T.D. Jakes Steps Up AIDS Efforts

In the wake of a burgeoning evangelical movement combating the HIV/AIDS crisis, one of America's leading Pentecostal pastors stepped up his already ongoing efforts for AIDS awareness.

Bishop T.D. Jakes of The Potter's House in Dallas launched a comprehensive campaign at the national and international levels to make a greater impact amid a growing crisis. The "It's Time to Step Up!" campaign comes as HIV infection is rising in every region in the world.

“More has to be done to halt the spread of this preventable and treatable disease and to address these frightening circumstances in the lives of all our brothers, sisters and children wherever they may live," said Jakes in a released statement. "We believe everyone has a role to play in educating the community about the challenges and issues surrounding this pandemic. As one of the largest predominately African-American churches in the nation, The Potter’s House is stepping up and taking action as part of a national and global offensive against HIV/AIDS.”

More than 1,000 people from the political arena, community-based organizations and the Church joined a rally Saturday at The Potter's House to kick off the campaign. "It's Time to Step Up" advocates HIV/AIDS awareness, education, prevention, testing and optimal treatment and also serves as a call to action to the faith community.

Jakes and associate pastors of the megachurch publicly tested for HIV on site at the rally to encourage the community to test. Free HIV testing was provided.

The campaign was born out of the success of several HIV/AIDS workshops and testing events held in 2006, including one of the largest religious events in the nation – MegaFest 2006. More than 600 attendants were tested at the major festival.

The Potter's House is a reflection of a budding movement in the churches which are now beginning to remove the AIDS stigma and offer free HIV testing to congregations.

Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., tested hundreds of attendants at a recent Global AIDS Summit including U.S. Senators Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., in a concerted effort to encourage testing.

While evangelical pastors such as Rick Warren and Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., had been unaware or "wrong," as Warren had said, about AIDS until recent years, Nicole McCann, Director of Counseling Services at The Potter's House, said Jakes has been a strong proponent for helping those infected by the HIV/AIDS virus throughout his 10 years with the megachurch.

This year, staggering statistics have led Jakes to step up his efforts to particularly reach women, people of color, and the faith-based community, McCann noted

HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death for African American women ages 25-34. Representing only 13 percent of the U.S. population, African Americans in general reportedly account for approximately half of the people currently diagnosed with HIV and AIDS.

"From our very young to our most senior citizens, African Americans are dying prematurely and with greater frequency as a result of HIV/AIDS,” said Jakes. “Beyond our nation’s shores, AIDS has reached epidemic proportions, particularly so in Africa where an unprecedented number of orphaned children are literally raising themselves.”

On a global scale, The Potter's House is also working in Kenya and Sub-Saharan Africa to provide water and help orphaned children.

Beyond the widely affected African American community, the new campaign still targets the wide public.

"This disease has moved from being relegated from one community to affecting everyone," said McCann. "And so we want to make sure that the interventions that we put in place are amenable to all populations – all genders, all sexual orientations, all racial backgrounds. So we want to make sure that it's generalizable for the whole world."

McCann went on to quote Jakes who had said, you can't win souls if a person is not alive.

"We want to keep people alive and healthy and then certainly uphold the standards of the Church," she added.

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