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Lyn @ Race against Time Summit.30/11/06

2006 Global Summit on AIDS and the Church - Race against Time. Saddleback

30 November 2006

Lyn (and CARIS) is privileged to be present at the Race Against Time conference at Saddleback Church. One thousand eight hundred Christians from all over the world came together for two days to be challenged and equipped to respond to HIV.

Lyn reports from Saddleback: 

I will try and share some of my impressions with you. The scale of this summit is difficult to convey to. To have a church with the scope and size of Saddleback is a bit overwhelming. I have been in villages that are smaller than the ‘Saddleback campus’. The human and physical resources available are huge. Everyone goes out of their way to make you feel at home and welcome.

I am unable to record everything from all the sessions, but I will try and reflect some highlights from the different sessions.

Again, as in so many occasions where one has the opportunity to meet with other Christians, the discussion and networking opportunities where a large and wonderful part of the conference. It is a privilege to meet so many brothers and sister who have been challenged by the AIDS pandemic and who have responded to these challenges in so many ways

Rick Warren welcomed everyone and emphasised that all sectors of society should be involved in addressing the problem. He said that this conference is an attempt to bring together those who might not otherwise work or talk together.

A video was shown highlighting the current situation in the world and asking if we are ‘okay with it’. The worship team leads with a song “Waiting on the World to Change” which again challenges Christians to get involved.

Kay Warren says that we can’t wait to change the world. She talks about the Word of God saying in Psalms that God listens to “The cries of the needy.” She says that she is glad that He does, because until recently the church did not listen to the voices of the needy. She tells us how her confrontation with the realities of HIV changed her view of reality. The article confronting her brought the painful reality of 12 million orphans started to haunt her.

She was faced with her own-

- ignorance – in the next couple of weeks she was constantly confronted with different aspect of this reality
- being overwhelmed – after a month of intense wrestling with the problem she realised that she could not go back to her comfortable life and she made a choice to get involved with the pain of the epidemic. She could not face her Saviour not having done anything! She became a seriously disturbed woman – and wishes that everyone else becomes seriously disturbed! We live our lives with the wrong measure of success if we do no become disturbed by the world of people needing a voice.

Her obstacles to becoming involved were:

- being ignorant of the disease and being afraid of becoming infected. Once she made the commitment to get involved her fears become less! Nothing in her life prepared her for the reality of going to Africa. She was confronted with pain that she had no idea how to deal with.
- Fear of what others will think; Fear of the perceptions of other in her community and fear of her reputation being tarnished; Fear of the association with sex and homosexuality. None of the barriers can stop het from showing the love of Jesus. Jesus was not afraid of His reputation or of what the society thought. She said: “Who am I to put barriers up – I was wrong, and some of you are too!”
- The problem is too big! Humanly speaking it is impossible – but with God things become possible. When His churches turn up – things can happen
- She came back angry with African churches because they were not doing enough, then she realised how little she did. She had to do some serious repenting and realised how hypocritical it would be to get involved in other places, but not in her own church. She had to come back and create a safe place in her community/congregation. You have to start where you are. She did not know what getting involved means, but took the leap of faith in any case – slowly things are becoming clearer.

Coming back to the USA, her husband did not feel that AIDS was something that touched him or Saddleback Church. Rick Warren tells his story:

For twenty years he was wrong about AIDS – he didn’t care, because he was to busy with other ‘good’ things. God got his attention through.

- his wife. She supported him through difficult times and he did not want to stop what God did through Kay. It began to grab his heart.
- The success of the ‘Purpose Driven Life’ – something was happening that he did not understand It brought in plenty of money and fame – affluence and influence. He asked God how to use this. Giving breaks the chains of materialism. Dealing with the influence was more difficult. Solomon prayed that the Lord gives him more power in order to speak up for those who have no influence. Rick had to repent that the needy was not in his radar.
- A trip to Africa showed him that what he was doing had little relevance in the face of the need of the world. He become aware of the influence he could have in poor rural areas and committed to becoming involved.
Obligations of the church. We have to care
- because we are blessed to be a blessing. Gives perspective on poverty in the world. 2000 verses on the poor in the Bible!
- Because Jesus modelled it! Teaching, preaching and healing! A third of the ministry of Jesus was about the physical needs of people. Compassion – I will do anything I can to stop your pain.
- Because this is the greatest humanitarian crisis in history. When people ask about the plan of God, the church is the plan of God! Hands and feet of the church has been amputated, we have been all mouth. We need to stop being known for what we are against, and be known for what we are for! When you see someone who is sick you don’t ask who is at fault!
- Because God commands it – it is not optional. God can use the pandemic to teach us to be unselfish.

Pastor Shane Stanford shares his story as a person living with HIV since he was sixteen. He shares that his journey was in many cases a race against time and a challenge for his faith. Today he realises that HIV has shown him what God can do in your life – lessons about time, relationships,

An enthusiastic praise and worship team from Africa introduced some ‘rhythm’!

Ambassador Mark Dybul, U.S Department of State emphasised the role of faith based organisations and the need for even more involvement from churches.

Richard Feachum, executive director of the Global Fund emphasised that the fight against HIV is impossible without the church.

What churches do particularly well is:

- caring for orphans
- prevention – condoms as well as changing behaviour – attitudes of society towards women, relationships between men and women and young girls. Much still to be done and will only be successful
- testing and treatment

He once again emphasised the importance the Global Fund places on the faith based sector and the large amount of funding the Global Fund distributes through these channels. The role of commercial organisations in strengthening the Global Fund is highlighted.

What your Church Can Do. Kay and Rick Warren highlighted guidelines for practical involvement proscribed by Scripture:

C – Caring for the sick. Video Story of Prisca from Rwanda emphasises the difference it makes in people’s lives if they have love. Kay suggested basic to more advanced steps for getting involved

    - crawl step – send a card, make a phone call
    - walk step - support group for HIV + people in your church
   - run step - care teams, home visitors and more comprehensive involvement in people’s lives.

H – Handle testing and Counselling – If you don’t know your status you are in denial! Testing provides opportunities for being thankful and staying negative if you are negative. If you are positive you have the opportunity for protecting others and for positive living choices.

  - crawl step – encourage your congregation, start talking
  - walk step – pastor to be tested publicly maybe together with others leaders or interest group
  - run step – offer testing in your church.

U – Unleash a volunteer force of talent, purpose, energy. Reaffirm role of church as change agents.

  - largest participation 2,1 billion church members in the world
  - widest distribution – millions of villages without schools and clinics but has a church
  - simplest administration – networks beat hierarchies!
  - fastest expansion
  - longest continuation
  - strongest authorization
  - highest motivation – love

R – Remove the Stigma. Losing your job, Rejection of you and your family is part of the added challenges of living with HIV. Touching, holding and praying with people reduces stigma. People are stigmatised in all parts of the world! Stigma breaks the Father’s heart. It is not a sin to be sick! Being left to die should not be the consequence of any sin! The question is not “How did you become ill?” but “How can I help you?”

C – Champion healthy behaviour. Churches can encourage healthy lifestyles because God cares about bodies – God made it, Christ died for it, and the Spirit lives in it! It is necessary to use strategies for risk reduction as well as risk elimination – slowing the pandemic as well as stopping it.

   S – Support condoms for every one
   L – Limit number of partners
   O – Offer needle exchange
   W – Wait for sexual debut

Better still is to eliminate risk:

   S – Save sex for marriage
   T – Teach men to respect women (and children)
   O – Offer treatment through churches – increased access
   P – Pledge yourself to one partner for life

The church should give the right message that it and God is not anti sex, but pro – sex. God gives us rules for healthy healed abundant sex.

H – Help with Nutrition and Treatment. Dr Robert Redfield (Institute of Virology, Maryland. It is exciting to see the church poised for greater involvement and taking a leadership role. It is fundamental that churches be involved in providing care and also the greatest opportunity the church has had. Medicine has a emotional and spiritual component that should also receive attention – God heals, He wants us whole, and this is only possible with a full re-engagement of the church in health care. The imbalances in health care in different parts of the world, ‘poaching’ of health care professionals and inappropriate healthcare system is some areas is an issue that churches should attend to. The divide between church and medical facilities can and should be broken down in order to strengthen the church and the medical facilities. Only providing access to medication is ineffectual, if access to food security is not also ensured. Treatment support, transportation, and actually providing medication in churches is some of the possibilities for churches to learn. Eventually, some of the models of churches involved in health care can be brought back to America and used for other health care challenges. God did not cause HIV, but He allowed it and the suffering can be used for greater good – for the church to learn love. The church is awakening – medicine dreams of a time when there is no unnecessary suffering or early death; The church dreams that humanity and mercy should return to the world – These should be united. God gave us the choice and the responsibility to do this!

After lunch, Dr Christian Pitter of the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation graphically exposed us to the challenges of paediatric HIV care. He emphasised the importance of care in a family centred approach. The challenges of preventing MTCT were highlighted as well as the importance of treating parents and strengthening families/

Dr Dennis Rainey, president of FamilyLife, spoke on the challenges world wide of caring for orphans. He also emphasised the opportunity that the orphan crises presents to the church. God’s heart is about and for orphans.

In one of the many simultaneous workshops this afternoon, Elizabeth Styffe introduced some of the tools from Saddleback and provides guidelines for how to start a HIV ministry in a local congregation. This includes increasing awareness, adjusting attitudes, taking action and allocating resources.

In the session on Women and HIV, Mary Davis Fisher, United Nations special representative on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and Deborah Dortzbach, international director, HIV/AIDS programs, World Relief,  spoke passionately on the specific challenges and opportunities facing women in the pandemic.

Edward Green, Ph.D., Harvard University anthropologist and AIDS prevention authority spoke on the difference between risk avoidance and risk reduction. He highlighted the fact that different prevention strategies are required in high risk and generalised populations. He explained the dangers of a strategy becoming an ideology and presented statistics showing that behaviour change is possible.

The evening session started with a video where rock star Bono pleaded for churches to stand together to wip our “stupid poverty”, that allows children to die while others live in abundance. 

The final session provided the opportunity for three pastors to show how their churches responded (or did not respond) to HIV and AIDS:

- Pastor Luis Ortez emphasised the importance of clergy training.
- Bishop Charles Blake
- Pastor John Ortberg

 Day 2

1 December 2006

Lyn shares some thoughts from day two of the Race against Time Global HIV Summit: 

The focus of the second morning was on “working together.”

Rick Warren introduced Kent Hill, director, Bureau for Global Health, USAID, who encouraged the faith based sector to work with national and multinational organisations. He emphasised, like so many of the speakers at this conference, the importance of the church and faith based organisations in addressing HIV.

Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini from the Episcopal Church in Rwanda brought the realities of the challenges the church in Africa faces to life. He emphasised the message they convey to their members about three things:

- Turn behind you – there is always someone with less than you, who you can help!
- Only the church can (and should) bring an abiding hope
- We have the love of Christ to bring to the world

An energetic and passionate presentation by Rev Eugene Rivers III, pastor of the Azusa Christian Community in Boston, highlighted the challenges and role of the African American Pentecostal churches. He described the pandemic as a Kairos moment for the church of God where the crisis provides the opportunity for the release of the Spirit of God. According to him the local church should be involved in:

- Education
- Advocacy – standing in the gap.
- Humanitarian assistance

He highlighted the need of the church to be a prophetic voice to declare the word of God and the need for churches to challenge government to apply resources to address the challenges the world faces. He emphasised that churches in America and elsewhere can’t advocate on increased resources for war and be quiet on resources for the poor. He describes the AIDS pandemic as a revolutionary opportunity for the Spirit of God to bring His children together, and show the world hope, conscience and a witness of the love of God.

Rick Warren told participants about the Global P.E.A.C.E Plan, which he believes can address the “Goliaths” of the planet.  These Goliaths are

- Spiritual emptiness
- Egocentric leadership
- Extreme poverty
- Pandemic diseases
- Illiteracy

He describes the five things Jesus did on earth and suggested that these things could be used to address each of the major challenges of the planet.  While on earth, Jesus:

- Planted a church
- Equipped leaders
- Assisted the poor
- Cared for the sick
- Educated people

Jesus left the world with a set of instructions in Matt 10 and Luke 10, which gives us the guidelines for practising His PEACE plan in the world. The key to this P.E.A.C.E plan is:

“Ordinary people empowered by God making a difference together wherever they are” and the pillars of this plan are what differentiate it from other processes:

- It is purpose driven
- Involves every member
- Links congregations
- Is led by groups
- Attacks all five giants
- Respects the local church
- Sends to the whole world

When the church ignores an issue, God creates organisations to step into the void. The creation of large non profit organisations unfortunately let Christians sit back and think they can and should leave aspects such as caring for the poor, hungry, youth and others to the “professionals” in these organisations.

We can not let motivation of religion get in the way of doing things or helping people. We must work together.

- We must adopt Gods agenda. (Go in to all world and talk about Jesus Christ – build God’s kingdom.)
- We must abandon all distractions. (Stop debating and start doing. Stop saying what we are against and stand for what we are for.)
- We must appropriate God’s Power.
- We must answer God’s call.

He thinks that it is time for a second reformation. The second reformation is not about changing beliefs but about changing of our behaviours. We must also return civility to civilization.

Senator Sam Brownback, United States Senator for Kansas, highlighted how personal health challenges and the challenges faced by friends have brought him and others closer to the Lord. The fact that he and others at this conference have been given much, place a bigger responsibility on them to give more. He equates the parable of Lazarus to the situation in America at this time and reminds Americans that their response to the need of the world may in fact determine their condition of their eternal soul.

He illustrated various examples of the unimportance of our personal barriers, perceptions and prejudices in the light of the magnitude of the needs of the world. An enormous potential coalition exists throughout the world which is waiting to come together if and when we reach out and love each other. One of his suggestions is for local individuals and groups to go to the areas of need worldwide to see and experience the realities, to become involved, to, together, change the world.

Sen Barack Obama , United States Senator for Illinois, emphasised that faith is not something you believe, but something you do and that one should never underestimate the power of passionate individuals. He told of his experiences in Kenia and South Africa and personalised the statistics by telling the story of one woman he met in South Africa. As a Christian he, and each of us, need to understand that the families, the individuals suffering are our brothers and sisters. He suggests that key aspects for addressing HIV should be:

- Prevention – not by either/or methods, but by using all methods possible. We can not deny the moral and spiritual aspects of the epidemic and should address these within local churches. We can also not deny that abstinence and fidelity is not always the reality and that alternate methods such as condoms and microbicides should be part of our programmes. One can not allow the mistake of an individual or the inability of an individual to make choices to be a death sentence.
- Address stigma and the fact that people are not aware of their status. He mentioned the problems and challenges in countries such as South Africa where the South African Minister of Health is not clear and consistent enough in the messages they send out.
- Provide access to medication and food.
- Remembering that the problem is not Africa’s alone but also a problem in many parts of the USA and the world. He gave credit to the PEPFAR programme and the CDC amongst others, and suggested that these programmes should be boosted and re-authorised in future.

He emphasised that the the issues surfaced in high prevalence situations can escalate other challenges and instabilities (like poverty and political instability) in communities and countries. He once again highlighted that our faith reminds us that we are all sinners and that it is not a sin to be sick, that Christ was sent to heal and reconcile situations and people, that our faith compels us to be ‘our brothers keeper’, in the USA and in the world. In this way we can get something meaningful done. He ends by continuing the story of one woman in South Africa who with courage and commitment faced the challenges and realities of her life, and made a change in her community. He challenged those present to use the resources they have to make a difference and to use this AIDS Day to tell the stories of those who overcome and made a difference.

Rick Warren reminded us of situations of inequity in the past where the church took the lead to encourage change. He exhorts us to be the face of compassion and to be the in the lead in addressing the challenges and difficulties of the Aids pandemic.

The morning is ended by a prayer for the two senators (from the right and the left) as representative of all in leadership positions in government in the country.

Senator Sam Brownback, Sen Barack Obama and Pastor Rick Warren committed themselves to being publicly tested during lunchtime. A free testing service was available to all delegates throughout the conference.

After lunch Kay introduced the next session where the presidents of four large international organisations spoke of the work their organisations do:

Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse, spoke of the importance of saving lives, in spite of the differences between us. Quoting II Sam 11 he spoke of the sin of David and the things he did to try and keep his sin hidden. He equated this to the reaction of many in the time of Aids.

Sammy Mah, president of World Relief, emphasised the theme of the conference “a race against time.” He quoted a NASCAR driver who said “It is amazing what can be accomplished if no-one care who is getting the credit” We can be the voice of the voiceless and work with the local church assessing local needs to create meaningful programmes. He feels that the Lord has a challenge and an opportunity for us to get involved – now!

Wess Stanford, president of Compassion International, pleaded for God’s people to make sure that this is the last generation suffering from AIDS. He reminded us that we have come far and that we have things to celebrate in spite of all that is negative – he celebrated that the church moved past the point of asking “Who have sinned” to embracing those infected. He highlighted some of the wrong steps the church, governments, business and others have taken as well as some of the wonderful thing that has happened.

He feels however, that we have not come far enough and reminds listeners that access is not pills on a shelf - that is just inventory! He suggested that churches and organisations need to take the next step where they get involved with the individuals, especially children, on ARVs.

He shared the moving history of nine year old Caroline.  He spoke about her physical and emotional pain living with HIV and watching her mother die and said that this pain is why access is not enough, education is not enough, nutrition is not enough. He spoke of the 'last mile' we should walk with those suffering.  The last mile includes some-one caring for and loving the Carolines and helping and caring for them in every aspect of their lives – the ones doing this, the ones walking the last mile is the community workers all over the world. The miracle workers of the last mile are the people of the church! The church is a viable, credible community for action throughout the world.

He spoke passionately of the work of Compassion and the partnership it has with local churches throughout the world, through which children and families receive comprehensive compassionate care and support in all aspects of their lives.  He emphasised that local churches can not do this work without the partnership and brotherhood of churches all over the world.

The greater challenge of doing the work their organisation does is not to get the church in areas of need involved – they are already involved - it is to get the ‘privileged’ church involved! He feels that the next generation will hold us accountable if we do not walk the last mile with our brothers and sisters who need us.

Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, told us how difficult it was for him initially to be exposed to the realities of poverty and AIDS – he mentioned the fears he had going into Africa for the first time. He explained how the face of AIDS in Uganda became for him primarily the face of children, and then also of woman and elders. He was ashamed, then felt compassion, then became angered and eventually resolved not to rest till the Church of Christ was awakened and involved.

From Matthews he drew parallels between the man with leprosy and people with Aids. He describes how Jesus touched the man, and how the church should touch those with Aids. He again highlighted that this crisis can not be solved by any government, any organisation or any group, without the involvement of the church in Africa, in America and elsewhere. The church has resources and has the reach to address the need.

World Vision trained 61 000 pastors in the Churches Channels of Hope programme (WOW!) in the last year. As a result of this programme 600 000 orphans and vulnerable children are being cared for through their congregations in Africa, thousand of home based carers were trained, thousands of children were trained in a life skills and sexuality programme, thousands of lives were touched. We live in a time where the challenges have never been greater, but also where the resources and abilities have never been greater. He challenged the church to BE the church. This must include:

- Individuals need to leave their own church in order to gain exposure. They need preaching, challenging, trips, speakers, videos. They need passionate leadership
- Listen and learn before acting. Aids is a incredible complex issue! We can’t understand this before we are willing to listen to people living with or directly affected by HIV and enter into their pain. Beware of cultural lines that might alienate people – be inclusive!
- Focus on them – not on you or your church. Evaluate if your program is meeting the real needs, is your funding in balance?  If you are paying more for airline tickets than for direct services - you need to re-evaluate what you are doing/
- Don’t be a mile wide and an inch deep! Don’t try and do too much, pursue relationships of equals – real change takes years!
- Be professional! Use specialists were necessary. Even if you use ‘amateur’ volunteers, don’t be amateurish!

The question facing the church today is the same one the leper put to Christ “If you are willing...” The question to us is also “Are we willing?” or are we a wealthy and apathetic church. This can be a defining moment for the church – are we willing?

Rick Warren mentions again the importance of both professional and ‘ordinary’ participation in all the issues surrounding HIV and Aids. The Willow Creek /World Vision Courageous Leadership award for congregations involved in HIV was explained.

After a workshop session, Rick and Kay Warren led the final session of the full and powerful conference, a session based on Christ’s great commission – “Because of Love”

Kay said that she prayed that everyone would leave the workshop as seriously disturbed as she is. She emphasised that the process of becoming involved in HIV should include:

- Repentance of the sins of judgement and bad attitudes and not listening to the word of God to love all his people. She spoke passionately of her own process of repentance and went on to explain that this included repentance before God as well as those harmed by our attitudes.
- Acceptance and the end of the denial of stigma. God, who knows us to the depths of our brokenness and still does not reject us, expects us to accept others the same way. This includes those with lifestyles that we might not approve of! We need to talk to, offer love and accept all.
- Presence – we need to be there physically and emotionally. We need to stop being ‘fixers’ or ‘doers’ and be present in the pain of others at times when there are no solutions. People sometimes could even refuse help because they do not feel cared for. Presence is sometimes the more difficult part of helping, the really ‘expensive’ part of care is getting to know the lives of people. We need to be Jesus in the lives of people in need.
- Strength and endurance.  The road we are expected to travel is not a short sprint!  We need to be in this for the 'long haul'.  We need to start where we are and we will need God's glorious strength.  Kay invited participants to join her in this fight till the end.   It is impossible to reflect the passion that she brought to this presentation to you on this screen, but she touched the hearts and emotions of many. 

Rick summarised by saying that the heart of the issue is an issue of the heart. AIDS could in fact stand for:

-         Avoidance
-         Intolerance
-         Distance
-         Superstition

Rick emphasised that this can only be turned around by repentance, acceptance, presence and endurance.

He told pastors and leaders that they will have to take the lead and the heat – there will be others who do not want them to take this view, or start on this road, but the need to do what Jesus would do! 

He reminded us that the real change in this pandemic is not initiated by the pastors in the American mega-church leaders, but by the pastors in the villages caring for people. 

A video was shown showing the work of Pastor Stratton in Rwanda, who epitomises what CHURCH should be.  

Rick then introduced Pastor Stratton who conveyed a strong message of hope emphasising that this hope will come from the church.  He talked about his ministry of presence - or as he calls it the 'ministry of hugging'.  He explained that just being present in the lives of people has actually reduced the number of AIDS deaths in his community and highlighted that the church needs to care for those with HIV and Aids because God puts them on our paths.

Rick Warren thanked everyone for their presence at the conference, he thanked those involved in HIV work, and he thanked those living with HIV who survived times of despair.  He reminded us that we who are involved in the HIV terrain do not do what we do for a cause, but we do it for a person, Jesus Christ!  He reminded us that we are compelled by the love of Christ (I am sure this sounds very familiar to Churches, Channels of Hope participants!). Although as individuals or individual churches we can not do much, the combined efforts of millions of Christians can!  We can choose to watch history, or be used by God and become part of writing history. 

He invited those living with HIV to come forward to receive a blessing and prayer while a song "Use Me" is sung.  He prayed for a miracle year for all involved! 

This brought two very full and busy days to an end for all the participants and hundreds of Saddleback volunteers.  Although this report conveys a very limited impression, I believe that few people could leave Saddleback after these two days unchanged and not understanding a little bit more about HIV and the complexities of the pandemic.  I pray that many churches and Christians were encouraged and compelled by the love of Christ to minister hope and reconciliation to their brothers and sisters infected and affected by HIV. 

Thank you! 

-         It has been a privilege to be present at the Summit - I thank the Lord for the opportunity.
-         It has been a privilege to hear high profile speakers from all over the world - Thank each of you for the preparation of your presentations, for your passion and for the work you do.
-         It has been a privilege to speak to every visitor to the CARIS table - visitors from all over America and as far as Beijing and even to others from South Africa whom I have not met before - Thank you for your visits, for your encouragement and for your kind words about our work.
-         It has been a privilege to see the smooth organisation and all the friendly smiles - thank you every Saddleback staff member and volunteer for your warmth and hospitality and hard work. 
-         It has been a particular privilege to represent CARIS and CABSA so far from home, and to convey a little bit of our reality to our concerned brothers and sisters - thank you to Nelis, the CABSA Board and all our supporters who have made it possible.
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Lyn @ Civil Society HIV Prevention and Care Congress. 28/10/06

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Lyn, CARIS project manager, attended the Civil Society Congress on HIV and Aids in Randburg on the 27th and 28th of October. The prevously acrimonius relationship between civil society and government seems to have developed into one of cautious optimism. Civil society and government expressed their commitment to saving lives through an integrated plan of prevention, treatment and care and support.

The final Congress statements and resolutions can be downloaded below.

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Govt/NGO Meeting Spurs Hope for More Effective AIDS Action. 28/10/06

JOHANNESBURG, 30 October (PLUSNEWS) - A spirit of greater openness and unity between government and civil society has emerged from a two-day AIDS congress, signalling a possible end to damaging divisions in South Africa's HIV/AIDS response.

Reinforcing a number of moves by the South African government in recent months aimed at improving its strained relationship with AIDS activists, Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka urged delegates to partner with government in the fight against AIDS.

"Our people want and need to hear us speaking in one voice," said Mlambo-Ngcuka, who was recently appointed chair of a new inter-ministerial committee on HIV/AIDS.

Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who has been the focal point of past conflict between the government and anti-AIDS campaigners, was not invited to the meeting, held in Johannesburg last week. Deputy Health Minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, however, acknowledged shortcomings in her department's HIV/AIDS response.

"Our country is in pain. We are all in pain," she said. "Tremendous efforts and resources are being invested in combating HIV and AIDS by government and civil society, but we continue to see unacceptably high levels of new infections and deaths from AIDS-defining illnesses."

Madlala-Routledge identified a long list of weaknesses in the national response that included uneven access to antiretroviral treatment and nutritional support, inadequate patient monitoring systems and the failure of prevention strategies to change behaviours and stop an estimated 500,000 new infections in South Africa each year.

"We need to speak honestly about the challenges we face as we begin to experience the strain resulting from the growing burden of the disease and staff shortages," she told delegates. "It is right that you use this platform to engage government and to show us our blindspots."

The event was organised jointly by a coalition of civil society organisations that included AIDS lobby group, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Council of Churches.

The 350 delegates representing more than 80 organisations broke into groups on Friday to tackle issues including prevention, treatment access, social support and governance. Their resulting recommendations will be submitted to government ahead of a meeting this week to discuss the restructuring of South Africa's ineffective National AIDS Council (SANAC) and a draft national strategic plan for 2007 to 2011.

Delegates agreed with the deputy president's endorsement of a more representative and inclusive SANAC but strongly opposed her suggestion to create a separate body for the administration of grants from the Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Delegates feared that a separate body could duplicate efforts and waste scarce resources.

Coalition leaders emphasised that the real test of the new spirit of unity between civil society and government would be the degree to which commitments and recommendations could be turned into actions.

"I think one mustn't expect miracles," said prominent AIDS activist, Zachie Achmat, of TAC. "The only thing we can be measured by is how much we cut infection rates and how many lives we save."

 

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Lyn @ PACANet General Assembly. Entebbe 28- 29/9/2006.

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The first Pan African Christian AIDS Network (PACANet) General Assembly was held in Entebbe on the 28th and 29th of September 2006.

The organisation has been operating under the auspices of a Steering Committee since it was founded and a new Board of Trustees had to be chosen. CABSA was present at the founding meeting and it was a privilege to be part of this first delegates meeting. I was privileged to represent CABSA at this meeting. Also attending the meeting was Rev Teboho Klaas, the Director: Health Programme of the South African Council of Churches and a Board member of CABSA. meant that Teboho and I could spend some time strengthening the relationship between our organisations

Although a number of governance issues and formalities had to be attended to, the ultimate focus of the assembly was on relationships, networking, fellowship and partnership. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet with other Christians grappling with so many of the same issues as we are in South Africa.

Lyn van Rooyen (CARIS), Dr Edward Baralemwa (Executive Secretary PACANet) and Rev Teboho Klaas (Director: Health Programme of the South African Council of Churches) together in Uganda

The staff of PACANet under the able guidance of executive secretary Dr Edward Baralemwa did a remarkable job organising a smooth running and professional meeting at the beautiful Imperial Botanical Beach Hotel. The re-elected chairman, David Cunningham from Family Impact, steered the meeting through the difficulties of finding consensus in a very disparate group in his usual wise and calm manner. The new Board and expanded staff of PACANet committed themselves to a period of renewed effort and energy in strengthening the Christian response in Africa.

You can read the Press Release provided by PACANet below.

While in Uganda I had the opportunity of spending time with Dr. Edna Baguma, National Health/HIV Specialist of World Vision Uganda. She, together with Sam and Gladys, World Vision staff members in the area, sacrificed their Saturday to give me some idea of the work they do in Uganda, specifically in the Kasawo Area Development Area. I emphasised that I have not come with answers, but in fact came to learn from the experience they have, and the oft quoted successes of Uganda. Still, I sometimes felt overwhelmed by the needs of poor communities and my inability to offer constructive help.

I visited the Kogogola Health Centre and saw what it means when churches become channels of hope. The Pastor of this area attended a Churches Channels of Hope workshop. Together with World Vision and a number of Christian volunteers (doctors and Pharmacists) from Kampala, they started a free clinic operating on Saturdays. Although there is no power and very little infrastructure, a wide variety of medical issues are dealt with. The time spent waiting for medical care is not wasted. While people sit and wait on the veranda, health workers and advisors spend the time talking about a variety of health issues, including how to prevent malaria and HIV transmission. One of the speakers was the sheik of the local mosque. Himself living with HIV, he comes to the Christian clinic for medication, and also shares the platform with the local pastor to give HIV prevention messages! To me this is a truly inspiring example where the barriers separating people are broken down by compassion and care.   

Once again I was very aware of the universal nature of need and suffering. Here also the problems of orphans can seem overwhelming if communities are not able to unite in caring for them. The lack of financial and physical resources to truly respond to all the needs was emphasised, as well as the value added when children could be sponsored through the World Vision programmes.I constantly heard how valuable the Churches Channels of Hope programme was to those who attended, and actually experienced jealousy from those pastors outside the World Vision area who could not attend. Various ways in which this could be overcome was addressed. It was wonderful to hear how highly esteemed this programme is and to feel that, in a way, we are connected to this much larger group of people word wide who are becoming Channels of Hope. Personally, I also experience a ‘first’ on this trip. A young child was innocently playing in the sand when I came round the corner. He took one look at me and started screaming! According to the translator, this was the first time he had seen some-one with a white skin! I never thought I would become part of a poor child’s nightmares!

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