Kevin’s Questions

Last night, I read Taking Away the Distance: An African AIDS Orphan and His Crusade to Unite Children Orphaned by the Epidemic, which has also been reprinted under the much more succinct title of Kevin’s Questions. The book was written by Miles Roston, a man who has spent years trying to educate people about AIDS and AIDS prevention through film. In the book, Miles takes readers along a journey as he meets Kevin, the young Kenyan who will later star in a documentary.

Kevin is an orphan. He lives alone in hut, selling peanuts to make a living. He goes to school during the week and the Catholic church on the weekend. When he first mets Miles, he was only twelve years old. He doesn’t talk. He doesn’t trust. Their lives become tangled when Miles tries to get the young orphan to open up about his situation. Over the years, Miles becomes a parental figure to Kevin. But because he’s not, it’s hard for Miles to remember to keep his distance, not imposing his own personal beliefs on AIDS and religious beliefs on him.

Without a doubt, Kevin’s life was changed by Miles. In his village, one of the centers of the disease, no one talked about how AIDS was spread. They just told the teenager to stay away from pretty girls and condoms. Both would spell disaster in his life. Without Miles, Kevin wouldn’t name the disease that had taken his mother. He wouldn’t have known that the spread of AIDS could be prevented by a thin piece of plastic. That there were thousands, millions of other orphans out there just like him. Without Miles, Kevin’s dream of becoming a doctor would not become attainable.

The book was excellent. I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone though. Reading a book all about AIDS, sex, religion, and how they intertwine in people’s lives can be uncomfortable. Let’s face it, each of those topics are controversial. Different parts of the book will offend different people. Not one person in the book has a monopoly on truth or how to solve the AIDS epidemic. But their thoughts are important. Their voices will speak to you, challenge your beliefs, and make you really think hard about what’s going on in the world.

Miles tells a good story. He asks hard questions. And the difference between his work and the work of many other journalists is the caring factor. Emotional distance be hanged. Stories resonate when they evoke emotions. When you cry along with a victim. When you feel liberated as the slave is emancipated.  When a tiny bit of you falls in love with the hero. When you find your ire being raised. And when you find yourself caring about something you knew nothing about before reading the author’s words.

I personally found the book riveting. AIDS victims are talked about but I’ve never met one. I’ve met orphans in Eastern Europe but their plight is vastly different than their African kin. As a Christian, I think the church should be full of people with AIDS. Just like I think it should be full of people with cancer, broken arms, and severe halitosis. Although, to be honest, I don’t want to sit next to people in the last category. I get angry when Christians try to exclude people groups from the church. Yes, sexual perversion is a sin. So is lying to your parents, sleeping with your girlfriend, and cheating on tests. Let’s spread grace like a blanket. In order to be the hands and feet of Jesus, the church has a long way to go in the loving department. And as I point to the church and decry the lack of compassion, three fingers point back at me. There’s work that needs to be done in my life as well. But that’s its own topic, its own article, best saved for another night.

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