Finishing What We Started
Thirty years ago people started dying from an unknown virus – now we know it was HIV – and MORE THAN 25 MILLION HAVE DIED – BUT TODAY WE ARE AT A TIPPING POINT IN AIDS HISTORY.
The leading scientists say that the end of the pandemic is possible, maybe even in our lifetime. What’s creating this tipping point? What is creating this tipping point is that treatment equals prevention.
We’ve discovered that treatment for HIV+ people can lower the risk of transmission by a whopping 96%. Not 25, not 50, but 96%! When people are on ARVs, we not only save their lives, but we stop
the spread of HIV. Studies show if that people who are at risk for HIV – or even if they think they might have been exposed to HIV – take ARVs daily, their chance of contracting the virus is reduced.
Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Health says the fact that treatment of HIV-infected adults is also prevention gives us the means, even in the absence of an effective vaccine,
to begin to control and ultimately end the AIDS pandemic.
Treating people who are HIV+ stops the spread of the disease, keeps the world safer and saves billions of American dollars. These facts justify the cost and effort required to achieve our goals of universal access to care for all who need it.
In fact, UNAIDS’ new goal is 15 million people in treatment by the year 2015 and to wipe out pediatric AIDS by 2015.
So the question becomes not CAN we end AIDS, but WILL we end AIDS? The question is how do we take advantage of this moment? What do we need to do to make this possibility a reality?
See this news, though, comes at a time when the US government is making serious budget cuts to discretionary spending. I’m not some big policy wonk, but that just means that’s where the
funds for caring for people domestically and globally come from – this discretionary spending – and when they’re cutting it, it puts the bulk of global and domestic programs at risk. So, we
can’t give up now. We must not, right now when the tide is finally beginning to turn. We have to finish what we’ve started.
Eccles. 7:8 (NLT) says,
"Finishing is better than starting."
People often jump on a popular bandwagon at the beginning, but we’re not in this for popularity or because it’s just something that we’re going to do for a while.
We’re in this for the long haul. We’re in this until the disease is eradicated. We want to be the kind of people of faith who finish the job. So using the acrostic “FINISH,”
I want to suggest six ways that we can FINISH, how we can be a part of the beginning of the end of AIDS.
The “F” in this acrostic stands for the Faith Community because the faith community is needed now more than ever before. With government funds being cut,
and charitable giving going down, the role of the church has to expand. And what we bring to the table has never been more important than it is now. We bring, among many
other things, a distribution network. There are churches in almost every community on the planet and we will be there as the faith community long after government programs
change, or grants run out, or charitable organizations move on to another area. We also bring the highest motivation of all. The faith community brings the motivations of the
love of Jesus Christ. We do what we do because we love him. He says, “I love the least of these” and because I love him, I will love the least of these in his name.
It’s a motivation that nobody can top.
The “I” stands for Inspire. We need to inspire political will from the President of the United States on down. Years ago, President Bush started PEPFAR,
which stands for the “President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief,” which is the largest humanitarian aid for a single disease in US history. We have to engage all the parties,
all of the politicians, the Republicans, the Democrats, the Tea Partiests. We’ve got to have bi-partisan efforts to make them understand that the billions of dollars that are spent
will save lives, save millions of lives in the end.
“N” is We Need a Cure. We need a vaccine. We need a therapeutic vaccine. We need behavior change. We can’t just depend on a cure.
We can’t just depend on treating our way out of these infections even though there is this incredible news that is showing that when we treat people and get
their viral load down to undetectable, they don’t transmit the virus. The problem is that new infections still outstrip those on treatment. So there will still always
be a need for behavior change. The sexual ecology, the environment, still makes us all vulnerable to the next big disease. So we need a cure and we need behavior change.
I – We also need Information Distribution. We’ve got to make HIV a big deal again. It’s not a casual illness. It’s not like diabetes; it’s not like high
blood pressure; it’s not like having a migraine. It is an illness that will kill you and it can cause other people to die when we transmit the virus to them. It’s a big deal.
A single pill is not going to take care of this problem. It is a problem and we must see it as a problem, not a casual disease. We must use social media; we use every
means possible to get the news, to get the information out that AIDS is a big deal.
S –Speak up. Advocacy is crucial. We need to get the rich, the famous, and the powerful involved again. In the early years of the pandemic, anybody who was anybody
somehow got on the bandwagon. There were a lot of people who started big in caring for people who were HIV+. It has kind of fallen by the wayside as this cause becomes
popular, or this cause becomes popular. People just get tired. HIV has been around for like 30+ years and some people are just kind of tired of talking about it. But it hasn’t
gone away and it’s not going to go away. We have to get the people who are influencers talking about it again. My friend, Regan Hofman, says, “We have to get angry
and we have to make noise!”
H – Human rights. We have to fight the stigma. We have to encourage testing. We have to make sure that people get the right education. It’s appalling
to me when I talk to young people. I didn’t grow up in the era of HIV& AIDS. It came along after I was an adult. But for so many people who have not even known a world
without HIV, I would think that they would know so much about it. That they would be informed, that they would be knowledgeable, that they would know be able to talk
about it and know how it is transmitted. Yet, when I talk to so many young people, they don’t know. We’re failing in transmitting the information. We’re failing in giving
out what they need to know about HIV.
The church of Jesus Christ is known for finishing. We’re finishers. As Christians, that’s one of our goals - to finish the race of life, to finish this walk of faith.
To finish the character-building development that is taking place deep in our souls. We’re typically known as people who finish our commitments and keep
our promises. That’s right up the church’s alley. This is our sweet spot. This is what we’re good at.
The church must lead the way in finishing this fight against this evil virus. Why? Because we belong to a God who cares. He is fierce and fearless in his
compassion for us, and he asks us to be like him. Jesus gave a very clear and compelling example in the story of the Good Samaritan of how this is fleshed
out in Luke 10. It’s the story that many of us are so familiar with but it’s asks an essential question. The question is, “Who is my neighbor?”
In the story, the neighbor was a stranger in great need. Here is a man who takes a road on a journey and along that road he is accosted by robbers who
strip him naked, take everything he owns and leave him to die. And supposedly religious folks walk by him and leave him. It’s just like the story in the
news recently of a toddler in China who was run over by a car. Security cameras record at least 20 people walking by that baby, that toddler as she was
on the ground. You could see people looking at her and seeing that she was badly hurt. They would either step around her or they would go this direction,
or they would step over her and they walked by her. I don’t understand that. But Jesus tells us that that’s been the way we respond from the beginning of time.
Here in this story of the Good Samaritan, of the man who was left for dying on the street, and the religious people who walked past him. That little girl in China
eventually died even though somebody finally had the compassion to pick her up and take her to a hospital. In this story in Luke chapter 10, this outcast man,
he was a Samaritan and nobody cared about him. He was nobody in that society, so the religious people felt okay in ignoring him. But there was a man who
came and cared for this man, this Samaritan man came and cared for the injured man. He spent his time, he spent his money, he spent his effort to make sure
that this man got the help that he needed.
He represents the kind of people God asks us to be. Not worried about what other people will think, because let’s be honest. If somebody were to find out that
you were an advocate for people who were HIV+, there are some people that will say, “That’s really cool. That’s great. I think that’s awesome.” Some people
will say, “Hmm. Don’t really have an opinion one way or the other.” Then there are some other people who will say, “You’re what? An advocate for whom?
For people that are HIV+?” You know really clearly that they’re judging you and they’re judging the people who are sick. But those of us who are going to be
finishers, who are going to finish this task, cannot be worried about what other people think. We can’t be worried about how much money it’s going to cost. Yes,
it will cost our government money. It will cost us personally. It will cost our churches. It will. It will cost. We can’t be worried about that. We can’t be worried
about our reputation. We can’t be worried about the amount of time that it takes to show kindness, fearless, fierce, faithful compassion. I want to be a finisher.
This man in the story was that. He was a finisher. He stayed with the man that had been injured until he was well. We have to ask ourselves…will we be like that?
Will we be like those who walked by those who were in pain, those who were suffering, those who need us? Will we be like those who can’t be bothered because
it costs too much? Because it takes too much time? Because we’re worried about our reputation? Because we’ve just got other stuff we’re doing? Or will we be
like the Good Samaritan. Will we be finishers? Will we be part of ending this terrible scourge that has left more than 25 million people dead and left more than 15
million orphans? My answer is yes….we will…..we will be fearless in our compassion and we will finish the task!