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United Methodist AIDS committee aims to raise $8 million

 


United Methodist AIDS committee aims to raise $8 million

May 11, 2005      

By Mark Schoeff Jr.*

WASHINGTON (UMNS)—During its inaugural meeting, the United Methodist Church Global AIDS Fund Committee set aside $50,000 to fund programs to prevent the transmission of the disease from mothers to infants during birth.

The money, allocated from an existing United Methodist Board of Global Ministries account, will be made available to United Methodist hospitals in eight countries. Hospitals in two of those countries—Zimbabwe and India—are ready to implement the program now. Others will follow eventually in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, Mozambique, Brazil and the Philippines.
 
In Zimbabwe, existing programs piloted by the United Methodist Committee on Relief will be used as templates for new efforts there and in other countries.

The funds can be used to purchase Nevirapine, a drug that is administered once to the mother at the onset of labor and once to the baby after birth. The treatment significantly reduces the risk that the newborn will contract the AIDS virus, according to Linda Bales, staff executive with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.

Created by the 2004 General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body, the committee is charged with raising and distributing $8 million over the next four years. Set up as the Global HIV/AIDS Program Advance Special #982345, the fund has generated $120,000 since March 1 and has $32,000 on hand. None of the money will come from apportionments.

The 11-member committee had its first meeting May 6-7 in Washington. Led by Bishop Fritz Mutti, who lost two sons to AIDS, the interagency group includes three at-large members and representatives from the Board of Church and Society; the Board of Global Ministries and two of its units, UMCOR and the Women’s Division; the Division on Ministries with Young People at the United Methodist Board of Discipleship; the Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns; and the Council of Bishops.

Funding will support education, prevention, care, and treatment programs for people living with HIV/AIDS around the world. Projects are likely to focus on women and children, hospitals and food security.

Nearly 40 million people, 70 percent of them in sub-Sahara Africa, have HIV/AIDS, according UNAIDS and the World Health Organization. About 600,000 children are infected each year. The pandemic has orphaned 14 million African children.

Each United Methodist annual (regional) conference will be asked to establish an HIV/AIDS task force and raise $1 per member over four years, with 25 percent of the money remaining in the local conference and 75 percent going to the global committee.

“The mountain is very large but not impossible to climb,” said the Rev. Donald Messer, the Warren Professor of Practical Theology at Iliff School of Theology in Denver. “It’s a ways to go, but we can do it.”

The author of Breaking the Conspiracy of Silence: Christian Churches and the Global AIDS Crisis, Messer presented a $10,000 check from the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference at the meeting.

Although he is optimistic about raising the $8 million and enthusiastic about the committee, Messer expressed frustration that it was meeting for the first time nearly a year after General Conference.

One congregation responding to the HIV/AIDS crisis is St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. Last year, it raised $100,000 to support an HIV/AIDS clinic in Eldoret, Kenya, run jointly by the Indiana University School of Medicine and United Methodist-related Africa University in Zimbabwe.

The Rev. Kent Millard, senior minister at St. Luke’s, and associate minister Stanley Abell became involved in the project after meeting rock star Bono at a December 2002 HIV/AIDS awareness concert in Indianapolis, where Millard gave the invocation. The Eldoret effort also has received backing from Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a member of St. Luke’s.

“It’s an example of what one church can do against this global pandemic,” said Millard, who is a member of the AIDS committee and will head up the large church campaign. “We have the opportunity to raise people’s consciousness. ... Christ calls us to do this.”

Small churches also will be targeted because a modest amount of money can provide a significant amount of care. The committee has to “help them think about something like this,” said Ida Powell of Lynchburg, Va., a director of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns. “We’ve moved to the Book of James—faith plus action.”

One important destination for church dollars is education programs. United Methodists can help promote treatment by reducing the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in developing countries. The committee said its goal is to “equip Christian workers with the necessary knowledge, skills and attitude to serve their churches and societies more effectively.”

Before any progress can be made, the appropriate HIV/AIDS infrastructure must be in place. “We have to have good programs on the ground on the other side,” said Cherian Thomas, a committee member and a staff executive with the Board of Global Ministries. “We have to build and strengthen systems. It is a long haul.”

In addition to global outreach, the committee will focus on HIV/AIDS at home. Mutti, bishop in residence at Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, reflected on the loss of his two sons to the disease about 15 years ago.

“The loss never goes away,” said the bishop, who wrote about it in his book, Dancing In A Wheelchair. “Many other people are going on the same journey with us. It’s amazing how many families in small towns across the country are dealing with this.”

People can support the AIDS response by designating checks for UMCOR Advance #982345, “Global AIDS Fund,” and sending them to P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068.

*Schoeff is a freelance writer in the Washington D.C. area.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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