Reclaiming the Outcast: Part I

Reclaiming the Outcast: Part I

By: Janet Root   |   Posted: November 27, 2002

A Challenge for Our Next Half-Century's Children: AIDS, and Jesus' Eternal Mandate

"Our family and most of our friends abandoned us when I tested positive for HIV," says Jane M.* -- her low voice cracking with emotion. Jane's husband died several years ago from HIV/AIDS-related causes, leaving this young mother tormented by a consuming fear: that she will soon die, and her children will have no place to live.

Never in Compassion's 50-year history have we encountered a disaster with such devastating consequences for the world's children as the HIV/AIDS pandemic. AIDS is not only incurable, it also burdens its victims with the heavy baggage of social disgrace.

In many places, the AIDS-infected are social pariahs, believed to be suffering the just consequences of their immoral behavior. And in other corners of the world, casual contact with AIDS-affected families is avoided because of the fear of infection.

In short --  the AIDS-infected and affected are today's social outcasts. And the innocent -- the children -- are paying an incalculable price.

To date, estimates are that three million children have died from AIDS-related causes. And many of the 13.4 million AIDS orphans in the world today are homeless and financially desperate.

Nowhere is the plight of HIV/AIDS-affected children so visible, or the disease's stigma so palpable, as in sub-Saharan Africa. There, 12.6 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS.

*Because of the social stigma attached to anyone with HIV/AIDS, it is Compassion's policy not to reveal the names of HIV/AIDS-infected children or family members.

A Family's Shame

For Jane and her children, the shame surrounding HIV/AIDS is especially strong in Kikuyu, Kenya, where they live. Infection rates are believed to be as high as 30 percent.

Thankfully, church workers at the local Compassion-assisted Thigio Child Development Center (CDC) came to the family's aid in August 2001, registering Jane's sons James and Paul (ages five and six) into the sponsorship program.

In addition to the regular Compassion support offered to the two boys, the family now receives nutritious food supplements to bolster their health, as well as needed medication and treatments, through Compassion's HIV/AIDS Fund.

AIDS education seminars held at the center are designed to help parents overcome the shame associated with the disease and get the help they need.** "Some diseases are acceptable -- like malaria," says Stephen Njoroge, a social worker at the Thigio center. "AIDS isn't acceptable here, but Jane gained the courage to speak up and tell us she was infected.

"HIV-positive parents of the kids in our program," Njoroge continues, "are also taught how to ensure that their children will inherit their possessions, since stealing property from children whose parents die from AIDS is a big problem in Kenya."

Most important, this family of six continues to receive unconditional acceptance from the project staff workers -- a powerful example of Christ's love to this AIDS-ravaged community. Care that also reflects the tender compassion Jesus demonstrated.

**Every Compassion program in Africa offers HIV/AIDS awareness training for children and their parents. Classes are designed to help participants see beyond the disease's stigma and offer Christ's compassion to its victims. HIV/AIDS prevention, emphasizing the biblical message of sexual purity and faithfulness in marriage, is also taught. This training program serves as a model for Compassion's programs worldwide.

Jesus' Ministry -- Extending Compassion to the Outcast

"Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man" (Mark 1:41a). When Jesus extended his hand to the leper, described in the first chapter of Mark, it was a gentle, tender gesture. And it shook the community to its foundation.

First-century Jewish laws ordered lepers to live outside the city, keep six feet between themselves and others, and wear mourners' rags. Religious teaching at the time also implied that those who suffered from disease or disability were probably guilty of sin.

"Jesus wanted the sick to know they are especially loved, not cursed, by God," says Philip Yancey, in his fascinating book, The Jesus I Never Knew. "Every one of Jesus' miracles of healing undercut the rabbinic tradition of 'You deserved it.'"

His response to the diseased and ostracized also set a benchmark for Jesus' followers in the ensuing centuries.

"Some in the Church added to the misery of leprosy victims with the 'curse of God' message," Yancey continues. "At the same time, scientific breakthroughs on the disease tended to come from missionaries because they were the only ones willing to work with leprosy patients."

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