When we consider health issues around the world, HIV-AIDS continues to be a major concern. According to the United Nations (UN) latest reports, 35 million people are living with HIV globally, with 22 million having no access to antiretroviral therapy. While it is true that new HIV infections have been declining since 2001 (38 percent less among adults and 58 percent less among children), the HIV epidemic continues to outpace this decline.1 New HIV infections continue to rise in some locations and in populations that are marginalized.
Globally, HIV is the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age, the second most common cause of death among adolescents, and the leading cause of death among adolescents ages 10–19 in Africa.2 Sadly, the majority of these adolescents are girls who often are forced to have sexual contact with HIV positive abusers. These statistics led the UN to include HIV-AIDS among its Sustainable Development Goals (SDG#3), with a bold commitment to end the epidemic of AIDS globally by 2030.3
As an elder you may ask: What does that have to do with me and my church? Well, for one, the stigma and shame that come from an HIV-AIDS diagnosis is still a real problem in many parts of the world and many of our members carry this burden. But second, as a people called to extend Jesus’ healing ministry to the brokenhearted and ill in our communities, it is our duty to do something, right?
Recognizing that HIV-AIDS is a major cause of pain and early mortality in our communities, the Seventh-day Adventist church has made a commitment to meet this need and be part of the solution of the HIV-AIDS problem since 2002.
It was then that Adventist Aids International Ministry (AAIM) began to make a difference in the African continent as the epidemic was at its height. Members were afraid to share their diagnosis and attempted to hide their shame. But by the pioneer work of Drs Oscar and Eugenia Giordano, AAIM directors, a compassionate environment was created in churches across Africa, and people with HIV felt warmly welcomed and embraced.4
Support groups were formed with the goal that each church would become a center for hope and healing for people with HIV-AIDS, while education and knowledge was shared and access to treatment was made available.
Today, AAIM continues its mission to coordinate activities and develop resources to bring comfort, healing, and hope to those infected and affected by HIV-AIDS where needed. It also aims to share a message of education and prevention to the general population through churches functioning as centers of hope and healing.
What about your church? Is there an intentional ministry reaching your members or those in the community who may have HIV or AIDS? If not, how can you use your influence as a spiritual leader to facilitate the initiation of a ministry that can benefit those hurting from this diagnosis? No matter which continent you reside on, HIV-AIDS is present and people are hurting from it. How could you help?
It is simple: become engaged in Comprehensive Health Ministry. As you develop collaborations among your ministries (Health, Women, Youth, Children, and others) your church can become a center for hope and healing meeting felt needs while demonstrating God’s love and compassion.
As we focus on reducing HIV-related discrimination and violence against women and girls5 , securing equitable access to services for people affected by HIV through the ministry of a Faith Community Nurse, or providing a compassionate church environment free from stigma and shame through a ministry like AAIM, we will be sharing Christ’s mission to “heal the brokenhearted,” thus bringing them “beauty for ashes” and “oil of joy for mourning,” so His name can be glorified.6
6 Isaiah 61:1-3 - NIV
Katia Reinert is associate director of the Health Ministries Department for the General Conference.