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February 22, 2003
Column #1,121

"The Greatest Calamity Since the Flood"

     "Africa is facing the biggest calamity in history since the Flood. There are 38 million people who have AIDS, 30 million are dying of hunger, and 11 million orphans," asserted Bruce Wilkinson, author of The Prayer of Jabez, to 9,000 pastors in Phoenix on Thursday, the largest pastors' conference likely to be held this year.

     He urged pastors to go to Africa and see the calamity, and "weep until your heart breaks," so that they might come home and mobilize the church to help. He hopes white and black clergy will go "as the body of Christ," as servants, to meet African clergy, and tell them, "We will not let anyone in your church die of hunger. We will help the widow and the orphan, and dig in for the long term."

     Wilkinson has followed his own advice. He and his family have moved to Africa for three years. It has not been easy for him, his wife or son. Some have called his decision courageous, but he demurs, "It would have been courageous not to move, not to listen after God calls you."

     The little book he wrote about the prayer of Jabez, an obscure Biblical character who prayed that God would "bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory" -- has sold 12 million copies. 

     Wilkinson has so enlarged his territory that he spoke at a "Turn the Tide" event to 100,000 people last summer by satellite, downlinking into 40 nations of southern Africa. His message to clergy was tough: "The church has been silent on immorality. If your people were not immoral in one way or another, they could not get AIDS. It is not only the guilty, but the innocent who are suffering, the faithful wife of a husband, or a girl pressured to have sex by her teacher for good grades. If a man has AIDS, he believes if he has sex with a virgin, he will be healed of AIDS and she will not be infected."

     African pastors had never had anyone hold them responsible for teaching the truth. Their reaction? A second Turn the Tide event is being organized in May by World Vision that will reach one million people, including 120,000 pastors. Clergy are hungry for answers.

     One part of Bruce's message to African clergy is encouraging: "In Uganda, both the nation's President and the churches took a common stand that `Condoms are not working. Faithfulness and abstinence are the only answer.' The result? The percentage of HIV/AIDS infected people fell from 22 to 6 percent!" 

     By contrast, a third of Malawi is infected and 44 percent of Botswana.

     World Vision is Wilkinson's major local partner, with 10,000 people on staff who reached 4,326,518 beneficiaries in southern Africa last year with a $70 million budget. Virtually all of the staff is indigenous. 

     What can be done to reach those with AIDS or the orphans? 

     The key is the local church, which can be "a great carrier of hope or a great silencer of hope," says World Vision Vice President Steve Haas, who is just back from a trip. People come to the church to be cared for, because they are abandoned by family and friends. A 12-year-old boy, obviously dying of AIDS, was told "You have HIV. Why don't you go and die." 

     A man told Haas that if it were not for the love and food he was getting through a church "I would have died of starvation, not AIDS."

     The churches are writing hymns on AIDS, drama and poetry and even helping those who are infected to be self-supporting. Women are being trained to be seamstresses. As their strength wanes, they can sew dresses, shirts or a sarong for men, with HIV messages on the clothing: "AIDS is a Killer." "The orphan is a vulnerable child."

     The pastor of an Episcopal church in the Nthondo community of Malawi was doing more funerals and denuding trees around the church to build coffins. So he got his women's auxiliary to feed kids with World Vision-supplied food. At first, 20 orphans were being fed. They expected 180 the day Haas visited, but 214 showed up. 

     In one village World Vision is helping 28 families grow crops that get double or triple yields. The price of admission, however, is that each family must take in orphans. "I am happy to do so," said one man. "I wanted to help them but was afraid that if I did so, my own family would starve." To learn more, see and read Isaiah 58:6-7.

     There were 20,000 deaths from AIDS in North America in 2001, but 2,200,000 in Sub-Sahara Africa. You can help by calling World Vision (888) 56-CHILD.


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