Churches urged to take lead in AIDS fight
African organizer invites Christians to see the disaster for themselves
Moral condemnation has no place in the battle against AIDS, says a Christian activist who works with those suffering from the disease in Africa.
AIDS victims are often stigmatized, said Nema Aluku, HIV and AIDS response co-ordinator in eastern and southern Africa, for the Christian Re-formed World Relief Committee, the relief and development arm of the Christian Reformed Church.
"People don't know how to react when somebody is HIV positive," Aluku said. "Some people look at it from a moral perspective. They ask, 'How did you get infected?' "
Aluku is the guest speaker at Micah Challenge Embraces AIDS, an HIV/AIDS awareness event taking place in Edmonton on 3 December 2011.
In a telephone interview from Kansas, one of her stops on a North American speaking tour, Aluku said knowing how a person contracted AIDS is irrelevant. "The main thing is, OK, it happened, how do we help this person live a productive life? How do we help this person be more hopeful. How do we encourage people?" One way is through God, she said. "We need to talk about it and deal with it because we are one body in Christ - because you believe in a God of love."
In Uganda alone, 150,000 new cases of HIV will likely be diagnosed this year, up from 130,000 last year, Aluku said. Despite those numbers, worldwide interest in the disease has waned, she said.
"Why do we still have the infections? Because there's a bit of fatigue in a way. On the international level not many people are talking about HIV the way we used to talk about it 15 years ago. We have to find a way of ad-dressing this fatigue, why people are getting tired of addressing HIV and AIDS."
Congregations in North America can help, Aluku said.
"If you look at the western world, not many congregations have an HIV/AIDS day to talk about HIV and AIDS in their community. I tell communities in North America the first thing you could do is learn about HIV and AIDS, how it is affecting people - and find how can you engage your local authority, how can people help."
The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee offers tours of Africa to show how AIDS affects people first-hand. Tour participants, accompanied by committee workers, visit village health clinics and private homes of AIDS' sufferers.
"We invite you to come to the region because every year we have HIV and AIDS tours," Aluku said. "We invite people from North America to come and engage with some of these people. Then you can see for yourself (what the situation is like)."
Liz John-West, board chair of Micah Challenge Canada and head of its Edmonton chapter, said the international faith-based group rallies Christians on such issues as global poverty, disease, and injustice.
The December 3 event, a collaboration between Micah Challenge and the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, will give Christians a chance to learn more about the global impact of HIV/AIDS, John-West said.
"It's an awareness raising (event) about the issues of AIDS - and what we as Canadians can do regarding this issue," she said."We want to create another space, another venue, for the Christian sector of our society to know more about AIDS."
The event is tied to World AIDS Day, which occurs Thursday.
"We're hoping to have Edmonton HIV/AIDS groups there so that we can learn about the issues on a local level as well," John-West said. "We are also showing a short video on the impact of AIDS on children in Africa. Many children are being raised by their grandmothers and there is a whole cultural and societal impact from this."
Hannah DeJong of the Micah Centre, a faith-based social action group at King's University College that is affiliated with Micah Challenge, called on Christians from all congregations to attend.
"I think this event would be a great way to really encourage churches to embrace AIDS," DeJong said. "I think that so often churches can get too caught up in the stigma of AIDS. I hope this event will help to educate them so that they can go back to their own churches and ask them-selves, 'What are we doing about this issue, how are we reaching out to people who have AIDS in our com-munity?' " Churches can accomplish a lot, DeJong said.
"A church is an incredible body of power if they can get a voice together to press governments, or even pharmaceutical companies to offer cheaper drugs, or governments to in-crease the aid to people who struggle with this."
Micah Challenge Embraces AIDS starts at 7 p.m. Dec. 3, at Calvary Baptist Church, 7215 97th St. Admission is free. Look for Micah Challenge Embraces AIDS on Facebook or on the organization's website micahchal-lenge.org.