By Pastor Bill Mugford
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. Eight of ten ways we are in denial have been covered in Parts 2a-d. 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.
9. We live in denial when we believe that we might be alone in initiating and developing HIV&AIDS ministries in the local church…
The fact is that WE ARE NOT ALONE when initiating and developing HIV&AIDS ministries in the local church. We are aided by people who have many years and a breadth of experience caring for people who live with HIV&AIDS and their families and friends. From my experience, there are at least three groups of people and organizations to which we can look and from whose experience we can draw.
• Medical and social service professionals have been dealing with HIV&AIDS since the beginning of the pandemic.
Shortly after I met the first person we suspected of being HIV+, I was discussing – in very general terms – my encounter with a young Egyptian doctor in my College Ministries group. Sam told me that he gave one month out of every year to work in Africa, sometimes encountering people suffering from “slim disease,” one of the first descriptors of HIV&AIDS. Together, we were able to formulate a rudimentary pastoral care strategy for the young friend I met at the church door (see first article in this series) and many others to whom I/we would minister later.
Very recently, I had the privilege of meeting a group of 13 medical and social service professionals from four churches in Washington DC and Raleigh NC, who already work daily with people living with HIV&AIDS and are initiating HIV&AIDS ministries in their local churches. What an incredible experience to meet people like Sara who care so much that they are actually energized by serving. (That’s an indication of “giftedness.”)
• Partner organizations exist almost everywhere, especially in urban areas that have been most hard-hit during the pandemic. However, as the pandemic has spread, you can find partners in urban, suburban and rural environments.
AIDS Services Organizations, healthcare institutions, government agencies and not-for-profit/non-governmental agencies are great sources of information, inspiration and potential partnership in the fight against HIV&AIDS. In my experience, they welcome the assistance of knowledgeable, well-prepared people and organizations/churches. To find ASO’s and other partners, try at least the following websites and use their search functions: www.asofinder.com, www.aids.gov, www.cdc.gov/hiv, and http://hab.hrsa.gov/gethelp/. You may also simply connect with your city’s, town’s healthcare professionals or government offices, asking them to identify people and organizations in your area with whom you can partner.
…Two important notes about connecting with partner organizations. Many agencies and organizations have been in the fight for a long time; have witnessed the challenges (hidden and overt prejudice, stigma, hatred, fear) those they serve encounter in the community and from the church; were formed because both culture and church failed to respond; and have legitimately become very protective of their clients/patients. First. If you are hoping for success in your HIV&AIDS ministry and plan to partner, please endeavor to know and be conversant in and with that history; take concrete educational and screening steps to ensure such challenges are not present in your ministry in philosophy, policies, processes, programs, practices and personnel; and ask your partners for a mutuality accountability agreement, so you can alert each other to and address issues as they arise. Second. Some churches/religious groups look at people living with HIV&AIDS and their families and friends as a “target rich environment” for conversion and only through the lens of particular kinds of coercive evangelism. They ignore the compelling truth that the New Testament Church “praised God and enjoyed the favor of all people,” (Acts 2:42-47), precisely because they were willing to make Jesus’ example of and command to compassion their evangelism program (John 3:16-17; 13:34-35; Luke 10:26-28; 10:25-37; and too many more to list).
• Networks of churches comprise a third group with whom you/your church can work in order not to be alone in tackling HIV&AIDS.
At present, networks of churches who serve people living with HIV&AIDS and their families and friends are found by surveying denominational initiatives, discovering local networks of like-ministering churches and digging for that one church in an area who has caught and is implementing the vision. A simple web search, “Churches with HIV&AIDS ministries…” yields all three groups, and the more specific you become, “Churches with HIV&AIDS ministries in or near Lake Charles, LA,” the closer you will find them.
Because we are unaware of an all-encompassing, North American network, Saddleback Church is attempting to link churches through the HIV&AIDS Initiative for that purpose. If you are a local church doing HIV&AIDS ministry, please contact us so that we can work together for the benefit of those living with HIV&AIDS and their families and friends at firstname.lastname@example.org or 949.609.8295.
So, don’t be alone and try to tackle the pandemic by yourself. Find people and partners from whom you can learn and who you can help in the fight against this awful virus and on behalf of people living with HIV&AIDS and their families and friends.
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!