New HIV handbook to help churches learn practical response

Latin American churches find space for change in their HIV work

GENEVA, 20 July 2015 (LWI) – The work of churches on HIV and AIDS can offer space for transformation, according to a new publication by The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) member churches in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).

HIV: Espacio para Cambiar, Spanish for HIV: Space for Change is the title of the handbook, which LWF LAC area secretary, Rev. Dr Patricia Cuyatti describes as “a resource for a ministry of love, compassion, transformation and continuous commitment to life.”

The publication has been jointly produced by the LAC HIV and AIDS network, which includes diaconal workers from the 17 LWF member churches in the region. Based on a methodology known as “see-reflect-act”, the handbook offers theological and diaconal practices that the churches in the region use in their HIV ministry. “It is a learning and teaching tool that reveals the many gifts that churches use to serve others in the reality of HIV and AIDS,” Cuyatti says.

The regional network that developed the handbook was established in 2012. "It was a long process because our dream was to not simply list the wonderful work carried out by the different ministries in our churches. Our challenge was to provide a theological resource based on the reading of the scriptures,” Cuyatti says. It builds on the LWF AIDS handbook, Compassion, Conversion, Care, produced by the Department for Mission and Development in 2007 to guide churches’ response to the AIDS pandemic.

Welcoming everyone

A unique feature of the handbook is that it includes the views of people living with HIV “who were invited to share, through their own voices, their life experiences as a way of opening our hearts and minds,” Cuyatti notes. Young theologians also contributed their personal reflections.

“This book contains the actions of our churches as they accompany people affected by HIV. This is our experience of walking with the excluded,” noted Bishop Dr Victoria Cortez Rodriguez of the Nicaragua Lutheran Church of Faith and Hope (ILFE). In the handbook, ILFE’s contribution includes pastoral experiences on stigma and discrimination in HIV voluntary testing in a rural community. The Nicaraguan church also offers lessons from its youth accompaniment of people living with HIV, advocating for prevention, raising awareness about infection, and participating in AIDS-related civil society networks.

Although the publication includes aspects that are known in the church and society, it presents a specific challenge for the churches to continue learning to be open and welcoming spaces for everyone. This includes dealing with difficult issues related to family, marriage and sexuality, adds Cuyatti.

Sensitive issues

“I think this [HIV] has been an area in which churches have been able to touch sensitive issues such as HIV and homosexuality. I tried to help my church to create space and time and talk about these issues. We would like to address all the issues and there can be strong reactions. But there are stages during which we must also learn to speak, listen to songs and also just keep quiet and contemplate. This is a difficult process in many regions and we will need to find space and time to discuss sensitive and intimate issues," noted Bishop Siegfried Sander of the Lutheran Church in Chile.

The handbook can be easily studied in different spaces in the church and society, said Rev. Carlos Duarte, Pastor-President of the Evangelical Church of the River Plate in Argentina. "For us it is an opportunity to use a tool with which we can work as it relates to the actual situations in our churches. It contains important wisdom for churches: that God alone has called us to work with these brothers and sisters excluded from society."

HIV: Espacio para Cambiar was discussed during the April 2015 LAC Leadership Conference in La Paz, Bolivia, and is currently available only in Spanish. Cuyatti hopes other LWF regions would find it adaptable to their respective contexts and translate it into other languages.

 

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