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When Christians have a close encounter with families hit by HIV/AIDS, one of the first responses is not mere tears, but weeping. Kay Warren and Lynne Hybels know the power of a weeping Christian.

At different times, these wives of prominent megachurch pastors Rick Warren and Bill Hybels have traveled thousands of miles across southern Africa, the epicenter of HIV. They saw, smelled, and touched the HIV pandemic. And they wept. "The virus is the enemy," Kay Warren said recently at Saddleback Church's HIV/AIDS conference, Disturbing Voices.

Last July, First Lady Laura Bush toured Africa and met with Tatu Mukeshimana, a Rwandan girl orphaned by HIV. Abandoned by her relatives, Tatu quit school and was selling tomatoes in the market when Rwandan Quakers took her in. In July, Mrs. Bush told reporters it was very hard, but she kept her emotions in check as she met with Tatu and other orphans.

Stigma still exists

For evangelicals, the time to lose our composure has come. Jesus wept over Jerusalem. We should weep over what HIV has done to families across every time zone on our planet. We should weep over our inaction, our inappropriately judgmental attitudes, and our reluctance to work with people who don't look or behave like we do. For the next 25 years at least, a rapidly growing number of people will be living with HIV. The infection rate is 14,000 new HIV cases daily. Right now, 41 million people are HIV positive worldwide.

Stigma in the church still exists. In Nigeria, medical students surveyed Christians nationwide and asked, "What should be the attitude of religious bodies to HIV/AIDS patients?" Some 52 percent of those surveyed replied, "They should be suspended [or] disciplined." One lifelong Nigerian Christian confided to ...

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Close Encounters with HIV
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February 2006

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