You're letting your daughter go to Uganda to work with children orphaned by AIDS?" Many people questioned the wisdom of allowing 17-year-old Andrea to serve at the epicenter of the epidemic, where more than 200,000 children have lost both parents to AIDS.
Andrea saw the consequences of AIDS firsthand. She entered numerous homes in which the head of household was under 14, families where teenage brothers and sisters were yanked out of childhood and propelled by AIDS into premature adulthood. These young families, though, were surrounded with surrogate "grandparents" who looked in on them, and they received the support of caring Christians. Most elderly people have taken in eight or ten little children who do not have anyone to care for them. By the turn of the century, Africa alone is expected to have 10 million AIDS orphans.
Andrea returned safely from her summer in Uganda. But she will never be the same. She learned the true value of those things we often take for granted—two parents, a home, a chance for an education—which are only forgotten dreams for young people whose lives have been turned upside down by AIDS. The children she met only hoped to be able to afford food, clothing, and shelter. Because we are protected from such suffering, Andrea felt, we are impoverished by our lack of community and by the collapse of kindness in the U.S.
NOT IN OUR SUNDAY SCHOOL
Three years ago, our friends adopted a Romanian orphan, only to discover when they returned to the U.S. that he was HIV positive. The adoption agency offered to "send him back," like one would a damaged piece of mail-order merchandise. His new parents responded, "Of course not, he's our son." One unforeseen difficulty was finding him a Sunday school. Pastors or Sunday-school superintendents at three churches awkwardly told them that an HIV-positive child would be too great a risk.
American churches would do well to emulate the spirit of community demonstrated in Uganda. They aren't just willing to take children into Sunday school for an hour a week: they bring them into their homes—often a lifetime commitment.
We can't all send our teenagers on a short-term mission to Uganda. But we can open our hearts, our Sunday-school classes, and even our homes to children whose families have been devastated by AIDS. Children may be the invisible casualties of the AIDS crisis, but they can be found by those willing to seek them out.
In Uganda, Andrea visited the eight-year-old girl we sponsor through World Vision. Annet's father died from AIDS when she was little; her mother is now dying. She lives in a large "extended family" of children parented by an elderly "aunt." Annet's eyes bear the mark of her sorrow. She, like most of the children in her region born to an HIV-infected mother, is probably HIV-positive. Yet her "adopted family" and friends in the West provide school, nutrition, and nurture in the gospel.
On learning that our daughter was from her sponsor's family, Annet said to her, "That means you're my sister." Thinking for a moment, she added, "That means your father is my father."
I'm proud to be the father of an AIDS orphan. God calls on us to be fathers to the fatherless, mothers to the motherless. Can we, like those in Uganda, extend the embrace of our Heavenly Father to all God's children, including the AIDS orphans?
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