By Debbie Meroff
Ever wonder what's it like to:
- Make friends with men and women who have been abandoned because they have AIDS, and help them live--or die--with dignity?
- Create alternative jobs for infected transgender people who have begun a new life in Christ?
- Show orphaned kids how to dream again?
- Run a shelter for HIV-infected drug addicts who are shunned by society?
- Live every day with the virus...yourself?
The 17 different individuals from AIDSLink who met in the UK this 6-11 June could tell you.
These very special men and women arrived from five continents with mixed goals for AIDSLink International's 2013 symposium. But all were eager to discuss thoughts, exchange ideas, and strengthen each other in the tough roles God has assigned them.
A plethora of thoughts emerged from guest speakers Peter Fabian, UK Director of AIDS Care, Education and Training (ACET) and Marcy Madzikanda, from the Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK's biggest NGO targeting HIV.
Practical sessions by Ian Orton of TearFund showed participants how to effectively debrief traumatised individuals or groups. And Elke Hannsmann helped everyone analyse their daily lives and working conditions, and what steps they could take to improve them.
Of course, a morning with George Verwer was a motivational high. With his customary zest and humour he delivered a message about "God in the midst of the mess". Following a question and answer period he honoured AIDSLink leader Rosemary Hack by presenting her with his famous global jacket.
But perhaps the best part of the week was hearing individuals share from their hearts about their work in South and Central Asia, India, South Africa, Lake Tanganyika, Zambia, Siberia, Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica, Singapore and other countries. Stories of laughter and tears, triumph and tragedy brought much-needed catharsis, creating a bond that only those who understand what it is to live very close to the marginalised can feel.
This was not only a chance to assess the past, however, but to get to grips with what still needs to be done. The fact is, 34 million people in today's world are living with a virus for which there is no cure. Forty-six per cent of people who need treatment aren't getting it. And one in five people who carry the virus don't even realise it.
In spite of the trend to downplay HIV–popular with governments anxious to cut health budgets–the statistics are heart-stopping. God needs more people on His team who will face facts and care about the hurting–people like the men and women of AIDSLink.
A link is defined as something that serves to connect one part with another: a bond or tie. For AIDSLink workers, love for the Lord and for a suffering world is what keeps them going. So is knowing they aren't alone.