ATLANTA (BP)–Churches can make a difference in the AIDS epidemic through education and ministry, said Malcolm Marler, an AIDS chaplain and director of the Care Team Network in Birmingham, Ala.
The Care Team Network headed by Marler is an outreach effort of the University of Alabama AIDS Outpatient Clinic to teach individuals and congregations how to make a difference in the AIDS epidemic. The network serves as a training and resource center throughout Alabama and the Southeast.
“As terrible as the physical suffering can be from AIDS, the most difficult part of this disease is the fear of judgment, abandonment, dying alone, not getting the support from loved ones and the church and grieving alone,” Marler told participants at the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board “Touch a Life Ministry Conference” April 3-6 in Atlanta. “Often these fears are a result of prejudice and discrimination by some Christians.”
Marler outlined the needs of people and their families affected by HIV:
1) Grace and unconditional love, not judgment.
2) Compassion that moves people to help where the need is greatest.
3) Contact, not isolation.
4) To be treated as a child of God, not as an “AIDS patient.”
5) To laugh; a sense of humor is vital to health.
6) To be reassured Christians will stand by them no matter what.
“Christians generally respond in three distinct ways to people with AIDS,” Marler said. “Silence and apathy, judgment and rejection or grace and compassion.
“AIDS is the best kept secret in some churches,” said Marler. “Many Christians do not believe this disease affects them, their families or their church families. Others have been vocal in their opinion that AIDS is God’s punishment of sinners.”
Marler was quick to add a growing number of Christians are responding to the sick and suffering in their community who have AIDS with unconditional love and support. “Many congregations are now forming AIDS care teams to reach out to people in their community who have the disease.”
An AIDS care team is a group of six to 12 volunteers who are trained to provide emotional, practical and spiritual support to someone living with HIV. Teams may be formed within a church or among several churches.
There are five components to forming a care team, Marler said:
1) Have an AIDS education program that includes facts about HIV/AIDS; a personal view of the disease; and a faith response — challenge the church to form the care team.
2) Have an informational meeting about what a care team is.
3) Attend a training event.
4) Get connected with a person living with HIV and begin a caring ministry.
5) Meet monthly as a team to coordinate activities.