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PREVIOUS NEWS
Call to end discrimination against HIV/AIDS.

Adventist Leaders Meet US President
Helping HIV/AIDS Victims - Rwanda
Church Fights HIV-AIDS in Africa
Adventists Share How Churches Can Help Those with HIV/AIDS
HIV/AIDS Affects Not Only the Infected
Zimbabwe: Church Leaders Stress Urgent, Practical Involvement in AIDS Crisis
Church Addresses Vital Issues at Year's Top Meeting - HIV/AIDS

Adventists Call for End to Discrimination Against People with HIV, AIDS
June 6, 2006
Johannesburg, South Africa .... [AAIM/ANN Staff]

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 grew.

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 the document.

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 the disease.

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 the epidemic."

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 mission."

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.

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Adventist Leaders Meet US President
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 track record."


Leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church met with United States President, George W. Bush at the White House. [Photo: Rajmund Dabrowski/ANN]

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 Afghanistan.

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 worldwide.             
 --Adventist News Network

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Helping HIV/AIDS Victims; Church Programs Expand to Rwanda

January 17, 2006 Kibuye, Rwanda .... [Fesaha Tsegaye/ANN Staff]
Many 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 action.

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 department.

"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

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Church Fights HIV-AIDS in Africa

An unscheduled 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 HIV-AIDS.

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.

Working Together
“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 Chesapeake Conference.

“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 left.”

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 our help.”

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 - Original Document

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Adventists Share How Churches Can Help Those with HIV/AIDS

December 13, 2005 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States .... [Taashi Rowe/ANN]

A 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 an income.
 
Drs. Oscar and Eugenia Giordano.
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."

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. Oscar Giordano.

"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 disease.

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 presentation.

"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 solutions."

     ----Taashi Rowe/ANN

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HIV/AIDS Affects Not Only the Infected

November 29, 2005 Silver Spring, Maryland, United States .... [Taashi Rowe/ANN]

These two orphans in Lesotho, are among the 14 million children worldwide who have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS. [Photo: Hans Olson/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.

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 problem.

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 more lives.

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 indicated.

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.

   ---Taashi Rowe/ANN

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Zimbabwe: Church Leaders Stress Urgent, Practical Involvement in AIDS Crisis

BY JULIO MUNOZ, Adventist NewsLine reporter/producer

The 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.

The 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.

Pardon 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 opening address.

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 with HIV/AIDS.

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 own churches.

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.

Dr. 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 AIDS."

According to experts at the conference, AIDS is a scourge that is killing millions of people around the world, including thousands of Adventists.

"I 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 listening."

Dr. Ammann says the Adventist Church could be an example to other denominations and have a big impact around the world.

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.

The 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.

"So 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

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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 involved.

A GC committee vote authorized the establishment of an office for HIV/AIDS ministry in Africa, and the formation of an International HIV/AIDS Study Commission.

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 Handysides comments, click here).

"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 society."

"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

Pardon 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."

Luka Daniel, 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 department."

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."

BY JONATHAN GALLAGHER