Adventist Church Holds AIDS/HIV Conference
International conference mobilizes Adventists to educate
church members on how to help those affected by HIV and AIDS.
BY BONITA JOYNER SHIELDS, assistant editor, Adventist Review
HIV and AIDS Call to Compassion, the first international conference of its kind held by the Adventist Church, took place at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, from June 23 to June 27, 2005. The conference was held in conjunction with the SEEDS International Church Planting Conference, which was held on the same campus and focused on church planting from a world-in-need perspective.
Between 75 and 100 people from around the world, including directors of various church ministries-health, children, women, and family-as well as from the General Conference (GC) headquarters, attended this historic event.
"A regional conference on HIV and AIDS was held in 2002 in Harare, Zimbabwe; and another regional conference was held in 2003 in Nairobi," says Dr. Allan Handysides, director of the GC Health Ministries Department and coordinator of the event. "The GC Health Ministries Department, in conjunction with the GC Administrative Committee (ADCOM), decided it was time to hold an international conference to address this global epidemic.
"Originally, the plan was to hold it in St. Louis, just prior to the GC session," Handysides adds. "However, the cost far exceeded what funds were available for the event. When I approached the ADCOM and explained the situation and my belief that the conference was not feasible, the church administrators adamantly insisted that I find a way to hold this conference-even if it meant holding it on a smaller scale. The members of the ADCOM were totally committed to this project."
Each day of the conference began with worship and prayer together. The participants then attended various workshops, which were led by GC ministries leaders, health ministries leaders throughout the world, physicians working in the field of HIV and AIDS, and caregivers of those living with HIV and AIDS. Interactive seminars addressed topics relevant to HIV and AIDS, such as the social implications of this disease, the school as a community resisting HIV/AIDS, and organizing the church to fight HIV/AIDS.
Donald Messer, M.Div., Ph.D., professor of Practical Theology at the ILIFF School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, challenged Adventist Christians during his presentations to break the "conspiracy of silence." He called them to get past the denial and minimalization of this disease and its effects, and to seek to engage with the world. "If the church won't reach out for the children, who will?" asked Messer. "The sexual predators and the militant will."
According to the 2004 statistics, more than 5 million people worldwide become infected with the HIV virus annually-2.5 million women and 800,000 children. It is estimated that more than 400,000 Adventists currently are living with HIV and/or AIDS.
Jonathan Craig, an Adventist who has lived with the HIV virus for more than 23 years, says the church can do more to show care and compassion for those living with HIV and AIDS. "The church can listen to our real-life stories: the trials, the tribulations, and the successes," he says. "The church can take the lead in stopping the ignorance of the disease and the discrimination. God's people can embrace us when we come into God's house."
Patricia Fillies, an HIV and AIDS caregiver in South Africa, runs an orphanage in her home, taking care of 18 HIV infected and affected children. Fillies says of the conference, "It has opened my eyes in a special way. People need to know what they [HIV and AIDS patients] go through on a daily basis." And while financial support is needed to care for those living with HIV and AIDS, Fillies urges, "We need help in all ways-especially prayer."
Two recommendations have been formulated as a result of the conference and will be taken to ADCOM for consideration:
1. To establish an HIV and AIDS committee at every level of church administration that will include church ministry directors.
2. To incorporate an HIV and AIDS Day, on which churches will collect a global offering to help HIV and AIDS patients.
Handysides says, "I hope this conference has sensitized people to a new perspective on caring. My dream is that in five years, in those regions in which HIV and AIDS are epidemic, that a majority of churches will be identifiable places of support for those living with HIV and AIDS. Whether it be placing a sign outside stating that they welcome people living with HIV and AIDS, offering counseling to individuals or families, or whether it be friendship, I would hope that all our churches can become safe, caring, and compassionate places."