Feature

It IS Our Problem

Creating community amid crisis

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A nine-year-old child’s father died of AIDS at age 35. A loving teenager’s mother died of AIDS at 30. Both the mother and the father of other sisters who were 10 and 12 years old died of AIDS, and their six-year-old sister was diagnosed with HIV. An athletic 11-year-old’s uncle, aunt and sister all have the devastating disease. Where do these youth live? Rwanda? South Africa? Ethiopia? No. They all live in the United States of America.

Countless stories like theirs can be told across the country. The AIDS/HIV epidemic in America is not over. The crisis is a strategic ministry link that the evangelical church can wisely use to connect with a hurting community.

Heart Strings

Since I was a youth pastor in San Francisco during the early 1980s, ministering to AIDS/HIV victims is nothing new for me. It began when I was sitting in my office and a distraught mother called, begging for a pastor to visit her son who was dying of AIDS in the hospital. She had called eight other churches before she reached me. Sadly, none of the pastors would visit her son.

That was a typical response among African-American pastors in the city. Most were afraid that the disease was contagious. Others strongly held that it was God’s indictment of the outspoken gay community in San Francisco. God touched my heart that day to look beyond the stigma in order to see the broken heart of this mother.

During my trip to the hospital, I discovered that several parents, some of whom were believers, were visiting their children who had AIDS. I went back to church and organized carpools and free cabs to ensure that the mothers and fathers of these AIDS victims were transported to and from airports, grocery stores and hospitals. It was a void that the retired members of the church in San Francisco were excited to fill.

We Can Help

A recent article in Vallejo Times reported that while African-Americans comprise only 12 percent of Solano County’s population, they make up 33 percent of AIDS cases according to county health officials and the Department of Social Services.

Our congregation at New Hope Church Community in Vallejo, California, has been reaching out to youth with AIDS/HIV for more than three years. Although our church family is mostly African-American, we are adamant about ministering to “whosoever will.”

We adhere to the vision of Luke 4:18–19, in which Christ read from the scroll of Isaiah, “‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’”

Not the Average “Camp”

Partnering with a local foster care agency, our church family sponsors a six-week summer day camp where half of the children attending are either infected with or affected by AIDS/HIV. For legal reasons, none of the counselors are told which individuals are either infected or affected by the virus. However, after the children start taking their medicine or begin to open up about their circumstances, their situations become apparent.

Summer ministry teams from Simpson University (Redding, Calif.) have served as counselors at the camp. Each was trained about handling campers who bled or who became ill. All counselors were certified to administer CPR and first aid. A state-certified foster care trainer also provided training for dealing with dysfunctional family issues in accordance with state guidelines and mandated that we report any concerns. “I have to be honest,” said Donald Daboiko, camp director and Simpson University graduate. “At first my focus was on the disease, but as we got to know these kids, the focus quickly switched to ministry.”

The week is punctuated by applicable Bible studies, arts and crafts, music and drama and exciting field trips. The field trips are a highlight of the week. Many campers have never been to an Oakland Athletics or a San Francisco Giants game.

During a field trip to Ocean Beach in San Francisco, a boy could hardly wait to jump out of the car. We tried to keep him calm until we could park the van. But the boy exclaimed, “I can’t wait. I have never been to a beach!” It really tugged at my heart to hear a California kid say this. I suddenly realized that parents with AIDS/HIV do not have the energy to go to museums, ball games or beaches.

Miracle Money

Funding for the summer camp is always a miracle of prayer. Church members make special donations and volunteer at the camp to keep expenses low. They also write grant proposals and secure food and field trip donations from the community. The Intercultural Ministries Office of the C&MA has also provided funding in past years, and the foster care agency pays tuition for their kids. Simpson University students are a huge blessing because they raise money throughout the year. The more funds we have, the more we can do to make the summer more memorable.

Each year we plan and pray, and the Lord brings it all together. It’s invaluable to me when one of the campers prays to receive Jesus as his Savior, starts attending church and wants to be baptized.

The grandparents or guardians are also grateful for the summer ministry. Many of them thought they were finished raising their families. However, due to the unfortunate circumstances of their children, they have stepped in to raise their grandchildren. Through it all, I can see that there is so much more that we can do with this ministry.

Offering Hope

Our young people think they are invincible. They do not know what causes AIDS, and they are ignoring the danger in unwise lifestyle choices. The Solano County Health Education specialist believes that youth in Vallejo are not associating their behavior with risk; Vallejo has the highest rate of AIDS cases of any city in the county.

New Hope Church Community has opened the dialogue for AIDS education and involvement in Vallejo. Not only do we operate the six-week camp, but also I have been asked by the Minister’s Council of the city to direct a three-day youth summit for teenagers. More than 300 teens from across the city attend each day. The AIDS/HIV seminar is one of the most informative in the area and is highly rated by the youth. These seminars cut to the truth of the matter. We don’t pull any punches with them—they need the truth.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at any given moment 1 to 1.5 million people are infected with HIV in the United States. The fastest growing segment of the population diagnosed with AIDS is African-American women. As long as people have the disease, we see an opportunity and a biblical obligation to come alongside to offer comfort and Christian love to them.

AIDS at Home

AIDS has become a leading cause of death for African-Americans. In 2002 (the most recent year for which data are available), HIV/AIDS was the second leading cause of death for all African-Americans aged 35–44. In the same year, HIV/AIDS was the number one cause of death for African-American women aged 25–34.

The cumulative toll (from the beginning of the epidemic through 2004) of AIDS is sobering.

  • Of the almost 1 million cases of AIDS diagnosed in the United States and its dependencies, possessions and associated nations, 40 percent were in African-Americans.
  • Of the more than half a million people with AIDS who have died, 38 percent were African-Americans.

It is not an exaggeration to say that HIV/AIDS is an epidemic in the African-American community.

Quick Facts:

  • African-Americans have accounted for 40 percent of AIDS diagnoses since the beginning of the epidemic.
  • African-Americans do not live as long as people in other racial or ethnic groups in the United States who have AIDS.
  • In 2004, more African-American children (under the age of 13) were living with AIDS than were children of all other races and ethnicities living with AIDS in the United States combined.

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