This is the fourth and final post in our series by young adults on the topic of HIV/AIDS.
It is written by Ryan Fordice, a Luther College Alumnus. He attends Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Dubuque, IA, and has previous experience centered on social justice.
As we in the ELCA continue to shape our identity and mission for the 21st century, it has become clear that we intend to not just continue our central focus on humanitarian concerns but expand and intensify it. The long‑overdue call for an official AIDS policy is a major component of our forward motion. This push and the commitment to action that absolutely must follow will challenge the ELCA to utilize the full depth of its resources, especially the remarkable individual talent and energy of our five million members. One mechanism through which we can advance our humanitarian mission is full time service opportunities. The personal, church-wide and societal benefits of service are great for people of any demographic, but the situational conditions of youth and recent graduates make the investment of offering meaningful service to young adults especially fruitful for a couple reasons.
Firstly, they often have the extraordinary freedom to set aside a year for service, and the simple immediate effect of this full time work is invaluable in and of itself. Secondly, and this is really the heart of the issue, the investment of self in a meaningful cause through service forms a lasting personal concern with that cause. If we offer expanded and increased service opportunities for our youth that are intentionally focused on the problems we have prioritized,—AIDS, for example—in addition to the immediate benefit of their labors we will gain the long-term benefit of planting the humanitarian priorities of the ELCA deeply into the hearts and minds of these young adults who have already demonstrated that they will be advocates and active citizens through their service.
Since I am most familiar with HIV/AIDS and was a member of the ELCA’s youth delegation to the International AIDS Conference I will deal with this issue as an example. If combating the AIDS pandemic is going to be a priority of the ELCA in the 21st century (and I believe our faith demands it must), we must drastically increase the opportunities we give our members to serve with HIV/AIDS projects and organizations.
In perusing the ELCA’s mission and service websites I found the following regarding AIDS service opportunities for young adults in our primary domestic service organization, the Lutheran Volunteer Corps: From 2003‑2005, the LVC had placements in six organizations nationwide working with an AIDS organization. In the 2007‑2008 placement listing there are only three organizations—providing five total placements—listed that obviously focus on HIV/AIDS. This list is not broken down by category, so there may be some organizations that deal with AIDS and have names that do not immediately suggest this, but whatever the case, at any given time the ELCA is providing the opportunity to work in domestic AIDS organizations to a single digit number of young adults at maximum.
The situation is similar for our primary international service organization for youth, Young Adults in Global Mission. Of the nine global sites, only one—South Africa—includes a focus on AIDS. The scope of our AIDS service offerings must be expanded dramatically, both to increase our immediate response to the crisis and invest in future societal and church leaders to champion the cause.
We have a wealth of passionate young adults currently serving in an admirable domestic and international service system; this call is not meant to belittle or criticize this. Neither the work that has been done to create and maintain this system nor the meaningful service that have been offered by those who have served and are serving in it is being attacked. This call is rather meant to lift up the goodness and the power of this invaluable resource and offer that it ought to be expanded, and that when it is expanded it ought to be focused on the advancement of our church’s vision for the world as it ought to be. And it lastly offers that this vision ought to include more than just an official statement on AIDS, but a plan to address it with the full strength of this church and all its passionate members. We must form new service partnerships with HIV/AIDS clinics, care centers, educational organizations, and ministries both in the U.S. and in AIDS‑stricken countries around the world, building on existing relationships where possible and creating new ones where necessary.
This is a plan that will provide the kind of individual involvement that will transform the hearts and minds of those who serve into lifelong advocates in both the church and the world at large.