World AIDS Day is Dec. 1.
As a church, the ELCA is part of the wider human community addressing the HIV and AIDS pandemic. The ELCA has decades of experience working with global partners in health care, specifically in AIDS work. Church partnerships range from cutting-edge ministries in Latin America to these ministries in Africa:
a multimillion-dollar program that began at Selian Hospital in Arusha, Tanzania. Selian is one of 20 hospitals operated by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania. With help from ELCA hunger programs, Selian years ago began a hospice ministry to help people die with dignity. Thanks to antiretroviral medicines, the program now focuses on helping people live with HIV and AIDS;
feeding sites for AIDS orphans and their guardians operated by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Malawi;
support groups for people with HIV and AIDS run by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe — something U.S. congregations and communities can easily replicate;
a program started by the church in Zimbabwe that teaches kids about HIV and about responsible living as they also learn how to use computers;
a women’s shelter, clinic and quilting workshop in Nigeria that brings hope to women abandoned by their families due to the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS; and
a comprehensive program carried out by the Ethiopian Evangelical (Lutheran) Church Mekane Yesus that provides care to AIDS orphans in their communities rather than in orphanages away from extended family.
These programs and many more build on health-care infrastructures that have long been in place as the ELCA has partnered with its companion churches through the decades.
The AIDS crisis called the ELCA to an even higher level of commitment in its focus on health care. And that commitment rose to a new level when the Lutheran World Federation called on the ELCA to examine its own work in addressing HIV and AIDS. The result is the “ELCA Strategy on HIV and AIDS.”
‘Halt, eliminate and reduce’
The strategy seeks to raise $10 million (that’s over and above what the ELCA has given in the past for such programs as those already mentioned), and it includes a call to prayer, to conversation and to advocacy.
If the ELCA strategy can create a climate for conversation to happen, that can only be good, said Andrea DeGroot-Nesdahl, who coordinates the ELCA Malaria Campaign. She emphasized the strategy’s three goals of “halt,” “eliminate” and “reduce”: halt the spread of HIV through prevention, treatment and care; eliminate the stigma and discrimination experienced by those who are HIV-positive; and reduce the conditions of poverty and marginalization that contribute to the spread of HIV.
The AIDS pandemic is a global and a domestic issue. Of the 33.2 million people worldwide affected by HIV and AIDS, 1.2 million live in the United States. The strategy moves the ELCA from international work to its own backyard, as the church engages its own congregations, too. Both are important, and both are part of accompaniment.
“We’re walking together with people internationally who have HIV and AIDS,” said Lita Johnson, who directs the ELCA’s international development and disaster response, adding that the strategy calls the church to engage in equal measure globally and domestically. “How are we walking with the people in our own congregations?” she asked.
As churches accompany one another, they will be energized by their “encounter with the living Christ in word and sacrament and with those affected by HIV and AIDS, in whose faces this church recognizes the face of Christ,” as the ELCA strategy says.
For World AIDS Day, congregations may access several resources for use in worship and education, including the text of the ELCA strategy.
If you would like to support these and other HIV and AIDS ministries, visit the secure website, call 800-638-3522 or mail a check to ELCA World Hunger, P.O. Box 71764, Chicago, IL 60694-1764 (designating HIV and AIDS in the memo line).