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The United Methodist Church

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United Methodist Global AIDS Fund holds Countdown to Zero conference.

Hope in the Face of HIV

By Julia Kayser Frisbie*

October 7, 2014—“Often HIV/AIDS is referred to as an ‘issue,’ but it’s about people,” said Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey in her opening address. “People made in the image of God. What are we—you and I—willing to risk to save just one?”

Bishop Harvey was speaking at a conference called Countdown to Zero: Just Save One. It was sponsored by United Methodist Global AIDS Fund (UMGAF) last month in Denver. After more than a decade of advocacy and healthcare around HIV and AIDS, supporters from The United Methodist Church hope that the rate of new HIV infection will decrease until we can count down to zero new cases. 

UMGAF has chosen to support projects that focus on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. “Countdown to Zero” is UNAIDS’ global plan towards eliminating new infections among children and keeping their mothers alive, 2011 to 2015.

 (Left to right) Richard Leza, JeanAnn Schwark and Roy DeBise, all from the Desert Southwest Conference in Arizona, discuss making concrete changes in their HIV/AIDS ministry, during the
(Left to right) Richard Leza, JeanAnn Schwark and Roy DeBise, all from the Desert Southwest Conference in Arizona, discuss making concrete changes in their HIV/AIDS ministry, during the "Training the Trainer" session Sept. 12. Credit: Charmaine Robledo, Rocky Mountain Annual Conference.

There were 122 attendees from across the United States at the UMGAF conference. Included were five United Methodist Bishops (Bishop Harvey, Bishop Brown, Bishop Stanovsky, Bishop Sherer-Simpson, and Bishop Mutti). Many of the participants came to receive specific training for use in their local churches. “This was an equipping conference,” explained UMGAF officer Kathy Griffith.

Twelve Latina and Native American youth received scholarships from UMGAF in order to participate in the conference. “These minority communities have limited access to services due to lack of funding and/or cultural myths and taboos,” wrote Griffith. Closed workshops for each group provided a safe space for sharing and cultural-specific training.

Joshua
Joshua Love, left, of the Colorado AIDS Project, and Kathryn Farrow of Access Point put together a living "quilt" made of cards written by conference participants. Credit: Charmaine Robledo, Rocky Mountain Annual Conference.

“There is still hope in this issue,” said one participant in the Native American Youth Workshop. Another said, “I think we should preach care over judgment.” One of the young Latina scholars, Nemesis Figuereo, said: “This was the most educational and inspirational experience of my life.”

The inspiration was thanks to many wonderful speakers and teachers at this conference. For example, Professor Edward Antonio from Iliff School of Theology in Denver gave an address on the theology of hope. He defined theology as our attempt to put into words our experience of God, and pointed out that even with God’s help, our experience with HIV and AIDS is devastating. A truthful theology of hope has to include mourning—otherwise it’s not hope but blind optimism, he said. Professor Antonio argued that hope is about engaging, not escaping, reality.  And we are all called to create it. 

On the second day of the conference, United Methodist Global AIDS Fund Leadership Awards were given. Past recipients of this award include President George W. Bush and Bishop Ivan Abrahams. “UMGAF is committed to honoring people who have given their time and passion to the issue of HIV and AIDS,” write Linda Bales Todd, UMGAF staff and conference organizer. “These individuals have made a difference in the U.S. and around the globe in the eradication of the disease.”

 Linda Bales Todd, co-chair of UMGAF and Patricia Magyar, US Health executive for UMCOR, at the awards ceremony.
Linda Bales Todd, co-chair of UMGAF and Patricia Magyar, US Health executive for UMCOR, at the awards ceremony. Credit: Kathy Griffith.

This year, Patricia Magyar, of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), received the leadership award, along with Rev. Ernie Turney and Dr. Cheryl Anderson. “It was a great honor,” said Magyar. “I’m working with the committee to make sure that we continue to passionately and aggressively fight against HIV and AIDS.”

You can support the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund with a donation to Advance #982345

*Julia Kayser Frisbie is a writer and regular contributor to www.umcor.org. She thanks Charmaine Robledo, Rocky Mountain Conference communicator, for her work covering this conference.

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