DO YOU SEE? A campus-based, student-led, grassroots advocacy campaign aims to open young eyes to the global AIDS pandemic b y A llison D u ncan
olorful posters emblazoned with the question “Do You See Orange?” appeared suddenly all over the campus of Moody Bible Institute in the fall 2007 semester. Students pondered the cryptic question that stood out among the usual student life paraphernalia tacked to bulletin boards. No one seemed to know what the signs were for. After two weeks, the posters were replaced with a different question: “Do You See Orphans?” One in 20 students and professors that day wore orange T-shirts marked “Orphan.” They were an incarnate representation of the ominous reality that one in 20 children in sub-Saharan Africa is orphaned because of AIDS. Junior Anna Leonhard, president of her school’s chapter of the nationwide student grassroots movement Acting on Aids, facilitated the awareness-raising campaign at Moody. This campaign brings the statistics to life in “a more visual, in-your-face” way, says Leonhard. “This isn’t a disease that affects just one community; it affects us all.” Not one to revel in the spotlight, Leonhard says the urgency of the issue has nevertheless pressed her to speak up. Her parents were missionaries in Ghana, and Leonhard grew up there seeing signs warning about AIDS. It wasn’t until her teen years that she began to understand the gravity of the issue. She later spent two summers working in Zambia, where she saw with her own eyes that AIDS patients and orphans were so numerous they often had no relatives to care for them. “I put my face to this cause,” she says. Moody students, Leonhard adds, regardless of their majors, “should be concerned with this issue as future leaders of the church.” The group’s theme for the spring was brokenness, to remind them of their inability to achieve anything on their own. But the students also remember that Christ has given them hope to share with the hopeless. Acting on AIDS got its start when Steve Haas, vice president of World Vision, blasted Christians for failing to
share this hope with suffering people. When Haas spoke to some World Vision interns in the summer of 2004, he ranted against the church, especially its youngest generation, for its botched leadership in addressing the worst pandemic in the world. “It was ugly,” Haas admits about his tirade, with a touch of embarrassment that is nonetheless unapologetic. “But I wasn’t getting an internal prompt to stop.” “There’s only one generation that’s worse than yours,” Haas told the interns. “It’s mine.” Two interns, James Pedrick and Lisa Krohn, accepted Haas’ rant as a challenge: “This is really where the church is supposed to be, and we haven’t really been there. Is that good enough for you?” A month later, Pedrick and Krohn gave Haas a business plan for Acting on AIDS. When Pedrick and Krohn began the group at Seattle Pacific University in 2004, joined soon afterward by their friend Jackie Yoshimura, about 600 of their fellow students got involved in visiting AIDS patients and doing advocacy on campus and in the community. World Vision agreed to sponsor the group, and four years later, Acting on AIDS groups are active at more than 170 Christian and secular colleges. The movement’s website explains its mission: “The goal of Acting on AIDS is larger than fighting AIDS. Our goal is to extend the message of hope that Jesus offers, a message that will change the world.” Chapters on secular campuses often partner with non-Christian students and clubs to hold the “Do You See Orange?” campaign and other events. As Christian students respond to the AIDS crisis with Christ’s compassion, non-Christians are taking notice. Pedrick, now on the Acting on AIDS leadership team, knows that this compassion surprises some people who view Christians as unmoved and disengaged.Through Acting on AIDS, Christians are both demonstrating and sharing their faith.
“Without allowing Christ to transform our hearts and worldview, our actions become empty and our focus too centralized upon the issue rather than the hope we have in Christ,” the group’s website says. Grounded in this hope, the movement urges students to pray daily for people suffering because of AIDS, asking God to help their prayers flower in acts of compassion. And God is faithful to give the increase. As students explore the Bible’s teaching about caring for the poor, “their lives begin to change in ways that they didn’t expect,” Pedrick says. Students are learning how precious AIDS patients are to God. “And if they’re precious to God, they’re precious to me,” Haas says, expressing the lesson Acting on AIDS has taught him and many students. Haas often meets young graduates who are working for nonprofit organizations because of the impact Acting on AIDS had on them. In these positions, they connect their knowledge with the world’s needs, using their ingenuity in engineering, architecture, business, or whatever field they studied in college to combat AIDS. Helping students get a new perspective and devise creative ways to meet needs should be the barometer of the movement’s success, Haas says. Pedrick’s involvement with Acting on AIDS has been transformational for him.“I didn’t expect to be here doing this,”
“This is the way the gospel becomes relevant on your campus,” Pedrick says,“because you’re actually living out a more holistic faith that talks about issues of poverty and justice.” Talk about these issues is rippling out from campus chapters to permeate classrooms. Haas tells faculty, “If you’re not incorporating issues of AIDS and poverty into your curriculum, you’re not fulfilling your academic duty….These are the greatest issues your students will be facing when they graduate.” Acting on AIDS leaders hope that the education students receive in the classroom and in the chapters forms them into global citizens who fight AIDS socially, politically, economically, and spiritually. Socially, Acting on AIDS encourages students to discuss faith and justice and gather momentum in the community to address the pandemic. Many chapters visit local AIDS patients and help them with chores or buying groceries. Sometimes these students are the only ones who make physical contact with the patients, giving a simple yet profound gift of affectionate touch. In the political realm, Acting on AIDS equips students to advocate for global AIDS relief and to address poverty, gender inequality, sexual exploitation, child soldiers, unclean water, and unemployment—all issues entangled with AIDS. As part of the 6,000 Challenge this past fall, campus chapters aimed for 6,000 advocacy signatures and $6,000 for AIDS sufferers and survivors. The signatures went on a petition asking Congress to reauthorize a bill that would increase AIDS relief funding to $50 billion and designate 10 percent for children. In May 2008, more than 100 participants in this challenge went to an Acting on AIDS summit in Washington, DC, to discuss political action in workshops, present the petition, and lobby elected officials. Kurt Rahn, student mobilization coordinator for Acting on AIDS, aims to train students for this kind of leadership. “We are student owned and student created and student led and student everything,” he says. And he accepts the challenge of wielding this power—“We try to always be in over our heads,” he says. But the waters haven’t proven too deep for them yet. “When you have thousands of students organizing around this issue, elected officials pay attention,” Pedrick says. As students influence national spending, Acting on AIDS also encourages them to make their own wise economic decisions by giving generously to the poor. Although many of these donations go to World Vision, Acting on AIDS encourages students to raise money for any organization with which they already have ties. Throughout their efforts in these different spheres, the spiritual core of Acting on AIDS is the hope of Christ.
A student leader addresses the University of Washington’s Acting on AIDS group during the “Do You See Orange?” phase of the awareness-raising campaign. Photo: Andrea Dearborn/World Vision
he says. A business administration major, Pedrick interned at World Vision two days a week during the summer of 2004 and the other three days at a hedge fund, where the minimum investment was $5 million. The contrast was striking. “I was serving the richest of the rich half the week and the poorest of the poor the other half,” he observes. Pedrick had thought he would end up at a hedge fund or something similar after graduation. But as he helped develop Acting on AIDS, he increasingly felt called to this kind of advocacy and service. “I get to use my skills so much more in this environment,” he says with satisfaction. This satisfaction is multiplying to thousands of students as they share in God’s work among
the afflicted. Recalling his rant four years ago, Haas apologized to Seattle Pacific University, laughing with the students and administration because of all that happened. Similar to Haas’ doubt about this youthful generation, the Israelites doubted David until they saw what he did with his simple weaponry. “At Acting on AIDS, we think,‘Let’s make sure the slingshot works and there’s a stone,’” Haas says. “There are a lot of Davids out there, and they might just kill the giant.” n
The Sex Lives of Children: A Tale of Consumption continued from page 20.
ground, saying, “I represent a group called the National Boycott Alliance, and I’m coming back here tomorrow with a photographer. If that display is still there, we’re going to photograph it and put you on our boycott list.” There is no such thing as the National Boycott Alliance —Dines made it up on the spot!—but she knows that it’s all about profit and no store wants to be boycotted, especially before Christmas. By the next day the display had been dismantled. “I suggest carrying a clipboard with you when you shop,” says Dine, smiling but dead serious. “Managers are very afraid of clipboards!” Will the church join hands with this growing movement, strengthened and enriched by religious and political diversity, to form a broad coalition to reclaim childhood and promote healthy sexuality? This will involve, among other things, educating ourselves and others, holding ourselves accountable for the pornography we as Christians consume (and repenting), addressing issues of gender oppression within the church, telling those corporations that profit from pornography that we won’t stand for it (and boycotting them when they refuse to listen), collaborating with others who have the same goal (see “Building a broad coalition” on page 22-23 for a list of organizations we can partner with), and using all our available means—even if it’s just a clipboard. n
A former research associate at the Institute for Global Engagement, Allison Duncan works as a technical writer in Broomall, Pa., and also enjoys freelance writing.
women’s studies at Wheelock, Gail Dines is one of the founding members of Stop Porn Culture, a national antipornography movement. As a feminist in the academic world, she is a lonely voice in a sector of society that most often views pornography as a freedom-of-speech issue and sex work as empowering to women (in spite of all the research to the contrary). She is also a prophetic voice who is unmasking the “corporate pimps” who peddle and profit from our pornographic culture, to acknowledge the emperor’s nakedness, and to reveal the lies that threaten to make us both compliant and complicit. (See “Follow the money” on page 19.) What troubles her most is the growing sexualization of violence in popular culture (in advertising, video games, toys) —with women being the most common victims by far— and the increasingly violent turn the US pornography industry has taken in the last decade. Dines compares cultural degradation to environmental destruction: “There’s a point where it’s too hard to go back,” she says, “when people have become too robotic, have lost what it means to be human, and are thoroughly colonized by the corporate pimps. It has to stop, now. If we don’t do it, there is nobody else out there who is going to.” The smallest voice can make a difference. Dines tells of going into a shopping mall one December with her son, who was 5 years old at the time. “Uh-oh,” she heard him say, and looked down to find him pointing at a window display that featured a manikin hanging, gallows-style, from a string of Christmas lights. Dines went straight to the manager of the store and asked that they take it down. The manager defended the display as “edgy” and “artistic.” Dines held her
Based in California, Sharlene Azam (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes about teens. She is the author of Rebel, Rogue, Mischievous Babe: Stories about Being a Powerful Girl (Harper Collins, 2001) and Oral Sex Is the New Goodnight Kiss: The Sexual Bullying of Middle-Class Girls, due out this fall. Editor’s note: due to space limitations, endnotes have been posted at esa-online.org/Endnotes.