Positive Towards HIV/AIDS
By Judith Santiago*
November 17, 2008—"As someone who has received a death sentence—as long as I take my medication, there's hope," says Anthony Holscher from Phoenix, Arizona.
Holscher is HIV-positive and his attitude toward this life-threatening disease is one of hope. He is hopeful, not just because of medication that is assisting his daily living, but because of a transformed spirit that has confronted death with victory. His transformation began at a retreat for persons living with HIV/AIDS.
In the 27 years since AIDS has crept into 33 million lives worldwide, AIDS has issued its fatal sentence to 25 million people. Holscher is among those who have found strength, love and support at Strength for the Journey retreats in Arizona. The retreats are supported by the Desert Southwest Annual Conference AIDS Taskforce and funded through the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, which supports education, prevention, care, and treatment programs for people living with HIV/AIDS in the US and abroad.
Chronic fatique, reoccurring flu, and uncontrollable diarrhea are some of the common debilitating symptoms that a person with HIV/AIDS can struggle with daily. Holscher was one who bore these oftentimes shameful experiences along with the harsh rejection from others that followed his diagnosis in 1991.
After learning about his HIV/AIDS status, the relationship with his partner turned abusive-driving Holscher to attempt suicide. With no close friends or support he could count on, Holscher was alone with his illness. He turned to drugs to help him cope. Then, at a clinic in Phoenix where Holscher was receiving treatment, he learned about the Strength for the Journey retreats.
Strength for the Journey
Strength for the Journey for persons living with HIV/AIDS, offers participants a spiritual respite from the world where participants can connect with God and themselves in an embracing, loving environment. The retreats began over 15 years ago in the California-Pacific Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. Two retreats are held each year in Arizona—Mingus Mountain, Prescott in September and Pine Canyon Camp, Tucson in May. The annual camp retreats, originally begun by retired Phoenix Pastor Tom Kiracofe, are supported by the Desert Southwest Annual Conference AIDS Taskforce. The ministry gives 25 percent of its raised Global AIDS Fund assistance toward the retreats and allocates the other 75 percent toward grants to help other AIDS-related ministries. The Task Force has also developed a grant application for churches or groups who may want to expand or begin an HIV/AIDS ministry.
"I left my depression up on that mountain, mentally, spiritually and emotionally," says Holscher. At the retreat, Holscher found life, love and true acceptance from others that helped him heal. He learned to forgive others and love himself. Now, Strength for the Journey is his annual birthday gift to himself.
When **Robert Sullivan, originally from Minnesota, arrived at Mingus Mountain for his first camp experience, he did not want to expose himself as a person living with HIV/AIDS. Sullivan was nervous and initially regretted his decision to attend the camp. But it didn't take him long to relax in the company of others just like him. Comfort and love came from Pastor Tom Kiracofe, nurse Linda Girard and other camp and staff supporters, that helped make Sullivan's stay reassuringly hopeful.
Diagnosed HIV-positive in 1986, Sullivan lived in fear, shame and denial for months. He dreaded the impending rejection of others—choosing to hide his real identity and HIV concerns for years.
"I cried daily and had nightmares of taking my body apart and rinsing each and every part under hot water, even using bleach," said Sullivan. This reoccurring nightmare soon ended and was replaced by love and support demonstrated by camp supporters.
"Through each camp, the power of companionship is demonstrated by campers caring for each other, building trust and strength for a journey troubled with health afflictions of self, family members and friends," said Sullivan.
Time to Heal
The Strength for the Journey retreats provides a warm and caring experience for about 40 HIV-positive women and men as well as their caregivers. It is one personal way the church ministers love and embraces those afflicted or left isolated with the disease. The retreat offers a variety of fun activities in a scenic, tranquil setting. Mingus Mountain and Pine Canyon camps are set amidst acres of towering pines, green meadows, wildflowers and redwood cabins. Activities include hiking, arts and crafts, open discussions, support groups, yoga, massage, and offers a time for worship and prayer—giving participants an opportunity to discover God's love. Through these activities, campers regain hope and spiritual strength while renewing their vitality to live. Their spirits are renewed and their views are shaped more positively toward HIV/AIDS.
How You Can Help
You can support programs like these by observing World AIDS Day with your gifts. Give generously to the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, UMCOR Advance # 982345 and help someone else live positively with HIV/AIDS.
*Santiago is a Program Coordinator for UMCOR Communications**Name has been changed