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HMB medical missionaries discuss AIDS ‘facts, faces’


NEW ORLEANS (BP)–When Fred Loper saw his first patient with AIDS in 1985, he never imagined how the disease would impact the lives of Southern Baptists, churches, missions and health care.

“AIDS has called on the health care community and churches to get their acts together,” he told faculty and students at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary as he discussed “Facts, Faces and Faith response” for HIV/AIDS.

The Southern Baptist Convention Home Mission Board’s only medical missionaries, Loper and his wife, Lavada, encourage the development of dental, medical and other types of health care ministries; they began teaching missionaries about HIV/AIDS in the late ’80s as they encountered people with the virus.

At NOBTS, the Lopers were invited to give two presentations for the Christian education division’s annual “special event day” March 25.

Loper shared with students and faculty the same information requested by many of the churches he visits: facts about HIV and AIDS.

He explained AIDS is the last stage of the HIV virus, a worldwide epidemic for which there is no cure, and described the progression of the disease:


— flu-like symptoms at the time of initial infection.

— HIV present in the immune system.

— destruction of specific white blood cells for 10 or more years during which a person feels well.

— immune system declines and symptoms begin to appear.

— AIDS; opportunistic infections occur.

— death.

He added progress has been made in the treatment of HIV, extending the period of time an HIV-positive person has prior to acquiring AIDS, yet there is still no cure.

Citing statistics on the epidemic’s worldwide impact, Loper said, “Over 9 million children under age 15 have lost their mothers to AIDS. … If current trends continue, between 60 and 70 million people will be infected with HIV by the year 2000, with the most rapid growth projected for parts of Southeast Asia.”

Explaining the disease occurs especially in young adults worldwide, he addressed trends developing in the spread of HIV in the United States, saying, “A newer generation has not learned the lesson that this disease kills.”

Shifting his focus from facts to faces, Loper used a video to present the testimony of a person infected with the disease.

The tape from an Appalachian preservation society in Kentucky featured Belinda, a woman who acquired HIV from an unscreened blood transfusion and died in 1990.

She described the love and support she received from her church after the pastor had told the congregation she had AIDS. He put his arms around her while she cried in front of her Christian brothers and sisters that Sunday morning.

“I felt a love and warmth for her that was so important because God had placed it there … and I wanted to let (the congregation) know I wasn’t afraid to hold her, touch her and behave as God would have me behave,” the pastor said.

“I’ve learned that nothing can separate us from God’s love,” Belinda said, adding “the true demand is to accept people who aren’t like us.”

Explaining most people have not received such a compassionate response, she cited events which befell the Ray family of Arcadia, Fla. The Rays were driven from their church, home and community when their pastor spread the information that their three hemophiliac sons had AIDS, received innocently through blood transfusions.

“This is what people are doing in God’s name,” Belinda said, urging Christians to respond with mercy and compassion to anyone with the disease.

At the conclusion of the video, the Lopers offered practical ways churches can encourage the prevention of the disease, as well as ways churches can reach out to people with AIDS in a response demonstrating faith in God and love.

To encourage prevention of the disease, which is transmitted primarily through sexual contact, Loper encourages church leaders to provide appropriate guidance regarding human sexuality.

“It doesn’t do to just scare teens to death,” he said, noting literacy and a good education are factors in appropriate sexual behavior for adolescents.

Advocating infectious disease policies and cleanliness guidelines for churches, Loper said, “the virus is very easy to clean up and get rid of outside the body, using a fresh solution of bleach and water.”

He also listed activities which will not cause people to acquire HIV:

— touching (shaking hands, hugging, etc.).

— laughing and playing together.

— using a toilet or latrine used by someone with HIV.

— insect bites.

— going to worship God together.

Discussing a variety of options both for churches just beginning to realize the needs of people with HIV/AIDS and their families, as well as those with the resources and desire to become very involved, they suggested:

— using videos such as “Face of AIDS” in the education missions/ministry program.

— sending cards (that do not say, ‘Get Well Soon’) or cookies to hospital chaplains to distribute.

— praying for health care workers and chaplains.

— organizing care teams for people with AIDS.

— organizing support groups for parents and loved ones of people with AIDS.

“Our faith becomes reality,” Loper said, “when our talking about it becomes a face, a meeting, touching, becoming a friend to someone with AIDS.”
For additional resource information, write Fred and Lavada Loper, 2128 NW 27th, Oklahoma City, OK 73107.