Church Fights HIV-AIDS in Africa
n unscheduled presentation on the Adventist Churchs response to the HIV-AIDS epidemic proved to be one of the most moving parts thus far of this years Annual Council. On Sunday afternoon Dr. Allan Handysides, director of the GC Health Ministries Department, and Drs. Oscar and Eugenia Giordano, executive and associate directors of Adventist HIV-AIDS International Ministry (AAIM), highlighted the work of AAIM in Africa and showed a Hope for Humanity (North American Ingathering fund) video about an HIV-AIDS project in Dwarsloop, South Africa. The project, called Nhlengelo: Standing Together Against HIV/AIDS in South Africa, was captured in video footage taken when an eight-member team of Adventist pastors traveled to Dwarsloop to visit with project leaders and with people in the community who have HIV-AIDS.
How It Began
According to the report, the Dwarsloop program began with Paul Mawela, a retired pastor in the region, who felt that he was conducting too many funerals for young adults. Almost every weekend we were burying a young person, who was leaving children behind, said Mawela, who spoke on the video. One of my own church members approached me and told me, Pastor, I am HIV positive. Am I still welcome to be a member in this church? That gave me a challenge. And I discovered she was not the only one who thinks that to be HIV positive is to be like a leperyou must be thrown out. There are many in these communities [who feel that way].
Mawela and pastors of other Christian churches in the region have formed a community-based organization to help take care of those suffering from the disease. The project is called Nhlengelo, a Tsonga name for standing together against an enemy, explained Mawela. So we said, Well, let us stand together against the enemy HIV-AIDS and other illnesses found in the community.
The goal of the program is to encourage other pastors and conference officials to come and see the community- and home-based projects, and then begin similar programs in their own communities.
It was exciting to see Seventh-day Adventists beginning to work with other denominations, particularly in the area of health, because weve worked in health for so long, said Handysides. The ones whom we met there had obviously bonded, and this was a team approach . . . to the community needs. That was extremely gratifying to me.
Team members emphasized, however, that its the caregivers who are the heart and soul of the program. They go into the homes of those who have HIV-AIDS and take care of whatever their needs are, said Maitland DiPinto, director of Hope for Humanity. They feed them, exercise their limbs, help clean the house, whatever needs to be done.
Meeting the People
The pastors visited several homes of people who have HIV-AIDS, including that of a 36-year-old mother of three children, and another home of a 5-year-old girl. It just broke your heart to see this precious little girl, so young, so innocent, and to know that shes so sick and that [the family doesnt] have what they need to take care of her, said Frank Bondurant, assistant to the president of NADs Chesapeake Conference.
HIV-AIDS is to my mind one of the most lethal epidemics that has ever hit mankind, said Handysides. The problem with HIV-AIDS is that its an epidemic in slow motion. Its not ravaging in one year, but its like you take a movie of a cheetah and run it in slow motion. But let me tell you that its going to be just as fast and just as devastating when we look at it over time, because we dont have a cure for it.
We visited five homes in this quarter-of-a-mile region, and in every home there is somebody lying there with HIV, he added. Thats the human tragedy thats behind all this.
Project leaders on the video explained that many of the orphaned children being cared for have lost both parents. These are really children, but they are now heads of the households, said Royce Snyman, associate Ministerial director of the Michigan Conference in NAD and one of the team members. And theyre not necessarily teenagers. They may be young children6, 7, 8 years oldbut technically you call them head of household because thats all thats left.
In spite of their situation, team members described the children as happy and wanting to minister to others. They touch your hearts, and when you realize what theyre going through and the fact that they still have that smile that comes across their face, it really makes an impact on your life, said Snyman. And you say . . . how grateful [you are] that Mrs. Mawela and Pastor Mawela are ministering to these kids, and we can have a part in that.
I hope to be able to extend the ministry of the Mawelas by saying there are opportunities here for us to care for these people, and they really need our help, he added.
A Change of Attitude
Hope for Humanity is coming to this program saying, Here are some challenges, here are some needs, explained John Appel, senior pastor of the Frederick, Maryland, Adventist Church in NAD. We are a world church. We cant just stay focused congregationally; weve got to start thinking about our brothers and sisters across the world who need our help.
Giordano reported that according to percentages found by a 2003 ADRA survey, AAIM has estimated that more than 500,000 Adventists in the three African divisions have HIV-AIDS, which is more than 10 percent of the total Adventist population. This means that an average of 4,018 Adventists die each year, 337 die each month, and 12 die each day as a result of this disease.
Even though the mission of AAIM includes meeting the basic physical and emotional needs of those suffering from this disease, Giordano added that the most important goal is to change attitudes. The majority of our church members living with the virus suffer and die secretly because they fear stigmatization and discrimination.
He added, We want to treat people how Jesus wouldwith care, love, and compassion. We want to do for them what we would like done for us if we were in their situation.
One of the functions of the first Annual Council following a GC session is the official organization of the churchs subsidiary ministries and servicesAdventist International Institute of Advanced Studies, Adventist World Radio, Adventist Development and Relief Agency, Home Study Institute/Griggs, and Christian Record Services. The Monday morning session included a series of brief but important constituency meetings for these five organizations. Policy amendments and officer elections usually occur in conjunction with these meetings.
Several of this years ministries used highly effective multimedia presentations to highlight the work they are doing and the needs they are trying to serve.
AIIASAdventist International Institute of Advanced Studies provides Adventist graduate education in such fields as business, education, health, and religion to prepare students for competent leadership and service in meeting the needs of the global church and society. Its campus is located in the Philippines.
ADRAThe Adventist Development and Relief Agency International is an independent humanitarian agency established by the church in 1984 for the specific purposes of individual and community development and disaster relief. ADRA is currently present in 125 countries, and has taken a major role in helping victims of the Asia tsunami, hurricanes on the Gulf Coast of the United States, and the recent devastating earthquake in Pakistan.
AWRAdventist World Radio is the international radio broadcast arm of the Adventist Church. Created in 1971, AWR uses shortwave radio and other forms of media to reach people for Christ.
HIS/GriggsHome Study International/Griggs serves students in more than 60 countries through its online preschool, K-12, and college programs. HSI-managed college-degree programs are also available through regionally-accredited Adventist institutions of higher learning.
CRSBased in Lincoln, Nebraska, Christian Record Services provides free Christian publications and programs for people with visual impairments.
The Nominating Committee met Monday afternoon to recommend candidates for several positions. Final action is anticipated sometime during Tuesdays agenda.
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