“In AD 165, a terrible plague hit the Roman Empire that lasted for fifteen years. Some historians think it was smallpox, but whatever the cause it was devastating. Perhaps a quarter or more of the population died. A hundred years later another plague hit Rome, with similar results. Bodies were piled up in the streets, some being thrown there before people actually died. Thousands abandoned the cities for the countryside in an attempt to escape the pestilence.
But there was one minority group that responded very differently to both plagues. They stayed in the cities. Rather than avoiding the sick, they cared for them. As a result of receiving simple food and water when the ill were too weak to look after themselves, many survived when others who were forsaken by their friends and families died at a much higher rate. Some of those in this special group of caretakers also contracted the disease, however, and died. Why did they do this, knowing the danger? Why did they act so differently than many of their neighbors?
Largely, those that stayed to help the sick were Christians. They believed Christ’s call to love their neighbors, their pagan neighbors, even if it meant possible death. As a result, not only did Christians survive at a higher rate than pagans, but many of the pagans who were cared for by Christians – and who saw their sacrificial love for others- turned to Christ themselves. The reaction of Christians to these two plagues was one of the most significant factors in the conversion of half the Roman Empire to Christianity by about AD 350.”