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The president surprised the nation during his State of the Union address, describing the plight of Africa's 30 million AIDS victims and calling for $15 billion to curb the plague.

The President's words brought back memories of my own initial reaction to people with AIDS: Fear and rejection. Though I wouldn't admit it, deep down I believed people who got AIDS brought it on themselves.

But God has a way of dealing with our prejudices, as he did with me one Christmas in the mid-1980s. I was in a North Carolina prison for women. The atmosphere was glum, as it often is on holidays. The crowd that gathered to hear me preach was somber and subdued.

After the service, a prison official said, "Do you have time to visit Bessie Shipp?"

"Who's Bessie Shipp?" I asked. When they told me she was in an isolation cell dying of AIDS, I drew back. My first reaction was that I didn't have time. Yet, just the night before, I had seen a television report of Mother Teresa embracing two men with AIDS. If that frail, 90-pound nun could do it, how could I, the strapping ex-Marine, do less?

"I'll go," I said reluctantly.

We walked down a narrow corridor, and a door was opened to reveal a small, dark cell. There sat a petite African American woman wrapped in a bathrobe, shivering in the cold. She had an open Bible on her lap.

I came right to the point: "Bessie, we don't have much time. Do you know the Lord?"

"I want to," she replied softly. "But I don't always feel like he's there."

"Would you like to pray with me to know Christ as your Savior?" I asked.

Bessie looked down and finally whispered, "Yes, I would."

I took Bessie by the hand, and we prayed together in that cold concrete cell. Two days later the governor released Bessie, and she was baptized in her ...

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Charles Colson
Charles Colson was the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, an outreach to convicts, victims of crime, and justice officers. Colson, who converted to Christianity before he was indicted on Watergate-related charges, became one of evangelicalism's most influential voices. His books included Born Again and How Now Shall We Live? A Christianity Today columnist since 1985, Colson died in 2012.
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June 2003

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