Feb 4, 2010, 1:04 PM
I would love to begin this presentation with this quotation I saw in a classroom wall.
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears however measured or far away”
In this quotation I want to make a reference that the Church as a partner with other moral bodies realized it need to keep pace in the fight against HIV/AIDS. It has in the recent past made bold steps to study, raise awareness and practically venture to bring its wholistic ministry towards the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The Church’s response in the fight against HIV/AIDS is wholistic in the sense that it has been called to teach serve and heal people of all races, status, age and ethnicity.
CONCEPT OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH:
Before going any further I want to clarify the concept of church which I am dealing with. Here I refer to the Church as the ecumenical body of Christians willing to bring the salvific message and mission of Jesus Christ to the whole world. In its efforts to keep pace with its partners in the HIV/AIDS fight, the Church first and fore-most is in the affirmation that HIV/AIDS exists. The Church does this in order to move people from the state of denial to the state of acceptance. Denial therefore is not in line with what the Church teaches about HIV/AIDS. This has been well pronounced in many statements to which I want to refer to a few. In April 2001, the All African Conference of Churches held a meeting in Dakar, Senegal to study the frightening spread of HIV/AIDS. The meeting came up with a declaration which affirmed the existence of HIV/AIDS and took it as a priority of the Church’s work to strengthen its structures to facilitate work on HIV/AIDS. Again the late Pope John Paul II, former Head of the Roman Catholic Church speaking to people in Tanzania during a visit in September 1990 said in affirmation:
“HIV/AIDS threatens not just some nations or societies but the whole of humanity. It knows no frontiers of geography, race, age or social condition. The threat is so great that indifference on the part of the public authorities, condemnatory or discriminatory practices toward those affected by the virus or self interested rivalries in the search for a medical answer should be considered forms of collaboration in this terrible evil which has come from humanity. Both the All Africa Conference of Churches and the Pope spoke directly and in no unclear terms affirmed the existence of HIV/AIDS and expressed that the Church should take it upon itself to fight against HIV/AIDS most especially not to condone with condemnatory statements against those infected; stigma and discrimination.
From the foregoing, it is the Church tasks to bring a solution to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The Church cares for people wholistically and so that is why it finds its priority in the HIV/AIDS pandemic to teach, serve, and heal those infected and affected. This is its very task to allow a greater participation in Church for people living with HIV/AIDS.
PLWHA AND THE CHURCHE’S RESPONSE
The question one might ask is who are these people living with HIV/AIDS? Are they special kinds of human beings? The answer to this is that they are mere human beings with nothing special except that they are infected with a virus that affects their immune system and so they are pruned to illness. The mode in which their immunity is affected is known to them but they need to be cared for and helped.
They are people who have families and relations living with them whom they have lived with and continue to live with. They are also people who belong to communities and have contributed to communities. As such they would told certain convictions and if they be Christians they would hold that they were created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-28). They too like everyone else in the world are people who are called to grace and need to be reconciled through the blood of Jesus (Col 1:20). They would need the salvation that comes from God through his son Jesus Christ (Jn 3:16).
The Church in its salivific mission does not discriminate anyone. She goes all out to serve all people. Thus PLWHA can be reached out to because the Church does not condemn them either. In as much as the Church has a pastoral ministry of caring for the sick, the PLWHA cannot be left out. Under all circumstances, the Church is guarded by the Spirit of Jesus’ mandate (Matt. 28:19-20). Although HIV/AIDS was not a virus or disease of Jesus’ time but since it exists now and in confronted by the Church, the question to ask is what would Jesus had done if he had been here. The foremost answer is, he would not condemn those infected. He would rather care and slow compassion and love as he did with the ten lepers (Lk. 17:11-19).
The Church which is the discipleship of Jesus in this present dispensation should follow the steps of Jesus. PLWHA in as much as they are not stigmatized and discriminated should be given the opportunity to live with the hope attaining the salvation from Jesus Christ. In the Gambia, the initial process of allowing PLWHA to participate in Church is just begun. So far we have not got our parishioners in any local community come out to show themselves. But now that the support groups in the country have begun, we hope for the best. In workshops like this we have experienced PLWHA participate in Church activities. Perhaps from this and other subsequent workshops more ministers would include in their pastoral ministry the need to include PLWHA.Thus the Church would appear vividly to enable their communities to become welcoming communities and communities that would show care, compassion and love to PLWHA.
In conclusion, if the Church in the Gambia is to enhance greater participation of PLWHA in Church these four points need to be considered:
a) To develop a positive attitude towards PLWHA especially by enabling a close relationship with the support centers.
b) To create a positive environment for PLWHA e.g. by giving appropriate Church teachings on HIV/AIDS in Churches and encourage and support people and families living with HIV/AIDS.
c) To offer counseling and spiritual support in parishes
d) Give PLWHA the opportunity to be involve in church Services.