The global AIDS pandemic usually escapes mention in Adventist congregations. Perhaps in part because Adventists shy away from discussion of sexuality and sexually-transmitted diseases, or perhaps because affluent churches in North America and Europe do not feel the effects of AIDS first hand, Adventists often overlook HIV/AIDS.
One Southern California church hopes to change that.
In commemoration of World AIDS Day, the Kansas Avenue Adventist Church , together with the Grove Community Church in Riverside, California, hosted two days of AIDS awareness and prevention.
On Saturday, November 29, Jeanne White-Ginder spoke in the Kansas Avenue church about her son, Ryan White, who died of AIDS. In 1984, Ryan’s struggle for acceptance and fair treatment made national headlines after Western Middle School (Russiaville, Indiana) barred him from attending. A lengthy legal battle eventually resulted in Congress passing the Ryan White CARE Act four months after Ryan’s death.
Saturday morning, Ryan’s mother shared stories and a video of Ryan, inspiring the nearly 120 attendees. A reporter from the Press-Enterprise attended Saturday's gathering and writes:
- Ryan was 13 when he was diagnosed with AIDS. He contracted the disease through blood-based hemophilia treatments.
"Our life drastically changed overnight," White-Ginder said.
Classmates, parents and teachers did not want Ryan in their school. He and his mother fought to get him back in a school where he was not welcome.
People attending the summit watched a videotape that showed anti-Ryan protesters and included an interview with Ryan shot a year before his death in 1990. He did not blame the people for their reaction to the disease.
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On Monday (Dec. 1) Kansas Avenue observed World AIDS day with guest speakers, panel discussions and breakout sessions. In meetings from 9:00AM to 4:00 PM, health care professionals, clinical counselors, public health officials and clergy discussed AIDS and its impact on communities in Southern California.
Dr. Sharon Rabb, an educator, clinical psychologist, and licensed marriage, family therapist, shared a presentation titled “Breaking the Silence.” Dr. Rabb addressed the shame and stigma attached to HIV/AIDS, urging openness and public discussion. Noting that shame prevents people infected with AIDS from speaking out, Rabb said people must get help, not try to go it alone.
Dr. Ann Dew, a public health and preventative medicine expert, described the impact of AIDS on California communities. Riverside and San Bernardino Counties in Southern California rank among the nation’s highest in incidences of AIDS. Treatment of AIDS costs $10 million annually in those counties alone. Dr. Dew noted that HIV impacts African American and Latino communities disproportionately.
A panel discussion of pastors, physicians, and mental health professionals addressed the psychological issues that accompany AIDS, how to stop the AIDS pandemic, and how the community can help. The liveliest moments of discussion revolved around the question of whether abstinence or "safe sex" (i.e. using condoms) ought to be taught.
Afternoon breakout sessions featured three topics: HIV/AIDS 101, an informational presentation; Helping AIDS Survivors Heal, a look at the psychological aspects of AIDS care; and Mark McKay’s discussion of AIDS and death from a mortician’s perspective.
Bill Howe, who helped organize the AIDS Day activities on Saturday and Monday, notes that the Kansas Avenue Church has led Southern California’s Adventist communities in AIDS awareness and prevention for twelve years. In 1996 following the death of three church members, Kansas Avenue pastor Jesse Williams saw the need to address the disease as a congregation. Dozens of parishioners responded to the call for an AIDS ministry.
The result, Howe says, has been over a decade of advocacy and care for AIDS patients. The Church participates in and sponsors an annual AIDS walk fundraising event, provides a support group and resources for victims of HIV/AIDS, and hosts forums to raise awareness among Adventists.
Noting a smaller turnout than expected Monday, Bill Howe wonders why more Adventists have not taken up this cause. The church, he feels, should be at the forefront.
The Adventist Development & Relief Agency (ADRA) provides one step toward broader Adventist involvement. The Adventist News Network reports that ADRA commemorated World AIDS Day by providing an informative packet with statistics on AIDS, testimonies from people suffering from HIV/AIDS, informational posters, bulletin and magazine inserts and much more.
ADRA works in countries around the world to stop the spread of AIDS and invites Adventist participation.
Learn more about ADRA’s initiatives to fight AIDS and find out how you can participate at: http://www.adra.org/site/PageServer?pagename=work_aids_resources