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I visited a Christian care facility in Johannesburg for those in the advanced stages of AIDS, and I saw children with matchstick arms and vacant eyes who lie in beds all day awaiting the next seizure. Volunteer "mothers" visit to hold and rock them. New advances in treatment offer hope for some children, but meanwhile many are dying. One nearby community used to average two funerals per week; it now has 75. A Christian center in Cape Town that teaches young people printing skills used to specialize in wedding invitations; it now supports itself by selling funeral programs.

But who wants to hear about AIDS in Africa? Relief agencies such as World Vision and World Concern face that question while trying to raise funds to fight this world health catastrophe. Americans, overwhelmed by the magnitude of problems in Africa, wonder if anything can help. Though they may not say so directly, many American Christians also can't help thinking, "They deserve it." After all, doesn't AIDS in Africa spread mainly through sexual promiscuity?

Indeed, the visitor to Africa finds a different sexual landscape. In some countries, adolescent boys celebrate their rite of passage into adulthood with a public circumcision ceremony and afterward may mark their adult status with sexual exploits. The continent has a long history of polygamy, and in places like South Africa, the practice of separating male workers from their families further broke down marital ties.

No one is exempt: in confidential surveys by World Vision, 72 percent of South African pastors admit to extramarital affairs, with an average of three to four partners each. Muslims proudly point out that in Africa, the great frontier between Islam and Christianity, Islam is gaining momentum, ...

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March 2004

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