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Church Awakens to AIDS Call

By Judith Santiago*

October 15, 2010 — Lighten the Burden III, the third international AIDS conference held October 14-16 in Dallas, Texas, kicked off with an alarm that called the church to awaken from its silence in confronting the HIV/AIDS issue in the pews.

Featured speaker and Episcopal leader Bishop Minerva G. Carcano of Desert Southwest Annual Conference engaged the more than 170 participants in a true account of a devoted United Methodist (UM) woman from New Mexico who after years of service stopped coming to church.  After much pursuit and visits to the woman’s home, Bishop Carcano soon found out that the woman’s grandson was dying with HIV/AIDS.

“I love my church, but I know them (church).  I know what they think of him, although they never met him,” relayed Bishop Carcano on the woman’s reason for keeping silent.

Genuine acceptance of those infected and affected with HIV/AIDS was the heart of Bishop Carcano’s address. She focused on God’s call to the church to further its commitment to lightening the burden of everyone affected by HIV/AIDS, stating that Jesus did not preach “take the harvest you like,” but rather to see the ripe fields as Jesus saw and to accept and care for everyone.  

Bishop Carcano finished her story by sharing a question posed by the friends of the woman’s son who eventually lost his life to HIV/AIDS, saying “Pastor, do you think the church will ever accept us?”

The opening of Lighten the Burden III focused on the issue of stigma in the church. Many churches accept that HIV/AIDS exists in places like Sub-Saharan Africa, but are not willing to see or accept HIV/AIDS in their local church communities.

“Every congregation has a member in their church affected by HIV/AIDS,” said Schaunta James-Boyd, featured panelist from Kansas West Annual Conference. Schaunta James-Boyd, who heads up The Know Your Status project, a program supported by the UM Global AIDS Fund and UMCOR, has asked her church leadership to be tested for HIV/AIDS in front of the congregation.

20/20, A New Vision for HIV/AIDS

The Rev. Dr. Donald E. Messer, executive director of the Center for the Church and Global AIDS and chair of the UM Global AIDS Fund Committee, unveiled a new fundraising campaign that he hopes will change the HIV lens of the church. The campaign called “20/20: Visioning an AIDS-Free World” encourages every United Methodist to commit to giving $20 a year until the year 2020 to support global HIV/AIDS projects.  The campaign demonstrates how far $20 can go in developing countries to reduce the incidence of HIV/AIDS. It connects the UM church with people affected by the virus through story telling and resources that inspire hope, bring change, and educate communities to reduce stigma. The UM Global AIDS Committee became the first contributors of the fundraising initiative; each committee member donated $20 to kick-off the campaign.

 “Every new infection is a failure on our part,” said Rev. Messer. “The harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few,” stated Messer.

Workshops Address Scope of AIDS Issues

Lighten the Burden III offers informative workshops designed to open the eyes of the faith community.  Topics include faith and AIDS, family planning, pediatric AIDS, advocacy through public policy, care giving, aging and AIDS, and much more.  The conference began with several site visits to local Dallas AIDS organizations including AIDS Interfaith Network, Bryan’s House, AIDS Arms, and the Dallas Resource Center.

On Saturday, October 16, a Dr. Pauline Muchina, senior partnership advisor with UNAIDS will be among the keynote speakers addressing Women and AIDS. Other featured speakers at Lighten the Burden III include Dr. Musa W. Dube, a biblical scholar from the University of Botswana, and HIV/AIDS activist and consultant for churches and theological institutions in Africa; Jeffrey Crowley, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, who is working toward improving access to health and social services for low-income individuals and people living with HIV/AIDS, and Rev. Tyrone Gordon, St. Luke UMC, Dallas, Texas, who is in partnership with the AIDS Interfaith Network to help those disenfranchised, including those living with HIV/AIDS.

About Lighten the Burden III

The purpose of Lighten the Burden III is to help create an AIDS-free world through ACTION—advocacy, combating HIV, training, increasing awareness, overcoming apathy, and nurturing a Christ-centered and church-oriented global health initiative. The conference offers participants practical ways to get involved in HIV/AIDS education, advocacy, prevention, and awareness, as well as mobilize and influence their communities through action.

United Methodist Global AIDS Fund

From January to September, 2010, the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund approved $488,533.20 to fund 40 projects in 20 countries around the world. Since 2005, the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund has supported 175 AIDS-related projects in 37 countries throughout Asia, Latin American, the Caribbean and Sub-Saharan Africa. The Fund, established at the 2004 General Conference, is helping to reduce the spread of this deadly disease through prevention, education, counseling and community outreach programs.

How You Can Help

HIV/AIDS does not discriminate. The disease knows no color, gender or social status, yet stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS is layers deep.  Break the silence with your gifts. Support to the UM Global AIDS Fund, UMCOR Advance #982345. Online Giving

*Santiago is the Project Manager for UMCOR Communications