December 1 is World AIDS Day, a time to remember the 34 million people in the world today living with HIV. Half a million have died in the US alone. More than two thirds of those living with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa where I have lived for many years. For every one person with the virus in the blood steam, weakening the immune system, countless others are affected—parents, children, friends, employers, employees, whole communities loosing economic power as wage earners become too ill to work. Anti-retroviral drugs have greatly extended the lives and health of people living with HIV, but the virus still presents huge challenges.
As much as 40% of fifteen- to forty-nine-year-olds in some regions of sub-Saharan Africa are infected. I have heard statistics as high as 70% in localized areas. Grandmothers who expected their grown children to care for them in their old age, instead are raising orphaned grandchildren. Children as young as five attempt to care for younger siblings on their own. These are not statistics. They are people like you and me with hopes and dreams like ours.
Long-time readers of this blog know my heart. In the late 1990s I began writing fiction for children and young people. In 2004 I found myself sitting on a plane next to a missionary to Uganda who worked with orphans. When she found out I had lived in Africa and wrote for children, she practically begged me to write something for children affected by HIV—something that would tell them they are not forgotten, that God has not abandoned them, that they are loved.
That conversation started my husband and me on a journey back to Africa where we lived for three years in the Johannesburg suburb of Kempton Park. I conducted story hours in an orphanage and after-school programs for vulnerable children in nearby Tembisa. I had begun figure skating as research for an earlier book and was thrilled to find a rink ten minutes from my new home. My two passions quickly meshed. What if a promising young South African figure skater was worried that people at the rink would find out her father had HIV? How would her family be affected? What would that do to her Olympic dreams?
Keeping Secrets is not just a skating story. Sindi’s love of skating represents everything that can be lost when a family is hit with this disease. It’s about how easy it is for all of us, not just people living with HIV and AIDS, to cut ourselves off from the very relationships we need because we are afraid that someone might find out the truth about us. We’re so concerned about preserving our image that we turn away from the help of those who care.
Surely the Church should be a safe place to share our pain and failure and find grace; a place where it is safe to say, “I’m struggling--with depression, with infertility, with pornography, with my marriage or whatever--and not be met with shocked expressions. It should be possible to say, “I have HIV,” and not be judged for how people assume (rightly or wrongly) that I got it. But is it?
On this World AIDS Day let’s remember with compassion our brothers and sisters who are living with HIV disease. Yes, our brothers and sisters. Christians have it too. Christians sin. Christians have unfaithful spouses who bring the virus home. And many who never considered Christ before, get a wake up call when they learn their status and seek the Savior who touched lepers and ate with sinners.
Let’s make World AIDS Day a day of prayer for people living with HIV and AIDS wherever they live.
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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