Ugandans respond to God's plan for sexual purity in face of AIDS

KAMPALA, Uganda (BP)--Donning gym trunks and rolling around on a plastic tarp with water poured over it isn't the best way to bathe. But it effectively conveys a simple message: It's much easier to bathe when the water is contained inside a wash basin.

It's a message Baptists in Uganda have found useful as they try to stamp out AIDS -- and reach their country for Jesus Christ.

Working with Southern Baptist International Mission Board missionaries, Ugandan Baptist workers have traversed the east African nation using the visual allegory to teach young people that a life, like water, is best within the limits God has set out in the Bible.

AIDS has infected almost one out of every 10 people in the country and kills about 2,500 each year. It has brought multitudes of Ugandans to their knees -- accepting the reality that God has a reason for his approach to sex and marriage.

From Muslim schools to government youth conventions, Baptists are helping to teach Uganda -- an early breeding ground of AIDS -- that God tells people for good reason to "drink water from your own cistern and running water from your own well" and "rejoice in the wife of your youth" (Prov. 5:15,18b).

While the Baptist "True Love Waits" effort is only one AIDS campaign among many -- including huge programs funded by the United States, the United Nations and the Ugandan government -- its Christian perspective is plain.

Baptists use Scripture to make their point. And as they do, many not only change their attitude about sexual behavior, but decide to follow Jesus Christ as well -- and that, of course, is what missions is all about.

Since 1995, the campaign has received special billing at the nation's Christian Youth Conference, an annual event sponsored by Janet Museveni, wife of Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni. The Musevenis speak vocally for Jesus Christ. She also has helped arrange television coverage of various government meetings where True Love Waits was presented.

In January 1996, in the chamber where special government functions are held, Christian youth presented President Museveni 8,600 cards signed by youth vowing to stay sexually inactive until they are married. Some cards were taped together and hanging from the balcony; others filled several baskets.

"Abstinence Only" is the motto of Uganda's True Love Waits effort. Other programs advocate "ABC" -- abstinence, being faithful and condoms, said Elizabeth Marum, HIV AIDS technical advisor in Uganda for the U.S. government. Marum, who helps design such "ABC" programs, doesn't credit Baptists or any of the many other groups with the success against AIDS in Uganda, but she supports Baptist efforts.

Other Christian groups use the pledge cards too, said IMB missionary Sharon Pumpelly, who was appointed to Uganda with her husband, Larry, in 1980. They watched AIDS devastate a generation of Ugandans and wipe out whole villages.

The Pumpellys adapted the True Love Waits pledge-card concept for Uganda in 1994. Initially they led the campaign, but it has grown rapidly since Ugandans assumed leadership of it two years ago.

Current director Andrew Mwenge is unable to count the number of sexual partners he had before he came to Jesus Christ at age 21 and decided to practice sexual purity. In mid-March, Mwenge lost a sister to AIDS. She left six children, four of them still school age.

"If it wasn't for Christ, I wouldn't be any different," he said just after his sister's death. He once told the Pumpellys he'd surely be dead of AIDS if he hadn't changed.

Like Mwenge -- and because of his testimony and others -- as many as 25,000 young people have decided on abstinence through True Love Waits. "Reaching (that many) kids here is not an easy thing to do," said Marum. "I think it's a wonderful accomplishment."

"Research shows the kids are accepting the message and it's taking off," said Sharon Pumpelly. Fewer Ugandan teens are having sex, and surveys report fewer "casual" sex experiences with non-regular partners. The number of pregnant teens with HIV is dropping.

Marum is excited that the country's open stand against AIDS is working. "There are many different AIDS education organizations here. The net effect is really good news for Uganda."

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