June 6, 2006 Johannesburg, South Africa .... [AAIM/ANN
On June 5, 1981--25 years ago this week--the world
became aware of a new disease, AIDS. Since then 25
million people around the world have died from the
disease and today there are 40 million men, women
and children living with HIV. Along with the growth
of the disease, particularly in the early years,
prejudice against those living with HIV or AIDS
Attempting to combat prejudice in the Seventh-day
Adventist Church, Adventist AIDS International
Ministry (AAIM), is proposing a set of guidelines on
HIV and AIDS for the Adventist church in Africa. At
a meeting in April, the AAIM committee made up of
church leaders in Africa approved a first draft of
As they travel throughout Africa--where the HIV and
AIDS pandemic is exploding--Oscar and Eugenia
Giordano see HIV and AIDS victims almost everyday.
Both medical doctors, the husband and wife team run
the Adventist AAIM. The ministry finds ways for
Seventh-day Adventist churches to play an important
part in the healing process of people living with
HIV or AIDS. After initial resistance the Giordanos
have witnessed several Adventist churches in Africa
opening their doors to provide emotional support as
well as practical support for those with HIV or
AIDS. [See the Oct. 10, 2005 ANN story:
Africa: What Would Jesus Do for HIV/AIDS Patients?]
Even with such progress the Giordanos say some
churches and their members have not been
understanding to those, often church members, with
For those questioning the necessity of the document
Oscar Giordano said: "While the church talks about
love and acceptance, the unfortunate reality is that
this is not what many experience. Some Christians
believe that [HIV and AIDS] is God's vengeance for
immorality and that those infected are thus not
worthy of our love and acceptance." He added that in
religious communities HIV/AIDS prejudice is often
worse than in the general community.
He referred to a letter a church member wrote to
Adventist leaders in the Southern Africa-Indian
Ocean region asking what should we "do to members
who are infected with HIV?"
The Giordanos said they were struck by the way the
question was phrased. "What should we do to
members who are infected by HIV?" Oscar repeated.
"One would have hoped that the question would read,
'What can we do for people infected?'"
In an Adventist-produced documentary on HIV and AIDS
in South Africa, Paul Mawela, a retired pastor in
the region who works with HIV and AIDS patients
said: "One of my own church members approached me
and told me, 'Pastor, I am HIV positive. Am I still
welcome to be a member in this church?' That gave me
a challenge. And I discovered she was not the only
one who thinks that to be HIV positive is to be like
a leper--you must be thrown out. There are many in
these communities [who feel that way]."
According to the Joint United Nations Programme (UNAIDS),
"People living with the virus are frequently subject
to discrimination and human rights abuses: many have
been thrown out of jobs and homes, rejected by
family and friends, and some have even been killed.
Together, stigma and discrimination constitute one
of the greatest barriers to dealing effectively with
Jan Paulsen, Adventist world church president
referred to the issue in his 2005 year-end address.
"Whether [people] are poor, carry the HIV virus, or
whatever, they are loved by our Lord," he said. "It
is our duty to express that love, and to give them
dignity and value as human beings. That is also our
Oscar explained that the document, one of love and
acceptance, will attempt to reduce the stigma
associated with HIV and AIDS. The document outlines
how Adventists should "treat those infected with
[HIV or AIDS], whether they are church employees,
students at our educational institutions, patients
at our medical institutions and how we relate to our
fellow church members," Oscar concluded.
The second draft of the document will be shared at
the next meeting of the AAIM board in October. The
Giordanos say they are working to make this a formal
policy not only for the church in Africa but for the
worldwide Adventist church.
Adventist Leaders Meet US
at White House
Religious liberty and humanitarian concerns were the
highlights of an April 4 meeting between leaders of
the Seventh-day Adventist Church and President
George W. Bush of the United States.
At the invitation of the president, the 45-minute
Oval Office session included Pastors Jan Paulsen,
Adventist church world president; Matthew Bediako,
secretary of the world church; Don Schneider, who is
both president of the Adventist Church in North
America and a vice president of the world church;
and with James D. Standish, director of legislative
affairs for the Adventist Church.
President Bush was particularly interested in
religious liberty issues. Paulsen, who also informed
Bush of his recent visit to Russia, said Bush
"disclosed how passionately he feels about religious
liberty; freedom of conscience, freedom to worship,
freedom to think, and against that background asked
us some questions about how we found it to be in
some countries of the world which do not have a good
Leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church
met with United States President, George W.
Bush at the White House. [Photo: Rajmund
The president was
highly engaged and very interested in talking about
HIV/AIDS, education and the reduction of poverty
worldwide, particularly in Africa, the church
leaders said. The pastors shared the scope of the
Adventist Church's involvement in the fight against
the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Paulsen said the president
"wanted to know what we were doing in areas having
to do with HIV/AIDS in Africa. We told him about
that, and about the breadth of our initiative,
although our resources are very limited."
Paulsen also told President Bush that Adventists are
"using ... the hospitals [to deal] with the virus
being transmitted from mother to child," and he
spoke about what the church is doing "quite
comprehensively in so many of our churches
throughout Africa, namely making the church
sensitive as to how they must function as a caring
center for people who carry the virus, [and] that
they treat them as human beings of full worth in the
eyes of God, and that they extend that sort of
acceptance to them in spite of the fact that they
carry a virus."
In greeting his visitors, President Bush mentioned
that as governor of Texas he knew a Seventh-day
Adventist church member on his staff who had
explained some of the church's beliefs, and that he
was also familiar with Southwestern Adventist
University, which is in Keene, Texas.
President Bush was also informed of a legislative
initiative in the United States aimed at helping
employees to be faithful to their beliefs while
meeting the needs of employers. Called the Workplace
Religious Freedom Act, the bill is under
consideration by committees of the U.S. Congress.
Adventist leaders told the president they
appreciated the involvement of the United States
Agency for International Development, or USAID, in
projects organized by the Adventist Development and
Relief Agency, ADRA, as well as Loma Linda
University, which undertakes many global medical
projects, including efforts in China and
Speaking with Adventist News Network after the
visit, Paulsen said he hopes for continued
cooperation between the church and the nation in
which it was founded.
Paulsen said it is his hope, "that both the
president and those with whom he works and
influences remember that the Seventh-day Adventist
Church is a good partner in matters of religious
liberty, in matters of combating HIV/AIDS, and in
creating, frankly, a better future for all people."
He added that Adventists are "a people who can be
partners with government in good programs which are
related to better health and related to more
freedom. ... Obviously, no government, including
this one, can step in and do what we have to do as a
church. But we have never, as a church, in respect
... to community life, we have never seen ourselves
as solitary agents."
The meeting ended with prayer, Paulsen noted.
Established in Battle Creek, Michigan in 1863 and
with headquarters near the capital city of
Washington, D.C. for more than 100 years, the
Seventh-day Adventist Church is active in more than
200 nations around the world, with an extensive
network of medical and educational institutions.
Each week, an estimated 30 million adults and
children attend Adventist worship services
--Adventist News Network
Helping HIV/AIDS Victims; Church
Programs Expand to Rwanda
January 17, 2006 Kibuye, Rwanda .... [Fesaha
Adventist Churches in Africa
are buying and raising
livestock like chickens and
goats to help support those
living with HIV/AIDS.
HIV/AIDS is on the
rise and there is a community of people that now,
more than ever, need to be told about God's love. An
estimated 40 million people worldwide are living
with the disease, according to the United Nations.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has long opened its
hospitals to serving those infected with the
HIV/AIDS virus, but more recently the denomination
has also opened its church doors. The church is
committed to uniting words of hope with hope in
A Jan. 11 meeting in Kibuye, Rwanda paved the way
for Adventist churches in that country to find ways
to support those with HIV/AIDS. The meeting brought
together a group of more than 120 that included
pastors, teachers and other church leaders from as
far away as the United States.
This builds on work already established by the
Adventist Aids International Ministry (AAIM) office
in Johannesburg, South Africa, a ministry that
teaches churches how to reach out to those suffering
from HIV/AIDS in their communities.
Spearheaded by Drs. Oscar and Eugenia Giordano, AAIM
helps Adventist churches in countries such as
Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho,
Madagascar, Uganda, Rwanda, and Swaziland to be
organized so that "Every Church can become a
Community Health Center."
The Rwanda meeting discusssed a initiating a goat
project, said Dr. Alan Handysides, director for the
Adventist world church's Health Ministries
"To a Western mind, a goat project may seem like a
wacky idea, but for an African, a goat gives income
and can provide a healthy diet, which is crucial
when living with the disease," Dr. Handysides told
ANN in a phone interview.
The concept of every church becoming a "cell" that
will support those affected by HIV/AIDS makes use of
its nearly 4 million Adventists on the continent who
worship in approximately 20,000 congregations.
Already some churches across Africa are running
church-facilitated industry and subsistence
activities that range from providing sewing machines
and bakeries, to goat breeding as means of
supporting the sick.
The Central Adventist Church in Nairobi, Kenya is a
classic example of a church becoming a support
center for those with HIV/AIDS, Dr. Handysides said.
He explained that this church has converted many of
its Bible study rooms for HIV/AIDS care and use them
for testing, counseling support, nutrition, clothing
assistance, work rooms and activity centers.
The push to encourage churches to help those with
HIV/AIDS fits into "Tell The World," the world
church's vision to share the gospel through a
variety of means, including community outreach,
media outreach, and encouraging church members to
spend more time reading the Bible and praying. One
of the goals of "Tell The World" is to increase
church members involvement in community service.
"The essence of 'Tell The World' is not just the
spoken word," said Dr. Handysides. "We can be
Christians by actions, not just words. It all fits
in beautifully with 'Tell The World.' By reaching
out to our communities, we tell them we care for
them, we are interested in their health, that they
are valuable and we want to be their friend."
East Central Africa, where Rwanda is located, is
home to more than 7 million infected with HIV/AIDS.
It also sees 6,000 deaths per day. There are between
2 and 3 million children infected by the virus, many
of whom are orphaned, hungry and in need of life's
basic necessities. Every hour 468 adults and 70
children globally contract the virus.
---Fesaha Tsegaye/ANN Staff
Church Fights HIV-AIDS in
presentation on the Adventist Church’s response to
the HIV-AIDS epidemic proved to be one of the most
moving parts thus far of this year’s Annual Council.
On Sunday afternoon Dr. Allan Handysides, director
of the GC Health Ministries Department, and Drs.
Oscar and Eugenia Giordano, executive and associate
directors of Adventist HIV-AIDS International
Ministry (AAIM), highlighted the work of AAIM in
Africa and showed a Hope for Humanity (North
American Ingathering fund) video about an HIV-AIDS
project in Dwarsloop, South Africa. The project,
called “Nhlengelo: Standing Together Against
HIV/AIDS in South Africa,” was captured in video
footage taken when an eight-member team of Adventist
pastors traveled to Dwarsloop to visit with project
leaders and with people in the community who have
How It Began
According to the report, the Dwarsloop program began
with Paul Mawela, a retired pastor in the region,
who felt that he was conducting too many funerals
for young adults. “Almost every weekend we were
burying a young person, who was leaving children
behind,” said Mawela, who spoke on the video. “One
of my own church members approached me and told me,
‘Pastor, I am HIV positive. Am I still welcome to be
a member in this church?’ That gave me a challenge.
And I discovered she was not the only one who thinks
that to be HIV positive is to be like a leper—you
must be thrown out. There are many in these
communities [who feel that way].”
Mawela and pastors of other Christian churches in
the region have formed a community-based
organization to help take care of those suffering
from the disease. “The project is called Nhlengelo,
a Tsonga name for standing together against an
enemy,” explained Mawela. “So we said, ‘Well, let us
stand together against the enemy HIV-AIDS and other
illnesses found in the community.’ ”
The goal of the program is to encourage other
pastors and conference officials to come and see the
community- and home-based projects, and then begin
similar programs in their own communities.
“It was exciting to see Seventh-day
Adventists beginning to work with other
denominations, particularly in the area of health,
because we’ve worked in health for so long,” said
Handysides. “The ones whom we met there had
obviously bonded, and this was a team approach . . .
to the community needs. That was extremely
gratifying to me.”
Team members emphasized, however, that it’s the
caregivers who are the “heart and soul” of the
program. “They go into the homes of those who have
HIV-AIDS and take care of whatever their needs are,”
said Maitland DiPinto, director of Hope for
Humanity. “They feed them, exercise their limbs,
help clean the house, whatever needs to be done.”
Meeting the People
The pastors visited several homes of people who have
HIV-AIDS, including that of a 36-year-old mother of
three children, and another home of a 5-year-old
girl. “It just broke your heart to see this precious
little girl, so young, so innocent, and to know that
she’s so sick and that [the family doesn’t] have
what they need to take care of her,” said Frank
Bondurant, assistant to the president of NAD’s
“HIV-AIDS is to my mind one of the most lethal
epidemics that has ever hit mankind,” said
Handysides. “The problem with HIV-AIDS is that it’s
an epidemic in slow motion. It’s not ravaging in one
year, but it’s like you take a movie of a cheetah
and run it in slow motion. But let me tell you that
it’s going to be just as fast and just as
devastating when we look at it over time, because we
don’t have a cure for it.
“We visited five homes in this quarter-of-a-mile
region, and in every home there is somebody lying
there with HIV,” he added. “That’s the human tragedy
that’s behind all this.”
Project leaders on the video explained that many of
the orphaned children being cared for have lost both
parents. “These are really children, but they are
now heads of the households,” said Royce Snyman,
associate Ministerial director of the Michigan
Conference in NAD and one of the team members. “And
they’re not necessarily teenagers. They may be young
children—6, 7, 8 years old—but technically you call
them ‘head of household’ because that’s all that’s
In spite of their situation, team members described
the children as happy and wanting to minister to
others. “They touch your hearts, and when you
realize what they’re going through and the fact that
they still have that smile that comes across their
face, it really makes an impact on your life,” said
Snyman. “And you say . . . how grateful [you are]
that Mrs. Mawela and Pastor Mawela are ministering
to these kids, and we can have a part in that.
“I hope to be able to extend the ministry of the
Mawelas by saying there are opportunities here for
us to care for these people, and they really need
our help,” he added.
A Change of Attitude
“Hope for Humanity is coming to this
program saying, ‘Here are some challenges, here are
some needs,’ ” explained John Appel, senior pastor
of the Frederick, Maryland, Adventist Church in NAD.
“We are a world church. We can’t just stay focused
congregationally; we’ve got to start thinking about
our brothers and sisters across the world who need
Giordano reported that according to percentages
found by a 2003 ADRA survey, AAIM has estimated that
more than 500,000 Adventists in the three African
divisions have HIV-AIDS, which is more than 10
percent of the total Adventist population. This
means that an average of 4,018 Adventists die each
year, 337 die each month, and 12 die each day as a
result of this disease.
Even though the mission of AAIM includes meeting the
basic physical and emotional needs of those
suffering from this disease, Giordano added that the
“most important goal is to change attitudes. The
majority of our church members living with the virus
suffer and die secretly because they fear
stigmatization and discrimination.”
He added, “We want to treat people how Jesus
would—with care, love, and compassion. We want to do
for them what we would like done for us if we were
in their situation.”
--- Taken from Adventist Review -
Adventists Share How
Churches Can Help Those with HIV/AIDS
Pennsylvania, United States .... [Taashi Rowe/ANN]
While it is not a
hospital, many have testified that the love and
warmth experienced in churches can be a healing balm
for the soul. Oscar and Eugenia Giordano, both
medical doctors who agree with the concept, are
working to help Seventh-day Adventist churches in
Africa become "support centers for the communities
in the fight against HIV and AIDS."
church reaches out to feed
children whose parents have
died from AIDS.
Another part of the Church's
AIDS ministry in Africa
provides ways for people
living with HIV/AIDS to earn
Drs. Oscar and Eugenia
With the message that the church can be more than a
place just to go once a week, the Giordanos shared
their own experiences as director and associate
director for the Adventist AIDS International
Ministry (AAIM) office in Johannesburg, South Africa
at the annual American Public Health Association (APHA)
meeting Dec. 13. APHA is the oldest and largest
organization of public health professionals in the
world. This year's meeting is being held in
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States.
The Giordanos joined other presenters in exploring
the link between faith and health at the meeting. In
promoting the faith-health meetings, APHA says, on
its Web site, "according to literature, faith-based
organizations can help fill an essential role in
providing programs and services to local
communities. Some would even say that faith-based
organizations are more effective in enabling people
to overcome personal health challenges."
According to the Giordano's, about 20 percent of
Adventist church members in Southern Africa and
about 10 percent in Eastern Africa are HIV positive.
AAIM has been helping churches find ways to reach
out to people living with HIV/AIDS in eight
Sub-Saharan African countries since 2003.
Love and compassion is one of the main components
used in the implementation and approach to those
infected and affected by this epidemic, said Dr.
"In most of the churches there are many people
willing to participate in the outreach to PLWHA
[People living with HIV and AIDS], but the reality
is that they do not know how to help. This approach
gives the opportunity for them to 'know how' and to
fulfill their mission," Dr. Giordano continued.
Some of this outreach includes forming support
groups, leading workshops about how to live with the
disease, visiting those who are sick and providing
income-generating activities for those infected with
The Giordano's said the purpose of the presentation
was threefold: to define a program with new
possibilities in the fight of HIV/AIDS; develop a
new perspective and approach to fight HIV/AIDS in
the communities; and apply an action plan from the
"More and more faith-based initiatives are of
interest for big organizations like governments and
universities," said Dr. Giordano. "They are looking
to partner with faith-based organizations,
especially those that offer training and practical
HIV/AIDS Affects Not Only the
November 29, 2005
Silver Spring, Maryland, United
States .... [Taashi Rowe/ANN]
In places such as South
Africa, death from HIV/AIDS is a way of life. It is
not unusual for people to waste away for months and
then die at a young age.
These two orphans in
Lesotho, are among the 14
million children worldwide
who have lost one or both
parents to HIV/AIDS. [Photo:
But in rich countries, death has been so sanitized
that the stench doesn't linger persistently and
inescapably in the air. In these places advanced
medical care makes HIV/AIDS manageable, and not the
death knell that it is in developing countries. This
makes it difficult for those who don't see the
effects of HIV/AIDS personally each day to
understand that the disease is truly a global
Just prior to World AIDS Day, which falls on Dec. 1,
Dr. Jim Yong Kim, the director of the World Health
Organization's HIV/AIDS department highlighted how
lethal the disease can be for those who cannot
afford treatment. He admitted that the WHO had not
moved quickly enough to meet its target goal of
providing treatment for 3 million infected people in
poor countries by 2005. He apologized for not saving
It's not that people don't care about the 25 million
people who have died globally from HIV/AIDS since it
was first discovered in 1981, or about the 14
million children who have lost one or both parents
to the disease. Most of the time, it's a lack of
awareness -- something that often manifests itself
in some of the world's most caring communities.
For many Seventh-day Adventist health leaders,
trying to address the HIV/AIDS issue is comparable
to a tree falling in the forest when no one is
around to hear it.
Richard Willis, Health Ministries director for the
church in the United Kingdom, notes that AIDS has
traditionally not been a problem in the church in
the United Kingdom.
"I have only been asked to address the subject once
in about 10 years of working for the church in the
UK," he says. "Perhaps because it is not an issue,
there is not a lot of interest."
For Tsegaye Fesaha, Health Ministries director for
the church in East Central Africa, lack of interest
has its roots in denial. "Most of our churches are
sensitized on stigma, denial and discrimination in
relationship to HIV/AIDS. In spite of that, some of
our churches are still in HIV/AIDS denial," he said.
"Many are still presenting AIDS as God's finger or
punishment for sin," said Eli Honore, Health
Ministries director for the church in Inter-America.
He admits that the church in that region has not,
until recently, done very much to address the issue.
For one group of Adventist pastors and members from
America, a recent visit to South Africa put the
issue of HIV/AIDS into achingly clear focus. There
they met Paul Mawelo, director of the Nhlengelo
home-based care for AIDS victims in Dwarsloop, 200
miles NE of Johannesburg in South Africa.
"Almost every weekend I was burying a young person,
who left children behind," Mawelo told the group.
The trip has helped give them a resolve that even if
it is not an issue that specifically affects anyone
in their congregation or direct community, they can
help those in the ground zero areas of AIDS -
countries throughout Africa.
"We are a world church -- we can't just be focused
on thinking congregationally. We've got to think of
our brother or sister around the world who need our
help," said John Appel, pastor of the Frederick
Adventist Church in Frederick, Maryland, United
States, who went to Nhlengelo.
But it's not just Africa. Various United Nations'
reports have stated a rise in the disease in places
such as Russia, Papua New Guinea, Thailand and Haiti
among other places. There are now 40 million people
living with the disease -- the highest number ever
-- according to the 2005 AIDS update put out by the
United Nations and the World Health Organization. A
1998 survey done in North America found that one in
five regularly attending Seventh-day Adventist
members reported that they have a relative or close
friend who is HIV-positive.
"Let us recognize also that this is a problem for
the church," Dr. Allan Handysides, Health Ministries
director for the Adventist world church urged in a
2001 article in the Adventist Review, the official
church paper. He continued, "In one recent survey of
Adventist high school students in an area, 30 to 40
percent were sexually experienced. In a comparative
survey of lifetime sexual partners, non-Christians
averaged 28 partners, non-Adventist Christians 22,
and Adventists 20."
So how can Adventist church members help in a
concrete way? The Adventist world church set up an
office in South Africa to educate church members and
the community about the disease and to provide care
and resources for those living with the disease.
In 1990 the Adventist world church, released a
statement about the disease that was supported by
the church's leaders.
"The Christ-like response to AIDS must be personal
-- compassionate, helpful, and redemptive. Just as
Jesus cared about those with leprosy, the feared
communicable disease of His day, His followers today
will care for those with AIDS," the statement
Mawelo, who is also a pastor, said acceptance is key
because there are many who are afraid that revealing
their HIV/AIDS status will result in being thrown
out of their churches. "One of my own church members
approached me and told me she was HIV positive," he
said. "She wanted to know if she was still welcome
as a member of the church."
"Our message is not to judge. We're here to love,
help and assist. Love, compassion, Christ-like
ministry," Honore said. He also added that those
suffering from the disease can do without judgmental
attitudes about how the disease was contracted. He
also encouraged small initiatives born at the local
level, explaining that those are often more
effective than larger central organizations.
Fesaha also had several suggestions. "Praying on
behalf of the affected and infected is our duty and
responsibility." He also explained that other
Adventist churches worldwide that are not as
hard-hit by the disease can help with expertise on
the disease, with technology to educate others about
HIV/AIDS, or provide financial assistance to
organizations dealing with the disease.
Hope for Humanity, an Adventist organization based
in North America, is attempting to create contacts
between North American congregations and
counterparts in Africa to provide resources,
financial help and compassion.
"We must act now to prevent HIV/AIDS from becoming
more deadly," Honore warned. "What we are seeing
today is the result of what happened 10 years back.
Whatever we are trying to do positively now will
take time to impact our community."
The Adventist Development and Relief Agency has also
released an awareness kit addressing the tragedies
caused by the HIV and AIDS epidemic, both in the
United States and around the globe. The theme for
this year's kit is "Learn. Care. Act!" The kit
includes a World AIDS Day poster,
sermon/presentation outline, activity ideas, facts,
stories, and a discussion and activity guide for
youth. The materials aim to foster activism, and
provide critical information to help win the fight
against HIV and AIDS around the world.
Leaders Stress Urgent, Practical Involvement in AIDS
BY JULIO MUNOZ, Adventist NewsLine
time has come for urgent and practical involvement
in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic,
Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders told delegates
at the first regional workshop on the issue held
here last week.
meeting, sponsored by the Southern Africa-Indian
Ocean Division (SAID), one of church's 13 world
divisions, drew experts from around the continent
and overseas, as well as denominational leaders from
11 other Christian churches. All speakers agreed
that Christian churches--including the Adventist
Church--have been late in responding to the crisis.
Mwansa (right), (previous) SAID president, said
the meeting was organized because of the staggering
number of HIV/AIDS cases in sub-Saharan Africa.
Experts say the region is home to 70 to 80 percent
of worldwide HIV/AIDS cases, or some 28 million of
the 40 million infected persons around the world.
Mwansa believes the church is not immune to those
statistics and is in real danger. "Unless the HIV
[pandemic] is addressed, there will be no workers to
work in our congregations. There will be no church
members to pastor. There will be no people to lead.
Some of us here will be dead," Mwansa said in his
Although statistics are available on the number of
Seventh-day Adventist members who are infected with
HIV/AIDS, in least four countries in southern
Africa--Botswana, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and
Lesotho--nearly one-third of the population live
Attendees praised the open nature of the meetings in
which church members with HIV/AIDS spoke
publicly--many for the first time--about living with
the disease and the stigma they often face in their
Some attendees raised questions of the safety of
touching and being near people infected with the
AIDS virus. Experts believe that education is the
first step in dealing with fear and stigma, which
have kept some church members from reaching out to
people with HIV/AIDS.
Peter Landless, an associate director of the General
Conference Health Ministries Department, said, "I've
heard talk at this conference which has staggered
me. Some of the HIV patients say, 'Well maybe some
of the people would feel better if gloves were worn
during footwashing.' I find this staggering because
it's time the gloves came off in the fight with
According to experts at the conference, AIDS is a
scourge that is killing millions of people around
the world, including thousands of Adventists.
have buried people who have died of HIV--church
members. There are pastors who are HIV positive,
that I know of and counsel with," said Mwansa. "This
is not something far from us. This is something that
we're dealing with."
Jona Adams, an Adventist member from Harare, spoke
of having to deal with "judgmental and
discriminating" church members. He said he hoped
that this meeting would lead to greater acceptance
of Adventist church members living with HIV/AIDS.
Charles Sandefur, president of Adventist Development
and Relief Agency International (ADRA), said that
church leaders were touched by the presence of Adams
and other Adventist members with HIV/AIDS. "That
changes the whole mood and conversation. It makes
this whole workshop experiential and not just
informational," he said.
Experts and leaders from other churches praised the
Adventist Church for this initiative, which they saw
as a significant step towards a more practical role
in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Dr. Arthur Ammann,
president of Global Strategies for HIV Prevention in
San Rafael, California, said the church was making a
bold statement by holding this conference.
"It's incredible--as far as I know this is the first
denomination that has addressed it as a
denomination," said Dr. Ammann. "There have been
individual churches that have talked about what to
do with AIDS, but I don't know about any gathering
where the church officials have so openly had people
with HIV/AIDS talking about the issues and
Ammann says the Adventist Church could be an example
to other denominations and have a big impact around
Delegates called on the Adventist Church to continue
the work it has been performing around the world.
The world church formed the AIDS Study Committee in
October 2000 to decide what it could do in response
to the crisis.
Zimbabwe meeting comes in the wake of the recent
opening of the new church's Office of HIV/AIDS
Ministry in Johannesburg, South Africa. The new
office, headed by Dr. Oscar Giordano, focuses on
care and vocational training for AIDS orphans and
widows, treatment for those infected, and a
widespread education and prevention effort in
churches, schools, and communities.
Adventist world church president Jan Paulsen said,
in an earlier interview with Adventist News Network,
that if he has one regret regarding the church's
response to HIV/AIDS, it is that an overarching,
coordinated approach has come so late in the day. It
is a mistake for anyone to assume that this is "not
an Adventist problem," he added. "As one of our
leaders in Africa said, it would be difficult to
find one Adventist family in Africa that has not
been impacted by AIDS."
Pastor Mwanza hopes that church leaders and members
do not become satisfied with the opening of the
HIV/AIDS office or the relative success of this
workshop. Although he praises the efforts of the
world church headquarters, Mwanza added, "having an
office is not making a difference. Having a meeting
is not making a difference.
we would ask the question: After this meeting will
it be much better for a pregnant mother whose child
is supposed to be HIV [positive] when that child is
born--will we make a difference to that mother?"
said Mwanza. "That is what I hope will be used as a
basis for us to judge the success of our programs."
--Adventist News Network
Church Addresses Vital Issues
at Year's Top Meeting - HIV/AIDS
Vice president Lowell
Cooper introduced the document "A Seventh-day
Adventist Response to the HIV/AIDS Crisis." He
commented that many questions are asked about what
the church is doing to minister in this environment.
The proposal calls
for the Adventist Church to make a clear response to
the epidemic, involving a broad range of initiatives
including education, treatment, research, and care
for victims and families. It is expected that
several denominational institutions, agencies,
departments, congregations, and individuals will be
GC committee vote authorized the establishment of an
office for HIV/AIDS ministry in Africa, and the
formation of an International HIV/AIDS Study
Dr. Allan Handysides,
GC health ministries director, spoke forcibly on the
impact that AIDS is having around the world.
Alluding to the terrorist attacks of September 11,
he said an almost equal number (5,500) perish
every day in Africa from AIDS (to listen to
"Many are ignorant of
the cause, and many are victims for a whole variety
of reasons," he said. "This is not just about
Africa, but many other parts of the world too.
"For example, in
southeast Asia there is one AIDS sufferer for every
10 in Africa. But in Africa, one of every 10 persons
is acquiring the disease while in south-east Asia in
every 5 persons is acquiring the disease."
Consequently, its impact in this area in the future
will be devastating. Today 36.1 million are infected
with HIV. Some 70 percent are in sub-Saharan Africa,
and 16 percent in southeast Asia. Worldwide, one
percent of the whole population of the world is
infected. There are 5.3 million new cases worldwide,
or 15,000 new cases every day. Last year three
million died, of which 1.2 million were children.
Life expectancy in the areas not affected by HIV is
declining dramatically, being reduced up to 25
years. The 16-35 age group is particularly targeted,
which Handysides said, "takes the heart out of
"Let us recognize
also that this is a problem for the church,"
Handysides continued. "In one recent survey of
Adventist high school students in a area, 30-40
percent were sexually experienced. In a comparative
survey of lifetime sexual partners, non-Christians
averaged 28 partners, non-Adventists Christians 22,
and Adventists 20. Recognizing that sexual activity
may have happened before joining the church, the
researcher also asked about active sexual liaisons
in the previous six months. The averages for
non-Christians were 4.3 partners, non-Adventist
Christians 1.86, and Adventists 2.3."
A major difficulty
the church has in dealing with AIDS, Handysides
explained, is agreeing on acceptable prevention
methods. "We need to be open and face reality," he
explained, referring to disagreements in some
regions over whether condom-use should be part of
HIV education. 1
"We're not saying
that condoms are the answer to this problem, they
are not," Handysides told the international group.
"It is conduct, not condoms, we want to preach. But
where the conduct is less than exemplary, or in
fact, where the condut may be downright promiscuous,
a condom, though by no means infallible, may be the
only significant option." 2
Mwansa, president of the Eastern Africa Division,
said that he was praying for his teenage children.
"To live in that environment means you have to be
praying every day. I hope our church will not fall
into the 'research and experimentation' trap but
directly help people who are dying. Practical
solutions are needed."
president of the Africa-Indian Ocean Division,
called the plan "overdue. I have lost a stepsister
and a cousin. It has come close. I fully support the
motion and give my thanks to the health ministries
GC Youth director
Baraka Muganda said that "every family in Africa is
touched. The church cannot be absent when it comes
to responding to the challenge."