Hidden mercy?? How can anything to do with HIV/AIDS be merciful? Rejection, pain, despair, poverty, misery and death can quickly follow in the wake of being diagnosed with HIV! And yet, even this tragedy God takes and uses to show His amazing love and grace for mankind.
In the few years that we have been teaching about HIV/AIDS in the churches here in Chad, the one message that continues to provide HOPE is the TRUTH found in God’s Word. “What does the Bible have to say about AIDS?” It has been 30 years since HIV/AIDS was first defined in the medical world. Ever since then the world has been seeking to treat and fight the spread of the disease with less success than hoped for. In the countries where there has been significant progress against the spread of the virus and against the stigma surrounding those infected, it has been made through applying biblical principles to daily life. It has been through breaking the power of lies with the truth that never changes! And it is this truth that has brought HOPE!
“But because of his great LOVE for us, God, who is rich in MERCY, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions – it is by GRACE that you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4-5) MERCY? Yes! HIV/AIDS has provided God’s people with an unprecedented opportunity to show God’s love and teach God’s truth, particularly here in Africa. As the problems of HIV/AIDS are addressed, it quickly becomes apparent just how much this disease invades every area of life. Forbidden topics and taboos are exposed and must now be faced. The truth of God’s Word gives courage to broach the unmentionable subject of sexual intimacy dispelling the darkness and bondage of taboos with its light and hope.
In order to prevent the spread of the disease, we must talk about sexuality. What is biblical sexuality vs. cultural sexuality? The consequences and blessings of each? After one such discussion a pastor commented that none of the marriages he knew reflected the blessings God desires for those who follow His guidelines. My heart broke! Why is this so? Because sexuality is a forbidden subject so many have never learned of the blessings God intended them to have in their marriage. What a privilege to teach about His amazing love for us - how a believer’s marriage should be a reflection of the incredible relationship between Christ and His bride, the church! The first missionaries came to Chad over 80 years ago, but HIV/AIDS is challenging cultural taboos in even greater ways than before, freeing the way for God’s truth to bring blessing in the midst of pain.
Do our children know that they can trust what we say? Or have we only taught them to speak the truth when it is convenient to do so? In a culture where lies are a way of life, is it any wonder that when the truth about HIV/AIDS is taught so many don’t believe it? How do we equip parents to teach their children? We have to go back to the beginning and face the issue of integrity. With truth and integrity comes the freedom to trust! the freedom to protect ourselves from HIV.
And then there is the problem of lies that are seen as truth! Culturally, unfaithfulness and promiscuity are unacceptable for both men and women and yet the following thought has often been expressed in our classes. “A man must have his ‘needs’ met and if, for whatever reason, his wife is unable to meet them then he is ‘obliged’ to have them met elsewhere!” The consequences for infidelity and promiscuity are so very different for men and women in a culture where the man’s ‘needs’ appear to take precedent over the woman’s right to protect her life! It is said that in sub-Saharan Africa 61% of the women who are HIV positive have been faithful to one man! How can we help these women to protect themselves? There are no easy answers to these questions but as we study God’s Word together, John 8:32 becomes a reality; “Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free!”
In Béré, where our HIV ministry began a few years years ago, a friend gave some examples of how the church leaders supported women who were facing a dangerous union. Their husbands had left them several years before, and were known to have been womanizers but now wanted to take them back again as their wives. These women, with the support of the church, and armed with the knowledge of the truth about HIV/AIDS, were able to stand firm in their request that they and their husbands be tested for HIV before being reunited. Their husbands refused to be tested and took the women to court. The court ruled in the women’s favor, protecting their lives.
In other areas where the biblical response to HIV/AIDS has not yet been taught, we have heard testimony of a woman who, fearing for her life and HIV, separated from her husband. She asked that they both be tested before coming back together. In response, the church leaders put the woman under discipline for abandoning her husband. Not wanting to be out of fellowship in the church, she went back to her husband and is now HIV positive.
For ‘James’ (pseudonym), a friend and local mason, HIV was the wake-up call he needed to face the reality of where his life was headed. He worked for the mission on many building projects. A good mason, he was honest and could be counted on to complete the building project to the best of his ability. Yet ... he lived life as he saw fit, taking first one wife, then a second and finally a third. His first wife, ‘Cherie’ (pseudonym), died of AIDS. As a believer she forgave James and was at peace with him before she died. After his second wife suddenly died, James began to think about where he was headed.
It was when he was finally diagnosed with HIV himself that God’s truth and love finally broke through his hardened heart. From then on, James’ burden was that his third wife would come to know Jesus as her Savior before she succumbed to the disease already in her body. To his grief, she never did. James worked hard to provide for his wife and family. He trained his apprentice to be an honest, trust-worthy, hard worker.
Shortly before he died, he shared with my husband that he recognized, with deep regret, that he was the one who brought death into his home. While he knew where he was going, and was not afraid, it was the painful process of dying that frightened him. Even here, God was gracious and when the time came, the Lord took him home quickly.
Would you call HIV/AIDS a “hidden mercy”?I believe James would.
Article written by Anne Hoyt
TEAM missions coaches are available to answer your questions about becoming a missionary and help you find a place to serve.Talk To A Coach