Special Theme Edition on the Current Ukrainian Crisis:   Volume 22, No. 3  (Summer 2014)

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Fall 2007

Vol. 15, No. 4

 

An HIV/AIDS Ministry Partnership in Eastern Europe and Russia

Matt Kavgian

The spread of HIV/AIDS is the problem that experts increasingly recognize as the single most sweeping global threat. Every day 8,000 people die of HIV/AIDS, the equivalent of 20 fully loaded Boeing 747s crashing to earth daily. The church, until recently, has been largely absent from engaging this issue, leaving responses to government and secular organizations. Many such efforts have been valiant, but incomplete, as they tend to focus on “fixing” the problem from a purely physical, behavioral, or economic standpoint. Valid issues all, but the Christian worldview informs us that issues such as HIV/AIDS also harbor a deeper spiritual dimension. Communities around the world cannot be restored through personal willpower, government programs, or money alone; transformation of the human heart by the gospel is also needed. It is critical that the church not only take responsibility for HIV/AIDS sufferers in light of God’s command to serve “the least of these,” but, in addition, realize the unprecedented opportunity that exists to draw them into God’s kingdom.

 Contrary to what many evangelicals may think, the Great Command (“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Matthew 22:39) and the Great Commission (“Go and make disciples of all nations,” Matthew 28:19) are not mutually exclusive. Believers (typically Western) have often felt they needed to choose between speaking good words and doing good deeds, between what is eternal and that which is merely temporal. This has happened, I believe, because at some point along the way we lost our understanding of what “salvation” means.

 The word itself means “wellness,” “cure, “or “wholeness.” Jesus wanted us to minister to the whole person – soul, mind, and body – as He modeled. Matthew 9:35-36 reveals that compassion was at the heart of Jesus’ evangelistic message. He went where people were hurting, had compassion on the harassed and helpless, healed them of every affliction, and preached the eternal hope of the gospel. Jesus understood that the moment of a person’s deepest human need is also the moment of greatest openness. To come alongside the needy with the hope, life, and truth of the gospel is the heart of Jesus. This is the central mission of Crossroads, a ministry strategy of Campus Crusade for Christ.

 Crossroads Defined

Crossroads develops, trains, and supports national communities and partnering organizations to address societal needs (such as HIV/AIDS, violence, and drug abuse) through education, the development of values and character, and the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. A panel of international experts in adult and youth education, public health, and missiology, created Crossroads’ centerpiece, a 30-lesson curriculum entitled “Life at the Crossroads” (LATC), contextualized for an international audience.

 Since 1995, Crossroads has been launched in 70 countries, and has trained 40,000 teachers to use LATC. Fourteen million children and parents have been exposed to the curriculum and other Crossroads media. In addition to working with national Campus Crusade staff, Cross Roads actively pursues partnerships with other Christian groups to maximize the strategy’s impact. Examples include World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse, the Salvation Army, YMCA, Children’s Hope Chest, and local churches. CrossRoadsmaintains a headquarters staff of 12 based inOrlando, Florida, and a global staff of over 100.

 Cross Roads in Central and Eastern Europeand Russia

Cross Roads began work in Central Europe in 1994 at the behest of Dr. Denes Banhegyi, the Director of Sexual Education and HIV/AIDS Prevention in the Hungarian Institute of Health, NEVI being the Hungarian acronym. Dr.Banhegyi recognized that Communism had failed to equip youth with a moral framework by which to make healthy decisions in daily life.

 Although HIV/AIDS was not yet a threat, Hungarian leaders, to their credit, recognized that newfound, unchecked freedom was a ripe environment for an HIV/AIDS invasion, as well as other behavior-related conditions like teenage pregnancy, drug addiction, and suicide. They were also worried about the results of a state-sponsored study that revealed that Hungarian youth at the time had, on average, no close friends. Youth who struggle with loneliness are much more prone to seek out acceptance and love anywhere they can find it, making high-risk decisions in the process. Good, healthy relationships, on the other hand, can create and maintain a positive sense of self. Again, it should be noted that Hungarian officials came to this conclusion— not the church!

 Members of the Hungarian government recognized Dr. Banhegyi’s leadership, and instructed NEVI to partner with Campus Crusade for Christ in Hungary in order to create a strategy to aid its young people. Out of this affiliation, and particularly Banhegyi’s relationship with two Campus Crusade staff members—Dave Robinson and Gábor Grészcame a strategy, “Youth at the Threshold of Life” (YTL). Robinson and Grész became the architects of this national plan. Its main purpose was to help young people develop good character (using Jesus as a role model), from which they could then make healthy decisions, thereby avoid high-risk choices that could lead to destructive and possibly life-threatening behaviors.

 Dissemination of the YTL curriculum, introduced into the Hungarian school system in 1994, was quite comprehensive. Over 7,600Hungarian teachers have been trained to present it. Over one million students have been taught how to make healthy decisions and engage in healthy relationships. Soon after, the YTL strategy was reworked for a global audience, and became Crossroads.

 HIV/AIDS and Orphans

According to a recent USAID report (“Health Profile: Europe and Eurasia,” 2006, www.usaid.gov):

  • • The HIV/AIDS epidemics in Europe and Eurasia continue to increase. The number of people living with HIV in this region reached an estimated 1.7 million in 2006, a20-fold increase in less than a decade. The overwhelming majority of people living with HIV in this region are young – 75 percent of the reported infections between 2000 and 2004were in people less than 30 years old, and almost one-third of new infections are in youth aged 15 to 24 years. Unless prevention efforts are stepped up, high levels of risky behavior suggest that HIV could strengthen its presence in the region. Russia has the largest number of people living with AIDS, with 940,000infected at the end of 2005. Eighty percent ofpeople living with HIV in Russia are aged 15to 30 years.
  • • Upon closer investigation we find that manyRussian young people are found in public care. From Children’s Hope Chest (www.hopechest.org) and the Co Mission for Children at Risk(www.comission.org) comes a troubling snapshot of the damage being done to this forgotten population:

 One and a half million children in Central and Eastern Europe and nearly one million in Russia live in public care.

 In Russia, the annual number of abandoned children has more than doubled over the past decade, despite a falling birth rate.

 Within three years after leaving institutional care at age 16, 30 percent of Russian orphan graduates are homeless and jobless; 35 percentage imprisoned for law violations; 15 percent commit suicide; and 55 percent of girls become involved in prostitution.

 For years missiologists have reported that the overwhelming majority of spiritual decisions are made before the age of 18 (The Barn Update, 11October 2004; http://www.barna.org/FlexPape.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdate&BarnaUpdateID=172). That being the case, what can be done to intervene at this key juncture in adolescent development, when critical life choices are being made and worldviews developed? One example may be found in a new partnership between Crossroads and Children’s Hope Chest.

 Cross Roads and Children’s Hope Chest

Crossroads International and Children’s Hope Chest, known in Russia as Nadezhda Fund, have developed a collaborative partnership to bring the Life at the CrossRoads (LATC)curriculum to children living in Russian orphanages. After being introduced by a supporting foundation, the two organizations spent five months from October 2005 to March2006 developing a ministry partnership designed to increase the capacity of both organizations through a two-year initiative in Russia.Nadezhda Fund, counterpart to U.S.-based Children’s Hope Chest, was founded in 1994to meet the needs of Russian orphanages. It’s a Russian-registered, national-led, charity fund with a federal charter to work in Russian orphanages. The Fund currently works in four regions of Russia (Vladimir, Kostroma, Ivanovo,and Ryazan) and is now expanding into the Kirov and St. Petersburg Regions. NadezhdaFund is a leading Russian charity specializing in orphan care. Its directors have written transitional living curricula under several USAID grants and trained over 200 other organizations and local governments in Russia in the implementation of family-based forms of orphan care.

 The Fund’s specialty is the post-institutional adaptation of orphans. This is primarily accomplished through intensive transitional living programs that focus on providing orphan graduates with community-based resources, professional guidance, and peer mentorship. The Fund employs over 80 full- and part-time staff. Starting in 2006 the partnering agencies combined the curriculum resources and training expertise of Crossroads with Nadezhda Fund’s discipleship staff already working in orphanages.

 Cooperation focuses primarily on training individuals for greater impact in orphanages using the LATC curriculum as a vehicle to share the gospel and prevent the spread of HIV. Over the past 12 years, Nadezhda Fund’s programs have helped over 10,000 orphans in Russia, Romania, and Ukraine. Currently, it has direct access to approximately 2,000 orphans living in 40 state orphanages in Vladimir, Kostroma, Ivanovo, and Ryazan, Russia, with each of these orphanages having a Western church sponsor arranged by Children’s Hope Chest. Further, Nadezhda Fund works with several hundred orphanage graduates participating in various programs, including LATC thematic training.

Working together, the two agencies are pursuing four main goals: 1) Teaching the LAT Curriculum in orphanages; 2) Developing new curriculum tool to enhance LATC’s implementation among orphans and special needs students in the former Soviet Union and around the world; 3) Launching CrossRoads’ LATC curriculum for regular public schools in a minimum of three new regions in Russia; and 4) Conducting two simultaneous research and evaluative studies on the impact of the CrossRoads strategy with Russian orphans. The first study is being spearheaded by social work students of the Russian-American Christian

 HIV/AIDS Ministry Partnership

University in Moscow under the guidance of Dr.Beryl Hugen from Calvin College in the United States. A Russian Ministry of Education evaluator from St. Petersburg University, Dr. Ludmila  Shepitsina, is conducting the second study. The studies, planned for completion by fall 2008,should provide a measure of the effectiveness of the educational and faith components of the strategy in comparison to control groups that are not exposed to the same kind of instruction and mentoring.

 Conclusion

Looking into the HIV/AIDS abyss can be overwhelming. But working together as a body, serving in the power of the Spirit, much can be accomplished in His name. Dr. Robert Reccord, former President of the Southern Baptist Convention North American Mission Board, once said, “It is time for us to leave our logos and egos

at the door and get about the business of fulfilling the Great Commission.” By applying this charge to HIV/AIDS ministry efforts in Central and Eastern Europe and Russia, CrossRoads and Children’s Hope Chest have covenanted together to reclaim this enemy stronghold and advance God’s kingdom. F

 Matt Kavgian is Deputy Director ofCrossRoads, a ministry strategy of Campus Crusade for Christ. In 2006, he produced a documentary, “HOPE Positive: Surviving the Sentence of HIV/AIDS” (www.HopePositive.com). He also has co-authored, with E. Bailey Marks, Jr., and Brent Larson, The Great

Omission: How the Church is waking up to the HIV/AIDS Pandemic, set for release in

early 2008.