As millions around the world observed AIDS Day on Sunday, Bishop T.D. Jakes' The Potter's House megachurch provided free HIV testing to hundreds of people in Dallas, Texas, to express solidarity with those affected and send out the message that getting tested is "simple, easy and important."
The church called medical aides from UT Southwestern Medical Center and set up tables in the lobby of its campus, as part of its "Spread the Word. Get Tested" health-screening campaign.
"Getting tested is not just about being at risk but also about the education around the shared responsibility for a healthy generation," The Potter's House said in a statement.
"With it being not only a national, but an international epidemic, we wanted to show our solidarity," Bonné Moon, an associate pastor at the megachurch, told Dallas News. "The statistics are growing at alarming rates."
Dallas County has the highest rate of new HIV infections in the state and one of the highest in the nation. About one-fourth of new diagnoses are from teenagers between the ages of 13 to 18, and roughly half of them are African Americans, according to Dallas County Health and Human Services.
"A lot of people are scared to get tested," and Bishop Jakes is "just challenging their faith," church member Troy Kelly was quoted as saying. "I believe it's a good thing, especially on AIDS Day."
"This is something you do as a man or a woman of God - you become accountable," said Moon, who also got tested Sunday.
"We've tested approximately 500 people," Juanita Dauya, a volunteer, told wfaa.com.
"We can't ignore because we want to stay undercover," Moon went on to say. "You know the cover is off, and we just need to be healthy, know what our status is, and do something about it - particularly not spread it."
In 2006, Bishop Jakes also got tested when his church offered HIV testing. "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 at the time.
The Potter's House's AIDS ministry is called the Balm Ministry, which "personifies Bishop Jakes' call to minister to hurting people," including those who have been "devastated by the news of a HIV-positive diagnosis."
The ministry aims at increasing those who know their status, increasing those who receive adequate care and treatment, and decreasing the number of new diagnoses.
"Simply, when the church speaks, people listen and when the church speaks about HIV/AIDS it gives permission to address this growing concern," the church says.