Baptists Urged to Make AIDS Ministry a Priority

The Baptist World Alliance on Thursday was asked to make HIV/AIDS a priority by creating a network of AIDS-related ministries and sharing information about Baptists working in the field, during the Alliance’s Centenary Congress.

An AIDS focus group reminded the Alliance that there are 39.4 million HIV-positive people in the world – about one for every Baptist – and that the church must “talk about controversial issues” rather than ignoring, stigmatizing and isolating the victims of AIDS.

“We have to teach people how to be abstinent and faithful, and to protect themselves,” said Sally Smith, a member of the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS, a UNAIDS initiative. “We have to create a loving welcome for everyone with AIDS—including the pastor.”

Smith, a former Baptist Missionary Society missionary to Nepal, said “the key thing is in reach.” What’s needed most now is care and credibility.

“We have to care for people with AIDS and their families. Then we will have credibility to move out into our community with our outreach ministries,” she said. “We have up to 40 million Baptists in the world. Think what an impact we can make!”

The AIDS group heard from six Baptists who are already impacting the effort in large and small ways, according to the BWA.

One such presentation was given by the Rev. Fletcher Kaiya, general secretary of the Malawi Baptist Convention, who said he and his wife have taken 15 AIDS orphans, aged 6 to 13, into their home. The Kaiyas, who have 6 children of their own aged 14 and up, have received help from friends and members of their small church in Blantyre.

”We have no privacy any more,” Kaiya admitted with a broad smile, according to BWA news, “but we are young again!”

Representing the AIDS ministry in India, the founder of Serve Truse, Leena Lavanya, said the stigmatism placed on AIDS victims is heartbreaking.

“People think the disease is transmitted by touching AIDS patients,” said Lavanya, who added that AIDS sufferers are treated like lepers.

She said she attempted to break the isolation by visiting people with AIDS. For the first year, no one from her church would go with her, but now, the Serve Trust provides food and diet supplements to 177 people with AIDS and operates a hospice for four AIDS patients.