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What's the Solution for Africa's Biggest Problem?

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I had been invited to speak to the Kumasi Virgins Club.

They meet every Sunday afternoon. When I was first asked to address the group, I was told there would be about 100 people there, representing all faiths. There were, in fact, 284. Not all the members were present. The club has 420 registered members, all virgins, each one committed to abstaining from sexual activity until marriage.

Kumasi is Ghana's second biggest city. Imagine a "Virgins Club" in Los Angeles or Birmingham in England. The group in Ghana is supported by a local radio station. All the members are young and all seemed enthusiastic supporters of the group's goals.

Wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words "I am proud to be a virgin," rarely have I spoken before such an attentive audience. Not only were they attentive, they very patiently listened while all my words were translated from English into Twi, the local language of the Akan people. Those who were bilingual heard the same message twice.

A Continent Headed for Destruction?

The club is fairly new, started in response to the spreading threat from HIV/AIDS. Ghana's democratically elected president, John Kufour, instituted the "ABC" campaign, which has been successful in Uganda, another African nation on the other side of the continent.

"A is for Abstinence,
B = Be faithful after marriage,
If you can't, use a Condom (C),
It's as simple as A-B-C."

So proclaim the billboards in a desperate attempt to stop a disaster that threatens to destroy the continent.

That's no exaggeration.

Ghana is not the worst-hit country. The part of the continent most affected by this devastating plague is southern Africa. South Africa, the most modern of all African nations, has the world's largest number of HIV-positive citizens, about 5 million.

Neighboring countries have a higher percentage of people infected with the HIV virus. In Botswana and Zimbabwe about 40 percent of the adult population is HIV-positive, all destined to die within a relatively short period of time. Appeals for cheaper drugs from the West can only delay death, not prevent it. Meanwhile, the living can spread the virus to others.

There are no official statistics on Ghana, but neighboring Burkina Faso tested all the women giving births in hospitals last year and found 15 percent were HIV-positive. Since borders don't mean much in Africa, it can be safely assumed that the same figure applies in all the countries nearby, including Ghana.

When the disease affects 5 percent of the population, it's considered out of control. The 15 percent will soon grow to 30 percent, then 40 percent and so on. Sexually transmitted diseases spread rapidly. AIDS in Africa is almost exclusively spread through heterosexual relationships.

God's Solution for the AIDS Epidemic

I invited the Virgins Club members to save the continent of Africa. My wife and I, with our children, lived in Ghana when the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was first identified, back in 1981. Twenty two years later the plague of AIDS is thousands of times worse than it was back then. We've lost over two decades in fighting this disease. Millions of people in Africa are already dead. Millions more are dying.

Yet, in the midst of all this negativity, good news can be found. The good news is that there is a sure cure for AIDS. In another two decades we could be completely free of the HIV virus if only everyone would do as the members of the Virgins Club are doing—and pledge themselves to abstinence before marriage, fidelity within.

Option "C," some are surprised to learn, is no guarantee at all. Condoms are not 100 percent effective against pregnancy. Nor are they against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. So much for educational campaigns that emphasize "safe sex"—a euphemism for "use a condom." There is only one guarantee that you won't get AIDS—and that's for both partners to enjoy the sexual relationship within marriage only.

That's the way God intended it to be.

When God created Adam, He said: "It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him" (Genesis 2:18). Then God created Eve. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (verse 24).

On a continent where polygamy is widely practiced, the Genesis account was quite revealing: God's intention was that Adam should have only one wife, just the one sexual partner.

The Ten Commandments emphasize this point. "You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14). Adultery takes place when a person engages in sexual activity outside of a marriage.

Sex: Playing Russian Roulette?

The apostle Paul warns us to "Flee sexual immorality" (1 Corinthians 6:18). He then added the words: "Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body."

What did Paul mean when he added those words?

Immediately, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) come to mind. Again, Ghana keeps no official statistics on these. But along with the HIV virus come other STDs.

In the United States, STDs are a major and growing problem among young people. In 1967, when I graduated from high school, only 1 in 32 grads had an STD. By 1983 that figure had increased to 1 in 18. Now it's 1 in 4! And get this: In 1967 there were only five STDs to be concerned about. Now there are 30, and one third of them are incurable.

HIV is a virus. Science has never yet found a cure for a virus. Herpes, the most common STD, is also a virus. It irritates and is often quite painful. It's also highly contagious and stays with you for the rest of your life should you become infected. Other STDs can leave you infertile, unable to give birth to children.

In 1967 the biggest fear parents had was that their daughter would get pregnant outside of marriage. While that's still a major concern for parents, most of those who were around in the 1960s are not aware of the fact that today their daughters are four times more likely to acquire an STD than to become pregnant. Yet many parents, influenced by the '60s sexual revolution, put their daughters on the pill, giving them the green light for sex.

That decision can be fatal. Every hour, an American teenager becomes HIV-positive.

Damaging the Mind as Well as the Body

God knew what He was doing when He said, "You shall not commit adultery." Sex outside of marriage is always a sin, always wrong and always harmful. And not just sexual intercourse, either. The HIV virus can be passed from one person to another in many ways. The same is true with other STDs.

Even if all possible precautions are taken, sexual activity outside of marriage remains a sin. That's another side to the apostle Paul's warning.

Illicit sex—sex not approved of by God—harms the mind as well as the body.

Wrong sexual habits can be developed during the teenage and young adult years that leave a lasting negative effect. Then when a person finally does marry, he or she has formed a habit of moving from one partner to another and it is more difficult to remain faithful. Contracting one or more STDs, unwanted pregnancies, abortions and divorce are the frequent consequences.
Even if these don't take place, comparisons can be made between a spouse and former sexual partners that result in feelings of dissatisfaction. Feelings of rejection as relationships break up cause some to build an emotional wall around themselves, making it difficult to fully give themselves to their partner in marriage.

Are the consequences worth the few minutes of illicit pleasure?

Only One Solution

In this age of AIDS, we hear many cries made around the world with increasing frequency. Always the message is repeated that we need more money to fight AIDS—money to educate people about the disease, money for hospitals to take care of the sick and dying, money for the drugs that enable people to live longer, money for educational programs. The list is endless.

But the fact remains that millions of dollars have already been spent on these things—and little has been achieved.

Only one message is guaranteed to work. Only one approach will totally end the scourge of AIDS.

Abstinence before marriage, be faithful within.

Or, as the LORD commanded in Exodus 20:14 almost 4,000 years ago, "You shall not commit adultery." UN