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June 15, 2002
Column #1085

Franklin Graham's Impact on AIDS

     "Three million adults and children died from HIV/AIDS last year alone, and perhaps more startling, another five million were newly affected with the virus, meaning we are losing ground rather than gaining ground in this battle," said Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham at a conference he organized in February for Samaritan's Purse, a relief ministry he runs. 

     It was not the typical Washington conference at which powerful people from across the country lobby Congress for money. Instead, Graham paid for hundreds of humble Christians working at the front lines of HIV/AIDS in 82 countries to come to America's capital to plead for support from the Christian church worldwide to respond to the pandemic crisis in southern Africa.

     Why? AIDS abroad is radically different from that of America where two-thirds of those infected are homosexual or are drug users. In southern Africa it is a heterosexual disease, where half of the victims are women. And up to a third of the population in some countries are afflicted.

     Graham said He called it "a plague of biblical proportions" that should be attacked "with the same level of commitment, zeal, money and resources that we have rightly applied toward combating international terrorism."

     He acknowledged that when AIDS first surfaced, "Most Christians, including myself, did not become actively involved in the fight against the disease. That was wrong. I believe the church of Jesus Christ around the world should be at the forefront of the HIV/AIDS crisis." Other than proclaiming how to avoid the disease, "We have shamefully little to say to those who are already infected and living with AIDS, usually without hope. 

     "What can we tell a child whose mother and father are dead because of an infection?  How can we love them? How can we raise them... so they don't make the same mistakes?"

     There are 13 million orphans of AIDS. Graham reminded attendees that Jesus asked us to care for "the least of those among us." Yet most in the church have "turned their heads, hearts and hands away from them."

     One reason, perhaps, is the sense of hopelessness that one feels in learning that 40 million people are infected. Yet Janet Museveni, First Lady of Uganda, told conferees, that her nation's infection rate has plunged since 1995 by an astonishing two-thirds, from 18.5 to 6.1 percent! Her husband personally spearheaded a campaign to inform and educate the population about the disease. As he said in 1992: "I have been emphasizing a return to our time-tested cultural practices which emphasized fidelity and condemnation of pre-marital and extra-marital sex." 

     In addition, mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Uganda has been reduced with drugs costing only $4 per child, so that half the babies of HIV positive mothers are now born HIV negative. 

     Graham demonstrated courage in taking on the issue on when a poll revealed only 3 percent of Christians would give to fight AIDS.

     The most important needed reform is education. As Uganda's President Museveni put it, "Young people must be taught the virtues of abstinence, self-control and postponement of pleasure and sometimes sacrifice." 

     Sen. Jesse Helms, the 81-year-old Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, confessed at the conference, "I have been too lax, too long in doing something really significant about AIDS," and added he was "ashamed that I have done so little on this." 

     What was the impact of the conference? 

     To the astonishment of The New York Times, Sen. Helms "long deemed public enemy No. 1 by AIDS advocates, said that the would ask for an extra $500 million to prevent mother-to-child transmission of AIDS overseas, contingent on matching funds from the private sector."  Helms said that "in the end our conscience is answerable to God. Perhaps in my 81st year I am too mindful of soon meeting Him." Congress did approve a $200 million increase in funding and this week business leaders in New York met with Graham to consider matching funds.

     Sadly, however, giving by Christians has barely increased. 

     World Vision (888 56 CHILD), another relief agency has reached 2 million afflicted and affected AIDS victims for only $10 per person by having community health workers train children how to care for their ill parents, and provide soothing pain relief. Committees identify orphans and volunteers recruit care-givers for them. Catholic Charities (800 736-3467) has a similar ministry, as does Samaritan's Purse (800 528-1980).

     Are you a Good Samaritan willing to help the stranger in need? All you have to do is pick up a phone.


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