How Faith Compels Religious Leaders and their Faith Communities – Rev Veikko Munyika
At the outset this paper is about theological practices inspired by faith on matters such as HIV and AIDS. Today Christian mission and ministry are challenged how to preach the Word of God to people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS and how Christian ministry is administered in times of HIV and AIDS. Therefore in this paper I shall concentrate on how our faith compels us to be engaged in the ministries of HIV and AIDS. I shall now address various aspects from biblical, theological, pastoral, and ethical perspectives.
Faith and its response to the HIV and AIDS epidemic
As Christians or people of the Bible we are not ashamed of the word of God or the Gospel (Rom. 1:16-17). It is our food (Rev 10:8ff) and the power of God to save all who believe (Rom.1:16). In his Word, God addresses us and communicates the good news to us. He reveals his nature, attitude towards us, his intentions and actions past, present and future. The Word of God therefore, comes to us as a living voice of the gospel. The Gospel is the primary source of the word of God and is contained in the Bible. But we also know that God comes to us in other different forms such as in sermons, music, liturgy, prayers, poems, films, movies, and the mass-media. Whatever form it takes though, the Word of God serves as a means or vehicle bringing God to us. God does not only speak to us, but we actually meet him in his Word.
To put it differently, the content of the Word of God is the living Gospel, the good news. It is “good news” because it teaches us that (i) God is the Creator who is present and charge of the whole reality and that (ii) this God is for us (Rom. 8:31). Although this is just a promise, the Word of God teaches us that this promise is true and should be trusted and accepted! Although this promise can shape our lives right here and now, most of it points to the future and remains in the process of being realized.
To say that the Word of God is a living voice is to suggest that when we hear and receive it the Word makes an impact on us, causing us to respond. Such a response to the Word of God is called faith. For the Triune God in Jesus Christ to come into the situation of sinful human beings is, indeed grace, it is good news. For human beings to accept God in his Word is an act of faith. Faith is the means by which we acquire salvation. And Lutherans are well known for their emphasis on the view that salvation is received by grace alone through faith alone. The interdependence of grace and faith may thus be expressed this way: grace creates faith, faith accepts grace. In short, faith is a trust in God’s promises, a commitment to clink to the promises of God even when life become very difficult as it is in the era of the HIV and AIDS epidemic. Faith is a resolution to follow the example of Christ, and carry the cross, no matter what. It is a strong and public nevertheless (Ps 73:23). An act of faith is an act of entrusting one’s life to the God proclaimed in the Word of God. Such a faith results from hearing the Word of God which, in fact, as we said earlier, creates it in us.
At the same time such faith has to address contemporary issues, more specifically the ministry of HIV and AIDS. Today, we need both grace to create faith in us, and faith to accept the grace of God. By grace, God accepts us as we are. This means, he welcomes and forgives us and by so doing, liberates us from our past. This creates faith in us, by which we trust God and entrust ourselves to his promises. Again we see here how faith is important in the ministry of HIV and AIDS. This faith will serve as a motivational force in us to share this good news with others who share the same experience with us, infected and affected by HIV and AIDS.
Faith becomes very important here because it helps us to accept this promise, live by it right here and now, and plan our future around it. “If God is for us” and we believe it, “who can be against us?” Can HIV and AIDS, stigma and discrimination separate us from this love and commitment of God? Faith tells us, never! Faith helps us not to give in to temptations and affliction. We stick it out with God and his promises.
Faith in God means trusting God or entrusting ourselves to God through believing the promises made in his Word, that God is for us. In Jesus Christ, God demonstrated that he is, indeed Immanuel. This means, God is not only for us, but also with us. If God is for us and with us, this also means, he is not against us. Faith tells us that surely, God’s presence works in our favour. To entrust our lives in God, is to choose God above something or somebody else. Some people put their trust in ancestors, the power of sorcery, demons, witchcraft, possessions, money, power, even in themselves. Of course what or who you put your trust in becomes the power that controls you, in fact, your god. Many have done or are doing so under the threat of HIV and AIDS. Faith tells us to teach and confess that we should not have gods besides the Creator who is in charge.
The basis of faith in God is important and must be spelled out as such. Many would expect faith to yield fruit right now. For Christians what is important is what is hoped for. For others, faith looks at the past and the present. For Christians, it looks to the future with God. The danger of relying on the past or present lies in that what we experience is not what is promised by the Word of God. Reality is experienced as a mixture of blessings and curses. Judging from our daily experience such as poverty, natural disasters and diseases, many are not sure anymore, who this God is or whether his intentions are indeed good or bad, or whether we have not really been fooled into empty promises. For the people who are suffering from HIV and AIDS and for those who have been stigmatized and discriminated, these are natural questions resulting from their suffering and pain. They are natural responses to suffering, just as Jesus cried out to his Father “why have you forsaken me.” When people ask such questions, we should try to understand and feel with them.
Fortunately, faith looks not to our present experience, but beyond it, to the promises of God. It is based on the crucified Christ. Believers look, not at the world, but at what God wants to do in them, through them and among them. Therefore, faith is in direct conflict with what is being experienced. It is a protest! Faith refuses to doubt whether God is for us and whether his intentions are good. That God is for us has been demonstrated in the life of Christ, who not only suffered, but also died ‘for us’ (pro nobis). Faith is, therefore an unending battle against our daily experiences, especially hardship, suffering and misery. But, it is also an uphill battle against affliction, the very “impression that God does not care; that he has turned against us; or that he does not even exist and we have been fooled by empty promises.” 
With regard to temptations, suffering and affliction, faith draws our attention to the gospel which tells us of the intentions and redemptive actions of God, even if they are hidden from us. Faith dictates that we accept the hard fact that ‘God acts’ redemptively even through meaninglessness, humiliation, hardship and death. This means, even in our suffering from HIV and AIDS, or stigma and discrimination, God is able to act, either through us towards others, or through others towards us. That is how faith involves us in the plight of people living with HIV or affected by AIDS.
Faith has liberating power. It liberates us from all kinds of bondage. As human beings, we are part and parcel of the vast network of relationships and dependencies from which we cannot be independent. The Bible teaches that we are created in the image of God. This means we share in God’s authority over the world. As a matter of fact, we are God’s representatives on earth. But at the same time, as God’s representative we cannot achieve this liberation all on our own. We need to have a share in God’s freedom from the world and his authority over it. This is completely possible because we bear the image of God and everything required to achieve this status.
The issue of being God’s representatives brings us to the issue of responsibility. In regard to our responsibility for the world we are serviceable servants to everyone. No one can be responsible if not free also. Freedom presupposes responsibility. Some people are imprisoned by things such as cultures, expectations, and peer groups. One may be enslaved by own history or history of family, own desires, sexual urges, alcohol, drugs or diseases such as HIV. This is called fatalism. Fatalism becomes even dangerous when people involved ascribe their helplessness and hopelessness to God and take it as divinely ordained. Faith overcomes fatalism. An undesirable situation can be challenged and changed (James 1:12-18).
Change can be brought about by God’s action through us. Actually, the actions of God empower ours. God acts redemptive through us. Accordingly to two Lutheran theologians, Klaus Nürnberger and Simon Maimela, God acts redemptively through humans. This means that we participate in God’s own freedom, authority and creativity. We should not wait for God to solve our social problems, but must believe that our faith in God motivates us, and gives us enough reason to get involved in changing our own situations or those of others. What God does promotes and enables our involvement.
In this regard, Luther saw God as the primary cause of events (causa principalis), and humans as instrumental cause (causa instrumentalis), meaning that we can only act because God does. It is not true therefore, that there is a contradiction between faith and medication for instance, as some churches have it. By faith, we see and believe that life-saving medication is part of the answer of God to the many questions about HIV and AIDS as a life-threatening epidemic. We also believe that the HIV and AIDS epidemic will not last for ever, because our God is at work, in search of the necessary and better drugs through the scientists. Another break through is quite possible. Faith tells us that it is not a question of whether or not there will be another break through, but a question of when it will happen. Both God and we are responsible, only levels are different. We have to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God who is at work in you, empowering you both to will and to do according to his good pleasure” (Phili.2:12f). Faith requires our full participation, whether as scientists, theologians, laity, people infected and affected with HIV and AIDS, and many other categories. Each one of us has a contribution to make. Such contributions are made from the perspectives of faith. I shall now address the centrality of our faith in regard to HIV and AIDS.
Faith makes us share the intentions of God for the world
Who God is and what his intentions are for us is revealed in scriptures. We believe that ‘God is for us’, with us and not against us (Romans 8:31). In faith we see that His eternal intentions and plans for us are always good, in spite of our daily experiences that seem to contradict them. Both the Old and New Testaments pay tribute to the fact that God’s original plan is for human beings and the entire creation to enjoy life. In Jeremiah 29:11, God assures the faithful: “For I know the plans I have for you…They are plans for good and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Likewise, “I have come in order that you might have life – life in all its fullness” (John 10:10).
The Bible is clearly united on these good intentions of God and our participation in them. Our participation in the plan of God is an act of faith. Already in Genesis God is presented as busy creating an environment conducive for us human beings to enjoy complete wellness in the garden full of life-sustaining fruit. God has put everything necessary in the right place at the right time, for us before creating human beings who are the primary beneficiaries of the project. But he remains present in his creation, creating and sustaining it. So, our involvement and tackling of social challenges such as poverty and the HIV and AIDS epidemic is joining God in his project to transform the world into a better place for us all to live in. Faith compels us to get involved and make our contribution.
Faith compels us to accept that the presence of God in our concrete situation will translate directly into the experience of “life in all its fullness”, salvation (John 10:10). This is shalom, soteria, comprehensive wellbeing and the kingdom of God for which we pray “to come” (Lk 11:2). Praying alone is, of course, not enough. It is necessary that we join God in his redemptive activities. We do not only pray, we also engage in activities to bring about human well being, beginning by, for instance, fighting stigma and discrimination, gender inequality and women exploitation. We are deeply involved because we are motivated by our faith in God. Faith dictates that with God on our side, we must remain hopeful that this is possible. (Hebrews 1:11). As a matter of fact, there are already many signs that victory has been won to a certain degree. This is quite true, especially if we attribute break through such as in medical science on HIV and AIDS. According to S Maimela, “even though divine acts are not transparent, the believer, in faith, still sees a birth of child, a healing of illness, an escape from accident, or a loaf of bread on the table as blessings from the hand of the Creator and Sustainer.” In short, we believe that in the face of HIV and AIDS we shall never be defeated. I now turn to this aspect.
Faith refuses to accept the sky-rocketing HIV and AIDS statistics
God created every single person for a purpose, we believe. Every person is offered an opportunity to enjoy life in its fullness and in relation to God and to the rest of creation. Our life-span is, according to scriptures not less than 70 years. The presence of HIV and AIDS makes this nearly impossible. In many countries, life expectancy has been reduced almost by half. So many people are dying, leaving behind scores of orphans, widows and widowers. Church leaders and communities are so busy with mourners and funerals to the point of being burnt out from exhaustion.
Today, statistics are shocking! By the end of 2008, people living with HIV worldwide reached an estimated 33.4 million. New infections were 2.7 million. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most heavily affected region, accounting for 71% of all new HIV infections. The estimated number of AIDS related deaths in 2008 is 2 million. An estimated 430 000 new infections occurred among children under the age of 15 in 2008, most of them stemming from transmission in utero, during delivery or post-partum as a result of breastfeeding. Much has been achieved, but the epidemic is still far ahead of us, because, for every two people put on life-saving medication, five others get infected. Once again, such statistics are shocking but our faith is not paralyzed.
This is a serious challenge to our faith in God, his love, his grace and his good intentions which we share. Exactly because of our faith in God and his promises, we refuse to accept this condition or allow it to direct our thoughts and actions. Faith motivates us to put on a rebellious attitude against our daily experience and fight back. It compels us to be available to and get involved in the situation of those who suffer. Faith in God, according to Karen Bloomqvist “impels us to respond with love toward any human being in need, especially those who suffer … Churches are called to act out of the heart of Lutheran theology, out of justification by grace through faith… Justification by grace through faith (is) understood as the fundamental basis for the churches to oppose and work to counter all kinds of discrimination, ostracism and exclusion which continue to kill people.” 
Christian faith creates in us an urge to get involved in the project of God to transform situation of those infected with HIV, suffering from AIDS, those stigmatized or marginalized, the orphans and the widows. As believers we believe it is our moral duty to mitigate the effects of AIDS on individuals, families and communities. In short, faith makes us very uncomfortable as we are confronted with such shocking statistics of the HIV and AIDS epidemic casualties. At this stage we ought to ask the theological-ethical question: What should we do?
Faith protests against our daily experience
Our understanding and expectations to have the presence of God in our situation translate directly into the experience of salvation (shalom) is constantly challenged by our unpleasant daily experience of hardship and suffering. Our faith in God is challenged by the presence of natural disasters, dangerous viruses such as the HIV and diseases including AIDS, by stigma and discrimination experienced by the infected and the affected. HIV and AIDS in particular continue to push us back and forth between the harsh and negative experiences of HIV and AIDS on the one hand and the divine promise of the Word of God on the other. Our experience with HIV and AIDS is malevolent so much that some people are literally forced to think that God does not care, or that he has turned against us, or that he does not even exist and we have been thoroughly fooled into empty promises.
But biblical witnesses insist and faith dictates that ours is a benevolent God and that every person is precious to him like the very apple of his own eye (Zechariah 2:8 cf. Ps.17:8, Deut. 32:1)! Thus, in spite of our daily contradictory experience, faith teaches that God is for us and he care for our wellbeing. So, in faith, we do not look at or act according to the directives of the HIV and AIDS epidemic or any other challenges for that matter. We respond to our daily experience guided by the overarching goal of God’s original plan. Faith enables us to avail ourselves to him to accomplish what he wants to do in us, through us and among us, namely the transformation of our experienced reality. Next to the issue of protesting faith we find the affirmation that God has faith in us. That is a word of comfort and we now look into this aspect.
Faith helps us realize that God has faith in us
God created us humans and graciously appointed human beings as his co-creators and agents of its transformation. This act of God is a demonstration of his basic trust or faith in us. So, with Maimela we affirm that “God has appointed us to this unique position because of the faith our Creator has in us.”  God has been, since the beginning and by grace, willing to share his intentions, power, and authority with human beings to bring his project of creation to completion. For instance, God gave human beings a task to name other finite creatures (Gen. 2:19-20), multiply, fill the earth and have dominion over it (Gen. 2:28), till the garden and take care of it (Gen 2:15). When the world is infected with HIV and is dying of AIDS, this faith and trust of God in humans, compels our leaders and their communities, to spare no effort, but get involved in every step in the implementation of the project of God to create and sustain the world and make it a better and safer place for all to happily live in. This is a divine honour no one wants to miss or God’s blessings upon the human race.
God’s faith in human beings directly translated into a lasting partnership between the Triune God and us humans. As God continues to create, sustain and direct the world, he does so in partnership with us. The Bible presents God as a missional God who trusts human beings and enjoys partnering with them. Thus he calls us, liberates us, empowers and involves us in his mission to achieve the total wellbeing of his creation (Gen 1:26-31; Eph.2:10). God involves us in making sure that “life in its fullness” is being experienced. This we do in our different vocations whether theologians or scientists. Different gifts are bestowed on individuals for the benefit and wellbeing of all. So, we believe God trusts us and acts through our different gifts and with Nürnberger conclude that “God’s action does not make our action superfluous … it makes our action possible. God’s responsibility does not obviate our responsibility … it arouses our responsibility. God’s initiative does not smother our initiative … it prompts our initiative. God does not enslave us … he liberates and empowers us.” 
God did not only appoint us, he also gave us the ability necessary to effectively participate in his project. Human beings have the ability to create culture. So, faith compels us to be involved for it tells us that we have the necessary tools to tackle any problem that comes our way, be it HIV or AIDS.
At the same time, God has given us a free will to make chooses. Humans can therefore choose to destroy others and themselves like Samson in the Bible (Judges 16:23-31), or to save the world and themselves. (Mat.1:21). That is why faith is necessary, in order for us to create according to the master plan which God has provided. Human ability to create and further history is known as the Imago Dei, the image of God. Because of our belief that God has given us the necessary ability and he actually empowers us, we feel determined to participate in God’s creative activities through research, education, diakonia, health services, sermons, prayers, feeding programmes, anti-stigma initiatives, etc. Some or many of these do not require too much money, but our willingness to promote the intentions of God (Heb 2:6-11, Ps 8). It is with such faith that we are engaged in theological practices that matter and our faith dictates us for such engagement. We now turn to this aspect of our engagement.
Faith persuades us to trust God and be engaged
Our involvement with the world challenges such as the HIV and AIDS epidemic are thus results of our faith in God whom we believe to be a merciful and gracious Father, in spite of experiences of injustices and brokenness of human community. Faith in God is our grounds for our involvement. Our faith “sees God as the other side of (experienced) life” … “even though divine acts are not transparent, the believer, in faith still sees a birth of a child, a healing of illness, an escape from an accident, or a loaf of bread on the table as blessings from the hand of God.” 
We have faith in God. This faith in God as the Creator of the world leads to us to the conclusion that, in spite of what we experience, God is the source of our comfort and hope because he is in charge. Faith dictates that, if God is in charge, we are safe. I illustrate this with a short story:
A family was travelling by boat across the sea. While right in the middle, there was a storm and the father who was piloting had a very hard time controlling the boat. The wife was terrified and cried out aloud for help. But the son was asleep as if nothing was happening. When the storm got even stronger and there were signs that the board could capsize at any moment, the mother tried to wake her son up, crying: we are going to die! We are going to die! The son, still lying down, opened his eyes and asked his mother. “who is piloting?” When the mother replied: “your father”, the boy went to sleep again. Finally the storm stopped and the family was saved.
Faith persuades us to believe that, if God Our Father is indeed in charge, victory is assured. So, our involvement in the ministry of HIV and AIDS includes teaching and promoting this trust in God. Whatever our situation might be, infected or affected, even when rejected and marginalized, we must insist that God is able to save us. We must continue to affirm the words of Ps 23 “The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need.” With such faith we are send into the world to be Christ-like and that means the following.
Faith compels us to imitate the life and follow the teaching of Christ
As Christians and people of faith, our values are inspired and guided by Holy Scriptures, by Christian traditions, teaching, theological thoughts, pastoral letters, liturgical celebrations, but especially by the life and teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. About his coming and descent in human history he said: “I have come that you may have life – life in its abundance” (John 10:10). We want to follow his example, teaching and adopt his ‘attitude’ of humility and concern for the interests of others, not only our own (Phil. 2:1-8). If Christ has been available for us, we must be available for others, especially in difficult times.
Jesus Christ identified with human suffering. He gave his own life in order for us sinners to have life in its fullness. This attitude and love towards others is a compelling and motivating power for many Christians to get their hands dirty in tackling the HIV and AIDS epidemic for the sake of other’s life. In fact, our involvement is a way of fulfilling the commandment of love as Jesus Christ taught us to love not only our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength but also our neighbor as we love ourselves (Luke. 10:27).
The intentions of Jesus Christ, his attitude and actions were aiming at one thing, for God’s people to enjoy the whole of salvation (shalom in Hebrew), comprehensive wellbeing or life in its totality. So, he preached the good news of salvation – understood as life in its fullness – for everyone who believes. He forgave sins, healed the sick without stigma (Mark 1:32). He embraced the stigmatized and the excluded such as people who were living with leprosy (Mark 1:40-42). He washed the feet of his disciples and served God’s people with deep humility and compassion. He invited all his followers to be compassionate. These examples and many others from the life and teaching of Christ, inspire us to get involved in the HIV ministry.
Most of the concerns and directives of Jesus Christ are found in the parables he taught. In the parable of the prodigal son, or the forgiving father, he teaches on repentance, inclusive acceptance, and unconditional forgiveness (Luke 15:11-24). When Jesus was criticized for associating with sinners and outcasts, he argued in defence: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick” (Mat.9:10-12). Jesus did not exclude the marginalized or judge the stigmatized, such as the woman “caught in adultery” (John 8:7). In fact, he protected that woman from the community which stigmatized and almost stoned her. In the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’ Jesus teaches us to come to the aid of those who are robbed, beaten and left to die, even under dangerous conditions, without expecting a reward for it (Luke 10:). “The church is called to be a prophetic voice and a healing institution as part of the journey to fight stigma and discrimination.” 
According to Jesus, we will be blessed if we feed the hungry, if we give water to the thirsty, accommodate the strangers, clothe the naked, take care of the sick, visit the prisoners, because, as Jesus himself puts it, whatever one does “for the least among my brothers and sisters, you did to me” (Mat. 25:31-46). We are members of the one body of Christ called to share the suffering of all those who suffer and new life of Christ with them. We are ‘bound together’ “such that the suffering and challenge of some are shared by all”. I extend and end this sub-heading with a brief discussion on one of the most well-known principles of Christian living known as the “golden rule”.
Faith compels us to live by the “The Golden Rule”
In discussing the need for mutual accompaniment and support in the era of the HIV and AIDS epidemic, Martti Lindqvist reminds believers to uphold the principle of the “golden rule” laid down by Jesus Christ. Humans are relational beings. “Everyone has a share in the same humanity.” Therefore, “the fate of each person affects our own in the same way.” We share, not only our inherent human dignity, but also responsibility for it when being violated. “We have to learn to view the world (and life) through the other person’s eyes and to experience genuinely his or her part in his or her life situation”. The HIV and AIDS epidemic challenges us, not only to share the experience of the infected and the affected, but also to do unto them exactly what we would expect them to do to us if we ourselves were in their positions. “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the Law and the prophets” (Mat.7:12). The Law finds it summary in the double commandment of Love: Love you God and love your neighbour (Rom.13:9-10).
At an emotional level, it is about being able to enter into another person’s experience, to show empathy. This is the essence of ‘the golden rule’ which urges us to do unto others that which we would have them do unto us, and to refrain from doing that which we would not wish to be done to us. Placing oneself in the other person’s position makes it possible to abide by the golden rule in practice.” “This command calls on Jesus’ followers to suffer with the sufferers and actively take measures to ‘right the wrongs that course suffering.” The golden rule brings us right back to the criterion put down by Jesus Christ for the final judgment in Mathew 35:31-46. The measurement stick is serving the or no serving those in need, the thirsty, the hungry, the sick etc. “Whenever you refused to help one of these least important ones”, says Jesus, “you refused to help me.” Thus, for Mother Teresa “a needful person is ‘Christ in his distressing disguise’”. We are now in the position to address one aspect we have thus far left in suspense, namely theological anthropology.
Faith affirms the worth and dignity of every person
It is our Christian understanding that God stands in loving solidarity with human beings, especially those who are abandoned, mistreated, stigmatized, and discriminated against. This sacred value of a human being is a gift from God to every human being, known as the Image of God, which must be acknowledged, respected and protected. Our involvement with HIV and AIDS is meant to do just that. Donald E Messer argues that “To treat any person as less than valuable or as somehow disposable is to offend God. It is to deny the special sacredness of every human life. Stigma and discrimination are blasphemous actions against God as well as individual persons. God is in cognito in every person.”
The story of the Good Samaritan invites each one of us to get involved in redemptive actions towards others, especially those who are suffering. Calle Almedal, in an email to Ray Martin, related a contemporary paraphrase of the same story as quoted by Donald Messer:
A HIV and AIDS afflicted person fell into a pit and couldn’t get himself out. A pharisaic fundamentalist came along and said: “You deserve your pit.” A psychologist came along and said, “Accept your pit. That way you will be happy.” An apostate liberal came along and said: “Your pit is God’s beautiful gift to you.” An activist came along and said: “Fight for your right to stay in your pit.” A researcher came along and said: “Discrimination against pits is illegal.” A charismatic came along and said: “Just confess that you’re not in the pit.” Respectable people along and said: “We don’t associate with pit-dwellers.” His mother came along and said: “It’s your father’s fault you’re in that pit.” His father came along and said: “It’s your mother’s fault you’re in that pit.” Moralists came and said, “It’s the fault of the company of friends you kept all these days. But Jesus, seeing the man, loved him, and reaching into the pit, put his arms around the man, pulled him out and said: “Come my friend, share your painful story.
We must be involved with the HIV ministry, because we want to further the attitude and further the actions of Jesus. We want to listen to the stories of those who are stigmatized and discriminated against and literally join them in creating hope for them. Rejecting stigma does not cost too much but it creates space for hope. In fact, it is far more expensive to deal with the effects of stigma and discrimination than preventing it and dealing with the consequences of hope. I now move to my concluding discussion of this article, which is hope.
Faith evokes hope in believers
Faith, hope and love constitute the trinity of Christian virtues according to St Paul in 1 Cor.13:13. Although “the greatest of these is love” faith and hope are equally important, especially with regard to every day challenges such as the HIV and AIDS epidemic. Suffering looks back, worry looks around, faith looks up and forward and evokes hope. Hope creates space for us to do our best and for God to do the rest. God acts in history directing and leading it towards its final goal, the Kingdom of God. Faith teaches that this is an ongoing activity of God which does not stop, as can be gathered from the names by which God is known. The names by which God is known in scriptures affirm his ever presence in past history of his people, in the here and now and the in future of and among his people. God’s names: “I AM WHOM I AM” (Ex. 3:14); “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” (Rev. 22:13) indicate that he is all-encompassing, gives us a clue that God does not change, especially regarding his love and intentions for us. God is also known as “who is and who was and who is to come” and “The same yesterday, today and for ever” (Heb. 13:8). The very content of these names create in believers, not only faith, but also hope. And as Shakespear once said: “The miserable have no other medicine … only hope”
So, God has always been present, is present and faith and hope dictate that he will be present in the future. This presence means that he takes care of the present and the future just as he took care of the past. When the world shouts: “Give up”, hope whispers, “Don’t”!
Risto Ahonen teaches that “Christian faith, in its entirety, is clearly future-oriented”. This means, Christians are people of hope. “Hope is based on God’s promises of blessing, protection and guidance in human life”. Faith is trust and caries the same meaning as hope. “Faith is,” according to George Iles, “faith holding its hand in the dark.” Believers should be channels of hope and the “the church should be in the role of carriers of hope” among the most marginalized of society. Faith creates hope in the life of those who have lost all hope under severe conditions, and then recreate their human dignity and self-esteem. In other words, faith creates hope, hope creates in them new life. New life of Christ encourages the sufferer “to struggle for the improvement of his or her own living conditions.”. Hope opens, as it were, a window of hope into the future of God, for “the breaking of eternal life into the present” (Tim.2:13, Luke 22:16). It gives those trapped in bad conditions wings to fly over the problems they are experiencing. Hope is the bread of those infected with HIV and those affected by AIDS. It is their medicine.
Christians are people of faith and faith is trust in God. We sincerely believe that God is for us and his plans are good. We hold on to this conviction by faith. Faith serves as a motivating factor for Christians to reject any suggestion from inside or outside that God’s love has been reduced to a lower level by the existence of HIV and AIDS in our midst and that God cares less about us, humans. There are many challenges resulting from the HIV and AIDS epidemic. Faith challenges us to face them, following the teaching and example of Jesus Christ.
So, the church has no choice, but to follow the footsteps of the Master. Faith persuades us to capitalize on that reality of being a follower of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the church is not only mandated, it is also expected to be involved in challenging and transforming situations such as the one posed by the HIV and AIDS epidemic. Faith serves as a pull-factor, for all members of the body of Christ, to get involved in responding to the HIV and AIDS pandemic, believing that it cannot last for ever. It gives us hope. There must be a breakthrough and in our faith in God we declare so.
Faith keeps believers focused on the positive, trusting God and taking him at His Word. The faithful, in spite of the hardship, remain hopeful that there will be a solution to the challenge being experienced. We continue to ‘pray and work’ in the understanding that the two are neither contradictory nor mutually exclusive. Following the advice of St Ignatius of Loyola we continue to “pray as if everything depended on God, and work as if everything depended on” us.
Ahonen, R A, 2006. Mission in the New Millennium. Helsinki:FELM.
Ahonen, R A, 2008. “The Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission and the Future” in:
Hovila-Helminen, L. From Faith To Action. The Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission FELM: Helsinki, 1859-2009.
Benedict Schubert, 2005. The Art ort of Preaching, in God breaks the Silence: Preaching in Times of AIDS LWF: Medienhaus Plump GmbH, Rheinbreitbach
LWF 2004. “Bound Together” in Report of the LWF European Church Leadership HIV/AIDS Consultation. Odessa, Ukraine, April 2004.
Maimela S, 1984. God’s Creative Activity through the Law: A constructive statement toward a theology of transformation. University of South Africa: Pretoria
Moras B, 2005. “Introduction” in Sharing the Fullness of Life:
Health Policy of the Catholic Church in India. Commission for Healthcare Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India: New Delhi
Munyika V et al (eds), 2005. Challenging the Current understanding around HIV and AIDS: An African Christian Perspectives. Nairobi: Starbright.
Munyika V, 2005. A Holistic Soteriology for an African Lutheran Church.
Cluster Publication: Pietermaritzburg
Nürnberger, K, 2005. Martin Luther’s message for us today: A perspective from the South. Cluster Publication: Pietermaritzburg
Rissanen, S, 2009.n “Introduction: Called to Participate in God’s Mission” in:
Hovila-Helminen, L. From Faith To Action. The Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission
1859-2009. , pp. 9-12. FELM: Helsinki: Senturiuas Erlinda.
 Nürnberger, Klaus, 2005. Martin Luther’s message for us today: A perspective from the South
(Cluster Publication: Pietermaritzburg: Cluster Publication), 4
 Ibid., 44
 Ibid., 45
 Maimela S, 1984. God’s Creative Activity through the Law: A constructive statement toward a theology of transformation (Pretoria: University of South Africa), p. 201.
 Ibid., 165
 UNAIDS Outlook Report, 2010:7
 LWF 2004. “Bound Together” in Report of the LWF European Church Leadership HIV/AIDS Consultation.Odessa, Ukraine, April 2004, pp. 4-11.
 Maimela, God’s Creative Activity, 165.
 Nürnberger, Martin Luther’s message for us today, 215
 Maimela, God’s Creative Activity, 165
 Bible study from Mozambique in One Body Vol. 2, p.23
 Report of the LWF European Church Leadership HIV/AIDS Consultation, 5.
 “Ethics of Care and Medical Practice in their social context: HIV and AIDS pandemic as a challenge to unjust and inhuman values, Attitudes and policies” in Challenging the Current Understanding around HIV and AIDS: An African Christian Perspective. (Nairobi: Daystar University), p. 167.
 Munyika V, 2004, A holistic Soteriology in an African Context, (Pietermaritzburg: Cluster Publications), p. 91.
 Mother Teresa, quoted in Happonen, in Challenging current understanding around HIV and AIDS p. 152.
 Donald E Messer, 2003. Council of Churches Review (NCCI:Nagpur), p. 98
 Ibid., 93
 Ahonen A R 2008, “The Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission and the Future” in From Faith To Action. (Helsinki:FELM), p.280.
 Ahonen, A R 2008, From Faith To Action, p.281.
 Ahonen, From Faith To Action. p. 286.
 Happonen H. 2005, “Healing in relation to HIV and AIDS” in Challenging the Current understanding around HIV and AIDS: An African Christian perspective, (Nairobi: Daystar University Publication), p. 151.