On Sunday November 30, 2008 Bishop Noel Jones, pastor of mega-ministry City of Refuge, opened its doors to create open dialogue in celebration of the upcoming World Aids Day 2008.
A.I.D.S. (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) being diagnosed with this disease was once a death sentence but now thanks to gigantic strides in medicine it is well managed and thousands are beating the odds and staying alive. In 1988 when the initial World Aids Day was held there was little to celebrate. Now twenty years later an intense research surge has taken place and led to more than two dozen anti-HIV drugs and when taken in proper combinations, the medications have dramatically improved the prognosis for people living with HIV and have extended hope of the possibility of a normal life span with continued therapy.
In 2003, President George W. Bush promised to lead the fight against global HIV/AIDS with the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) - the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease internationally in history.
Through PEPFAR, the U.S. government has provided $18.8 billion in HIV/AIDS funding, and the U.S. Congress has authorized up to $48 billion for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria over the next five years.
America has followed through on its commitment by leading the world in its level of support for HIV/AIDS relief. Through the power of partnerships, the American people and the dedicated men and women in nations devastated by HIV/AIDS have proven that the former bleak existence AIDS or HIV diagnosis usually gave is virtually non-existent leaving many with great expectations.
This program is unprecedented and is on track to support treatment for two million people, prevention of seven million new infections, and care for 10 million people infected or affected by HIV/AIDS, including orphans and vulnerable children.
Not only are they staying alive but they are using the power and passion of their testimonies to empower others.
With two microphones in the aisles of the sanctuary and an inspiring roster of panelists who were A.I.D.S. survivors or currently living with the disease, knowledge and empowerment was launched. The organizers of the event were Tuannee Holmes and Yvonne Kirk both members of the City of Refuge. Yvonne Kirk served as the event's Mistress of Ceremonies. She began by thanking God and Bishop Jones for providing the platform for the evening.
The taboo of the topic of A.I.D.S. being discussed in church was breeched and open, honest questions and answers were welcomed as well as powerful testimonies. There were many on the panel that dealt with H.I.V (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) and/or A.I.D.S first hand and had a great deal to impart. Precious Jackson, one of the panelists, spoke candidly about being married and then year's later finding out she has contracted the disease from her husband. She conveyed how she thought she was safe from all diseases by being in a monogamous relationship until she realized she was ill. Now a most sought after speaker she travels and conveys her thoughts and messages nationally across the continental U.S. to inform and encourage others who are battling the disease.
As an African American single woman, I must admit my eyes and ears were opened again to the level of responsibility we must take to protect ourselves and preserve our bodies from this and all diseases. Gone are the days of believing that this disease is reserved for those participating in homosexual or bisexual acts. The bulk of cases today are from heterosexuals. African American women specifically are the most at-risk today.
On a personal note, in 2004, I lost one of my favorite cousins in Detroit to the AIDS virus. I watched a once vibrant, gregarious individual with such zest and zeal for life have to resolve to life of being in bed 90% of the time. For him, not being mobile was a death sentence itself. His death has left a void and now when I return to visit his mom or my cousins the void is quite evident and his presence is still palpable. However I am encouraged by the steps taken and strides made by the U.S. government's involvement and the progress being made and by events like this given at my church.
The benediction was given by Elder Seth Gaithers and as we were leaving a gentleman made a comment "wow that was scary". The phrase made me stop and begin to ponder whether the goal of the evening was accomplished. Is to evoke fear or to empower? I chose to be empowered and hope those that are reading this will make that choice too.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation in the parking area provided testing for the disease for those who wanted to be tested for HIV or AIDS. Again kudos to my pastor, Bishop Noel Jones for allowing the church sanctuary to be used as a platform for open, sincere, and frank discussions to begin.