HIV and the Church

By Pastor Bill Mugford

Why Don’t We Churches Start HIV&AIDS Ministries? Part 2D • Challenging Denial

In previous parts of this blog series, we stated that both people in our community and many Christians still live in denial about HIV&AIDS, and it is crucially important to inform denial with factual education and transform denial with theological wisdom.  Seven of ten ways we are in denial have been covered in Parts 2a-c.  In the remaining parts of this section on denial, all of us in faith communities are asked to consider how our misapprehension of the Gospel contributes to denial and what understanding a Biblical Gospel can do to help us care for people living with HIV&AIDS and their families and friends.

Today’s installment covers only one area, but it is at the heart of and absolutely crucial to understanding and establishing a spiritually and practically effective HIV&AIDS ministry.

8.  We live in denial when we feel that we do not have the resources or strategies to S.T.A.R.T. and develop HIV&AIDS ministries in the local church…

If you are a loving person who is part of a caring faith community of people, you and your church already have the greatest resource needed to S.T.A.R.T. an HIV&AIDS ministry, COMPASSION.  True compassion is comprised of at least three strategic principles-of-practice: pastoral care; advocacy; and “glocal” partnership.  Let me explain.

Compassion is the heart of the Gospel and its Great Commandment.  We are called to, “Love the LORD our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, AND love our neighbors – at, inside and beyond the front doors of our churches – as ourselves,” Luke 10:25-28.  Compassion is also the resourceful heart of ministry to people living with HIV&AIDS!  Living the Great Commandment precedes fulfilling the Great Commission, Matthew 28:19.  People need to know how much you care before they care how much you know. 

The Samaritan shows God-compassion when he “takes pity on” the half-dead man, 10:33.  The phrase “takes pity on” means, “to have one’s insides moved with compassion,” and is only ever used of God, except in this instance of the Samaritan.  By using this kind of fearless compassion, Jesus shows that God-love is possible in human-to-human ministry.

Pastoral care is the strategic soul of an HIV&AIDS ministry and not restricted to ministry by either “The Pastor” or his/her professionally trained staff.  In both principle and practice, pastoral care is within reach of every adequately equipped volunteer who is willing to help people in any stage of need.  We understand pastoral care through the metaphor of shepherds tending, leading and feeding, their sheep.  For a person who is HIV+, pastoral care can mean reading Scripture and praying together; sharing a meal or an event; giving a ride to an appointment, grocery store or pharmacy; helping with yard, house-work or home repairs; calling to remind someone to take ARV medication; or visiting at home or hospital on rare occasions when someone is ill.

While I do not have the space to elaborate, the Samaritan models pastoral care in at least twelve ways, Luke 10:33-35 (“half dead,” v.31) NIV:

1. “But a Samaritan,”  In pastoral care, anyone is eligible;

2. “As he traveled,”  Pastoral care anticipates routine days, made sovereignly meaningful;

3. “Came where the [half-dead] man was;”  Pastoral care meets its subjects where they are and sees the God-potential in the moment;

4. “And when he saw him,”  Pastoral care observes, assesses and understands the God-potential in life-situations;

5. “…He took pity on him.”  Pastoral care loves fearlessly and is compassionately moved to action;

6. “He went to him...”  Pastoral care gets involved;

7. “And bandaged his wounds,”  Pastoral care skillfully gets its hands dirty;

8. “Pouring on oil and wine.”  Pastoral care gives generously;

9. “Then he put the man on his own donkey,”  Pastoral care uses stuff to care for people;

10. “Brought him to an inn”  Pastoral care goes the second mile;

11. “And took care of him.”  Pastoral care ministers personally until relief is rendered;

12. “The next day he took out two denarii[e] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”  Pastoral care advocates for the voiceless and partners with purpose.

Advocacy is the strategic mind of the operation.  Advocacy means, “adding one’s voice to another’s on their behalf or to their benefit.”  The process of advocacy involves thinking ahead, thinking with and thinking out loud on behalf or to the benefit of a person, Sometimes, advocacy is observing and simply helping someone living with HIV to reflect on and voice problems, symptoms or concerns about which they might not normally speak.  It can involve thinking with and talking to people who can, maybe even should, meet needs or deliver goods and missing services.  Advocacy might also mean speaking truth to power in private and public, creatively alerting the church, community, government, bureaucracies, institutions and agencies regarding what they can do to address and alleviate a need about which you have become aware.

The Samaritan advocates for the half-dead man by caring for him until he is assured that he will survive, Luke 10:35a.

Partnership is the strategic strength of ministering to people living with HIV&AIDS.  Simply put, we are always better together!  Internally, every church can partner by forming support groups, care teams, a special needs task force and integrating people living with HIV&AIDS into the church’s small groups.  Special events and teaching series can highlight the HIV&AIDS ministry of compassion and specific projects or needs.  Attendance at training sessions and conferences can improve everyone’s “serve.”  Externally, churches can identify, encourage, strengthen and provide respite comfort for existing family-and-friend structures connected to the person living with HIV&AIDS.  Churches can collaboratively equip other churches to form HIV&AIDS ministries; encourage and build networks of churches ministering to HIV+ people; and cooperate with already-established institutions and organizations who assist people living with HIV&AIDS by assisting in problem-solving and resource coordination.  And partnerships can, and should, be done “glocally,” both locally and globally.  Some people will have a heart for those living close to them, and God will impress others with needs far away.  Both can be within reach, simultaneously.

The Samaritan then enlists the care of an innkeeper to make certain that the now-more-than-half-alive-man will thrive, 10:35b.

If you are willing to love, learn about, connect with and serve people in need, you and your church can have a meaningful and effective HIV&AIDS ministry that will transform you, your church, your community and add souls to heaven!

Want to continue to defeat denial in our faith communities with a little more Gospel truth and facts about HIV&AIDS?  Join us for the next installment!

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