Facing Global AIDS
By Linda Unger
Tampa, Florida, April 29, 2012—The United Methodist Global AIDS Fund is helping delegates, observers, and staff at General Conference 2012 put a face on the global impact of HIV and AIDS to encourage them in garnering the support of their local churches to confront and end the pandemic.
During an interview before his Sunday evening plenary address, United Methodist Global AIDS Fund (UMGAF) chair Dr. Donald Messer said, “If we personalize the pandemic, people may move from indifference to involvement, from condemnation to compassion, from stigmatization to the liberation of all persons.”
At the plenary, Messer told General Conference delegates that since the founding of UMGAF eight years ago, about $3.5 million has been raised to support 270 projects around the globe. But, he said, it is insufficient to keep pace with the need expressed by annual conferences engaged in HIV and AIDS ministries the world over.
South Africa Bishop Ivan Abrahams, general secretary of the World Methodist Council, joined Messer in the presentation and called for an end to the “genocide of indifference” surrounding HIV and AIDS and other “major killer diseases of poverty.” Today, he said, about 6,000 people died of AIDS; 5,000 of tuberculosis; and 3,000 of malaria.
Also participating in the UMGAF presentation with personal testimonies were: Dr. J. Kabamba of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rev. Allan Casuco of the Philippines, Rev. Lorenza Andrade Smith of the United States, Linda Bales of UMGAF, and Bishop Fritz Mutti of the US. Mutti and his wife lost two sons to AIDS in one year.
“We’re 30 years into the pandemic; some 30 million people are infected; about 30 million have died: It’s kind of 30-30-30,” said Messer in the interview, “and yet most churches won’t spend 30 minutes to deal with the issue.” Messer also shared these statistics at a pre-General Conference HIV and AIDS event, Lighten the Burden IV[LU1] , and repeated them for the delegates during the plenary.
In addition to the plenary presentation, UMGAF also is hosting the “30 Years/30 Lives” exhibit by photographer Kimberly J. Vrudny. The exhibit is found on the ground level of the Tampa Convention Center, where General Conference is being held.
Vrudny, associate professor of systematic theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, took a sabbatical in 2009-2010 to document in photographs the lives of 30 people in four countries who had been impacted by HIV and AIDS as the pandemic approached its 30th anniversary.
The black-and-white photographs are deeply revealing in their simplicity. According to the artist, each portrait is of a person who has been impacted by HIV and AIDS, whether through the care for or loss of a loved one, engagement in humanitarian response, or acquisition of an infection personally.
“By working locally with an organization that provides meals to those living with the virus, and by traveling to places where prevalence rates are among the highest in the world, I have learned a great deal about human dignity, about compassionate resistance, and about living with integrity,” Vrudny says in an explanation of the exhibit. You can read more on the 30 Years/30 Lives website.
By introducing viewers to the 30 portraits of individuals in the United States, South Africa, Thailand, and Mexico, Vrudny says she “aims to recalibrate our vision” of the HIV and AIDS pandemic. That is also what UMGAF hopes to do, and in doing so, to elicit the support of United Methodists for those still struggling with HIV and AIDS.
Linda Unger is staff editor and senior writer for the United Methodist Committee on Relief.