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November 23, 2002
Column #1108

Think of the Starving This Thanksgiving

     As America prepares to gather around the table for a Thanksgiving Day feast, please consider that 14.4 million people in southern Africa face the threat of starvation. 

     This year the famine is not just due to bad weather, but AIDS.

     Most of the 2.3 million Africans who died of AIDS last year are young adults, many of whom were too weak to plant crops or to harvest them. As they weakened and died, they left behind 12 million orphans who wander streets searching for food. 

     In Botswana a stunning 39 percent of the population is infected and 20 percent of South Africa are HIV positive - 4.7 million people.

     "I really trusted my husband," says Brigitte Syamaleuwe, a 40 year old Zambian woman. She knew she had not had sex with anyone else. When she tested HIV positive, she felt "totally shattered." Nor is this rare. A study in nearby Uganda found 60 percent of HIV-positive women were married and monogamous.

     An extraordinary new effort is being mobilized to fight this triple pandemic of millions dying of AIDS and starvation that is orphaning millions of children. Its leader is an American hero named Bruce Wilkinson. You may have read his little book, "The Prayer of Jabez," about an obscure Biblical character who prayed that God would "bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that your hand would be with me..." 

     He has prayed that prayer every day for 30 years, and has seen God answer it "in such a way that you knew beyond a doubt that God had done it."

     Founder and president of "Walk Thru the Bible Ministries," Wilkinson began conducting 25 conferences a year teaching how to read the entire Bible in a year. Now there are 2,500 conferences a year. In 1998, he began "WorldTeach" to establish the world's largest Bible teaching faculty that has already trained 12,000 teachers around the world.

     This year he lived the prayer in a new way by resigning at Walk Thru with the idea of going to Hollywood to make films and TV to move people to turn to God. First he went to Africa to teach for three weeks, and saw the triple tragedy of famine, AIDS and orphans. "What happened on that trip changed my life. I moved to Africa six weeks ago," he told leaders at the Heritage Foundation this fall.

     "I ran headlong into real pain and trauma. I could not move. It was overwhelming, as strong as a raging river." A vision came to him of "God's answer to AIDS. We are trying to mobilize partnerships such as Promise Keepers to gather this February the largest conference ever of pastors, 50,000 pastors, who we hope will challenge 10,000 white suburban and black urban churches to send people, black and white, to take responsibility for that region, and not allow women to die of hunger again, to see if they can help with AIDS orphans.

     "What you find in America is a desire to make a difference, unlike any other nation. People are dying of pain. This is not what God intended. We must move to end the pain. When Americans of faith come, they will say, `This is not right. We will be agents of mercy.' If they see millions of orphans on the street, with no place to live, they will go home and build orphanages. When they meet people who are dying of hunger, and see the reality - they will not be able to cope with it," Wilkinson said.

     "I went to see one pastor, who said, `My wife is sick. She is dying.' She was on a mat. My son said, `What are you dying from, hunger?' She looked at the pastor, and said. `Yes.' The lady said, `Give me your hand.' She held onto it and said, `I have had four of my best friends, each one, die of hunger."' 

     "`The Prayer of Jabez' taps into this deep human desire to live a life that matters, that is of significance. Some will go on to a life of sacrificial service for others." This Thanksgiving will you simply eat a big turkey dinner and stare at TV football until you fall asleep? 

     Or will you do something significant for people dying of AIDS or hunger, or their orphans?

     Two suggestions. Click on http://www.WorldVision.org to see how to contribute. And send your pastor to Phoenix Feb. 18-20, to "Come Near to Me," an event that could change what it means to be a pastor in America. See http://www.PromiseKeepers.org.

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