Changing attitudes in DR Congo

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Annemarie Boks has been working with the Aids Awareness Programme of the Communauté Evangélique au Centre de l’Afrique (CECA) church in Adi, DR Congo for more than 15 years.

During the time that I have been in the DR Congo, I have seen a shift in people’s attitudes towards the Aids pandemic. Back in 2002 people didn’t talk about it at all, and almost no tests or antiretroviral drugs were available. Now, people are more open to talking about it, and the government is working to make tests and antiretroviral drugs available in all of its health zones.

DR Congo

DR Congo is the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa. With over 75 million people, it is the most populated officially Francophone country, the fourth most populated nation in Africa and the nineteenth most populated country in the world.

A small group of AIM missionaries first arrived in DR Congo, then known as Belgian Congo, in 1912. Within a couple of years, work was established among the Zande people in the town of Dungu, northern DR Congo. They, along with many others between Dungu and Mahagi Port, began hearing the gospel for the first time.

The church established by AIM is now a major denomination in DR Congo under the name of the Communauté Evangélique au Centre de l’Afrique (Evangelical Community of Central Africa – CECA).  It is responsible for Bible schools, hundreds of primary schools, secondary schools, medical schools, and a university.

From a small band of missionaries to a church of over a half million members today, the Lord continues to build his church in DR Congo. “To him be glory in the church and in Jesus Christ throughout all generations” (Ephesians  3).

In Adi there was a big change in January 2014 with the training provided by the National Aids Programme. After this, antiretroviral drugs were made available in Adi General Hospital and the treatment programme began. Although it still struggles for financial support it is functioning, and is treating 226 people living with HIV. Ayila, a nurse, comments, “With finances to back the programme, the hospital can do so much more to follow-up people who are taking antiretroviral treatment, making sure they take their medication and thus encouraging them that they are still valuable to society and to God.”

Changing people’s attitudes

At the hospital, I am involved in the work of testing pregnant women and in counselling. But with the shift of AIM’s focus following the introduction of our Vision 2020 strategy, my focus has also changed. I am preparing workshops for church leaders, in order to encourage them to commit to assisting those living with HIV, and to help them engage in creating a change of attitude towards people with HIV. These church leaders can play a key role in their churches as a model to follow in their acceptance of people who live with HIV. The workshops aim to equip church leaders so they gain the appropriate attitudes, knowledge and skills to lead their congregations in their journey towards HIV competence.

“…encouraging them that they are still valuable to society and to God.”

Being infected with HIV is becoming more like being diagnosed with any other disease, and although the treatment is not a cure, people can still live positive lives. In 2015 a preliminary workshop was held in Adi with leaders from the church district and, whilst there was room for improvement, it was an eye opener to most of the participants. One element of discussion during the workshop was the use of condoms. This is a topic that will not be easily be resolved. But it is important that there is the openness for the subject to be discussed. Another problem that needs to be discussed is marriage through abduction. This mostly concerns young girls, sometimes as young as fifteen, who are still in school but who are taken to be wives to boys not much older than themselves. These girls are vulnerable in more than one way and need to be both educated as well as protected. Church leaders are needed to stand against these marriages.

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