As people of faith, it is not uncommon to pray for miracles when faced with overwhelming obstacles. For many of us, AIDS has been one of those mind-boggling, heart-wrenching causes that has wreaked havoc on the world and been the subject of many prayers.
Since the early days of the disease, the focus has been on a cure. Researchers worked tirelessly for it and the faithful asked God to provide it. But the cure has never come.
And yet, as we mark another AIDS Day this Saturday, Dec. 1, there is evidence of the miraculous.
After 24 years of commemorating this day with grim statistics and little hope, there is finally good news.
Millions of people are receiving treatment. Many fewer people are dying.
The new infection rate has dropped by 50 percent or more in 25 countries since 2001. With access to treatment, being HIV-positive is now considered a chronic disease, not a fatal one.
Kenyan church leaders are lining up in opposition to proposed new marriage bills, which they say will weaken marriage by allowing cohabiting couples to register as married.
One bill would bring Christian, Hindu, Muslim, civil, and customary marriages under one law, and another would give spouses and children more rights to property. The twin bills were approved by the cabinet on Nov. 9 and are scheduled to be debated by Parliament before Christmas.
“It is the worst law we have had as churches in Kenya. It compromises the standards of Christian marriage and divorce. Instead of three grounds for divorce, we now have nine,” said the Rev. Wellington Mutiso, the general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya.
"Do you think he'll sing?" the girl in the row behind me wondered aloud.
"I hope so," the young fellow beside her said before continuing, "My dad would freak. He was a big fan of U2 when I was growing up. He used to play this one album, The Joshua Tree, over and over again."
His father was a fan.
I am a thousand years old, I thought to myself, as more Georgetown students filled the seats around me at the university's 111-year-old Gaston Hall, the main lecture hall on campus named after Georgetown's first student, William Gaston, who later served as a member of the U.S. Congress.
The hall, decorated with stunning art-deco-era frescos and the crest of every Jesuit institute of higher learning, has hosted many dignitaries over the years, including Presidents Obama and Clinton, Vice-President Al Gore, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, to name but a few.
"So if he's not going to sing, is he just going to talk," another student asked, with a distinct whiff of disappointment in his voice.
"I hear he's an awesome speaker, though," still another student said.
The students who packed the auditorium, many of them from Georgetown's Global Social Enterprise Initiative at the McDonough School of Business and more than a few donning black t-shirts with the insignia of the ONE Campaign (of which Bono is a co-founder), weren't sure what to expect from the famous Irish rock star and humanitarian.
A concert? A lecture? Another boring speech?
I'm fairly certain none of the students present for Monday night's event, sponsored by the Bank of America and The Atlantic magazine, anticipated hearing Bono, the 52-year-old lead singer of U2, preach.
But preach he did.
BOSTON -- The one thing that Afrah Farah will tell you about her genital cutting experience is that it happened. She doesn’t want to say how old she was, where it happened, or who was or wasn't with her.
Yet, despite the painful memories that the experience evokes and her concerns about people's reactions, Farah, said she knows she has to speak out.
“It’s basically a traumatizing experience. It’s traumatizing for every young girl that goes through that. It’s something that sticks in your memory, and physically,” said Farah, a Somali immigrant who came to the Boston area by way of Kuwait and Germany in 2007, and now works as a drug developer in a Massachusetts laboratory.
“There are millions of people who are affiliated with this procedure -- parents, grandparents, people in the community -- and to label them all as bad people or barbaric, that’s wrong. You will push them away. To solve a problem like this, you need to approach people with respect.”
Because of its severity and prevalence, female genital mutilation (FGM, or "cutting") is arguably one of the most important human rights issues in the world. It’s also become increasingly important in the U.S. as the number of immigrants from countries where it is practiced grows.
NAIROBI, Kenya -- Church leaders are pressing the Kenyan government to scientifically test herbal medicines that are used by millions to manage and treat diseases, saying the nontraditional therapies could be putting patients' health at risk.
The leaders say HIV/AIDS patients and others suffering chronic conditions are widely using the medicines, whose efficacy is unknown.
Peacemaking happens in many forms. Sometimes peace is offered to others, and sometimes given in unexpected ways.
It was early morning. The African sun had yet to rise above the mountains, and the sky was the soft yellow of newly shucked corn.
“Beep, beep,” sounded the horn on the old truck as it rumbled to a stop in front of my house. My old friends – Momadu, Madu, and Balamusa – greeted me with smiles, waves, and morning blessings.
We were on our way from Kenieba, a small town in western Mali, to Sitaxoto, a large village about two hours away over a broken dirt road.
A church was there, a little group of people who met each week outside under a big baobab tree to pray, study the Bible, share their stories and ask, “How do we follow Jesus?”
Speak out for those who cannot speak,
for the rights of all the destitute.
Speak out, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
~ Proverbs 31:8-9
ADDIS ABABA — These words of King Solomon have been running through my mind since our ONE Moms delegation — 13 mothers from the United States, the United Kingdom, and France — arrived in the Ethiopian capital on Sunday.
I hear these verses as a clarion call to action. As someone who strives humbly to follow the Way of Jesus and be involved in The Work that God is doing in the world, I want to respond and do what these verses command.
And as a believer who also happens to be a mother (a fairly novice one, still learning the ropes, if you will), I must do.
Sunday afternoon, after us ONE Moms dropped our luggage at the hotel, piled into our chartered bus, and drove to the outskirts of the city to the Mary Joy Aid Through Development Association, we met our Ethiopian sisters who are speaking out for those who cannot; who are advocating on behalf of the destitute, judging with righteous wisdom, and defending the rights of the poor and the needy.
David Axe, in Wired, examines America’s secret drone war in Africa.
“More secret bases. More and better unmanned warplanes. More frequent and deadly robotic attacks. Some five years after a U.S. Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle flew the type’s first mission over lawless Somalia, the shadowy American-led drone campaign in the Horn of Africa is targeting Islamic militants more ruthlessly than ever. … It’s part of a broader campaign of jet bombing runs, naval gun bombardment, cruise-missile attacks, raids by Special Operations Forces and assistance to regional armies such as Uganda’s.”
From The Washington Post:
If this small nation, with a per capita income of less than $3 a day and a life expectancy of 53, offers a hopeful model for fighting the scourge of AIDS in Africa, then large and relatively prosperous Uganda shows how quickly progress can run off track.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton saw Malawi’s more promising example Sunday as part of an eight-nation African visit. Last week in Uganda, she highlighted an alarming rise in infection rates there after years when the country was a leader in preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS. About 23 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are believed infected, and the United Nations has estimated that the region had 1.2 million AIDS-related deaths in 2010.
Read more here
A palpable feeling of hope and urgency hung heavy in the air of Washington, D.C., this week as thousands of activists descended on the nation’s capital to encourage and inspire colleagues and decision-makers to “turn the tide on AIDS.”
The International AIDS Conference 2012 has returned to the United States, thanks in part to the lifting of the HIV/AIDS travel ban by the Obama Administration in 2010, which followed work from President George W. Bush also to lift the ban.
As part of the Conference, faith leaders from across the world were invited Tuesday morning to a forum hosted by the White House. It was an opportunity to hear from U.S. and international experts and officials, as well as come together as a community of faith, standing up against the stigma and isolation which have been two of the biggest roadblocks to achieving the goal of an AIDS-free generation.
Tuesday’s event centered around two panel discussions — one examining what the faith community uniquely brings to the table in tackling the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the other focusing on the relationship between governments and people of faith in building the effective partnerships needed to tackle it.
The tone of the discussions was, in many ways, extremely positive. We heard about vast improvements in treatments and holistic care, services often administered by faith-based organizations around the world.
“Hope,” as White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Executive Director, Joshua DuBois, noted, is overcoming “fear.”
Most discussions around development in Africa fall into the false dichotomy of trade vs. aid. The United States has commitments that inextricably connect trade and aid, development and technical assistance alongside strong economic relationships with many of the continent's countries.
Understanding these relationships and continually working to strengthen them is of vital importance, both for the African continent (in particular in sub-Saharan Africa) and for the United States. Gone are the days of paternalism – in today’s world, we must view the developed and developing states as equal partners in a complex and interdependent world.
The most comprehensive legislation on the United States’ commercial relationship with Africa is The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), signed into law by President Clinton in 2000 in the hope of creating mutual benefits for both the U.S. and Africa.
This week, the Brookings Institution hosted an event which looked back at the last 12 years of the legislation, which the Institution estimates has created 300,000 jobs in Africa and taking the opportunity to look forward.
In a room filled with African heads of state, captains of industry, leaders of international development and countless executives from NGOs at the G8 Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security in Washington, D.C. late last week, stood one Irish rock star — Bono, the lead singer of U2 and co-founder of the ONE Campaign.
At first blush (to the uninitiated, perhaps), Bono's presence might seem incongruous, but most of the folks in the room at the Ronald Reagan building a few blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue know the Irishman more for his tireless humanitarian efforts than his closet full of Grammy awards. For more than 25 years, Bono, 52, has been involved deeply and effectively in international affairs as a champion for the poorest of the poor.
"Can we manage the oil as well as the farmland? Manage it properly, responsibly, transparently?" Bono asked the audience. "Because when we don’t, you know what happens. Hundreds of billions of dollars got lost to oil and gas corruption in Nigeria. That’s what the watchdog groups are telling us. Just mind blowing. Huge numbers.
"Crops need sunlight. So does resource extraction. Both need sunlight’s disinfecting glare. Isn’t transparency the vaccine to prevent the worst disease of them all? Corruption. Everybody here knows that corruption kills more children than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined. So that’s what I want to leave you with. That very simple word. That very simple concept. Easy to say. Much harder to realize, especially in law. The word 'transparency.'
"We won’t have food security without it," he said. "But we will have oil riches without it but those riches will be held and hidden by very few hands."
While compiling the morning “Daily Digest,” I often recall the advice of Karl Barth, who is said to have told young theologians “to take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.”
There are many mornings that Jesus’ advice comes to mind after reading the news. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come (Mark 13:7). While I am not an end times apocalyptic, there are days that Jesus’ prophecy seems all too real.
We missed this announcement last week, but it’s good news and so it’s worth going back a few days for!
There was good news for ethical chocolate lovers last week when Hershey’s announced a number of measures to promote ethical practices in its chocolate production.
Each day leading until Christmas we will post a different video rendition of the "Hallelujah Chorus" for your holiday enjoyment and edification.
Today's installment comes from the POTS Chorus of Kenya who performed Handel's famous chorus on the African choral music competition, Kwaya.
See them take "Hallelujah" for a spin inside....
Occupy igloos ... and rooftops. Buy a gun for the one you love ... or a walk-on role on True Blood (for charity!) Theological wisdom from the mouths of (muppet) otters and stand-up comedians. And you never know what you'll find on Google Earth.
The news is hopeful. We have seen both progress and proof:
- New data shows that an HIV-positive person on treatment is 96 percent less likely to pass HIV on to others.
- It only costs, on average, $335 for AIDS treatment through PEPFAR (down nearly 70 percent since 2004!).
- 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have reduced new HIV infections by 25 percent.
- Clinical trials show that voluntary male circumcision reduces the risk of new HIV infection in men by roughly 60 percent.
Yesterday was truly a momentous occasion. Looking at all the progress we have made, especially in the last 10 years, it is a moment for us to not only celebrate, but in the words of President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, “recommit ourselves,” to end the fight against AIDS totally.
Today marks the anniversary of World AIDS Day. The USAID estimates that since the epidemic began, over 60 million people have been infected with the disease, and over 25 million lives taken.
One of the most prominant figures fronting the fight against AIDS is U2 frontman, Bono. In 2002, Bono became vocal about the epidemic, embarking on a tour across the American Midwest to recruit churches to join the fight against AIDS in Africa. In Christianity Today’s 2003 feature “Bono’s American Prayer,” (written by Sojo’s own Cathleen Falsani) he articulates the crucial role the church must play in combating the epidemic.
"If the church doesn't respond to this, the church will be made irrelevant. It will look like the way you heard stories about people watching Jews being put on the trains. We will be that generation that watched our African brothers and sisters being put on trains."