• Gift Makwala

HIV and Our Christian Responsibilty

HIV has been devasting communities for the past 20 years. Homes broken, lives shattered, and dreams lost. We know too of the impact it has had on children and young people – the stigma, hate and rejection has defined an entire generation as outcasts – a generation of the unloved. While, it is clear what effect HIV has on the physical body, what is not clear is the effect it has on the emotional and spiritual health of people – especially young people.

I have worked with teenagers living with HIV for the past 10 years, and I have seen the effect HIV has on the physical body, and I have also seen the effect it has on the spiritual, mental and emotional sides of a person. I have seen kids who are not sure about the future; kids who are not sure about who they are; kids with low esteem and “pre-destined” for failure. What is even worse, is that today, with advancements in clinical care and treatments, there are drugs available that have greatly improved the capability of the body to fight off the virus. This means that today, we have physically healthy young people but with broken hearts and dreams. What drug or treatment is available for broken hearts?

The Bible tells a story of a time when 10 people with leprosy came to see Jesus - seeking help. The first thing to point out is the psychological effects of leprosy were probably the same as we have seen with HIV. The stigma, hate and rejection – these people were outcasts. So Jesus gives them an Old Testament instruction – which they obey and are cleansed from leprosy. They were cleansed from leprosy – but what about their emotional and spiritual well-being? Did they receive “healing” from broken hearts and dreams? This situation is similar to people that are responding well to HIV treatment. Physically, they are well, but spiritually, mentally, and emotionally, they are not whole. The Bible story goes on to tell of one of the lepers coming back to Jesus to thank Him for the cleansing of his/her leprosy. Jesus then says something I believe is significant; “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” This is the point I believe that Jesus made the one leper whole – holistic healing – physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. Jesus asked where the other 9 lepers were? This is probably because He knew that, whilst their physical disease was treated, for the associated mental health issues to be resolved, it needed them to come back to Jesus.

Based on this illustration and other principles in the Bible, it seems to me that one of the key ways of dealing with a generation of the “unloved” is to love them in the same way Jesus would love. I believe our biggest responsibility as Christians to the HIV community is to show them the love of Jesus. I know many will criticize this view as too simplistic for trying to deal with a global pandemic, but the facts are that even with millions of dollars spent on experimental drugs, therapy & counselling methods; the rates of suicide, depression, poor adherence and other social disorders are going through the roof within the HIV community. Sometimes the answer is right in front of us. Christians and church have a key role to play in bringing holistic healing to youth living with HIV.

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