Interactive AIDS Exhibit Strengthens Grassroots Movements

LOS ANGELES – Hundreds in the Los Angeles area this week will take the opportunity to walk in the steps of a child living in an AIDS-affected community in Africa through a nationally touring interactive exhibit.

"World Vision Experience: AIDS" opened its doors to the people of LA Monday, marking the beginning of the weeklong exhibit with an opening ceremony at Holman United Methodist Church.

The Los Angeles District of The United Methodist Church and World Vision Southern California are presenting the innovative exhibit from Aug. 11 to Aug. 18 in order to engage the community on the issue of how AIDS is devastating parts of Africa.

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"World Vision is providing local residents of Los Angeles with an opportunity to see, hear and experience in a personal way the lives of children whose worlds have been devastated by AIDS," said the Rev. Dr. Cedrick Bridgeforth, superintendent of the Los Angeles District of The United Methodist Church, in a released statement.

"Our people are excited to host the exhibit and invite the local community to come join us as we do our part to make a difference in the lives of those most affected by this disease – our children."

During the opening ceremony on Monday, more than 120 people were challenged to take action against one of the deadliest diseases in recorded history.

"You don't have to have money," said the Honorable Mrs. Kgopotso John, who attended as a representative for the South African Consulate. "You bring everything you have to the one that you love."

John pointed out that more than medication, what AIDS victims lacked were the basic needs – such as food and shelter.

"Medication on an empty stomach doesn't work," she pointed out.

Ms. Loretta Jones, executive director of Healthy African American Families, meanwhile, encouraged the ceremony's attendees to cut down on even one night of eating out each week or each month and use the money that would have been spent to donate to charities.

"What would you do if it was your nephew or niece, or your son or daughter who was affected by HIV/AIDS?" she asked.

"We are responsible for each other," she said, reminding attendees that "each of us are our brother's keeper."

"We are the keepers of the children of the world, not just the children around the corner," she added.

"Action should start at home."

Also present during the opening ceremony was Ms. Marilee Pierce Dunker, a child sponsorship advocate for World Vision in the United States and the daughter of World Vision founder Bob Pierce.

In her brief speech, Dunker recounted how World Vision – the world's largest Christian relief and development agency – came to start from single moment of compassion amid a desperate situation.

She also recalled the words that her father had etched in his Bible following that moment, and encouraged attendees to let those words also resonate in their hearts.

"Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God," she cited.

After the ceremony, Dunker told The Christian Post that "as heart-breaking as the pandemic is, the window of opportunity into the hearts and minds of young people is unprecedented."

"There is a huge void that can be filled by the love of God," she asserted.

Dunker urged Christians to partner together, pull down all barriers, and act as a body of Christ to spread the gospel, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and, in doing so, "change this world."

"The opportunity to change our world has never been greater," she claimed.

According to World Vision, about 33 million people globally are living with HIV or AIDS (nearly the population of Canada) and more than 28 million have already died of AIDS. Last year, more than 2.5 million people were newly infected with HIV.

Furthermore, those most affected by HIV/AIDS are the children. More than 15 million have been orphaned (lost one or both parents) to AIDS. And by 2010, the number of children orphaned by AIDS will be more than 20 million, according to United Nations estimates. Among those will be a staggering 10 million in sub-Saharan Africa who have lost both parents.

"World Vision, unfortunately, cannot take thousands of Americans to Africa to witness the tragedy of the AIDS pandemic personally," said Richard E. Stearns, president and CEO of World Vision, U.S., in a released statement. "So we've created this exhibit to enable people to 'step into Africa' and learn more about effects of the greatest humanitarian disaster of our time and how they can help."

"No one can do everything, but each of us can to something to help turn the tide against AIDS," he added.

As has been done in other cities across America, visitors to the 2,340 square foot exhibit at Holman United Methodist Church will walk though a replica of an African village while listening on headsets to a story of a child whose life has been affected by AIDS. The stories profiled in the exhibit are those of four real children touched by the work of World Vision, and are inspired by true events.

About 3,000 to 4,000 visitors are expected to tour the free exhibit in each city during a typical five-day stay. The exhibit is slated to reach 20 more U.S. cities before the end of this year after having already reached around 50 since last year.

Christian Post editor Kenneth Chan in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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