Annemarie Boks works in DR Congo as a Director of an Aids Awareness Programme established by the CECA 20 (Communauté Evangélique au Centre de l’Afrique) church.
When I started working in the Aids Awareness Programme in 2002, Aids was a taboo. Nobody talked about it, and people who tested positive hid their test results from others. People discriminated against those with the disease and even stigmatised them. When it became known that someone was HIV positive, they would be fired from their job without a second thought. When I was still living in Aru, I was the only person who raised the issue that people could become infected through sexual relationships. I managed to get one opportunity to speak on the church radio station about the dangers of having sexual intercourse without knowing your partner’s HIV status.
With the arrival of antiretroviral drugs (ARV) that keep HIV under control, things started to change. However, ARV were not available in DR Congo, so people had to travel to Uganda to obtain them. After a training course, given by the National Aids Programme of Congo in Adi in 2014, people were finally able to receive their treatment at Adi hospital. This was not without problems. As the hospital was not on all the official lists as licenced to dispense ARV, sometimes they didn’t receive any stock and people couldn’t receive their drugs. However, people were starting to open up about their status.
In 2013 I attended a Channels of Hope workshop in South Africa. Primarily for church leaders, the workshop is based on biblical principles and focuses on giving hope to those living with HIV (1 Peter 1:3). It seeks to empower church leaders with the appropriate attitudes, knowledge and skills to assist faith communities in their journeys to HIV understanding and competence.
We have now begun this teaching programme in DR Congo. The workshop teaches church leaders that they are also vulnerable to infection and that their hope is in the resurrection of Christ. They learn together about how HIV is transmitted, and how it can be prevented. We include a testimony from someone living with HIV and end with examining seven areas of competence in which the church can grow in relation to HIV. The participants talk through the biblical principles of these competences, and discuss how the church is doing at the moment. Then the church leaders describe ways to improve their strengths and work on their weaknesses.
Recently one of the participants of a workshop held not long ago came to see me in Adi. As a school chaplain he had shared about the workshop at his school. When he talked about HIV testing, his students expressed their willingness to have a test and know their status. We are discussing now what the possibilities are to visit the school, have a teaching session with all the students and then do HIV testing. Pray as more people engage with the workshops, not only that the Aids information would impact their lives, but that they would recognise the power of the gospel to change lives and attitudes.