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Shattering Stigma

By Gideon Heugh | 20 Feb 2017

Wok of food

As followers of Christ, social justice is at the heart of all that Tearfund do. For Xiao Wang and his wife MeiLi,* who were ostracised from their community by an HIV diagnosis, this means nothing less than new life.

Social justice means bringing hope to the marginalised, opportunity to the downtrodden, and the releasing of potential for those who have been bound by poverty. 

Stigma
Xiao Wang and MeiLi have HIV. Living in the Mekong region of south-east Asia, this means that, tragically, it’s not just the disease that the couple have to live with, but also the stigma that goes with it. People who were once friends suddenly shunned them. Neighbours stayed away. Even their children, who didn’t have HIV, were treated with disrespect and disdain.

A group of staff from one of Tearfund’s partners arrived in the remote mountain village where couple live and were shocked by what they saw. Their house, a simple wooden hut, had been severely neglected, and was in a state of critical disrepair. There were leaks in the roof and what little furniture they had was ruined. It was also clear that they were not getting enough to eat.


Xiao Wang and MeiLi kept asking over and over, "Why will you eat with us when nobody else will?"'

‘Why are you not scared of us?’
The stigma that had been attached to Xiao Wang and MeiLi had stripped away their sense of self-worth, and with it their purpose and any desire to care for their own needs. Their circumstances had created a vicious cycle; if you feel as though you have little value or worth, it becomes much harder to lift yourself out of poverty.

But love transforms; love redeems; love heals. The staff had brought along a huge basket of meat and vegetables with them. They cooked a wholesome meal, and then sat down and ate with the couple. Xiao Wang and MeiLi kept asking over and over, ‘Why are you not scared of us, why will you eat with us when nobody else will?’

Not ashamed
Our staff started visiting the couple every month, eating with them and sharing more about the gospel each time. Soon they became Christians and, over time, began to grow in their faith. They decided they didn’t care how some of the villagers treated them, since they have a Father in heaven who loves them deeply.


'Love transforms; love redeems; love heals.'

Now Xiao Wang and MeiLi are building a new house. Other villagers can’t believe that they are doing so well and have so many friends. Xiao Wang and MeiLi say they are no longer scared of other villagers and not ashamed to tell people they have HIV. They have a new outlook on life and courage to face the future.

Love vs poverty
By showing them God’s love, Xiao Wang and MeiLi have been given something deeper than their material needs being met. The easy option for our staff would have been to simply build the couple a new house. But this wouldn’t have gone to the heart of the issue. Instead, Xiao Wang and MeiLi have been given a far more precious gift: self-worth.

We are more than merely material; we are spiritual. And poverty can rob people spiritually as much as anything else. By walking alongside the poor and marginalised in love, as Christ did, we can give back what poverty has stolen away, and see social justice restored where it’s needed the most.

*Names have been changed to protect identity


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Written by Gideon Heugh


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