International (MNN) — If one million people were infected with a disease, you would probably have some questions. Yet a disease plaguing 33 million is still highly stigmatized and even overlooked.
Some Westerners may feel unaffected by AIDS and thus choose not to respond. Whatever the reasons may have been for ignoring the issue in the past, however, tomorrow is the world's chance to get involved.
"World AIDS Day is a global celebration where we look back on all that's been accomplished for those that are infected and affected by HIV, as well as look forward to what more we need to do," explains Kim Buttonow with Food for the Hungry (FH).
On December 1, 2010, millions around the globe–from government agencies to NGOs, to small villages, to those infected with the disease to mere advocates–will join in celebration, observation and future planning. People will celebrate advances in technology, including some that have helped refine knowledge about mother-to-child transmission of AIDS and thus resulted in fewer and fewer infants being born with the disease.
Others will celebrate life and the grace God has given many who live with HIV. In Ethiopia, for instance, FH will host a race that will be run by AIDS-infected individuals. In a culture where a heavy stigma is attached to the disease, watching hundreds run will help to debunk stereotypes and show that those with the disease are still living, breathing humans made in the image of God.
This last fact is part of what gives Christians a special role in the fight against AIDS. "Christians are responding to this from a different place, obviously, than people who don't believe in the Lord. We recognize that everyone is made in the image of God, whether or not they believe in Him or practice another religion. We recognize that divine Spirit in everyone. So we can engage with them at a different level, I think, than those who are without faith," observes Buttonow.
This different perspective also gives believers a unique opportunity to open AIDS patients to the possibilities of new and revitalized life in Jesus Christ. Learning more about the disease and speaking up about it provides a chance to share the Gospel. Christians also have a responsibility to reach out to believers who have contracted AIDS, even if it's through the simple statement of observing this one day.
"God says that when we see our brother and sister in need, we need to respond. So I think that as Christians, this comes from the outpouring of our hearts and [shows] that we are celebrating with those who celebrate, and mourning with those who mourn, as well," says Buttonow.
Food for the Hungry is hosting celebrations all across the globe, and Buttonow confirms that many cities, towns and villages are holding their own festivities. You can learn more about opportunities to get involved at www.fh.org/wad.
What if you are interested in going deeper than a one-day observation? Truth be told, FH and other groups hope that this will be the case. If you're in this camp, there are four things you can begin to do. First, LEARN. Learn as much as you can about HIV/AIDS, how it affects children, parents, women, people in your own community, and anything else you want to know. Second, find ways to SPEAK OUT and advocate for the millions of people with the disease who cannot speak for themselves. Third, partner with God in the work He is already doing by GIVING to ministries who are working to eradicate and prevent AIDS while preaching new life in Christ. Learn more about all of these things at the FH World AIDS Day Web site.
Finally, PRAY. God may not be calling you to take action on this specific issue, but He constantly calls us to prayer. Tomorrow is a good reminder to pray for the tens of millions suffering from lethal infection. Pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ to trust God in their pain and distress, and to ask God to use them and their stories for His glory. Pray also for those who have the disease who don't know the Lord, that they might see His grace even tomorrow and cling to Him for true life.