AIDS at 30: Nothing to Celebrate, Everything to Hope For

We are celebrating an anniversary this year.  “Celebrating” is not the correct word.  Perhaps, “acknowledging” is a better word.  We won’t be sending cards or thinking romantic thoughts, or raising a glass as we release sentiments like, “we hope the next 30 years are even better than the first. “   It was 30 years ago that the first cases of, “The Gay Cancer,” were reported.   We have come to know this disease by a different name.  We know it as AIDS.

I still remember sitting in the corner office of our Rendy Lovelady Management as I listened to a man describe what was happening in Africa.  He was not hopeful in that conversation.  His words held no silver lining.  How could it?   He was in the office because he needed help.  A poll had been commissioned by World Vision to find out what the general state of knowledge and understanding was in the church surrounding HIV/AIDS.  They asked a simple question of Evangelicals. “If you had the chance to help someone with AIDS, would you?”   Only 3% said yes.

AIDS is complicated.   Just as relationships are complicated, or medicine is complicated, or humanity is complicated, or being a Christian is complicated.  So, for many people it was necessary to find reasons to disengage without feeling implicated in the work that needed to be done.  

The poll suggested that Evangelicals blamed HIV/AIDS on a lot of things.  One of the loudest critical voices speaking about HIV/AIDS was the one telling us that Africans were reaping what they had sewn. AIDS was the way God was acting out his wrath on sinners, and so our job was simply to ignore Africa and let those infected with AIDS die.

AIDS is complicated. And the church was immature.  And the act of pulling the covers over our heads and hoping that the monster would simply go away, well… , It didn’t work.  The monster grew.  The next approach was better.  What could we learn from people struggling with HIV/AIDS?  Our approach was to listen and observe.

We found that the reason for HIV/AIDS rapid spread was not entirely due to an influx of homosexual activity.  We learned that it was transmitted through breast- feeding, and ceremonial circumcisions, and wife adoption, and a host of tribal practices meant for healing, and childbirth.  We also learned that our response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic was selfish and fearful.  We, as a culture, found the human story trapped under the umbrella of mega-statistics and impersonal numbers. We found a foothold to re-engage.  And even with a massive push by musicians like Bono and world leaders like, Bishop Tutu, we saw the effects of HIV/AIDS continue to rise.

We built initiatives, and peace plans, and watched the development world truly rally to the call of ending HIV/AIDS.  And still we saw the disease hold it’s ground.   We saw pockets where an idea or an education campaign made a significant difference in the number of new transmissions of HIV.  And still, we find ourselves 30 years into a great war, unable to fully end HIV/AIDS.

It is complicated.   It is killing more people than ever before.  And yet, we are saving more people than ever before.  Paul Farmer called the engagement with the poor, “the long defeat.”  Not because we need another reason to give up, but because we need to know that even if this disease continues its rise,  we must still care about the individual PEOPLE whose stories are written with HIV/AIDS as a formidable antagonist.
We must, 30 years in, decide that the needs are still urgent; that the work is still ours to accomplish, and that every man, woman, and child that is HIV positive is worth all of the efforts we could muster.

Caring about AIDS is not as sexy as it was a decade ago. There are fewer celebrities speaking out on behalf of the HIV positive.  How do we sustain a voice loudly speaking about the end of HIV/AIDS and watch all of our efforts fail to make significant change?  We are a culture of instant gratification. So many artists and advocates have moved on to other causes or humanitarian puzzles that show more tangible and quantifiable solutions.  

Yet, it is not about ending AIDS.  Just as our efforts to reduce our own children’s flu symptoms isn’t about ending Flu viruses. We are compelled to serve those we care about.  We treat human beings. And the human story should always be compelling.  And the discouragement we feel for the lack of ground gained in the fight to end AIDS should be overshadowed by the great joy and richness of serving people.

We cannot make our investment into the lives of others hinge on the eradication of AIDS.  We must make it about the reaching into a life.  We must make it about the caring for an individual.  We must make it about the human story that we can change, or heal. In the next 30 years, I would love to know that we didn’t give up.  I would love to see, God willing, a generation of people who see such transcendent value in the reaching and the loving and the helping and the serving of another without agenda or end goal.

We are beyond the myths of HIV/AIDS.  We are beyond the fears and miscommunications of a misunderstood disease.  We have the knowledge to move. Maybe 30 years from now, we can celebrate.  For now, we have work to do. Check out to see how you can join the work.

Here is one way:  Become a Community:Builder. Join us in this investment and become a Community:Builder today.  Your support will enable us to confidently develop long term partnerships within a region, allow us to respond quickly to short term needs, and invite us to go further into other unreached communities.
For your gift of $30/month or more (that’s just $1 a day), you will be building the foundation for a healthy future in our communities in Africa.

Here is what the Community:Builders program could enable in the next 12 months:

  • 1 Community Builder could provide 4 families with biosand filters along with hygiene & sanitation training.
  • 10 Community Builders could provide a well repair and hygiene & sanitation training for a village of 1,200 people.
  • 100 Community Builders could cover the opening costs of a comprehensive care clinic
  • 250 Community Builders could invest in our Nairobi-based field programs, expanding our ability to train our community partners and increase their capacities to serve their communities.
  • 500 Community Builders could sustain our long term commitments to our communities and offer the opportunity to seek new partners who desire to address the needs of their neighbors.

Join us in this investment and become a Community Builder today.  Your support will enable us to confidently DEVELOP long term partnerships within a region, RESPOND quickly to short term needs, and GO further into other unreached communities.
In appreciation for your commitment, Community Builders will receive:

  • a Blood:Water Mission t-shirt,
  • quarterly stories and photos from the field to share the impact of your partnership, and
  • invitations to key events, in-person & online.

Thank you for your partnership. You are making a difference for long lasting hope and health in Africa.