, Haiti, and Southeast Asia for MAP International and the American Baptists.
EMQ, Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 20-24. Copyright © 1998 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.