A Change of Heart in the Face of AIDS
*By Judith Santiago
November 15, 2010—As World AIDS Day, Dec. 1 draws near, United Methodists and friends are reminded of the ongoing fight against HIV/AIDS, a disease that has robbed more than 33 million lives around the world. AIDS-related stigma, an often-silent battle, continues in our homes, churches and communities. United Methodists and friends are encouraged to support AIDS awareness, prevention and education ministries that help reduce stigma and strengthen communities affected by HIV.
“Because of the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS, it is commonly thought that only those with very high-risk behavior need to be tested,” said the Rev. H. Joe Tyson, pastor at Olivet United Methodist Church, Coatesville, Penn. “However, I know from personal experience some "unlikely" people who have HIV/AIDS,” he continued. “I know of a fellow pastor who served with me in ministry who died from AIDS. One of the seminarians for which I was a pastor and mentor also died from AIDS. He did not want people to visit him because he was so ashamed.”
Everyone Should Know Their Status
More than one million people live with HIV in the US. One in five is unaware of their status, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By getting tested himself at a Faith Leader/Community HIV testing event in Coatesville, Tyson helped break the ice for others to receive testing. He led by example for everyone to be tested and learn their status. The event was hosted by H.U.B. (Helping Us Be) of Hope HIV/AIDS ministry, which is primarily supported by the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund.
“When people discover they have HIV, some refuse to disclose their status to their family, friends, and church community because of fear and stigma associated with HIV/AIDS,” said Rev. Deborah Tanksley-Brown, HIV medical case manager and H.U.B. of Hope ministry director serving in Chester County, Penn. “It is deeply disheartening to hear people share how a faith community refuses to serve the food they prepare because they have AIDS, or people will not hold their hand for prayer,” continued Tanksley-Brown.
H.U.B. of Hope Targets Affected Populations
H.U.B. of Hope, a mobile ministry of the United Methodist Church of the Open Door in Kennett Square, Penn., where the Rev. Dr. Anita A. Powell is pastor, is working diligently to resolve the problem of stigma and HIV. In July 2003, Rev. Powell, and the vision team of the Church of the Open Door, initiated H.U.B. of Hope HIV/AIDS Ministry, thanks to funding support from the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund. H.U.B’s mission is to inform, equip, and mobilize diverse faith communities to respond with compassion and justice as servants in relationship with those living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.
The H.U.B. of Hope ministry team (Powell, Tanksley-Brown, and community partners, Rev. Susan L. Worrell and Keith Burress,) currently serves with 13 African American and Anglo faith communities, which are called Spokes of Hope. These congregations help carry out H.U.B.’s mission.
The ministry gives special attention to African American and Latino faith communities who have been disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. H.U.B. of Hope collaborates with HIV community service providers and those affected by the virus to provide education about HIV/AIDS to individuals in diverse faith communities through interfaith summits, interactive Bible studies, and small group presentations. The grassroots education project, schedules year-round events and places English and Spanish language advertisements in local newspapers to increase awareness about HIV testing and prevention.
Change of Heart
Because of Rev. Tyson’s courageous act to be publically tested for HIV and the dedicated work of H.U.B. of Hope, Spokes of Hope faith communities in Chester, Delaware and Philadelphia counties are experiencing a change of heart in the face of AIDS. They are now willing to have open dialogue about HIV in their congregations and through the provided interactive Bible studies and interfaith community summits. These communities are standing up against fear associated with HIV by becoming more vocal about the virus, and are also becoming active ‘spokes’ of H.U.B. of Hope to help promote the ministry’s mission.
In addition, Spokes of Hope communities are providing for people living with HIV/AIDS maintaining a dry goods bank, providing holiday food baskets, serving as volunteer drivers to transport people to their doctor appointments, and by becoming active prayer partners with those affected by HIV/AIDS.
H.U.B. is also finding that the number of faith communities interested in receiving printed information about HIV/AIDS is on the rise— demonstrating the ministry’s success at combating AIDS-related stigma through simple education and awareness.
How You Can Help
Observe World AIDS Day, Dec. 1 with your gifts to support ministries like H.U.B. of Hope that are encouraging communities of faith to step up and speak out about HIV/AIDS. Visit UMCOR’s World AIDS Day resource page for downloadable resources, and give generously to the UM Global AIDS Fund, UMCOR Advance #982345.
*Santiago is the Project Manager for UMCOR Communications.