|United Methodists must be AIDS ambassadors, speaker says|
Sept. 12, 2006
|A UMNS photo by Erik Alsgaard
Rev. Constance Smith (right), pastor of Hughes Memorial United
Methodist Church in Washington, lights a candle with Lonny LeFever.
By Erik Alsgaard*
WASHINGTON (UMNS) — United Methodists from around the world gathered in
the nation’s capital to hear that the church must get involved in the
“We need you, and more people like you, to become ambassadors for the
United Methodist Global AIDS Fund,” said the Rev. Don Messer, a retired
theological school president and a member of the fund’s board of
“We need United Methodists to pray, speak out in their local churches
and wherever their ministries take them, and do something in support of
“Lighten the Burden,” held Sept. 8-9, was the first conference of its
kind in more than 20 years. The event was sponsored by the Global AIDS
Fund, created by the 2004 United Methodist General Conference, Board of
Global Ministries and the Board of Church and Society.
The statistics on HIV/AIDS are staggering. Attendees heard that nearly
40 million people have the virus worldwide. Sixty percent of those with
the virus live in sub-Saharan Africa, and nearly five people die of AIDS
Participants were challenged at many levels to get involved in HIV/AIDS
ministries in their local churches. That challenge was spelled out in a
frank panel presentation Friday afternoon.
Lonny LeFever is the education coordinator for the West Ohio Annual
(regional) Conference’s AIDS ministry. He has been HIV positive for 23
years. Because of his sexual orientation, he told participants, he had
many struggles as a child and eventually left home at 16. It was through
a congregation’s outreach program to HIV/AIDS patients that he
eventually returned to the church as an adult.
“No longer can we sit back and wait for others to do something,” he
said. “Quit judging other people because while we wait, people die.”
Another panelist, Diane Carter, is an HIV/AIDS educator in the
Washington area who visits schools and conducts workshops for young
people. She has been HIV positive for years.
“The church is in need of bold leadership to face this cunning disease,”
she said. “Face it: people have sex. We have to be able, at least
willing, to address that. Let’s have condoms in our churches. Do an
HIV/AIDS outreach every Sunday and make the congregation knowledgeable.
We have a big job ahead of us, and I hope the church will join us.”
For coordinators of the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, retired
Bishop Fritz and Etta Mae Mutti, HIV/AIDS is personal. Two sons, Tim and
Fred, died from the disease in the early 1990s.
“We are here to show the love of Christ to everyone around the world,” Mutti said, in his opening remarks.
“There are numerous ways that local churches can come in and become
involved in this,” said Etta Mae Mutti. “All they need to do is get the
stories out; they just need to get some personal stories going in those
churches, and if you have that, the money is going to come in.”
For many, overcoming the stigma of being a person with HIV/AIDS is something the church can help with.
“You (the church) kept us away by telling us we have sinned,” said
Carter, “but what a greater sin to let the next generation of children
Musa Dube, associate professor at the University of Botswana’s
Department of Theology and Religious Studies, offered the opening
sermon. In it, she explained how the churches healing ministry needs to
be recaptured to reach out to HIV/AIDS sufferers.
|A UMNS photo by Ginny Underwood
cured every disease, scripture reports. What have characterized your
efforts to heal God's world?" Musa Dube asks the participants.
“Jesus cured every disease, scripture reports,” she said. “What have characterized your efforts to heal God’s world?”
The story of HIV/AIDS has traveled with her for the last 25 years, she
said, and left many marks: denial, fears, silence, indifference,
Using Ezekiel 37, Dube invited United Methodists to see the spirit of
the Lord “is inviting you to see the bones of 40 million people living
with HIV/AIDS today; living with poverty and hopelessness; inviting you
to listen to them.
“Look across the HIV/AIDS valley of dry bones,” she continued. “Do we
hear the dry bones of the orphaned children? Let us listen to them. Do
you see across the valley of dry bones the women who risk infection by
caregiving to others? Take a walk around the valley, see the poverty
that makes people vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.”
While saying that the problem is huge, and that only 150 people were
present, she reminded participants that with God, nothing is impossible.
“You have powerful resurrection ability,” she said. “The Christian
mandate is to call people back to hope and life. Go, prophesy to the
valley of dry bones.”
Drop in the ocean
The Sept. 8 keynote speaker was Bishop Joćo Somane Machado of
Mozambique. In his sub-Saharan country, 1.7 million people are living
with HIV/AIDS and 123,000 have lost their lives to the disease, leaving
more than 300,000 children as orphans.
“Is HIV/AIDS only for poor people?” he asked. “The reality is it is for
all of us, but the poor are more affected. The poor, they die twice.
They die because of the HIV/AIDS disease. They die because when you give
them the medicines, they don’t have the food to balance the diet.”
|A UMNS photo by Ginny Underwood
Bishop Joćo Somane Machado gives the keynote address at the conference.
In Mozambique, most people cannot afford to spend U.S.$2 per day for
food or medicine, the bishop said, because 60 percent of the population
lives below that country’s poverty line. As a result, many people turn
to prostitution, which only makes more people vulnerable to the disease.
As a result, many people turn to prostitution, which only makes more
people vulnerable to the disease.
To combat the virus, many new ministries are being tried, he said.
“Some pastors, even in my church, will not talk in the pulpit or Sunday
school about HIV/AIDS,” he said. “It is the women’s groups in the
conference that is pulling the church to go there.”
Bishop Machado talked of radio stations being established by churches to
get information in the public arena; he talked of home health care
workers being trained to assist HIV-positive women who are about to give
birth; and he talked of hospital programs and education programs being
All that, he said, “is not enough. It’s like a drop in the ocean.”
“This disease is not just for Africa,” Bishop Machado said. “If we all
come together, we can one day see the difference. … The time is here. We
need a global alliance to make a change.”
The goal of the Global AIDS fund is to raise $1 per United Methodist in
the United States or about $8 million. The United Methodist Global AIDS
Fund is an Advance Special of the United Methodist Church, #982345.
Write that number on the memo line of a check and drop it in the
offering plate at church. Credit-card donations may be made by calling
“Make sure every Sunday you say something about global AIDS,” said
Mutti. “There are 40 million people affected with this in the world. You
can’t ignore it.”
*Alsgaard is the director of communications for the Baltimore-Washington Conference.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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