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Bush brings AIDS message to Maryland church

The Children of Zion Village in Namibia, Africa, cares for 55 children who have lost their parents to AIDS. The orphanage is supported by Calvary United Methodist Church of Mt. Airy, Md., where U.S. President George W. Bush spoke on Nov. 30.
A UMNS photo courtesy of Children of Zion Village.

By Melissa Lauber*
Nov. 30, 2007 | MT. AIRY, Md. (UMNS)

President George W. Bush observed World AIDS Day by calling on the U.S. Congress to double funding to treat and prevent HIV/AIDS overseas.

President George W. Bush

In the process, the president and his visit to a United Methodist church in Maryland spotlighted a United Methodist ministry to orphans of AIDS in Namibia, Africa.

Speaking at Calvary United Methodist Church in Mt. Airy on Nov. 30, Bush called for doubling the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to $30 billion to expand AIDS prevention and treatment in some of the world’s most needy nations. World AIDS Day is observed annually Dec. 1.

Five years ago, he said, only 50,000 people with AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa were receiving antiretroviral drugs. Today, because of the U.S. emergency plan, that number is nearly 1.4 million. "Some call this a remarkable success. I call it a good start," he said.

United Methodist Bishop John R. Schol of the Washington Area praised Bush's call for additional funding to address the AIDS pandemic. Global health, he noted, is one of the four major ministry emphases of The United Methodist Church.

"'We are committed to bringing hope to the hopeless and providing assistance to the more than 33 million people around the world living with HIV/AIDS," Schol said.

Faith-based leadership

Bush cited the work of faith-based organizations as one reason for the effectiveness of current efforts against AIDS. Standing with faith leaders in the church fellowship hall, the president said such faith groups are "willing to act on the universal call to love a neighbor." Invited news reporters also were on hand as Bush read his statement.

The presidential visit to Calvary United Methodist Church was inspired by the congregation's involvement in Children of Zion Village, an orphanage in Namibia created and maintained by United Methodists in the Baltimore-Washington Annual (regional) Conference.

“Faith-based groups like these are the foot soldiers in the army of compassion.”
–President George W. Bush

"Think about that. People from Maryland took it upon themselves to travel to a faraway land to help orphans, to say, 'we love you,' to inspire through compassion," Bush said. "Faith-based groups like these are the foot soldiers in the army of compassion."

Prior to the statement being read, church leaders spoke with the president and first lady Laura Bush in a roundtable discussion at Calvary.

Leaders attending included the Rev. Dennis Yokum, pastor of Calvary United Methodist Church; the Rev. Craig McLaughlin and his wife, Lisa, of Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, Bel Air, Md.; and Rebecca Meeks, a missionary from the Mt. Zion congregation who, along with her husband, Gary, runs Children of Zion Village.

Orphans of AIDS

The church leaders described how Children of Zion Village is home to 55 orphans in Katima Mulilo, along the Zambezi River in Namibia. It was financed and built by volunteers from Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in 2003.

Mt. Zion, which gives more than 40 percent of its offering collections to missions, provides most of the $14,000 a month operating expenses for the orphanage. Teams of volunteers, like those from Calvary, visit to teach, cook and play with the children on the 17-acre campus.

Meeks told Bush how it took her five years to find blankets for all the children. She told United Methodist News Service later that the president became teary-eyed when she told him about the six children who have died in her arms from AIDS.

"Within a four-hour drive of us, there are 4,000 to 5,000 orphans, most left parentless because of AIDS," Meeks said. "AIDS devastates so many villages. You look around and all there is is death."

“Imagine how our world would change if the biggest decision in one's life was not what kind of television to get, but what can one do with their money to help provide for the poor.”
–The Rev. Craig McLaughlin

For Craig McLaughlin, speaking with the president reinforced his convictions that people in the United States can, and should, transform lives in Africa.

"The first thing the president told us was that 'to whom much is given, much is expected,'" McLaughlin said. "So many Americans are affluent. Imagine how our world would change if the biggest decision in one's life was not what kind of television to get, but what can one do with their money to help provide for the poor."

McLaughlin hopes other churches will use Mt. Zion as model for creating orphanages and other facilities. He and his congregation are willing to work with anyone who is interested. "I told the president, every church in the United States could do this," he said.

More is needed

The Mt. Zion congregation and the Meeks also support a feeding ministry for orphans in the nearby town of Mafuta, where they feed the area's orphans one small meal a day. They would like to open a home there for 10 to 12 children.

The expanded ministry would cost about $60,000 to build and $4,000 a month to operate, according to Meeks. They plan to apply for federal funding but, until then, continue to rely upon gifts from the church.

McLaughlin said supporters of the ministry receive more than they give. "The children pray for us all the time. It makes a difference. It’s a blessing," he said.

Bush, who is a United Methodist, concluded his remarks at Calvary by paraphrasing from Deuteronomy 30:19 in the Bible. "The Scriptures tell us, 'I have set before you life and death. Therefore, choose life.' All who wage the battle against AIDS have made the choice for life," he said.

"Because of their compassion and courage, millions who once saw the disease as a death sentence now look to the future with hope. This World AIDS Day is a day of importance because it's a day we resolve to continue this work of healing and redemption."

*Lauber is the editor of the UMConnection, the newspaper of the Baltimore-Washington Conference.

News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Children of Zion Village

Mt. Zion United Methodist Church

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World AIDS Day Resources

United Methodist Global AIDS Fund

Prayers for Encouragement

Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference

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