Photo by Jon Rawlinson/Flickr

African churches at the forefront of powerful change

The gospel brings hope to communities dealing with HIV/AIDS

The Church brings us together. It can give us a shared sense of community. It can unify us and provide a moral compass. Its gospel message is a force for change not just in our own lives, but also in the lives of those around us, including the most vulnerable.

I traveled to Malawi, Africa in 2008 as a production assistant on a film crew that documented the HIV and AIDS crisis and the impact it has on this small, landlocked country. Our crew partnered with Visionledd, a Canadian charity committed to mobilizing local churches to transform poverty-stricken communities.

Visionledd has a different approach to the HIV and AIDS crisis and it begins with Jesus.

Christianity is the dominant religion in Malawi, and as such, pastors have an enormous influence on peoples’ views and their actions. As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility.

To address the stigma of HIV and AIDS and to care for patients, Visionledd first works with pastors. Through pastors’ conferences and Bible training, local religious leaders learn what God is calling them to do, to care for vulnerable and the dying.

Pastors take their biblical training back to their congregation, share a message of love and roll up their sleeves to transform their community. People soon follow.

I saw firsthand this transformative power that pastors have on communities. This is a different, sustainable approach to development. The Christian roots are already in place. Visionledd just encourages the pastors so they can grow a garden of compassion in their churches.

Local, respected leaders lead the change and shift the attitudes of the people from one of repulse to one of benevolence. Previously, HIV and AIDS victims were left to die because their families were so ashamed of them. Now that the discussion has moved to the forefront of pastors’ sermons, the community reaches out to care for not only the patient, but also for the entire family.

The Church in Malawi is taking a united stand against HIV and AIDS, poverty and prejudice against victims.

So where does that leave me and you?

It’s easy to be accusatory, to claim hardly anyone cares about the world’s problems and the poor. It would seem Canadians would rather know about the latest Rob Ford scandal than people who are dying in Africa.

I disagree. I think people care. It’s hard not to care about death, poverty, starvation and unfair brutality. I think people feel powerless to help. They don’t have an outlet for their desire for change. Powerlessness leads to passivity.

But there is an outlet and it’s the Church. The Church is doing big things in Malawi and elsewhere. As a Christian and a member of the Church, you are part of this movement. Find the outlet for your passion and you can help make these positive changes. The Church in Malawi is proof that it’s happening already.

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About the author

Special to ChristianWeek

Caitlin McKay is a writer from Toronto. She covers a variety of topics including international development, politics and religion.