HIV and the Church

By: Myra Biernat Wells

Nervously twirling her fingers together she lowered her head and whispered, “I’m afraid.” Unable to hear my friend clearly over the din of the restaurant noise, at first I wasn’t quite sure what she said. Fortunately, she repeated herself, “I’m afraid. I’m four months pregnant, alone after my divorce and I’m terrified I might have AIDS.”

Her words flattened me. Hoping my face didn’t reflect the maelstrom of my heart’s churning emotions, in a spirit-led act of compassion, I reached out and gently cupped her hands in mine.

Continuing on, my friend explained her divorce chipped away at her self-esteem. As a release from her pain, she participated in behavior that put her at higher risk for contracting HIV. Now she sat unsure of her future, single and aching with the responsibility she felt for her unborn child.

“Have you been tested?” I asked, feeling her HIV status was more urgent than her pregnancy. Wordlessly, she shook her head no.

Questions swirled through my mind. What could I do? Do women from the affluent suburbs even get AIDS? But even more significant, I faced a dilemma most Christians face at one point or another. Do I sit in judgment over her or do I seek to find beauty in her brokenness?

Choosing love is an intentional act of faith. It is a tangible expression that God’s transforming power is found in our broken places. Here was a friend whose troubles and fears were screaming loudly, who longed to be quieted by an understanding heart. God’s grace is limitless. He gives mercy to the undeserving, so we can lavish that grace on one another just as we are - broken and suffering.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted,” I whispered back to her. “God cares and He is compassionate. He is faithful to us, He hears us and He loves us.”

That’s all we can do: start where we are and let God use us to be part of something redemptive, lovely and glorious. Every time we do, God reminds us of what we share instead of what divides us. When you offer faith instead of judgment, when you offer support instead of division, when you give someone a place in your heart instead of shutting them out because they’re messy or wrong, you represent the heart of Christ.

It was a tough walk together. Fortunately, my friend tested negative and gave birth to a beautiful daughter. God’s grace is all around us, and she chose to run into it. Today both mother and daughter are thriving.

This journey was life-changing for me, also. Every day we give love instead of judgment, we chose the nature of God who makes loving others the bravest, most transforming and noble act of all. 

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