The bible is clear that Christians are to care for the tangible, physical needs of those around us, to stand up for the vulnerable and to show love to all. But we want to do that in ways that empower communities and create independence.
The leading causes of death in sub-Saharan Africa are HIV/AIDS, respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases and malaria. All of these are largely preventable. Outside of HIV/AIDS, all are relatively easy to treat if proper treatment is given in a timely fashion. In Africa many illnesses are accompanied by discrimination and stigmatization, creating an atmosphere that discourages people from seeking treatment or receiving spiritual and emotional help during difficult times.
Health education and dealing with stigmatization are keys to healthy communities in Africa. The Assemblies of God has approximately 80,000 churches spread across sub-Saharan Africa. Their involvement in health education and promotion can make a huge difference in the physical, spiritual and social health of communities as they have regular and frequent access to tens of millions of church members.
AGWM Africa is committed to encouraging and empowering our churches to respond to health and compassion issues, on their level, so that they can be empowered to show the love of Christ to their communities.
The following true story is an example of the impact that any church, no matter how small, can have when they follow the biblical mandate to minister to the tangible needs in their community.
While receiving training at one of our Assemblies of God bible schools a pastor had the opportunity to take a seminar on HIV/AIDS. He was very touched by what he learned and had the desire to do something in his community. His church was very small and very poor. The church was literally built right next to a large garbage dump and had mud walls; the building reflected the social status of most of the church members. People who live next to garbage dumps do not tend to have many resources.
Despite this obstacle, the pastor approached the missionary for help in beginning a ministry in the area of HIV/AIDS. A church committee was formed and trained. They began to actively educate the church and the community about HIV/AIDS, how to prevent infection, and the need to show compassion to those who are infected.
As the church ministered in this area many people began to come forward to confess that they were HIV positive. These people had been living with the knowledge of their HIV status, but they were hiding it, afraid of rejection and persecution should it be known.
Two of the people who came forward as HIV positive were a husband and wife. A year earlier they had had their first child. The baby became very sick within the first few months of life and died around her first birthday. During the course of her illness it was discovered that she was HIV positive. The parents were consequently tested and both were also HIV positive.
By the time the couple approached the church committee to reveal their HIV status, the wife was in end stage AIDS. The committee spent the next couple of months encouraging the couple, making home visits to help in her physical care and praying with them. They provided companionship and support to the couple. They were there the night she died.
As is custom in this part of Africa, the woman’s family planned to come and take her body back to her birth village for burial. They knew she had died of AIDS and they were extremely ashamed. Afraid of facing insults and harassment by the neighbors because of her AIDS death, they intentionally arrived at the couple’s house in the middle of the night, hoping to retrieve the body and be out of the city before daylight. However the church HIV committee was there with the husband, waiting. They prayed for the family members and fed them. Before the family left with the body, the committee presented them with some money – a small offering that the church had taken up to help with the funeral expenses.
The family was stunned. They had come to get their daughter’s body, expecting threats, shame and harassment, but instead they were shown love and respect. They went back to their village, which was not a Christian village, and told everyone about how the little church by the garbage dump helped them during their time of need. This resulted in many giving their hearts to Christ.
Please pray with us pray for the 80,000+ churches to develop the capacity to reach out to their communities in loving and tangible ways