Personal Reflection from Jon Singletary, social work professor at Baylor University
It was during breakfast that I came to a new understanding of a seemingly desperate situation facing more than 30 million people worldwide. It was a breakfast that gave me hope and inspired me to share this hope with my congregation, the students I teach and ultimately with women and children on a Baylor University Ministries trip to Kenya and with global leaders on a trip to last year’s G-8 Summit in Scotland.
It was a breakfast that reminded me of the power of my voice, and of yours, and of ours together.
At this breakfast, an Offering of Letters workshop led by Bread for the World and hosted by Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, I discovered an opportunity to live out a part of our missional vocation in a new way.
As one who is called to a ministry of teaching about the relationship between faith and social justice, I have been interested in faith-based advocacy and have worked with people living with AIDS for almost a decade, but this breakfast meeting helped inspire a passion for people living in extreme poverty and with HIV/AIDS, particularly in Africa and other regions of the global south.
The workshop taught basic skills of writing a letter to Congress, but it also helped me understand just how important it is for our churches to be involved in speaking to the world's most powerful men and women about the needs of the world's most vulnerable children.
As many as 30,000 children die each and every day as a result of extreme poverty. Thirteen million children in Africa alone have been orphaned as a result of AIDS taking the life of a parent. Almost half a billion children go to bed hungry each and every night. Behind each number are stories and stories of children struggling to maintain hope against hope.
That is the kind of hope we believe in. It is the hope alive in missional churches promoting KidsHeart in Kenya; it is alive in field personnel serving throughout the world; it is alive in Baylor University students promoting access to education for children in Africa. And, it is alive as churches speak truth to power, demonstrating the compassion we offer, but knowing more is needed, and demanding that our nation keep its promises to people living with AIDS around the world.
To learn more about our promises, visit www.milleniumcampaign.org. To join Bread for the World and their work with the ONE Campaign, visit www.bread.org/ONE.
Personal encounter with AIDS victim launches ministry vision for N.C. woman
By Carla Wynn
ATLANTA – When Carolyn McClendon lived in New Orleans wile working at a Baptist ministry center, Jason and Daniel were her neighbors. Daniel had AIDS and McClendon never saw him without Jason.
Jason was his caregiver.
When Daniel died, McClendon went next door to check on Jason.
“I walked up the steps of this house, and Jason grabbed me and started sobbing,” she said. “There was an awful lot of pain and hurt.”
Touched by the need of those living with HIV/AIDS, McClendon started a group that would care for people with AIDS, who at that time were dying sometimes quicker than the group could meet them.
McClendon continued AIDS ministry involvement when she moved to North Carolina. After serving as a volunteer, she became the faith ministries director for the Alliance of AIDS Services Carolinas in Raleigh.
In her role, McClendon urges churches to respond to the needs in their community, particularly by forming what she calls care teams. These faith-based teams provide practical, emotional and spiritual support to people living with HIV/AIDS, as well as care for their family and friends.
McClendon provides pastoral care and spiritual support to care teams and the Alliance’s approximately 1,000 clients. She also provides bereavement support.
“I’ve done my share of funerals and memorials,” she said. “I hear people regularly say that people aren’t dying [of AIDS] anymore, but we are still seeing quite a few deaths.”
Providing emotional and physical support is important and part of McClendon’s mission.
“It is our role as people of faith to respond to people who are hurting, regardless of what that need is,” she said. “My involvement started because there was someone there who needed me and needed to know that there was a God who loved them. I started the work because of Jason and Daniel … and now advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves. I cannot not do this. This is what God has called me to do.”
Estle ministers through AIDS support group, relationships
By Carla Wynn
ATLANTA - A polio survivor, Karen Estle knows what it’s like to have a disease people fear. Maybe that’s why she makes such a powerful connection with those living with HIV/AIDS in Indianapolis, Ind.
For more than 12 years, Estle has led a support group for residents of Conner House, a 24-unit apartment complex in Indianapolis for those living with HIV/AIDS. For years she led two support groups a week, with so many spiritual issues coming up that residents suggested separate spiritual and Bible study groups.
“The irony is that it just came up more, not less,” said Estle, who led groups through Christian books and Bible studies.
Now, Estle leads a Wednesday night support group, where she connects with residents through sharing her own story of being feared because she had polio at a time when her disease caused social anxiety.
“Residents will often move to the edge of their chair and say, ‘Tell me everything you know.’ I just watch the spirit of God move in the room as someone becomes less defensive, begins to feel safe and connects with others in the room,” Estle said.
Her experience leading support groups pushed her to seminary, where she studied pastoral care and counseling. Several support group members even attended her ordination in 2003.
“I love to hear their comments about how I have forever changed their view of a Baptist,” she said.
Estle’s church more than 10 years, Speedway Baptist Church, is also involved in Conner House ministry. Every three to four months, a women’s group from the church cooks a meal for Conner House residents and stays to fellowship with them. It’s something the group has done for more than three years.
“It makes my heart sing when I hear the ladies talking about how much fun they have at Conner House and say the residents are just like their sons,” Estle said.
Church members carve pumpkins with AIDS support group members in October. Photo courtesy of Karen Estle
The church also funds a monthly birthday celebration for Conner House residents. Each resident is given a small gift, a card and a birthday celebration complete with cake and ice cream. For some residents, this is the only time their birthday is acknowledged, Estle said.
Other church members have formed friendships with residents, where they meet and interact beyond the structured ministry activities. Some residents even went to visit a Speedway volunteer in the hospital when she was recovering from surgery.
And after more than 12 years of involvement, the ministry is still fresh, necessary and the commitment worthwhile.
“After all these years, we still learn together,” she said. “I know it makes a difference that I continue to go to group when I hear, ‘Karen, I never understood unconditional love until you just kept coming,’” she said.
Rev. Karen J. Estle is the Spiritual Advisor with the Palliative Care Team at Wishard Health Services, Indianapolis Indiana. She is a certified pastoral counselor member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors with endorsement through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Any questions about the ministry can be directed to Karen at KESTLE@iumg.com.
Another World AIDS Day, a reflection by Wayne Smith, who leads Samaritan Ministry, a Knoxville, Tenn.-based HIV/AIDS ministry extending from Central Baptist Church of Bearden
World AIDS day, for me, brings memories of the worship services that we have planned at Central Baptist Church since 2003. Our services, in many ways, represent a culmination of our ministry to those affected by HIV, an opportunity to reach out in worship, thanking Him for the blessings of LIFE, and remembering and honoring lost friends we miss and morn still.
At our first worship in 2003, one of our church members sang a song entitled, “Not Too Far From Here.” For me this song symbolizes our work and the reason Samaritan Ministry exists - because HIV/AIDS is taking lives and continues to spread, not just in Africa, but here in our community … not too far from here.
I often reflect on the words of Bill Williams, local news anchor. Bill lost a son, Mark, to this epidemic in 1990. When Bill, a strong Christian, spoke at our service in 2004, he made this statement – “The only question HIV/AIDS asks is, ‘Are you human?’” HIV is a virus that affects humans, not any certain class or group, but simply “humans.” And, as Bill says, the church needs to do as Jesus would do – reach out to these humans because they are God’s creation – our brothers and sisters – who need to know of the love of Christ.
Singer songwriter Kate Campbell was also a part of our 2004 service. In a pre-worship interview, Kate said, “It is not about making some political point, it’s about compassion and finding ways to live out the work of the gospel.” Kate also shared with us a tune called, “Jesus is the Way Home.” In this wonderful lyric, Kate writes:
You don’t have to worry where you’re at, or why you’re there, He knows all that. You just let the good book be your map, Jesus is the way home.
If you think nobody understands, and life’s not going like you planned, there’s a friend who’ll show you how to go, Jesus is the way home.
World AIDS Day is, in many ways, an inward look at life gone awry. It’s about poor luck, and often poor choices and dire consequences. But the hope for all of us (who have all made poor choices and faced consequences) lies in the grace of our Lord and His unrelenting forgiveness. World AIDS Day celebrates this hope.
The theme for our most recent service was brought to us through the music of Kyle Matthews. His theme in November 2005 was “Making Room.” How do we as disciples of Christ make room in our hearts (and pews), for those living with HIV and for their suffering friends and family? This is the challenge for all of us as we face yet another World AIDS Day.
Is it a miracle we’re needing?
Is it as crowded as it seems?
Or is love more amazing than we have dared to dream.
There’s enough to go around; shared love never runs out.
The richest people I have found... choose to make room.
To learn more about Wayne Smith and Samaritan Ministry, visit www.samaritancentral.org.
Loss of a Dream, a personal reflection by Joyce Williams, a San Antonio, Texas, resident who lost a daughter and grandchildren to AIDS.
How can I recover from the loss of a dream when the head understands but the heart refuses? Is the answer to read books, attended conferences and talk with psychologists, chaplains, friends and ministers?
One of my dreams was shattered on September 17, 1985, almost 25 years ago. I picked up the phone late one evening and heard a whimpering sound. Then, in a voice barely audible, I heard “M-O-M” and my heart sank. Our younger daughter Lydia sobbed, “Mom, I’ve just had a call from the blood bank in California. They supplied blood for my transfusions before Matt was born. The blood that saved my life also had the AIDS virus. Both the boys and I have just received the death sentence.”
The years following that call continue to be difficult for me to bring to my conscious memory: medications, hospitalizations and five months later the death of baby Bryan - the first of my family to die of AIDS. I didn’t want to think, to feel, to cry anymore. But Lydia and Matt needed me – to face the pain, the rejection, and the loss of baby Bryan.
Lydia, a registered nurse, was guarding the secret of her infection and three-year-old Matt’s. She had great empathy for children whose parents were dying of AIDS. No foster homes would take infected children. This was the Ryan White era. So Lydia took three children into her home to care for them after their father died and the mother was hospitalized. Then, along with a friend, Lydia set about to open a home for children infected with AIDS. Bryan’s House opened in Dallas, Texas, in 1987. A prototype called Lydia’s House opened in Cincinnati in 1998.
Healing for me was slow. There were days when I wanted to forget the horrible disease our family struggled with. My optimistic husband kept assuring me the researchers would find something “in time to help Lydia.” However, the everyday stress took its toll. On his 66th birthday, my husband of 44 years suffered a fatal heart attack. How could I face Lydia’s death without Luke’s support? Six months later I watched as Lydia drew her last breath.
Still reeling from my load of grief, I resigned my position as an administrator in a private school and trained to become a chaplain. My grief had propelled me from a flagging faith to the courage for a new beginning. For the next six years as a pediatric chaplain I had many opportunities to walk beside parents as their children went through painful procedures. A number of the children died in spite of their excellent care. Again, I walked beside grieving parents.
When our city needed a children’s bereavement center, I left the hospital to use my experience and training to help stabilize this young organization. For eight years I facilitated groups of various ages with the most challenging being children 3 to 5 years old who had a parent die. During this time I published children’s books and my memoir, "Triumph Over Grief." Copies went to grief centers, hospital chaplains, prison chaplains, social workers, ministers, family and friends.
With every death a dream dies. Then what was I to do? A wise person suggests: slow your pace, look inside and find seeds of another dream.
Healing came when I reached out to those who could not imagine “triumphing over grief.”
Virginia man brings AIDS education to congregations, church leaders
By Carla Wynn
ATLANTA – In high school, Ted Lewis didn’t even like Ben. They weren’t friends. They didn’t talk to each other.
Years later, Lewis and Ben walked to church together – a four-minute walk often taking upward of 20 minutes because Ben was sick and weak. Ben was HIV-positive.
Lewis and Ben spent a year and half learning to be friends, learning about each other and encouraging each other.
“We really had to work at developing a relationship,” Lewis said. “I learned about his life as HIV-positive. I learned about family acceptance and rejection. He would encourage me as I was trying to find a way to minister to him.”
Ben died about 18 months after reuniting with Lewis, but not before becoming a Christian and transforming from “a cynical kind of guy into a loving guy,” Lewis said.
Through Ben, Lewis began a journey of discovery, trying to find “the way the Lord wanted us to deal with HIV,” he said.
The journey is now more than 20 years long, involving varying forms of ministry. As an HIV case manager, Lewis links those living with HIV/AIDS to available community services, including those that meet transportation and mental health needs. For more than 10 years, Lewis has spoken at churches about the need for Christian involvement in the HIV/AIDS pandemic. He is also pastor of Mount Nebo Church in Portsmouth, Va.
At the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s HIV/AIDS Summit in June, Lewis facilitated a workshop. The summit spurred Lewis to teach an HIV/AIDS class at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond (BTSR), where he graduated from this year. The class was already in the works, but the summit “lit a fire under me to get it started,” he said.
Lewis will lead an interactive Web-based course this winter that will challenge participants to engage the HIV/AIDS issue. The course is offered by BTSR’s School of Christian Ministry, which provides non-credit continuing education opportunities for both ministerial and lay leaders.
Course topics will include facts about HIV/AIDS, the faces of HIV/AIDS in congregations and communities, a biblical model for response and ministry, issues of confidentiality and how to start an HIV/AIDS ministry.
“Although we talk about global AIDS a lot and we deal with the disease around the world, we still have a problem in our country,” Lewis said. “It’s something we’re not talking about in the church. I believe the Lord wants us to [minister], but we have not been focused and we have not been courageous.”
The six-week course begins Feb. 5 and costs $100. Scholarships are available to half the cost. To register for the course, visit www.btsr.edu/new_scm_online_registration.HTML.
N.C. church ministers as group to people living with HIV/AIDS
By Carla Wynn
ATLANTA – Rhonda Lowe didn’t know what to say or do when her friend Wain was
Members of First Baptist Church of Raleigh's AIDS care team. Photo courtesy of Rhonda Lowe
diagnosed with AIDS. She hadn’t seen him in a few years and didn’t know how to approach him. She wanted to do something but never figured out what to do.
“Six months passed. I learned of his death and felt badly that I did nothing,” Lowe said.
Now, in memory and honor of Wain, she is part of an HIV/AIDS ministry of First Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C. For more than 10 years, a handful of church members have operated as a care team. The group adopts a person living with HIV/AIDS and seeks to form relationships and meet whatever needs the person has.
Care team ministry started in 1994, when a few young singles from the church agreed they needed to respond to the overwhelming needs of people living with HIV/AIDS. They officially formed the care team in 1995 with the church’s endorsement and training from an interfaith AIDS organization.
“It seemed only right to find a way to touch those considered ‘untouchables’ in our society as Jesus touched,” said Cara Lynn Vogel, who has been involved from the ministry’s beginning.
The team started by adopting one care partner at a time, many times only knowing the person for about six months before he or she died. Improvements in HIV/AIDS medication and care over the past 10 years have extended life for those living with the disease. The church has been working with both its current care partners for at least four years. They have journeyed with them. One care partner was even ordained as a minister this year, thanking the care team in his first sermon.
Over the years, the team has changed. Team members aren’t just young singles anymore. Some are professionals, some retired, some young, some married.
To the care partner, the team provides social support through meals, phone calls, hospital visits and prayers. With money allotted from the church budget, they also provide financial support during times of crisis.
But the relationship is not one-sided. When Lowe was hospitalized with an illness, one of the care partners called to see how Lowe was doing and if she needed anything.
“I realized in that moment that ministry is a two-way relationship – not a one-way one,” Lowe said. “I was being ministered to as well as ministering to others.”
The care team also does AIDS prevention education. Twice in the last four years, team members have led a seminar at the church on sexually-transmitted diseases.
“I’ve watched as people in our congregation who were afraid for our team in the early years become prayer warriors for us and for our care partners,” Vogel said. “Somehow we have been used to break down some of the barriers and stigma.”
The message has reached even the children in the church. Once, Vogel spoke in a third-grade Sunday school class, where a child asked if anyone in the congregation had AIDS. After Vogel said she didn’t know, the child said she wished people living with HIV/AIDS would tell the church so the church could help.
“At that moment, I knew our care team was making a difference,” Vogel said. “Maybe the next generation of persons living with HIV/AIDS will have more people like this third grader around to show Christ-like love.”
Personal Reflection from Taisha Rose, one of CBF's field personnel serving in New York City. In this reflection, Rose shares her experiences working with an HIV/AIDS organization in Atlanta, Ga.
In spring 2004, my life was forever changed by a group of men, who live every day fighting a disease that has taken the lives of more than 25 million people in the past 25 years. These men, whose lives are true, living miracles, gather daily to break bread together and fellowship with fellow sojourners. Though their stories are powerful, transforming, and life-changing, many people will never get the chance to hear them, not because the men do not want to share them, but because the people who need to hear their stories are often too scared or too ignorant to listen. But for one brief moment in time, I heard their stories …
These men touched my life, and I will never forget them. Their honesty, openness and willingness to share their lives with a stranger amazed me. But more than that, their wisdom, their insight, their courage and their faith inspired me. Many of the men just wanted to be loved and accepted for who they were, not judged or condemned for their sexual orientation or HIV-status. As an advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS, I entered their world and came back with their stories. Here are two of their stories…
Oscar is a “regular” at the organization — an extremely intelligent man who has lived with HIV/AIDS for more than 15 years. During one of my regular afternoon visits, he shared his faith story with me. When Oscar was first diagnosed with HIV in the early 1990s, he moved into Jerusalem House, a place similar to a hospice for people with AIDS. Unlike many other residents, Oscar did not go to Jerusalem House expecting to die. He stayed at Jerusalem House for six years and although he experienced some really tough days battling HIV/AIDS, Oscar continued to hold on to his faith. “I had faith,” he told me, “and I still have faith today. I moved to my own apartment and lived there for six years as well. And now, I have my own house. You know, that is faith. I had faith when I was there. There were many people there who went there expecting to die.”
Oscar said he wanted others to know that they can do it, too — that they also can have faith in God everyday. Even in the moments when everything around him was dark, Oscar knew there was a light and kept on going toward that light, maintaining his faith in God. Oscar ministered to me that day. He gave faith a real face. Moreover, Oscar allowed me to see a different side of HIV/AIDS, the person behind the disease, and the hope and faith he had despite what his present condition looked like.
I was also blessed with the opportunity to interview Roger, a ministry regular who gave his life to Christ when he was 14. Brilliant beyond measure, he is lovingly called “Rabbi Roger” for his great knowledge and insight of the Bible, as well as for his affinity for speaking truth.
Roger has been HIV-positive for nearly 20 years. Although he has two loving parents, Roger still battles feelings of rejection, having been abandoned by his biological father as a baby. Having issues with esteem and a lack of self-worth, Roger turned to drugs as a way of escape as he battled with homosexuality. Diagnosed with HIV in the early 1980s, Roger was devastated when he found out and had to leave the military because of it. In fact, he felt like his life was over and started to hate his homosexuality because of the stigma attached to being HIV-positive.
Roger told me that there is more to life than death and that HIV/AIDS can be a part of his life — not the end of it! For him, the best way to kill a secret is to let it out, and that is why he speaks to the community about AIDS and why he took the time to share his story with me. I believe that we as the church have a responsibility to offer love, hope and acceptance to those who are living with HIV/AIDS. We, as followers of Jesus Christ, must serve and embrace all people who are both infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, and we must start now.