Christians Living Positively

We would love to share stories, poems, reflections and feedback from Churches, Channels of Hope facilitators and other Christian living positively with HIV.

Share this

My Brother's/Sister's Keeper 17/05/2013

If someone you care about has recently tested positive for HIV, you may be at a loss concerning how to help him/her. There are no how-to books or cookie-cutter approaches, but we would like to offer some ideas for how you can come alongside and support him/her.

By Jeannie Wraight and David Miller

For most people, an HIV diagnosis is an extremely emotional, life-changing and traumatic event.  Feelings of guilt, shame, fear, anger, disappointment and sadness are intertwined with a sudden confrontation with one’s own mortality. Almost every aspect of a person’s life may seem suddenly unstable.  The present and future of personal health, intimate and social relationships, community standing, job security, and financial viability all seem at risk. The lingering stigma that is still attached to HIV adds another complicating layer to an already overwhelming situation.

It is not uncommon for people to want to isolate themselves, so a strong support system is often a Godsend.  Here are five things you can do as “my brother’s/sister’s keeper” to help someone who is newly diagnosed with HIV:

1.  Offer your unconditional support. Let him/her know that you are there for him/her and you will stand by him/her and not leave him/her to face life alone.

2.  You will experience your own distress at your friend’s new predicament during this time. Try to separate any turmoil you may be feeling from your interactions with the person as much as possible, at least until they have gotten a grasp on their own situation.

3.  You will both likely experience sadness, disappointment, anger and/or fear.  Consider going together and speaking to a pastor, therapist or another professional that can help you deal with the personal struggles you are facing.  It’s important to deal with the new realities and deep feelings, but remember, the person who is newly diagnosed needs you to be strong, non-judgemental and full of faith and strength in order to face tomorrow.

4.  Educate yourself. There is a ton (and we mean A TON) of information on the internet about HIV.  Start with the basics at the Centers for Disease Control,, and Kaiser Family Foundation, is an excellent and reliable source of information regarding all aspects of HIV.  For your soul-health and a faith perspective, try Saddleback Church’s  Always search for the most current information you can find.  Millions of people have travelled this same road, so there is no reason to reinvent the wheel.  

Most questions you or the person you care about may have regarding health, medication, health insurance, employment, legal issues, government assistance etc. have been asked and answered, and here is some information will help guide you:






5.  Understand and assure the person who is newly diagnosed that HOPE is greater than HIV.  HIV is no longer a death sentence. Yes, life is going to change, but that does not have to be a horrible thing. A person living with HIV can thrive in a long, happy and productive life with the help of a good doctor, a drug regimen that best suits the HIV positive person’s needs, a clear and educated understanding of the virus, a commitment to take care of oneself, and a confident and hopeful attitude.

Finally, receiving an HIV diagnosis can be a very difficult thing. The support of a caring family member or friend like you can make all the difference in the world, and you can be the catalyst to a bright, healthy future for your friend.

Share this

Tell me: What's in Your Closet?

Faith Based Symposium on HIV
Reverend Andrena Ingram. First published on - republished with permission
June19, 2014
It was hard coming up with something to talk with you about. 
I didn't want to be up here talking just to hear myself talk,
but I wanted it to be something memorable,
something different,
something so important,
that it would stay with you for at least awhile,
if not until the end of your days. 
There is usually just soooo much stuff
floating around in my brain (my anxieties do not help)
and my brain just couldn't make up its mind. 
So,I thought it best that I do what the Lord
told the prophet Habakkuk to do,
when he found himself confronted with his complaint. 
The Lord told Habakkuk to: 
“write his answer plainly on tablets so that a
runner might carry the correct message to others”. 
And isn't that what this conference is about
...carrying the message to others when we leave here? Amen?
...and then as the Holy Spirit often does, she nudges me
...sometimes pushes me in the direction she wants me to go. 
Each time I thought about you, and our time together husband would begin popping into my head
...thing is, he has been dead for over 20 years. 
According to medical terms, he died from
Aids Related complications, in 1993. 
I have been thinking about him a lot this past week. 
He began to nudge me...
"Tell them about me" he seemed to be saying....
And to myself, I would whisper: 
“oh dear, I don't know if I want to go there”.
My husband nudged me again..."tell them about a love story",
which gave birth to the title of my message:
"HIV:The Greatest Love Story Ever Told"
...What an odd message!
And then the other morning,
I awoke with a song in my heart: 
"The Promise"'s a love song by Tracy Chapman...
Before we delve any deeper, I invite you to journey with us
...with Warren and I,
with those who are seeking love and acceptance
in-spite of their HIV diagnosis. 
Journey with those who have experienced
stigma and the constant fear of rejection.
Yes...even in some of our faith communities.
Close your eyes and take 5 minutes to listen
with your heart, and remember someone dealing
with this virus...a virus I have been living with for over 26 years. 
Spirit invites you to take 5 minutes to remember the
beginning of your journey, with or because of
whatever or whomever it was that led you to this place. 
As someone rightly said yesterday: 
you were supposed to be here in this place at this time".  
Perhaps you may be thinking about your own diagnosis,
your own fear of rejection, your own fear of disclosure,
your own faith community...
or someone you may know of, who needs to be at your table,
or sitting beside you in your pew
...Perhaps you may be thinking of someone
you have rejected or dismissed. 
Please, close your eyes and listen...
Now, breathe...breathe again's okay.  It’s okay.....
It brings up some powerful imagery
of love, and loneliness,
desire and yearning. 
All elements of the promise
...all elements of the vows, Warren and I took with each other,
in the presence of God over 21 years ago.
I loved Warren, he was my Mr Rogers,
even though we met in drug rehab. 
I for alcohol and crack..he, for intravenous drug use.
Warren and I had been married for about a year,
when he sat me down in the livingroom,
beside him on the couch
...and shared with me that he was HIV positive. 
Without saying a word,
I got up from the couch,
went into our bedroom,
opened up the closet door,
sat down on the floor and
closed that door behind me. 
Leaving him on the couch,
......with that disclosure hanging in the air..... 
I only remained in the closet for a short while,
but what a long while it must've been for Warren
...he was still on the couch when I returned...
but by then, knowing what I know now...the damage was done. 
It wouldn't have mattered if I left him sitting there for one minute,
ten minutes, or half an hour. 
The bottom line is, that I left him.
Warren didn't take any medication,
didn't tell anyone else about his status
(couldyou blame him?). 
He wasn't that was definitely out of the question. 
Once he got up from the couch,
he continued to live as though nothing was wrong. 
We didn't discuss it again.
Warren disclosed his status to me in March,
and in September....... Warren was dead.
He died (as far as I am concerned) not from HIV
...not from an AIDS Related Complications
...but from shame,  secrecy and stigma..
stigma he internalized from society
during those God awful years,
I know you've heard the stories.
....stigma and shame he internalized from me...
his “wife”; the one who"promised" to love and
care for him til death do us part.
Unfortunately,it was my ignorance
which drove me into that closet. 
Ignorance and fear or that which I did not understand. 
What a difference it would've made had I given him a
touch, a kiss and a warm,embrace
....instead..I probably proved his fear of rejection
....and he shut down. 
There was no going back. 
Here is the ironic thing
...that as I cowered in that closet...
...unknowingly, I was living with the virus, myself
...I just had not been diagnosed yet. 
And no, I wasn't given the disease by my husband,
but by my life on the streets, before meeting him. 
As I cowered in the closet in fear of the
ramifications of his proclamation
....I would later have my own diagnosis to deal with,
my own fear of rejection own issues own shame.
And sure enough, as he lay dying,
I received my diagnosis at the nudging of the doctors.
...I was baptized "so to speak" into life with HIV.
...and I say that.... I say that
...because aside from our denominational differences,
aside from our theological ideations...
one thing, I believe we can agree about baptism is that it
represents death of the old creature,
into a new creature in Christ –
a new way of life.
When some of us receive our diagnosis,
it begins for us, a new way of living..
a new way of dealing,
a new way of loving,
a new way of understanding,
a new way of caring,
a new way of touching,
a new way of relating to others,
a new way of encouraging,
a new way of trusting,
a new way of life....through the Christ in my HIV. 
Through the Christ in me. 
It has been a long journey. 
When I received my diagnosis,
I had two live or to die. 
I could've just as well went back to my old way of life
...hitting the pipe...on my knees...and giving up hope. 
But in my mind ..... there was always Warren sitting on the couch. 
...and so, I decided to fight. 
I had to learn as much as I could about this disease,
and determined that I was not going to go quietly into the night.
..and thus an activist was born. 
I began speaking out against stigma...
beginning with the self stigmatization some of us go through
...especially if we are living quietly, secretly, in shame and or denial. 
I began giving a voice to what HIV looks like,
because honestly, back in the early days,
all we knew was the wasting syndrome, and the kaposi sarcomas
....that haunting look around the eyes....
I determined to do what I could to put a face to HIV.
Going to seminary was the farthest thing in my mind 26 years ago. 
This (point to collar) is the result of lots of nudging from
my pastor in the the church I belonged to as a layperson. 
Transfiguration Lutheran church....someone mentioned these words
to me yesterday: 
“Transfiguration and then Transformation”
...I understand both.
But let me say some more about stigma...and the promise. 
I kinda got off track.
I told you about how I broke the promise to my husband
...and please, I don't want you to think that I am
beating myself up about it
....I have just recently become acutely aware
of my activism and where and why it really began. 
It began through my rejection of my husband began with me thinking it would never happen to me...
But it did....
So here we are...
At this faith based symposium talking about stigma,
embracing with compassion and getting tested...
And I have to tell you, that in my walk with those
living with HIV in Philadelphia...
that the faith community still has a way to go
...there are some in the faith community who can
still learn a few lessons on how to live out their faith
...can still learn lessons on how to be compassionate, and loving.  
There are some in the faith community
whoshould know what it is like for someone to be
ostracized and shamed, and stigmatized and hung on the cross
...that is if they know the story of Jesus Christ. 
The virus has been figuratively hanging on the cross for 30 years.  Amen?
There are women in Philly who have shared
with me awful stories of not being touched,
in their congregations, of receiving communion with gloves,
of being touched last. 
There are some women who have shared with
me about how they believed they were in good
standing with their pastor,
and when they finally felt comfortable enough to disclose,
the same pastor began giving them the cold shoulder...
When I entered seminary,
and disclosed my status nationally,
I would later find out there was an
intentional discussion about mealtime,
and what utensils I would be using...
and what precaution they would be
taking to ensure "their safety"...
I really had no place in their heart....
That is the question we heard in our song this morning: 
"will you hold a place for your heart? 
You see, that is the bottom line. 
Warren wanted to know, if I would hold a place for him in my heart
...and I ran in the closet.
Aresome of you in the closet? 
You tell the truth and shame the devil...
some of us can be very fickle when it comes to certain beliefs...
Do you love your neighbor as yourself? 
Or are you more concerned with what your neighbor is doing in their bedroom? 
Someone pointed out yesterday, that some pastors are afraid to talk about sex.
I always make it a point to let folks know where I stand. 
It's really none of my business what folks do in their bedroom
...that is, at long as the relationship is not one built on abuse, 
endangerment, child neglect or anything that can land you in jail. 
I am more concerned that you protect yourself. 
I am more concerned that you protect yourself
before you wreck yourself. 
Of course, abstinence is the safest sex...
.and there is ALWAYS room for risky behavior workshops...
But protect yourself just in case.  
There is still much work to do as far as
eradicating stigma. 
It begins with each one of you. 
As you leave this place and go back to your own
communities,nip stigma in the bud. 
Stop it before it starts with us,
holding a space in our heart for each other and for the other
There is something we can all do as a faith community,
which begins with you. 
Actually,it should begin with your pastors getting tested...
because we should be leading by example,
followed by the the leadership of your congregations...
ideally on a Sunday or whenever you worship.
The way I have done it, is to to develop a relationship
with organizations who do testing,
have them come out fifteen minutes before worship begins,
have your pastor get swabbed, as well as the leadership. 
We received and disclosed our results sometime during the service. 
(withthe full understanding that results do not have to be publicized).
Its should be understood that faith leaders
should disclose their status,
I am quite certain that I am not the
ONLY faith leader living with the virus. 
Those who are not disclosing their status are
doing their congregations and their
communities a great disservice
...Again...we lead by example...and if I am living a life with this virus,honestly and positively, and abundantly! 
It paves the way for someone else to feel comfortable
to at least take the test....
(Nowmind you) not everyone can disclose: 
because of the stigma that still exists
in the workplace, in the community, and as I
confessed in my own situation, with families and friends. 
Sometimes disclosing can be very dangerous. 
I'm sure you've read or heard stories...
I still hold a space for Warren in my heart
...and in that space,
I fill it with folks who come to me after business hours to disclose,
my Facebook group of HIV folks - especially the newly diagnosed. 
I have even encouraged a few people from Africa to get tested
...walked with them via email. 
Social media is not always a bad thing. 
I have a blog called "After The Ribbon"
(I named it that, because we are good
for wearing our ribbon on certain holidays...
and then take it off the rest of the year....
what happens after the ribbon is taken off? goes on...HIV goes on...  Amen?
Being propelled off that couch and into the closet
left Warren hanging...and left a space in my heart. 
One I fill with all the Warrens and Lisa's as
I can safely handle, in addition to my own congregation. 
I long and yearn for peace within our being,
and holistic healing which begins with confessing in our heart,
ways in which we have knowingly and unknowingly
hurt someone, by our words or actions.
I long and yearn for the fulfillment of the promise...
the promise of a love so deep,
the love only God through Jesus Christ shares with us...
The promise of eternal life if we believe in Christ. 
So you see the promise goes beyond ourselves,
It goes beyond HIV. 
It goes beyond goes beyond ......
...Because actually if we treated one another the
way God desires for us to treat and love another
....stigma has no place in the equation.  Amen?
Gods promise will complete us
...And heal us, from whatever infirmity we have
...indeed,it has already been done! 
We hear in Isaiah 53:4: 

"Surely he took up our pain and
bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him and afflicted". 
There are some who may think we are being punished
by God for whatever...but this isnot the case. 
Jesus took it all on the cross, willingly...and died. 
And on the third day he came back....
we've been here two days, and on the third day...
you will be sent back into your communities...
hopefully, your mind is resurrected and
ready to get busy completing this assignment of
dealing with this HIV issue.
God will complete us after our journey on earth is done.
And just as we may long and yearn to be with someone we love,
someone who is no longer with us,
someone the virus has taken from us..
...Gods yearning for us goes so much deeper...
God's yearning and desire for us is revealed through Christ
...on the cross...
and through the Christ in us, here in this room.
I dream of a world without HIV, a world without stigma,
I dream of faith communities who are not afraid of
that touch, that holy kiss, and that warm embrace...
God is still in charge....God is still sovereign...
and God desires to be with us wherever we are. 
Indeed,whether we like it or not
....God IS with us wherever we are.
God waits for us to walk alongside
those silent ones, those afraid ones,
the ones left sitting on the couch or in the pews.
God waits for us to find our way alongside
the rejected, those who feel untouchable. 
God waits for us to sit alongside those trembling in
fear of a diagnosis, if only to be present.
You don’t have to say a word....just be present. 
This IS the greatest love story ever told: God waiting on us
...and loving us and forgiving us, and being merciful to us
...and extending unmerited grace upon us...
It's a love story about HIV and AIDS. 
It's a story about the promise. 
Yes,The Promise we make to one another,
but mostly it is a story of Gods saving action through
Christ Jesus through this epidemic..'s a story about the "no matter whatness of God" (?)
God loves us no matter what, no matter who, no matter why,
and no matter where.... (pause)
As Warren waited for me to come out of that closet...
We wait for come out of the closets of your minds.
Embrace compassion for EVERYONE.
God waits for us to come out of whatever
closet we find ourselves in....
to reach out and touch somebody. 
Reach out and be a help to somebody.
"Write the vision and make it plain".
Get tested, know your status, and use protection...
...and get educated.  Knowledge is power! 
Can we do that?  (point to audience) Yes, we can!
Can we eradicate stigma?  Yes, we can!
Can we encourage testing?  Yes, we can
 ...and can we embrace with compassion?... Yes,we can!
....not by our own power....
but by the power of God,
through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit! 

Amen and amen
Share this

Beauty from Ashes: My Life In Your Hands 11/03/2013

This entry was posted on March 8, 2013, in Faith, Women and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments

Editor’s Note: Today is International Women’s Day. Empowering women starts right in our families, workplaces, and neighborhoods. Celebrate today by writing a note of thanks, by being of service, or by encouraging a special woman in your life. We are excited to share a beautiful story for our WOV Lenten “Beauty from Ashes” series about how God is working in the life of Annie Kaseketi Mwaba, World Vision’s Project Trainer and Mentor for the Channels of Hope program. Annie is based in Lusaka, Zambia where she advocates for Church Partnership on Gender and Development. Here she shares how God brought great Beauty out of Ashes in her own life.

Lord, my life is not be like a golden vessel that earthly kings eat from

My life is not like the silver vase that holds the queens rose

My life is like a clay jar

Shattered to the ground by storms of life

Lord, I take each one of these broken pieces

Place them in your hand

Make this broken jar whole again

Hold it in your hand 

Fill it with healing oil to pour in the hearts of the hurting

This prayer I wrote on May 27, 1999 three months after my husband’s death. Before Charles died, we had lost a son and two daughters; here I was with two small children. My future seemed hopeless and my past too dark to revisit. I thought I had experienced the worst until I lost my fourth child in January 2003, and in that same year found out that I am HIV positive. In that season of my life’s journey nothing made sense. I held on but to one conviction: I had not accomplished what God had put me on earth for. How I knew, I don’t know, except that I had a strong conviction that there were things that I needed to do that I hadn’t done yet. Jeremiah 1 4-5. Long before these dark years, in my quiet times, there were some things I strongly felt God had called me to and I had not seen those yet.

When my family visited me I would say “don’t worry I am not dying.” They were concerned and asked me to let go – I had been through so much there was no need to live, I was dying, why hold on to life? Even with their permission to die, there was ONE greater than my confusion and pain and He knew the plans He had for me, He did not give up on me!

In December 2003, I declared my HIV status from the pulpit after preaching. This was no easy step to take in a society where HIV was associated to promiscuity, not only as a woman but a church leader. I have never regretted that step because what I experienced that day and in the years to come was that my breaking the silence gave permission to other to talk about issues and challenges they otherwise would have not.

Channels of Hope for HIV helped me with valuable information on HIV and now Channels of Hope for Gender has liberated me in knowing beyond doubt that I am valuable as a woman created in the image of God. My HIV status does and cannot change how God looks at me – His beloved daughter!

I have travelled nations carrying this torch of HOPE. Nothing can compare with the joy of seeing another woman smile as He uses my experience to give another hope. It is priceless. God is able to restore even when all around seem dead and hopeless - He is GOD.

by Annie Kaseketi Mwaba, Church Partnership on Gender and Development, World Vision International

*Read more WOV Lenten devotionals in our “Beauty from Ashes” series.

Share this

People Always Trying to Tell Me That God Can Heal Me of AIDS. 24/1/2013

By Rae Lewis-Thornton


This piece originally appeared in Rae's blog, Diva Living With AIDS.

People are always asking me, "Do I think that God can heal me of AIDS?" Here's my answer.

I don't hate much, but it's safe to say I HATE it when people start their conversation with me, "the Lord told me to tell you." Call it what you want: arrogance, Christian elitism, whatever! But this strong feeling of dislike became worse after I went public with AIDS. Everybody had the solution to my problem. Often they'd start the sentence with, "You know the Lord can heal you of AIDS."

Many times they'd come rushing up to me after I finished speaking with their revelation. I'd stand there graciously, but what I really wanted to do was scream at the top of my lungs.

I know, I know. I sound like one ungrateful woman. I do understand that they are only trying to help ease my pain. But curing me? Gee, thanks. Don't judge me first, just try living in my shoes and see how you would feel. In the early days of my ministry, I became really frustrated with people telling me what God could do for me, like they knew this for sure. I read the same Bible. And now, having gone to seminary and earned a Master of Divinity degree, I detest it even more. I mean, why do you think that I don't already know about faith? My life is an example of faith, don't you think?

But in those earlier days of my popularity, so many people approached me about being healed that I started to wonder, "Had I missed something in my Christian walk?" Just the thought of it bothered me. With all the experts I had encountered on my miracle, I thought that maybe I was doing something wrong. So like with most things, I took my concern straight to the source. I started to have long conversations with God about it all. It went something like this:

"Hello God, these people say that you can heal me of AIDS. So, what do I have to do to get this particular miracle? I mean, they keep quoting the scripture, 'Ask and you shall receive.' (Mat 7:7) I asked, but I still have AIDS. Do I need pray a certain way, or at a certain time, maybe like Hannah at the altar?" (1 Sam 1-20) No joke, sometimes you just have to lay it out to God, and I did.

It was all so maddening. I know that there are miracles in the Bible of both the prophets in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament. And that made matters worse. With all my Biblical knowledge, and people pushing their faith onto me, I was frustrated. One day a person even told me, "You should stop taking your HIV medication so when the Lord heals you, people will really believe that the miracle was of God." I stood there with a blank look on my face. "I don't think so buddy!!!!" is what I wanted to scream at him. So, I kept talking to God, waiting on the answer. I even changed my prayer. "Lord, just give me something to say to these people about my healing."

Then people started to cure me in my mail. I received 25 copies of this little booklet, "By His Stripes We Are Healed." I screamed, "Pleeeease GOD tell me what I'm missing." And that wasn't the half of it. I received long letters with scripture that I was instructed to repeat every day, tapes, oil and prayer cloths. People were determined to heal me anyway they could.

Then one day after what seemed like an eternity, God gave me the answer I had been seeking. I was in Washington, D.C. speaking at a church. That particular night, there was a lot of press covering me.

Rae Lewis-Thornton with microphone

No sooner than I laid the mic down, a woman rushed up to me, "You know the Lord can heal you of AIDS." I got that look on my face, "Here we go again." I stood as she rambled and rambled on. "And it would be an awesome thing. With all these TV cameras and the press you get, you could go around the world and tell people how wonderful God is because He healed you of AIDS!" In an instant God spoke to my spirit, "I am a wonderful God, even if I never heal you of AIDS!" The testimony is: Hallelujah anyhow!

WOW! I was so overwhelmed tears started streaming down my face. Of course the woman thought that her prophecy had moved me to tears. But it was nothing short of God sitting center stage in my spirit, giving me the answers I had longed for. The easiest testimony on the planet is when God has done the thing you most wanted in your life. But can you love God in the midst of your pain? Can you love and praise Him when you are bearing your cross? I understood that day that my love for God was not predicated on my healing from AIDS. God is wonderful and sovereign without the extra that He gives to us.

Back to the healing, I had missed it all along. The miracle wasn't the thing that people had been trying to force on me, but something even greater. In some ways, healing me of AIDS was an EASY testimony, almost expected of God. But living with AIDS was an INCREDIBLE testimony. God gave me the greatest gift of all: the ability to live and thrive with an illness that should've taken me out of here many a day. And believe me when I say I should've died 16 years ago.

Rae Lewis-Thornton, age 19

When I made a transition to AIDS 19 years ago, the life expectancy was three years. And before advancement in treatment, I was staring death in the face. My T-cell count was 8, my viral load was 397,000, I was a size 0. You could see how frail I was in every picture that was taken of me back then. There is no doubt, my health was failing.

I had three bouts of PCP, the number-one infection that killed people with AIDS at that time. You cannot tell me that I am not a walking miracle. I get it! I also get that we spend so much time expecting God to do what we want, we miss the wonderful things that He has done. I'm content with the miracle of my life. So what if it's a hard life, He continues to give me all the tools I need to maneuver through the wilderness.

PostScript: By the way, God didn't heal everyone. The Apostle Paul is one clear example. Paul had a thorn in his flesh. He asked God to heal him three times and each time God said, "No!" Christians are quick to quote from this text that the Lord told Paul, "My Grace is sufficient." But God also told Paul,"My strength is made perfect in your weakness." I know from this that when I am at my lowest point, God will do His best work. (2 Cor. 7-10)

2013 Post Script: Repost. One of the first blogs I wrote. As of 2013 I've lived with HIV for 30 years and AIDS for 21. I know that I know that I am a walking miracle.

Share this

An Open Letter To People Living With HIV from Mpho

The journey is not easy…..but possible only if taking responsibility

Dear Friend

I hope you are well and taking care of yourself and those around you. I have been living with HIV for the past 11 years and two years back I started taking Antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) because my health started to deteriorate. Today there are almost six million people living with HIV in South Africa. When I found out that I have HIV, I refused to believe that I acquired this virus just to die from it. I did not view it as a barrier but as a catalyst propelling me towards my destiny and I will continue with the positive spirit until my Living God decide.

When I learnt my status I promised myself that I will find as many people living with HIV as I can. I did this because I did not want to and still do not want to be alone in this fight against HIV. I need to see and learn from other fellow people who are living with HIV and I am still searching for others that is why I made it my business to educate and empower others.

Years of living with HIV has helped me to develop a thick skin and an understanding that everybody is entitled to their opinions, I cannot control what people think or say about me but I can choose how to respond to it. My response will either validate or disqualify their perception and opinion about me as an individual and continue to educate because I am a human rights activist and did never saw myself as a candidate for HIV.

Sadly enough, the virus does not only grow or multiply in my body, it continues to infect many people and truly this world needs reinforcement, you are the reinforcement needed to change the face of this virus.

I am bothered that despite this country having so many millions of people living with HIV or AIDS many of us remain silent, some people suspect that they might be HIV positive but do not do anything about it until its too late, our country has the biggest ARV Program in the world but many of us die senselessly everyday every hour.

Let me try to explain it in this way: every year more than 300.000 people get infected and all of these people will get HIV from someone who is already infected, this is not blaming anyone but remember that a person can never get HIV from one who does not have it.

HIV is increasing the burden on our families, our economy and the state; it will continue to be a burden only if we are still having silent shame.

Right now people are making decisions and speaking on our behalf, they claim to know what we want and how we feel and they will continue to speak on our behalf as long as we are silent. Yes their help is of important but we know a lot more about living with HIV than any expect because we have personal experience. Let us go out there and do something positive about HIV, Prevent stigma and discrimination and most importantly help  “stop” new infections.

Mpho Lekgheto

For more information contact me @ 079 860 7365/ Join me on Face book and Twitter 

Share this

HIV Positive and Doing God's Work. 3/8/10

An Interview With Christo Greyling, an HIV-Positive Minister

The Body

By Bonnie Goldman
3 August 2008

Christo Greyling

The XVII International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2008) is a magnet that attracts thousands upon thousands of HIV-positive people, activists and community leaders from all walks of life and all parts of the globe. We were fortunate enough to meet a few of these people and talk to them about their perspectives and their experiences. In this interview, Bonnie Goldman talks with Christo Greyling, a Dutch Reformed minister living in South Africa, about his journey and his efforts to reconcile HIV with religion.


I'm Christo Greyling and I come from South Africa. I live in Johannesburg, but my heart is in Stellenbosch, in the wine area of South Africa. I've been living with HIV since 1984, and I heard I was positive in '87. So this year is my 21st anniversary of knowing that I'm HIV positive.

Wow. So you're a long time survivor. Have you been on treatment since the treatments started?

I was one of those people, I think, in 1990, who was put on AZT [Retrovir, zidovudine] as a monotherapy, and then the CONCORD study came out and I quickly realized that I probably had built up resistance a long time ago. And then I decided that I'm not going to stay on a drug that makes me feel terrible, so I took myself off the drug at that stage, which probably was already long after resistance had already started to develop. I had my first real serious AIDS diagnosis at the end of '97. I had to go on trial drugs from about June 1998; I started on a combination of drugs. I couldn't afford it at that stage. In South Africa, it would have cost me more than a month's salary just to afford the drugs. The only way was to go on antiretroviral trials.

Unfortunately, it was not a good trial. One drug failed very quickly. There were no salvage drugs available. So I started [treatment] again [only] when my viral load started to show that I needed it. In fact, interesting enough, I didn't start to use the drugs because I needed it. My wife and I got married. She married me knowing that I'm HIV positive, in 1988. And of course, we couldn't try for children. Because she was negative, we wanted to keep her negative. Then when research started to appear about how the viral load correlates with transmittability of the virus, we started thinking about having children. So I started on antiretrovirals specifically to have children.

Do you have children now?


Oh, congratulations.

We have two, and my wife is still negative. So, yes. I'm very thankful for that.

That's amazing. How old are they now?

Five and three.

So you have your hands full.


Tell me about your religious affiliation and how this interacts with living with HIV.

I'm a Dutch Reformed minister. I studied theology and worked in a congregation. I disclosed to my congregation in 1991 that I'm HIV positive. That was very early. At that stage, I was in a congregation in Namibia, and coming from a white Afrikaans background it was extremely rare that anyone from a religious background and from the Afrikaans Dutch Reformed community would come out and say, "I'm HIV positive."

What gave you the courage to do that?

I just knew, from the first days that I heard I was HIV positive, that I believe nothing happened by chance in my life, and that God is in control. It's not his will that anyone suffers. But if something happens, then I know that God is with me in my suffering.

I always knew that somehow there must be a reason God can use this negative thing in a positive way. It took five years before I built up the courage to come out, and I did that because when I've seen how people reacted to HIV, it was always in a judgmental way. People immediately associated HIV in the religious circles with promiscuity, which equals sin; therefore, the people have brought it on themselves. I wanted to break that and say, "But that's rubbish. You cannot make a direct association that everyone who contracted HIV has necessarily done something wrong." That's not important, anyway. We're all broken people, and then we need God's forgiveness, if you come from a faith background.

So I wanted to give information from firsthand experience. I wanted to show that the person who is living with HIV is not somebody who's strange or, in the South African context, only from the colored community -- that it could be anyone. And I wanted to bring a message of hope and say, "We can live with HIV."

Did you do newspaper or TV interviews?

I didn't have a choice. When I disclosed to the congregation, we knew this was going to turn into a media story, because at that stage there was nobody that was open with HIV. In fact, we prepared a few of the media people beforehand so that they would know why I'm doing this, so that they could be there [when I disclosed to my congregation]. We had a press conference afterwards.

It did turn into a media situation, and I'm extremely thankful that it turned into an opportunity to help people to really understand that HIV is a disease that can affect anyone. It became an opportunity to break the stigma and to break the silence about HIV. I had a lot of opportunity to break that kind of stereotyping situation in South Africa.

Did anything bad happen with the publicity?

No. I had my sets of bad experiences. The media itself, we could always help them to get a positive message across. But as a result of that, you had situations where -- my wife and I started with a campaign; working in schools and doing peer education work with young people. And you had situations where the headmaster, after we spoke at the school, would come and say he must confess that he told the head girl of the school not to kiss us, because he was afraid that she might contract it. But after hearing us speak he now realized that he was wrong. So you had that kind of situation.

I was branded as the "AIDS Reverend," and the media would always write it in that way. So we had a task to help people also understand that there's a difference between HIV and AIDS, and being HIV positive doesn't mean you are in the final stage of AIDS. But still, I was labeled as "the Reverend with AIDS."

You had a congregation at that point?

Yeah, up to the point where I made it public that I'm leaving and that I'm HIV positive. The reason why I made it public and said, "I'm going to leave the congregation," was not that they asked me to leave or anything; it was more a situation of, I wanted to do what I said earlier, those three things of living it up positively. But the Church didn't have any vision for a mission, for working on HIV and AIDS.

Before I disclosed my status, I went to speak to the leaders of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa to say, "Can we start with an AIDS ministry in the Church?" And they said, "Why? We don't have anyone with AIDS in the Church." And there I was, sitting, and I was still considering: Should I tell them, or shouldn't I?

I think I was somehow lucky, because people knew how I contracted HIV. I didn't say that earlier, but let me bring it up now because it does help to explain some things. I'm a hemophiliac living with HIV, so I contracted it through blood products. At that stage, before I disclosed to the congregation, I shared that. My colleague knew that I'm a hemophiliac, and he also knew that I was positive. But he demanded that I get a letter -- he and the moderator of the Church -- that I get a letter from the hospital that would confirm that I was infected by blood products, and not by sexual involvement.

That was such a hurtful and painful experience, but also an experience of learning how faith communities can be judgmental and very stigmatizing and blaming in the way that they act. Therefore, also, in terms of the congregational response, I was extremely supported. I had a lot of support because people knew how I contracted HIV. People would come to me and say, "We've got sympathy with you, but those people -- they brought it on themselves."

So from that point on, I decided I'm not saying how I contracted HIV. I told you now, but in most cases I just don't tell people that at all, because it's not important.

Do you think that attitude is still prevalent -- that there are the good infectees, and there are the bad infectees? The innocent ones and the guilty ones?

Unfortunately, yes. It's still there. It starts to change, as more HIV-positive church leaders and faith leaders come forward and speak out, to help them to realize you can't make the assumption that everybody who contracted HIV has necessarily done something wrong or sinful. And also to help them understand that, in terms of how I understand it, coming from a Christian background: That's why Jesus came to die. He died for people who are broken. I think things change, but the automatic assumption in people's minds is still sorting people into these groups of innocent and guilty.

What do you say to people who come to you and say that HIV is a punishment from God for sinning? What's the answer?

The answer is no. Christ came once and all to die for every one of us who needed to be punished, but he stood in our place and got the punishment instead of us. It's about how we view God. If you view God as the old man, sitting somewhere up there, only waiting to punish people, then that might be a perception you work with. But then you're living a life that's not really a life of abundance and joy.

I believe that there are certain things that are a consequence. Things happen. You drink and drive and you are in an accident. Your accident is a consequence of your drinking. It's not a punishment from God. And the same thing in terms of HIV. A wife getting infected from a husband who was not faithful to her: It's a consequence. A person who could get infected from using drugs: It's a consequence. It's not a punishment from God. The God I know is a God of compassion and love, and the one who reaches out with grace to us. He is not the one who wants to get ready and punish people.

I guess related to that is this idea of judgment. A lot of people of faith feel that they can judge. What do you say to people who make those kinds of judgments? Is that a religious act, to judge?

Well, it's absolutely the reverse of that. If I speak as a Christian, from a biblical perspective, then God says, "If you do away with the pointing finger and, rather, reach out on behalf of the hungry and the oppressed, then you will become like a well-watered garden." In fact, to judge people is constantly -- I think that Jesus, and God through his prophets, were saying, "Don't do that. You're not the one to judge. I am." And God's judgment is so much different than ours. You do that with grace and compassion, and not with blame.

So, no. We're not the ones to judge at all. I think that's the good thing about HIV-positive people who are coming from a faith tradition, that they can say, "We are living with faith and we are living with HIV, and we know that we experience God's grace." And each one of us, as Christians, say that we are saved by grace. Then we must look at where we came from ourselves, and celebrate that, and realize that we also need God's forgiveness in our lives. We're no different from anyone else. We're not the ones to judge.

You're a founder of an organization, right? A new organization comprised of HIV-positive people who are of faith, and faith leaders who hope to change the world and make it more friendly for people living with HIV. It's more than 25 years into the pandemic. How come it's taken so long?

Yeah. The Church is not known for always [being] on time on things. Sometimes we must confess that we are a bit slow in reacting, especially on issues which link to human sexuality in general. We are perhaps a bit slow to catch up on things. But I can see that when the Churches do get involved that they are the ones that can do amazing stuff, and that can really, if their hearts change, reach out with compassion. I've seen that across the world.

I work professionally for World Vision in building, helping the Church to respond to HIV and AIDS. And I've seen across the world that, yeah, the Church might have been slow. They might have been very damaging and hurting. I'm the first person to confess on behalf of the Church that they've hurt people with HIV. But I've also seen, if they change, they can be the ones who embrace, who can ask for forgiveness, and who can really create an area where people living with HIV can experience acceptance and love and support without judgment. And what we want to do with INERELA+ [an international network of HIV-positive and HIV-affected religious leaders], as we've seen it happen in INERELA+, is that the Church can provide that. We've seen in Africa and a number of countries, with the same places where 65 to 85 percent of church leaders said that AIDS is a punishment from God; that was the same group that, a year later, has started to reach out in care programs for orphans and vulnerable children, support groups for HIV-positive people. So I've seen that the Church can do the opposite of the painful, hurtful things. They can be agents of change.

I guess you're still hopeful after all these years.

I am. I am, because I can see that people can change. People are not necessarily stuck in their ways. If they learn to change, and change their language and move away from stigma and judgment, then they can become a haven for people living with HIV.

How do you keep this sort of optimistic spirit after all of what you have gone through? It's many years you've been positive, and many years you've probably suffered stigma and discrimination. How do you, right now, say, "Well, we're going to change it now," after all these years? How do you keep the courage and the optimism going?

It starts with the support that I had. The first day I heard I was positive, I shared that with my friends and with my girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife after 20 years; and I've experienced amazing support from them. They were my close network of people who embraced me and gave me the courage to continue. But today, even though you get still disappointed very often [when looking at] the bigger picture, it is the small things -- the small step by step, the change that you see in one person's heart and the way he reacts and changes from a judgmental attitude into a supportive person -- those small victories are the things that keep you alive.

It is also the change that you see in people living with HIV -- from people who were self-stigmatizing, blaming themselves, closed, living a life where they didn't allow themselves to grow -- to a point where they start dreaming again and start to live life to the full. And it's in those small victories that you start to say this is worth it. It's gone.

What a great story. I wish you the best of luck.

Thank you.

Share this

An HIV-Positive Pastor Tells His Story

Reverend Christo Greyling is one of the founding members of an international network of positive people of faith called INERELA+ and off course, also of CABSA. In this inspiring video from the 2008 International AIDS Conference in Mexico, Christo discusses his life and his take on AIDS 2008.

Share this

Grateful for all the Blessings

By Thuli Hlatshwayo

(This article first appeared in the PACSA Newsletter and is used with gratitude)

Sometimes I have felt so blessed to have this HI Virus in my body that has managed to kill so many people and I have survived so far. Sometimes it’s so easy to talk about the success stories of HIV/AIDS and to see so many people getting onto the Government ARV programme. The first thing we are grateful for is a second chance in life. It will always be easy to talk about what has been good in our journeys with HIV. Do we ever talk about the pain involved? I will tell you why we do not talk about the pain that we experience. It is because if my body has not gone thinner and I don’t experience any sores there cannot be another type of pain that I feel.

In all its forms we expect pain to be physical. What about emotional or psychological pain? Even spiritual pain is underrated. I have been struggling for some time now with emotional pain, and with my limited resources how do I deal with it? My dilemma came with me being positive and understanding that God has called me to a different kind of ministry. That because of my strength and my ability to cope with my HIV status, it meant I would be able to help others with similar problems. So as you can see my calling was cut and dried as much as I wanted to run away from it. I couldn’t because I kept reaching the same conclusion; I have to do something about this.

So I went on my way revealed my status and people came to me and revealed their status as well. We were now forming a community of our own. A community that would be able to deal with the struggles of HIV. We had learned how to cope and that was the best. I thought we were untouchable. This was the highest point of my life. If God had decided to take me then I would have gone straight to heaven. My work was done. I was able to pull people up from their deathbeds and they realized that there was life after HIV diagnosis. Then if all this was as good as I say it was, why was I feeling so much pain? I have so much pain that I cannot explain.

It is only a few weeks ago that I realized that I was not honest with myself. I was showing the world what they wanted to see. A beautiful shining face that knows no pain. Yet inside me I was torn apart with pain, and the tears that I cry at night are countless. I would hide my pain so perfectly until it manifested itself in some form of sickness within my body, and then I would understand. Still I wouldn’t allow myself to deal with the pain, as I did not want to show any signs of weakness. I am strong and people depend on me. They look up to me. There was no way I could say I didn’t know how to help. It was expected of me to offer support.

Maybe its time I deal with the pain. The pain that I have been struggling with is the loss of the small community that we had built for ourselves. The community that was coping with HIV is dying slowly one by one. I want to know where I have gone wrong. I want an answer to what it was that I was supposed to do that I have failed to do. Why suddenly the people I have been accompanying for so long have started dying one by one.

All along I had been bringing “false” hope to people telling them that God is there for them. Was I building false hopes? Could people trust me again when I say things will be okay? I have not given myself time to grieve for the lost souls. I always feel that I need to be strong for those who are still alive. I always feel that if I show my weaknesses and I fall into pieces no one will be there to hold me. Does it mean I had betrayed God by letting His people succumb to AIDS? Would I in any way have been able to stop the processes of life? What did God actually want from me? I do not understand. Why me, why was I given such a calling if I was meant to fail anyway? Why me?

As much as I am struggling with the number of dying friends and relatives, as well as questions that I cannot answer, I am also struggling with personal problems. My desires for intimacy have just sky rocketed and I don’t know what I should do. I made a vow with myself that whoever wanted a relationship with me had to know first what they were getting themselves into. So disclosing my status was my priority. Ever since I started this I have seen men going in and out of my life as if I was watching a movie. None of them wanted to stay after I told them I was HIV positive. Why was that? Others would stick around until they had tasted the forbidden fruit (in a protected manner of course) then disappear. Does my honesty about my status mean that I am ‘ungodly’ and ‘dirty’ to have a normal relationship? I truly do not understand. It is time that I can happily say you know I do not have a clue how this works. There is just limited intimacy that parents and family can offer. There is also another level of intimacy that one needs that is no longer available any more.

This has been the toughest journey that I ever embarked on. Instead of getting easier and getting some clarity about such issues I just sink deeper and deeper into depression. Then I resort to dreaming about a knight in shining amour that will come and accept me as I am and take me away. Maybe I haven’t been listening to what God is saying to me. Maybe I am not ready for celibacy right now because my body keeps screaming for attention. Maybe I have lost it, I was supposed to stop being a sexual being as soon as I found out I was positive. How does one silence the bodies’ desire? If your body is screaming to you how do you scream back and say sorry I just cannot have what you are asking for.

Since I have been writing this piece I have been reflecting on my journey with the virus for the past 8 years. The only thing I have found is that I have not changed. I am still the same person I was before.

My guilt trip about HIV positive people dying has to come to an end. One of my colleagues told me that as long as I was there for the person up until they died then I have fulfilled my calling. God did not say to me, you will be an exception and no one who comes through your hands will be spared. But what God is saying is that I have given you time to journey with this person so that you may be reminded of the many blessings I have given you and be grateful. God alone understands when people have suffered enough and he calls them to rest. We can never stop that process. All we can do is delay it for some time.

Although my guilt is subsiding I still feel that I could have done more. I feel as though I have failed my calling. How does one begin to bring healing to people? I am talking about spiritual healing. We need to know that we are alive and that God still loves us as we are. We still believe that we are the salt and light of the world. Perhaps if people can let us be, maybe we can forget that we are positive and carry on living. I have a beautiful reminder every time I take my ARV’s that I am living positively with this virus. So please do not remind me, for I already know. Just let me be a servant to you.

Share this

Medicine: Trial and Error

By Thuli Hlatshwayo  (This article first appeared in the PACSA Newsletter and is used with gratitude)

When I was in Hospital and very sick, I bargained with God to let me live so that I can tell this tale. I didn’t know I had a chance, but prayer brought me through and I will always be grateful to God for that. It is amazing what faith can do for one person. My family, friends and colleagues kept praying for me to get better, but most of all, I prayed for myself to find out what exactly was wrong with me. You are reading this because God agreed to give me a second chance in life.
I had thought because I was on Anti Retro Viral treatment (ARV) for almost six years I was at least safe and stable. I was shocked when I developed Tuberculosis (TB) in January 2006. It was hard for me to accept another sickness on top of the one I had. Suddenly, I was supposed to take 15 tablets instead of just 6 a day. It took me some time to adjust to this new regime, but I told myself that it was only for 6 months. Although I believed I could do this, I was still very scared and depressed.
Here I was, so sick and still believing that I was capable of motivating another positive person, but how could I? I was in need of motivation myself. I was hurting and I needed someone to be strong for me. I needed someone who could explain to my daughter what was happening to me and tell her that everything will be fine. She needed to hear her mothers laugh again, but it was not going to happen any time soon.
Before I started the TB treatment, the doctors told me that since my ARV regime contained Viramune I would have minor side effect if these two were mixed. They told me, I was doing fine on the ARV regime that they did not want to disturb things. I was told I would have minor side effects from this mix, just minor side effects. My concerns were put to rest.
So I waited for the side effects. For two months nothing happened. I thought maybe I would never have side effects, but I couldn’t be more wrong. Five months down the line I started having severe headaches and black outs and no one could tell me what was going on. I had forgotten about the side effects. I was in and out of hospitals that I thought this was it. My time had come and I was going to die. There was only one problem… I was not ready to go. I had never felt so powerless in my whole life.
The need for me to be with my family grew and I wanted to go home. I wanted to see my mother and tell her how much it hurt, and that I did not know how to make it better.
When I got home it got worse and I still didn’t know how to make it better. My mother was by my side and she prayed in every corner of the house. I wanted to believe that God was suffering with us that he was there and helping us through this. When I visited the family doctor, he hospitalised me to do more tests. By this time I had swollen feet and I could not eat. After a while the diagnosis came back, I had drug induced Hepatitis. What it all meant was that the liver enzymes were struggling to cope with all the drugs I was taking.
Then I remembered the minor side effects story, but these were not minor at all. It was after seven weeks of excruciating pain that the diagnosis was made. For seven weeks I felt I had died and gone to hell with a headache that blinded me, swollen feet and inflamed internal organs. These were the same drugs that were supposed to help me cope with the HIV and TB. How could it be that I was so sick and that the same drugs were now harmful to me?
The reason behind why the doctors decided to keep me on the same ARV regime was that South Africa has only a limited number of regimes that a person can be moved to. The doctors thought I would be strong enough to handle both. I thought so too; I guess I was not strong enough. Now I know from experience that Viramune and TB treatment are big NO NO.
I thought that the worst was over when the diagnosis was made. The only glitch was that I was finishing 6 months on TB treatment in three weeks to come. The doctor asked me if I could hang in there for the next three weeks. My answer was yes and those were the longest three weeks of my life. Even after I had stopped the TB treatment I had to allow the process to reverse itself and be patient and patient I intended to be.
I feel much better now, but I know that things will never been the same for me. I panic so much especially at night then I think of all the beauty and the love that God has surrounded me with. The people around me who have loved and supported me through this trying time and I know that no matter how long it takes to recover fully, THIS TOO SHALL PASS.
This is my tale. The HIV/AIDS arena is still trial and error for all of us doctors and patients alike. I hope this will educate you on what works and what doesn’t. After this ordeal I believe with God’s help it can only get better because I am too scared to expect the worst.
Share this

This Is Me and This Is My Challenge To The Church.

PDF icon PattyThomas.pdf8.51 KB

(Patty Thomas, living with HIV and AIDS, challenges the church in her own words)

I believe that my past is not my future. Both my child and me had been tested HIV positive seven years ago. HIV was taking full control of my life. My biggest enemy was fear of rejection. What will people say? What will the church, my friends, my family and

society say?

I was victimized by this virus, and I was convinced that if I walk down the street that everybody will be able to see my status as a sufferer from the virus and that they will mark me as monstrous and disastrous. I became very self destructive towards my body

and myself. I had a false belief that that I’m unhealthy, and not a very welcome person to be around with.

Today I realize that most of my fears, doubts, uncertainties and also my ignorance were because of my own internal fears, and these fears were supported by the stigma towards this virus. I also realized that the only way to heal myself from all my anger, bitterness

and false guilt was to toss away with all my panicking thoughts. It was to accept this virus and acknowledge my wrong doings and mistakes. I needed to look deep inside myself,

my heart, and make peace with this virus. I have come to one realization that no one can challenge your fears for you – only you can do it… that no one can make me feel inferior, ashamed or rejected, unless I allow them to. Despite the fact that I’m HIV positive, that I do have the right to live a life of peace. That I do have the ability to transforms my ways of thinking and being, to become a productive member of humanity… that I do have the power to change! And for me, the bravest thing that I could do, when I wasn’t brave, was to be brave, and act accordingly.

Living with HIV can cause you sometimes to become a very demanding person. You desire more of people and friendship, which is sometimes humanly possible. No matter how many friends I have, nobody could do for me what I must have done for myself.

I also feel that the church must stop and think, before it can implement workable programmes. It first needs to define its belief systems built on the acceptance and forgiveness of God. For the church to understand the roll she needs to play, she must

stop asking “How did you get it?”, and start asking “How can we help? What can we do?”

History is full of examples of church programmes that became great institutions built on the Judeo-Christian principle of charity. In recent times the church has forsaken this calling and engaged itself in theological debates. There needs to be a revival of a

practical church with practical solutions. The same Jesus that opened the blinded eyes also fed the hungry. There needs to be a balance in our world view. IT is also okay to have theological debates, but then we need to apply it practically.

Practical steps:

1 Start to train and educate people about HIV and AIDS

2 Consciously treat people living with HIV and AIDS as part of the church, and not as victims, by trusting them with responsibilities.

3 People living with HIV and AIDS need a support structure to help us deal with the emotional challenges we face.


Patty Thomas.

Share this