|Each year, more than 15 million children worldwide lose one or both parents to HIV/AIDS. Photo: Judith Santiago|
“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
I can’t tell you how many times in this hustle and bustle of a city (New York) that I have rushed to get to work, rushed to attend a class, or rushed to catch a bus. When I’m in a hurry to get somewhere, I miss seeing the people around me. I don’t mean physically seeing them, but taking intentional notice of them—who they are or what they may stand in need of—like prayer, a meal, a ride.
Some time ago, I asked a homeless man on the street if he was hungry, because I had a sandwich to share. He graciously accepted and we spoke for several moments. After the pleasant exchange, he walked away. As I watched him walk away, I felt extremely blessed to have met him. It was as if the presence of God came down upon me. Immediately, Hebrews Chapter 13 came to mind. The second verse reads: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Could it be that I encountered an angel? I don’t know, but I’ll never forget him or how I felt after meeting him. Humbled by the experience, I started to keep my eyes open to those in need around me. Over time, however, as life pressures and distractions came, my eyesight grew dull.
At the recent Lighten the Burden III HIV/AIDS conference in Dallas, a conference sponsored by the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, UMCOR, and several UM agencies, I was reminded to open to my eyes again and remember that the mission field begins right outside my door.
Dr. Musa Dube, a United Methodist theologian from the University of Botswana and HIV/AIDS activist, led a bible study on “Entering Bodies and Crossing Boundaries.” She invited participants one by one to stand up and recite the prepared statements on hand-outs provided for us. Some statements read:
I am Jesus. I am the sick person. Have you visited me today?
I am Jesus. I am the hungry person. Will you feed me today?
I am a woman with children in your country and without food.
I am HIV positive, hiding my status. I am in a socially-imposed prison.
I am Jesus. I am HIV positive. I am the imprisoned person. Have you visited me today?
How often have we missed a Jesus encounter because our eyes have become too dull to see? Dube shared that when someone was sick or in prison, Jesus did not ask the person how they got sick, or why they were in prison. Rather, Jesus identified himself with the person and offered healing and hope. The woman with the issue of blood, considered unclean and an outcast was welcomed by Jesus into the family. He called her daughter and encouraged her faith.
"Christians can’t be the church of Christ if we do not identify ourselves with those who are HIV positive in the church,” said Dube. “The church that knows the call to be effective in its response to HIV/AIDS will become a church that heals through action.” The action is ours to take. I chose to share a simple sandwich with a stranger. The momentary experience changed me and left a lasting impression.
Whatever the “blood issue”—HIV, cancer, or drug addiction—the church, like Jesus must cross cultural, gender and social boundaries to bring healing and acceptance into God’s kingdom. In this way, the church as one body stays connected—on all issues and on all fronts. Our encounters with the “least of these” will bring about change – in us and in the world around us.
It’s a call to identify with: those infected and affected by HIV, the homeless, the refugee, the widow, the orphan, or an ill-bound person. It’s a call to leave our comfort zones, our worlds, and our distractions, so we can move in power across boundaries and into unknown territory. It’s a call that involves becoming vulnerable and accessible to a hurting world. The result will be healing and solidarity.
I am Jesus. Have you seen me today?
By Judith Santiago, project manager for UMCOR Communications