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The Spirit of Faithfulness - Deborah Dortzbach Op-Ed, Christianity Today

May 3, 2007
Christianity Today - Speaking Out
The Spirit of Faithfulness
Another public failure in fidelity calls us back to the message of the Cross.
Deborah Dortzbach | posted 5/02/2007 09:27AM

Last Sunday, The Boston Globe blared the news that Randall Tobias, one of America\'s most respected leaders in HIV/AIDS prevention, had blown it. He resigned Friday from his prominent role as director of foreign assistance at the Department of State, where he reported directly to Condoleezza Rice, after admitting to having purchased massages from a service alleged to be a prostitution ring.

I met Ambassador Tobias in a church in Rwanda two years ago. He sat facing me in the front pew, flanked by First Lady Laura Bush and a member of the Rwandan Ministry of Health. When an orphaned child sitting behind him found her way onto his hefty knee during the service, he awkwardly smiled and jostled his leg while dozens of news reporters snapped shots of America and Rwanda facing AIDS together. We all hoped we would conquer the pandemic.

Tobias represented all that was good about President Bush\'s war against HIV/AIDS, promoting abstinence, faithfulness, and faith-based participation in the grassroots struggle against the disease in Africa and around the world. He was America\'s ambassador for AIDS—commissioned to demonstrate the drive for life, not death; the commitment to prevention, not persistent infection; and the generosity of the American government and people to countries crushed by poverty, conflict, and disease.

Tobias listened as Fidel Nsengiyumva rose to the pulpit only a few feet in front of him. "I am an HIV-positive man. My wife has already died of AIDS," began Fidel. "I am part of an association of people living with AIDS that is part of this church. For me, living with AIDS is the path through which God has chosen to use me. It\'s true, in my blood there is the AIDS virus, but I also have the blood of Jesus. I trust and do not doubt that Jesus\' blood in me has more power than that of the AIDS virus. So I am not defeated by this virus. I stand firmly on God\'s word from Psalm 118:17. \'I will not die, but live and proclaim what the Lord has done.\'"

Fidel was demonstrating the change that comes with the support and strength of a group committed to serving one another despite limited resources. Fidel was describing life—life that he believed would last forever even when the virus ripped apart his frail body as it had his wife\'s. I thought his message was perfect for all in that church, including Tobias.

Today, my heart is angry and my spirit crushed by the insult of yet another abstinence and faithfulness message ruined by the exposure of improper behavior, whether explicit or peripheral. Once again, the guilty party is a high-profile person, an ambassador to the world to spread the message that sex is protected and fulfilled only in the context of marriage. Our critics waste no time in pointing out what they call our ostrich-in-the-sand thinking. How many times did I hear at the International AIDS Conference in Toronto in July 2006 that "abstinence and faithfulness just don\'t work!"

When a failure in faithfulness results in AIDS, the harm done goes beyond pain, according to my colleague, Dr. Meredith Long, co-author of our book, The AIDS Crisis: What We Can Do. "AIDS is an insult to our creator," he says "It not only destroys his creation but chooses as its most frequent pathway the gift of our sexuality—God\'s precious gift of relationship that should be the highest celebration of the life He gave us and the act by which we participate with him in the creation of new life. For the highest celebration of life to be the messenger of death goes beyond destruction—it is a desecration of God\'s image."

I thought Fidel (whose very name means faithful) had a message perfect for Randall Tobias and others in that church. I didn\'t realize then, as I do today, that his message was for me, too. I\'ve been faithful to my husband, but not faithful to my Love of all loves. My spirit often takes me to the sidelines, with an attitude as piercing as that of those I find fault with. I find it so hard to confess my own vulnerability and sin.

The 2004 Lausanne Conference on World Evangelization in Thailand dealt with the same problem: "Our call to action [in the AIDS crisis] begins with a repentant spirit. Our past practice of evangelism was better at saving souls than creating Christian minds and Christian behavior."

Ang, my friend and Chinese sister in Christ, demonstrates a Christian mind and behavior. She doesn\'t sit on the sidelines. She gets in the game, playing badminton every Saturday in Beijing with intravenous drug users, gay men and women, and their partners. Except for Ang, they all share a diagnosis of HIV. Ang doesn\'t pay attention to her critics or to the many in her city who spurn the men and women with whom she bats the birdie. She just goes there week after week to be a friend.

There was another friend who made a difference. She hung a scarlet rope in her window as a sign to the spies once protected by her. The woman was Rahab, who confessed that she was one of those in her city "melting in fear" and acknowledged a simple truth: "The Lord, your God, is God in heaven above and earth below" (Joshua 2:8-11).

Lord, be my dwelling place in this earth below and welcome through me all who bear scarlet A\'s, hang scarlet ropes, and stand before your scarlet-drenched cross.

The international director of HIV/AIDS programs at World Relief ( http://www.wr.org/ ), Debbie Dortzbach and her husband Karl first worked Africa in 1973 and then with Mission to the World since 1980. She presently resides near World Relief\'s headquarters in Baltimore and is co-author together with Dr. Meredith Long of The AIDS Crisis: What We Can Do.

Copyright © 2007 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.

Related Elsewhere:

The AIDS Crisis: What We Can Do is available from ChristianBook.com and other retailers.

Christianity Today reviewed the book in our May issue.

Christianity Today interviews with Deborah Dortzbach include a Q&A and "\'Sexual Revolution,\' AIDS, and the African Church."

Dortzbach wrote "Speaking with Action Against AIDS" for Christianity Today.

The Billy Graham Archives has a section on the papers of Debbie Dortzbach, including biographical information, and transcripts of extensive interviews.

World Relief posted an article on the spread of HIV in Cambodia.

More recent news about Tobias includes:

Sex and foreign aid | The lessons learned from a high-level administration official\'s resignation in the \'D.C. Madam\' scandal. (The Los Angeles Times)
\'D.C. Madam\' case enthralls capital | Phone list creates tremors of scandal (The Chicago Tribune)
Woman apologizes for outing official as escort client | She insists service was legal (The Dallas Morning News)

Christianity Today\'s recent coverage of AIDS/HIV includes:

Banking on Breast Milk | One ministry\'s unusual approach to saving AIDS orphans in Africa. (December 15, 2006)
Long-Distance AIDS Ministry | How one modest-sized church in North Carolina is making a big difference in the heart of Africa. (November 27, 2006)
Q&A: Richard Stearns | The president of World Vision U.S. on the Global Fund, free condoms, and church-based relief and development work. (October 17, 2006)
Prevention Wars | Christian activists question Global Fund\'s AIDS strategies. (August 1, 2006)
The AIDS Team | Principled collaboration by churches is urgently needed to help defeat HIV.A Christianity Today editorial. | (August 1, 2006)
Prevention Wars | Christian activists question Global Fund\'s AIDS strategies. (August 1, 2006)