“One of the most common and violent enemies of humankind today is HIV/Aids. It has robbed many families of their loved ones leaving vulnerable and helpless orphans. Our hope is that there will be no other disease with such a tremendous impact on the lives of the poor and marginalised of our society.” (Vika in MCSA. 3)
This statement testifies the fact that HIV/Aids continues killing across age groups, yet preventable, its spread can be contained to the point of eradication.
According to the Ministry of Health publication of December 2019, there are more than 200 000 people aged 15 and above living with HIV in Namibia, with more that 50% of them being women. The 2013 Demographic and Health Survey reported a national average adult population prevalence of 14% and as high as 23,7% in one of the regions. This is a disproportionate distribution of prevalence between women (16,9 %) and men (10,9 %) aged 15-49. There are an estimated 200 000 people living with HIV in Namibia and 166 000 (76%) who receive the antiretroviral medication.
Having acknowledged the depth and the grave effects of how this epidemic, either infects or affects us, this article will address the question: “HIV/Aids: is the church playing its part?
Churches have a vital role to play in reshaping cultural attitudes to sexual education and traditional practices of sexual ritual and behaviour. The church must also fight the idea that HIV is a punishment by a vengeful God angry at the flouting of his commandments.
Churches have yet to grasp the full theological implications of the HIV/Aids epidemic in Africa and do not understand the need for compassion for the victims of Aids, an African theologian has said.
Writing in the International Review of Mission, Dr Musa Dube, a theologian from Botswana, reinterpreted Jesus’ words in Matthew 25. “I can hear Jesus saying to us: ‘I was sick with Aids and you did not visit me. You did not wash my wounds, nor did you give me medicine to manage my opportunistic infections. I was stigmatised, isolated and rejected, because of HIV/Aids and you did not welcome me’.” It is a practical application of Jesus’ words. Jesus’ parable is a call to the church and people to have compassion on those that suffer hunger and thirst, who are poor, naked, sick and imprisoned.
Reaching out to these and caring them for them should be the church’s reasonable worship. 1 John 4:20 puts it succinctly: “Those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”
Dr R. J. Mc Kelvey, former principal of Adams United Theological college in South Africa, stated that the worship of God and serving people are to be seen not as two different things, but one. God has so arranged things that God comes to us and we go to God through people. It is a logical reinterpretation of Jesus’ parable in the context of the HIV/Aids pandemic that the compassionate service rendered and empathy shown to the infected and affected are to be seen as service rendered to Jesus Christ himself.
This is a challenge to the church to put its confession into actions of dedicated service to those who are suffering as a result of Aids. Churches should become agents of God’s compassion; to take their worship out of their buildings and into this world of human need. To paraphrase part of MC Kelvey’s unpublished sermon: it is a great privilege to be serving God through serving our neighbours, because Jesus has added an exciting new dimension to it.
It means also that church members are a major part of the community. The church as an institution should use its moral authority to educate on different platforms (e.g. ministers’ fellowship, workshops, seminars, etc.) on ways to prevent HIV. Although there might be limitations, the church has assets it can capitalize on the human resources.
In church we find not only pastors but also teachers, doctors, nurses, household supports, counsellors who can offer according to their respective level of expertise various teachings.
As long as some members of the Christian body are infected and affected by HIV/Aids, all Christian believers are infected and affected by Aids, Dube said. “We are all one in Christ. A theological truth that follows from this is that Jesus Christ himself has Aids.”
The church must take up the challenge to identify with those who suffer, she said. “It is possible for the dying to die with hope and love and dignity if the church takes up the challenge to embody and represent Christ by caring for the sick, the naked, the thirsty, the strangers, the imprisoned, the widowed and the orphaned and to challenge structural injustice.”
“If the church has nothing to offer to the community around it, then a few will grieve if it disappears overnight,” according to Rev. Dr Steve de Gruchy.