Helping Those With AIDS
“TOUCHED by AIDS, Minister Finds Doors Shut” was the title of an article in The New York Times. The newspaper related the story of a Baptist minister whose wife and two children became infected with the AIDS virus from a blood transfusion administered to her in 1982 (the children were infected in her womb). Subsequently, he and his family were discouraged from attending various Baptist churches because of the illness. Disillusioned, he stopped trying and quit the Baptist ministry.
This man’s frustration over the failure of his church raises several questions: Does God care for sick people, including those who have AIDS? How can they be helped? What precautions need to be taken when providing Christian solace for those with AIDS?
God’s Love for the Afflicted
The Bible shows that Almighty God expresses deep empathy for those who suffer. When on the earth, Jesus also displayed heartfelt pity for the sick. And God gave him the power to heal people of all their illnesses, as the Bible relates: “Great crowds approached him, having along with them people that were lame, maimed, blind, dumb, and many otherwise, and they fairly threw them at his feet, and he cured them.”—Matthew 15:30.
Of course, today God has not given anyone on earth the power to heal people miraculously as Jesus did. But Bible prophecy shows that soon, in God’s new world, “no resident will say: ‘I am sick.’” (Isaiah 33:24) The Bible promises: “[God] will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore.” (Revelation 21:4) In his great love for humans, God has prepared a permanent remedy for all ills, including AIDS.
Psalm 22:24 says of God: “He has neither despised nor loathed the affliction of the afflicted one; and he has not concealed his face from him, and when he cried to him for help he heard.” God’s love is available to those who sincerely call on him for help.
Who Contract the AIDS Virus?
AIDS is mainly a disease of life-style. Many infected people agree in retrospect with Psalm 107:17, which states: “Those who were foolish, due to the way of their transgression and due to their errors, finally caused themselves affliction.”
When a person abandons Bible standards and engages in sexual intimacy outside of God’s arrangement of marriage, the risk of contracting AIDS or infecting others becomes very real. Also, when individuals share needles to inject drugs intravenously, they can get AIDS and can pass the virus to others. Additionally, many have got AIDS by means of blood transfusions from infected donors.
Tragically, however, staggering numbers of innocent people are being infected with the AIDS virus, and in several ways. For example, many faithful marriage partners, through no fault of their own, are contracting AIDS through sexual intimacy with their infected mate. Then too, especially in some areas, an alarming percentage of babies are acquiring the AIDS virus from infected mothers, making the newborn baby with AIDS one of the most tragic of victims. Also, medical personnel and others have acquired the disease because of accidents when they were handling tainted blood.
In whatever way AIDS is acquired by someone, the Scriptures are clear that God is not responsible for the transmittal of this deadly disease. Although today the majority of those affected have brought AIDS on themselves and have infected others by conduct that is not in harmony with Bible standards, the percentages are changing, reflecting larger numbers of innocent victims, such as babies and faithful mates.
The World Health Organization states that women throughout the world are now becoming infected with the AIDS virus about as often as men and that by the year 2000, the majority of new infections will be in women. Health workers in Africa say that 80 percent of AIDS cases there “are transmitted by heterosexual sex, and nearly all the others are transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy or birth.”
However, while God is opposed to any transgression of his laws, including violations that result in such suffering, he is quick to extend his merciful hand to all who are thus afflicted. Even those who have acquired AIDS by wrongful acts can benefit from God’s mercy by repenting and ceasing to do what is bad.—Isaiah 1:18; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
What Is Known at Present
AIDS is a worldwide health problem. While scientists assure people that “HIV is not an easily transmissible virus,” it is small comfort to the millions who already have it and the countless millions who will get it in the years to come. The facts show that it is spreading throughout the earth.
Summarizing the usual methods of transmission, one authority says: “Virtually all HIV infections are transmitted through sexual contact or by exposure to infected blood.” Reflecting the conclusions of most in the medical profession, a report states: “For infection to occur, there must be an infusion of body fluid (almost always blood or semen) from an infected person into an uninfected person’s body.”
However, the phrases “virtually all” and “almost always” acknowledge the possibility of exceptions. So while the vast majority of the mechanisms for transmitting AIDS are known today by those in the medical field, in a very small percentage of cases, the mechanism for acquiring the virus may be unknown. Hence, there may still be need for caution.
How Will You React?
Some 12 million to 14 million people around the world are already infected with the AIDS virus. And estimates are that many millions more will be infected by the turn of the century. Thus, you have likely, or may soon, come into the company of those who have this disease. For example, in any large city, casual contact with such people occurs daily in workplaces, restaurants, theaters, sports arenas, buses, subways, airplanes, and trains, as well as in other public encounters.
So, increasingly, Christians may meet, and be moved to help, AIDS sufferers who want to study the Bible, attend Christian meetings, and progress toward dedication to God. How should Christians respond to these needs of the AIDS victims? Are there precautions that would be practical for the benefit of the sufferer and for those in the Christian congregation?
Based on the current consensus, casual contact does not transmit AIDS. So it seems reasonable that one need not be unduly fearful of being around people with AIDS. And since AIDS sufferers have a dramatically weakened immune system, we ought to be careful that they do not contract common viral infections that we might harbor. The damage to their body from such common illnesses may be great.
Because of the life-threatening nature of AIDS, it is wise to keep in mind some reasonable precautions when welcoming an AIDS sufferer into our personal association or that of the Christian congregation. First, while no general announcement is to be made, we may want to inform one of the elders in the congregation of the situation so that he would be prepared to give a kind and appropriate response to any who may inquire about the matter.
Since the virus can be transmitted by an infected person’s blood, it may be reasonable for congregations to practice what are called universal precautions when cleaning rest rooms and spills, especially if blood is involved in the spill. “Universal precautions” is a term adopted by the medical profession to describe a set of rules whereby all blood from any person is considered contaminated and potentially hazardous and is therefore handled in a specific way. Because the Kingdom Hall is a public facility, it might be wise to have on hand cleaning supplies with a box of Latex or vinyl gloves available to provide proper care and cleanup in case of an accident. A 10 percent bleach (Clorox) solution is generally recommended for cleaning up blood spills.
In all our dealings with others, including AIDS victims, Christians are instructed to follow the example of Jesus. The compassion he had for those who were afflicted, and yet were sincere in their desire to please God, is worthy of our imitation. (Compare Matthew 9:35-38; Mark 1:40, 41.) However, since there is currently no cure for AIDS, it is appropriate that a Christian take reasonable precautions as he provides sympathetic help to those who suffer from it.—Proverbs 14:15.
AIDS Victims Can Also Help
The prudent AIDS sufferer realizes that others are sensitive about this disease. Therefore, out of respect for the feelings of those who want to be of assistance, it would be better for the AIDS victim not to initiate public displays of affection such as hugging and kissing. Even if there is little or no possibility that such gestures could communicate the disease, this restraint will show that the victim is considerate of others, thus engendering similar consideration in return.*
Realizing that many have fears of the unknown, the person with AIDS should not be quick to take offense if he or she is not invited to private homes right away or if it seems that a parent restricts a child from being in close contact with him or her. And if one of the Congregation Book Studies is held at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, it may be wise for one with AIDS to choose to attend there, rather than in a private home, unless that one has discussed the situation with the householder.
AIDS carriers should also exercise cautious concern for others when, for example, they have an active productive cough and are known to have tuberculosis. They would then want to apply community health guidelines regarding this condition as respects isolation procedures.
Another situation in which an innocent person could become infected is by marrying someone who is unknowingly harboring the AIDS virus. The need for caution in such circumstances may be particularly necessary if one or both of the intended marriage partners had been promiscuous or had used needles to abuse drugs prior to coming to an accurate knowledge of God’s Word. Since there is a growing number of people who have asymptomatic HIV infection (that is, no outward symptoms as yet), it would not be improper for an individual or for caring parents to request an AIDS blood test of the prospective mate prior to engagement or marriage. Because of the devastating, fatal nature of this disease, a potential marriage partner should not take offense if that request is made.
If the test proves to be positive, it would be inappropriate for the infected party to pressure the intended mate to continue the courtship or engagement if the prospective mate now wishes to end the relationship. And it would be wise for anyone who previously lived a high-risk life-style, was promiscuous or used drugs intravenously, to choose voluntarily to be tested before beginning a courtship. In this way, hurt feelings could be avoided.
Thus, as Christians we want to act with compassion and not shun people who have AIDS, recognizing, however, that individual feelings may vary on this sensitive subject. (Galatians 6:5) With a disease such as AIDS, not everything is known, so there may be some hesitation on the part of many in dealing with the issues involved. A balanced view of the matter would be to continue to welcome AIDS victims into the Christian congregation and to show love and warmth to them, while at the same time taking reasonable precautions to protect ourselves and our families from the disease.
What should a person who knows he or she has AIDS do when he or she wants to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and get baptized? Out of respect for the feelings of others, it may be wise for them to request a private baptism, although there is no evidence to suggest that AIDS has been transmitted in swimming pools. While many first-century Christians were baptized at large public gatherings, others were baptized in more private settings because of varying circumstances. (Acts 2:38-41; 8:34-38; 9:17, 18) Another alternative would be for the candidate with AIDS to be baptized last.
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My Heart Went Out to Her
One day while I was in the public ministry, I approached a young woman about 20 years of age. Her big brown eyes looked so sad. In trying to start a conversation about God’s Kingdom, I offered her one of the tracts I had in my hand. Without hesitation she chose Comfort for the Depressed. She looked at the tract and then looked at me and said in a hollow voice: “My sister just died from AIDS.” Before I finished expressing my sympathy, she said: “I am dying from AIDS too, and I have two small children.”
My heart went out to her, and I read to her from the Bible about the future that God has promised mankind. She blurted out: “Why would God care about me now when I have never cared about him?” I told her that from a study of the Bible, she would come to understand that God welcomes everyone who sincerely repents and comes to trust in him and in his Son’s ransom sacrifice. She responded: “I know who you are. You are from the Kingdom Hall down the street—but would a person like me be welcome in your Kingdom Hall?” I assured her that she would be.
When she finally continued on her way, clutching the book The Bible—God’s Word or Man’s? and her tract, I thought, ‘I hope she finds the comfort that only God can give.’