Global AIDS Event Encourages Participants to "Lighten the Burden"
by Michelle Scott*
FORT WORTH, April 22, 2008—On the eve of the 2008 United Methodist General Conference, the denomination's Global AIDS Fund celebrated its first four years of work toward an AIDS-free world.
Kay Warren, AIDS advocate, author and founder of the HIV/AIDS Initiative at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, was the keynote speaker at Lighten the Burden II. Bishop João Somane Machado of Mozambique delivered a sermon during the morning worship service, and the Rev. Shane Stanford—United Methodist pastor, author, and person living with HIV—also gave an inspirational message at the event.
The United Methodist Global AIDS Fund was established at the 2004 General Conference in response to requests from four annual conferences. The Rev. Donald Messer, fund committee member and AIDS advocate, noted that the fund was established not only to raise money but to involve every United Methodist. This intent is symbolized in the fund's goal of $8 million—one dollar for every United Methodist in the United States.
At Lighten the Burden II, more than 150 people from all over the world celebrated the fact that, in the past four years, the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund raised over $2 million and helped more than 40 projects. The programs it has supported are wide-ranging and community-oriented, such as:
counseling services for women who were raped during the war in Sierra Leone
HIV/AIDS prevention education programs for truck drivers in northern India
community clinics and hospitals in Liberia, Cameroon, Senegal, Nigeria, Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Angola, and other countries.
Need for Comprehensive Approach
"I can't talk about HIV without also talking about tuberculosis and malaria," said Bishop Machado during the morning worship. He described the need for a comprehensive approach to health, which also includes hunger and literacy programs. "If you say our money is only to purchase medication, you need to know it's poison if they have nothing to eat."
The theme of becoming personally involved in the AIDS crisis was woven throughout the day's events. Bishop Machado emphasized that HIV/AIDS is something that needs the help and ownership of all people. "HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria is not a problem of the poor people only—it is our problem."
In her keynote address, Ms. Warren challenged attendees to raise the level of personal and church-wide activism in HIV/AIDS ministry. Her talk gave church leaders practical ways to be engaged in ministry with people who have HIV/AIDS. Noting the large numbers of people infected by the virus, Ms. Warren spoke strongly, "If you don't know someone with HIV/AIDS, then there is something wrong with your faith."
Mr. Stanford gave a face to HIV that many would not expect—that of a United Methodist pastor. His inspirational talk provided a glimpse inside the life of someone who is HIV-positive, including his own realization that HIV is not just a medical condition. He described the social stigmas he had to overcome in his ministry as a church planter in Mississippi and how United Methodists stood by him throughout. Mr. Stanford recently joined the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund committee.
How to Be Involved
"We want to engage the hearts of United Methodists," said Rev. Messer of the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund. This work depends upon the continuing gifts from United Methodists everywhere. Through its grants to HIV/AIDS-related work, the fund helps to lighten the burden of thousands.
To contribute to this life-saving ministry, give to "UM Global AIDS Fund, UMCOR Advance #982345." Checks can be mailed to UMCOR, PO Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Write the Advance number and name on the memo line of your check. Online gifts can be made at www.givetomission.org One hundred percent of every donation to any appeal, including appeals for the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, goes to support recovery efforts in the disaster-stricken regions.
* Michelle Scott is the communications director of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).