By Joe Harbison
Rarely a day goes by when we don’t pick up the paper to find more startling news about the spread of AIDS. No matter where the disease came from, or who the high risk groups are, we can all be sure of one thing: AIDS will soon affect every person in one way or another. Everyone needs to be educated about the spread of AIDS and how to prevent infection.
In Thailand many people complain that the government is not doing enough about the AIDS threat, yet do not realise there is much that we in smaller organisations and churches can do. The church must provide an effective response to the AIDS problem. Recent history shows the way in which the body of Christ has tried to meet the needs of refugees through organisations on all continents.
Selfless Christians work worldwide to help the homeless, the handicapped and the oppressed. In this decade the Church must overcome its reluctance to minister to people with AIDS and accept Christ’s challenge: “Love your neighbour as yourself”.
Here in Thailand the situation is grave. Recent Government and private surveys in the north have revealed that up to 30% of men, aged between 18 to 29, are HIV positive. Over 70% of prostitutes are infected. Estimates are that 50,000 are infected in Thailand.
Culture has played a part in the rate of the spread of AIDS in Thailand, as it does in many countries. Like most societies, Thai people value faithful lifetime relationships. But new students are encouraged to visit a local brothel for their introduction to sex. Businessmen travelling to provincial areas are not considered to have truly arrived unless they have had a sexual encounter with one of the local inhabitants. Wives may encourage their husbands to use the services of a “hostess” during pregnancy.
The church in Thailand is beginning to rise to the challenge of AIDS. Many Christian leaders are participating in a local community based AIDS outreach. The ACT (AIDS Counselling and Training) Centre in the Klong Toey slums of Bangkok began in August 1990. It is community-based and specializes in AIDS education, counselling and testing. The ACT staff and church volunteers go into the community to conduct surveys and to make the ACT centre known. A new clinic is soon to be opened in Chiang Mai, in Northern Thailand.
DEVELOPING AN AIDS MINISTRY
1. Understand the needs
Get to know the people you want to minister to and understand their needs. The following people are real but their names are changed. Perhaps you will recognise someone like them in your own community…
Chiang is Thailand’s first highly publicized person with AIDS. He was employed by a large hospital when he became ill, about seven years ago. During his stay in hospital he needed a blood transfusion and became sick because of AIDS. Though Chiang was in good health afterwards, he lost his job. Friends and family shunned him for fear of the disease. Chiang has since had to move 32 times because of fearful neighbours who felt he was a danger to their community.
Noi is a young woman from the poorer Northeast region. She was offered work in one of Bangkok’s many entertainment districts as a hostess. She did not realise until too late that it would mean a life of prostitution and risk of disease. In a recent survey blood test Noi was found to be HIV positive.
Nitaya is a rural wife whose husband worked in the city. During his time there he used the services of a massage parlour and contracted AIDS. Though Nitaya was faithful to her husband, she too became infected after her husband’s return from the city. They now must make plans for their children who may be orphaned before they are teenagers.
2. Contact government and health officials
These agencies will have current information and resource materials to help other groups reach out to, and educate, communities. Most government agencies will help groups who will provide services that directly help those at greatest risk.
In starting the ACT programme we spoke with many health officials. We discovered that the greatest need was for counselling and education to individuals and the community at large. The opportunity for Christian workers to offer hope to people in fear of a hopeless disease, is unlimited. Education is very important, especially for the young to ensure that they don’t contract HIV through ignorance.
3. Talk to the church leaders
Leaders of local churches need to be informed. Though the church leaders in our city were concerned about AIDS they had little information. An AIDS awareness seminar made it possible for them to learn more about AIDS and to plan future action.
It is clear that the church has a challenge to reach out to those who are in the greatest need before the time is too late. Here are some suggestions on what the church can begin to do immediately to meet the need…
Church leaders must not be ashamed to tell their congregations the truth about the spread of AIDS. Young people must be warned of the dangers of pre-marital and extra-marital sex and of drug abuse. Thoughtful Christians should make helpful information available in pamphlets and magazines.
Few churches will have the resources to set up large AIDS ministries. But they can work together to provide resources and people who will get the job done.
People with AIDS, or likely to have the disease, must be welcomed into the caring community of the church. From the beginning, the church has been a refuge of hope to those without hope. When Christians are educated about AIDS and the way it is transmitted, they will be more free to reach out to its victims with compassion.
By doing what the church does best – putting love in action – we can offer the hurting and fearful not only hope but an opportunity to help others.
Joe Harbison has lived with his family in Thailand for nine years, working with various community development projects. He is currently Director for the ACT programme.
EDUCATE YOUR COMMUNITY
HIV is the virus which eventually causes AIDS. HIV infection nearly always means that eventually, often after many years, AIDS will develop.
YOU CANNOT CATCH HIV FROM:
- Sharing food
- Touching and hugging
- Toilet seats
- Swimming pools
- Donating blood
- Communion cup
- Sharing clothes
YOU CAN ONLY CATCH HIV FROM:
- Sexual intercourse with an infected person
- Infected blood
- Needles which are used many times without being sterilised
An infected mother may pass HIV to her new-born baby.
USING CONDOMS DURING SEX GREATLY REDUCES THE RISK OF PASSING ON HIV.