This past Saturday night, Bloom, in partnership with nearly a half-dozen other churches in the Denver area, hosted a free screening of the HBO/RED documentary “The Lazarus Effect“, a powerful short film highlighting the impact that free antiretroviral medicine is having on the HIV/AIDS situation in the country of Zamba. The event, entitled “Advocating Simple Solutions to the HIV/AIDS Epidemic” and organized by the ONEVote 2010 Colorado Representative Nick Stevens (IMO) was a marvelous success, as it featured an absolutely INCREDIBLE panel of experts who engaged the audience’s questions for more than an hour on Saturday night. The panel included:
- Sidney Muisyo, Vice President for the African Region, Compassion International
- Keren Dongo, Senior Manager of Community Engagement and ONEVote 2010 Campaign Manager, ONE Campaign
- Dr. Charles Steinberg, Senior Trainer and Consultant for the Infectious Diseases Institute at the Makerere University Medical School
- And me : )
Each of these folks (myself excluded), brought significant insight and perspective to the conversation. (FORTUNATELY, if you missed Saturday night, you can listen to the entire panel discussion here, which I would highly recommend.) Some of the huge takeaways of the evening for me included:
- The war against HIV/AIDS has multiple battlefronts, including but not limited to issues of community development, politics, social infrastructure, available food and clean drinking water, etc. Any Western involvement in this issue needs to avoid a myopic approach.
- Part of that entails that AFRICA ITSELF has a huge responsibility here… poor or non-existent government means that the most excellent “1st world” aid programs to fight HIV/AIDS can’t gain a foothold, since there’s no way to distribute life-saving medicine
- Social stigma about HIV/AIDS still exists, and one of the ways church folks can take the lead on de-stigmatizing it, both here (and perhaps more importantly) in Africa is simply by going to get an HIV test. (That one blew my mind.)
And those were just a few. But perhaps my favorite takeaway of the evening was a train of thought that came together for me slowly as I myself listened to and engaged the panel… and that train of thought went something like this:
- Infrastructure is everything
- In many African villages, IF THERE’S NOTHING ELSE, there is a local church
- Which means the local church often quite simply IS the most robust social organism in an African village, tying the community together, encouraging folks to live morally sound lives, distributing food (and medicine!), training the next generation of leaders, etc.
- Which means that one of the most important things that churches in the 1st world can do to help in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa is working to create church partnerships between us “over here” and churches “over there.” The benefit is mutual. We learn more about what’s happening “on the ground” in Africa by having such partnerships, and they benefit from our help, prayer, friendship, and support.
That was a super-inspiring thought to me. The church really is the hope of the world…
Anyway, hopefully you’ll go ahead and listen in on what we talked about. Huge thanks to all the churches that helped sponsor the event. Huge thanks to the Huffington Post for running this article highlighting the event. And huge thanks to pastor Gary Bowser of First Baptist Church for letting us host it at his fine venue. My hope is that this is merely the first of many such conversations on this important topic hosted by Denver Churches…