TLW Cuts African AIDS Cases

by Don Beehler

While True Love Waits was holding its first national event in the U.S., in July, 1994, a second, smaller but perhaps even more powerful, TLW observance, was taking place half a world away. It began in Kampala, Uganda, with a parade to introduce the True Love Waits abstinence-until-marriage message to a continent that was being devastated by AIDS. Twelve years later, True Love Waits has been credited by government leaders in Uganda for bringing about a remarkable decrease in the HIV/AIDS infection rate, from 30 percent of the population to about 6 percent. As True Love Waits makes plans to expand its work in Africa through LifeWay's "A Defining Moment" capital campaign, a small team of TLW representatives journeyed to Kenya and Uganda in June to learn more about how the abstinence message is saving lives and bringing hope to millions. They were guided by Larry and Sharon Pumpelly, who previously spent 21 years as missionaries in both countries and who were organizers of the kick-off parade in Kampala. Included in the group were Jimmy Hester, co-founder of True Love Waits, James T. Draper, Jr., president emeritus of LifeWay Christian Resources, Jack Tompkins, a businessman and president's cabinet member of A Defining Moment, and Gary McCauley, director of LifeWay's capital resource development department. During their seven days in Africa, they visited churches with HIV/AIDS support groups, including one in the heart of a Nairobi slum; observed TLW presentations in schools; toured HIV/AIDS testing centers operated by the Baptist AIDS Response Agency (BARA); and met with the president of Uganda's wife, Janet Museveni, who serves as national spokesperson for True Love Waits. "Everyone seemed convinced that True Love Waits has been a huge success," noted Tompkins, a member of the group. He wrote in his journal that it is not just a program but rather "a ministry that allows a great opportunity for evangelism and the teaching of obedience." While visiting a small church built with 2x4s and corrugated metal over a dirt floor in a Nairobi slum, the pastor introduced the group to several women in the church who are HIV-positive and have formed a support group to assist each other. Support groups are vital because there is a huge stigma to being HIV/AIDS-positive in Africa, and such individuals usually are ostracized. At one stop in Uganda, the group met with several young adults from Kampala who had signed TLW cards years earlier. "One of the young men interviewed told us of the pain he experienced when he had lost his dad and two brothers to AIDS in a single year." Tompkins commented. A highlight for the group was a visit with Janet Museveni, the first lady of Uganda, who has championed the True Love Waits movement since its introduction in that country. Her children took the TLW pledge in 1994, and when they married they presented their commitment cards to their spouses at their weddings. Several African countries have sent representatives to Uganda to learn how it has so radically decreased its HIV/AIDS rate. The first lady told the group she believes True Love Waits could be done anywhere and be effective. "The fingers of AIDS reach far and TLW is only a part of the whole issue, but a part which certainly affects the future of AIDS," said Sharon Pumpelly. Near the end of their trip, the group journeyed to the countryside over difficult roads to witness a final TLW presentation at a high school that operates without water or electricity. The students, neatly dressed in school uniforms, listened intently to the presentation and asked various questions about what it means to take a True Love Waits vow. The TLW group later learned that almost all of the students have lost close friends and/or family members to AIDS. "The principal told me this type of presentation should be made to every high school in Africa," Tompkins noted in his journal. "He said it could change the course of history in Africa."
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