THE AWAKE PROJECT:
Uniting Against the African Aids Crisis
Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.
Dr. Bob Pierce (quoted, 62)
More than thirty authors attempt to break the hearts of the evangelical church over the tragedy of AIDS in Africa. They give horrifying statistics of 25 million people in southern Africa having been infected by the AIDS virus, of 12 million orphaned children, of an infrastructure near collapse because of the massive inroads AIDS has taken on medical workers and teachers, of the heartbreak of young mothers dying terrified of what will become of their orphaned children. They also tell some accounts of those who are working among them, such as AIDS activist Agnes Nyamayarwo and Joan, the "Tea and Bread Lady" of Harari, Zimbabwe, who feeds street children every day. They offer hope through the Ugandan success story which has decreased the growth of AIDS infections from 15 percent to 6 percent.
The book has been divided into three sections: Awareness, Education, and Engagement. The first two sections contain essays by the various authors, many of them celebrities such as Bono, President George Bush, Nelson Mandela, Danny Glover, Senators Rick Santorum and Jesse Helms, President Jimmy Carter, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Franklin Graham and others. They express varying viewpoints on how to help the suffering Africans.
The third section contains essays on different ways the church can help. It includes a list of organizations already involved in the AIDS struggle in Africa.
Do not let the introduction by Tony Campolo sway you against buying the book. It would have swayed me if I had picked it up in a bookstore. His assumptions of racism because the American church hasn't done more, his attacks on military spending and on the "greed of the pharmaceutical companies" struck me as depressing liberal cant. Why the publishers at W chose such a depressing introduction when they had many more inspiring ones to choose from I don't know. Franklin Graham of Samaritan's Purse and Richard Stearns of World Vision both write essays that inspire and convict. Eleven-year-old Ellie Ambrose's essay gives readers the idea from the start that they can do something if a young girl like her could raise $18,000 for AIDS assistance.
Black and white photos of Africans haunt you. One of the most moving shows a sad-faced mother staring into the distance while her little boy, perhaps seven, snuggles against her, his gaze searching her face. It catches the fears of young mothers, 57 percent of whom have AIDS in some parts of Africa.
Many celebrity writers have included essays in the book.
They tend toward statistics and throwing money at the problem.
However, to me these are much less effective than the ones by the lesser knowns,
such as the journalist Johanna McGeary, recording artist Margaret Becker,
Lynne Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church, former Canadian Ambassador Stephen Lewis,
former Liberian Ambassador Rachel Gbenyon-Diggs, and journalist and scholar Helen Epstein and
Lincoln Chen. Several of these authors analyze the money situation and the infrastructural and social
problems that make AIDS so devastating in Africa.
Pulitzer Prize Winning journalist Mark Schoofs makes an especially powerful explanation for the
AIDS epidemic in Africa. These authors see money as only one leg of the solution.
Some of the authors pitch a strong, understandable case for debt cancellation. I'm no economist, but to me it compares to credit card debt in that most of what Africa is repaying is exorbitant interest on principle that has already been paid many times over. In many cases the corrupt regimes that borrowed the money in the 1970s have been long out of power. President Obasanjo of Nigeria helps clarify that issue.
In the movie Amistad, former President John Quincy Adams tells the young lawyer handling the case of the captured slaves that the side will win that tells the best story. The aWake Project is an important, sobering, and convicting book. It provides horrifying statistics, powerful analysis, and hopeful ideas. Where it shines most and what it lacks most are the stories: stories of the victims, stories of the workers on the front lines of the battle, and stories of churches that are helping. Those stories move us, inspire us, and break our hearts with the AIDS holocaust that breaks the heart of God.
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