By Mary E. Speidel
VITORIA, Brazil -- "Mommy, what a pretty girl!" exclaimed 10-year-old Katie Gray, as she passed by a patient's room at House of Hope.
A young Brazilian woman lay inside the room, dying of AIDS.
Her body looked emaciated. She had chronic diarrhea. Intravenous fluids dripped into a vein in her bony arm.
But Katie didn't seem to notice the ugliness of AIDS. Instead, she saw the woman's clear green eyes, framed by long dark lashes. She saw a face that still showed striking beauty.
"I've tried to help our daughters see AIDS patients for who they are, instead of the fact that they have this disease," says Katie's mother, Karen Gray.
Gray, a Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board missionary from Wagarville, Ala., helped start House of Hope, a Baptist AIDS hospice in Vitoria, Brazil.
For Gray, that was a hard lesson to learn. The process started when she heard her pastor in Brazil preach on Christian social ministries. When he mentioned helping people with AIDS, "it was just like that," says Gray, snapping her fingers. "I felt the Lord was speaking to me."
She had no idea why. "But it was such a strong feeling that I couldn't brush it off. I had to go with it."
Gray never dreamed where the journey would take her.
She has prayed at the bedside of prostitutes, transvestites and homosexuals. She's helped buy coffins and plan funerals for patients whose families rejected them. She's comforted young mothers and Christian wives who got AIDS through no fault of their own.
"Sometimes I'm amazed I'm not crazy or totally depressed when I think about it," says Gray. "There are no other reasons except the Lord sustaining us and Christians praying for us.
"I realize now how judgmental I've been. My life was so limited and sheltered. It was much easier to point my finger at those on the outside."
Now, she's extending a hand. "I was born and raised and lived my life in a comfort zone," Gray says. "Stepping out of that has been a real learning and growing experience."
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