News Articles

AIDS victim faces rejection at church, now an advocate for awareness, minis

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–Many Christians still have a lot to learn when it comes to dealing with AIDS, according to a victim of the disease who faced rejection at her church several years ago.
Through awareness and education efforts designed to confront the issue before it becomes a problem, however, she said fear and distrust can be replaced by compassionate ministry and support.
Ann Hummert of St. Louis shared her story during “Jericho ’98: A Missions Festival to Change Your World” at Glorieta (N.M.) Conference Center July 24-27.
Hummert said she noticed in 1990 she was not recovering from cold and flu viruses as easily, and testing revealed that a gang rape three years earlier had left her infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS.
The news was devastating.
“I have never felt so alone, so horribly, unbelievably alone,” she said. “I could be in a crowd of people and felt like I was the only one.”
Like many would do in the same situation, she asked her Sunday school class to pray with her. The class also promised to keep her condition confidential, but the promise did not hold for long.
Two weeks later, she said, she was sitting in a pew in church when a man argued with his wife about where they should sit, finally explaining why they could not sit near Hummert in their usual spot.
“He points to me, and he says in a voice loud enough for our whole sanctuary to hear, ‘That woman has AIDS.’ And the secret was out. … Somebody in my class had betrayed my confidence,” she said. “I felt like I had no one else I could trust. I walked out of that church in tears, devastated that someone could let me down.”
Later, she went to her pastor and suggested that an AIDS awareness presentation might be of value to the congregation, and she gave him a stack of information and a contact. The pastor agreed it would be a good idea, she said, but nothing was ever done. She eventually talked with him about the issue again. It was then that she realized the reaction in the church sanctuary was not an isolated case.
“He said, ‘You know, Ann, you have to expect reactions like the one you got.’ I thought, ‘Since when do I have to expect reactions like that from my church family?'” she said.
“Even though the words were not voiced clearly, I felt him saying to me, ‘I think you’d be happier if you found another church.’ And I knew it was him who would be happier if I would find another church. But what could I do? I could not stay in a church where they would not even try to understand me.”
For two years, she could not bring herself to go into a church again. But then a friend who also had AIDS told her about a church where she could be accepted.
She began attending Hanley Road Baptist Church in St. Louis, and finally she worked up the courage to allow the pastor to share her story at a Wednesday night prayer meeting. This time, the response was different.
“One of our elderly deacons stood up in the back of room and said, ‘Honey, if you think you’re going anywhere you’re nuts. You’re going to stay right here where we can take care of you.’ I knew I was home.”
She continued, “I belong to a church where it takes me 40 minutes to walk down a hallway because I get mobbed by kids running up to hug me. … That’s the kind of church God wants us to be.”
Since that time, Hummert said she has decided to make at least some good come from her condition by using it as a springboard for educating others about AIDS and the needs of its victims.
“I keep hearing AIDS is a gay disease,” she said. “Granted, it started in the gay population. But I get frustrated when I hear people say they get it because they deserve it. Even those who get AIDS from a gay lifestyle don’t deserve it.
“But, praise God, I’m not afraid of it anymore,” she said. “I’ve still got things I want to do on this side, but I’m ready. I know where I’m going.”
There are a number of things churches can do to minister to victims of AIDS, beginning with simply educating its members about how the disease is and is not transmitted, she said.
A policy on dealing with AIDS should also be adopted for the church nursery, she said, a topic important enough to be addressed with a separate workshop during Jericho ’98. Children with the AIDS virus can be cared for safely with appropriate precautions.
Beyond that, she suggested churches form a ministry group to reach out to people with AIDS, possibly even making a public announcement.
“You don’t have to make it blatant, a little ad saying your church has come to understand that there are hurting people out there, there are people dealing with a disease that most people don’t want to talk about, and your church openly welcomes them.”
Prayer committees can be formed to pray for AIDS victims and their families, and abstinence-based education efforts should be directed toward youth. They are one of the largest groups dying from AIDS today, she said, because they believe they are invincible and often do not get tested until they develop their first AIDS-related illness.
Hummert’s own illness continues to progress, and new medications that have been successful in others cannot be used for her because of serious side effects. Just that morning, she said, she had experienced extreme pain and speaking was often a struggle.
Even if a promising new treatment were available, however, she said she is not sure at this stage of the illness if she would accept it.
“I don’t know that it would give me the voice that I’ve got now, and I believe God gave me a voice for a reason. I think spiritual healing is a lot more important.”
For further information on dealing with AIDS in the church, contact Fred and Lavada Loper, national medical missionaries for the North American Mission Board, at (405) 528-7688.

    About the Author

  • James Dotson