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Congregational Resources for World AIDS Day 2017


Today’s post is from Megan Neubauer, Program Associate for the ELCA Strategy on HIV and AIDS. This post originally appeared on the ELCA Worship blog.

Spirit of the living God, you breathe on all that is. You lead us from the places of pain and difficulty to your cool living waters of health and wholeness. Through you every tear is wiped away and we are transformed by your wellsprings of life.

-Litany from ELCA worship resources for World AIDS Day

December 1st is quickly approaching. Each year, this is a day set aside to commemorate World AIDS Day; a day of remembrance, awareness, and commitment to action.

In 2009, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly passed the ELCA’s Strategy on HIV and AIDS, outlining where the ELCA is being called in the response:

  • Called to biblical and theological reflection in community
  • Called to effective prevention, treatment, and care
  • Called to eradicate stigma and discrimination
  • Called to walk with companion churches and partners in other countries
  • Called to advocate for justice
  • Called to build institutional capacity and make strategic choices

The ELCA and each of its members have the opportunity to speak out powerfully against all forms of stigma, discrimination and systemic inequality. Together, we can be affirming communities and engage in open conversations. Collectively, we can raise our voices in advocating for just policies. And as a community of faith, we can begin in worship and prayer.

Coming together on Dec. 1st, or at our usual worship times on Sunday, Dec. 3rd, we join our neighbors around the world as we honor all who have lost their lives to AIDS-related illnesses; we seek encouragement to take bold action; we rejoice in scientific advances in effective prevention, treatment and care; and we are sent out in peace, freed to act.

As we gather this World AIDS Day, remember that on this and every day, we are called to respond.

You can find ELCA Worship resources here. The full ELCA Strategy on HIV and AIDS, along with other resources for World AIDS Day can be found here. You can also stay connected with the ELCA’s Strategy on HIV and AIDS on social media @ELCAHIVandAIDS, and can share what your congregation is planning for World AIDS Day 2017.

We thank you that by the life-giving power of your spirit you bestowed upon us, your people, such gifts as are needed to respond to the situation at hand. Pour on us all that we need to stop AIDS and reach out to everyone affected with compassion, healing and hope.

May we know your call to be leaders in this struggle and employ the courage, wisdom and resources you have given to respond to HIV and AIDS.

Awareness, Action, Advocacy: The ELCA Strategy on HIV and AIDS


“Isn’t that kind of…over?”

It is a surprisingly common reaction to my telling people what I do.

My name is Savanna Sullivan, and I am the Program Associate for the ELCA Strategy on HIV & AIDS. The Strategy on HIV & AIDS is a document the ELCA adopted in 2009 to direct the church’s engagement with communities living with and affected by HIV, and to outline our commitment to addressing HIV in the United States and the world. My work focuses on helping the ELCA live into the key commitments of the Strategy – like our commitment to theological reflection on our response to HIV and our inclusion of people living with HIV, our commitment to education and to effective prevention, treatment, and care of HIV, etc. And so, when I get a variation on that question, “Isn’t HIV over?” or comments like “It’s not as bad as it WAS,” I am frustrated, and then saddened, and then I get angry.

Because HIV isn’t over, but it could be.

What a simple thought, right? The reality is that there are STILL people being infected with HIV every day – 5,763 people every day, actually. That is 240 people an hour who are contracting a life-threatening illness. We know, too, that HIV doesn’t just affect people far away from us, in countries distant from our own. People in our own communities and congregations and fellow Lutherans in our companion churches are living with HIV.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “If one member (of the Body of Christ) suffers, all suffer together” (I Cor. 12:26). Friends, members of Our body are suffering unnecessarily.

Unnecessarily—because HIV is NOT what it was 30 years ago. Now, HIV is preventable.

Did you know there are prophylactic drugs available to reduce the likelihood of HIV infection during high-risk behavior (unprotected sex/drug use) to less than 30%? Or that there are medications that can prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV to less than 1%? Did you know there are drugs that can reduce an HIV positive individual’s viral load (amount of virus in their blood) to the extent that they are very unlikely to pass it to anyone else? Here are some other basic statistics about the HIV epidemic.

So why do people still get HIV?

The answer is complicated and wrapped up in problems surrounding access to education about HIV, testing availability, and access to prophylactic drugs or to HIV treatment. The answer is chained to systems of oppression that keep this information and access from marginalized populations – from communities of color, low-income communities and the LGBTQ+ community, among others. The answer is entangled with issues like availability of resources and gender inequality in developing countries around the world. So largely, the answer is colored – still – by stigma.

HIV isn’t over, in part, because we are still afraid to talk about it. And that “we” includes us, the Church.

These issues need to be tackled, and that may feel like quite the undertaking for us as the Body of Christ. So where do we start? Well, as I begin my work helping the church to implement the ELCA Strategy on HIV and AIDS, I invite you to start by walking with me. I invite you to start by TALKING with me. It is high time we start conversations in our congregations and homes about HIV if we have not already. I invite you to pray with me for people whose lives have been affected by HIV. I invite you to repent with me for the ways the church has failed to include people living with HIV. Then, I invite you to act.

We in the churchwide office will be working hard to connect you all with resources for theological reflection in the coming months so you can check out for those resources, but you can also educate yourself about the HIV epidemic in the United States and around the world at You can act with ELCA Advocacy to fight for healthcare for people living with HIV. You can start talking.

Because we are the Body of Christ – when one of us suffers from HIV, we all suffer together.

And because HIV and AIDS isn’t over, but it could be.

Here are some other links that you can check out:


Savanna Sullivan is the program associate for the ELCA Strategy on HIV and AIDS. She can be reached at

World Health Day – Hunger and Health


World Health Day, sponsored by the World Health Organization, is an opportunity to raise awareness of global health issues. It is celebrated every April 7. This year, we are pleased to have a guest post from Katy Ajer. Katy program director of health and sustainable development for the ELCA’s Global Mission unit.


“Why should health be a priority within ELCA World Hunger programs?”

This was a question raised during the interview process for the position I currently hold as Program Director of Health and Sustainable Development within ELCA Global Mission. However, as we celebrate World Health Day – acknowledging all the efforts that are made throughout the world to improve the health of individuals and communities and the work that still needs to be done – I think the more important question is HOW are we a church called to respond to health inequalities in the United States and around the world.

We are called as a church to respond to health inequalities because those health inequalities are frequently not the result of biological chance but the result of other systemic injustices and power dynamics. We know that health is not in a silo but is deeply interconnected with hunger and poverty. The graphic below provides a visual of all the aspects of our lives that affect our health.

We know that health injustice is in direct relation to economic justice. We know that those who are poorest are least likely to be able to access health services, medicine, or even the clean water and nutritional food that would help prevent some of the diseases. We know that they oftentimes have a cyclical relationship – once sick, people miss work, resulting in less money for the necessary treatment and continued worsening health.

All of which brings us back to the question above: HOW are we as a church called to respond to health inequalities in the United States and around the world. When looking at the graphic to the right and all the areas that influence our health, it can often be overwhelming to decide where and how to start implementing efforts to improve health. In my short time at the ELCA, I’ve had the pleasure of learning how many of our companions around the world, with support from ELCA World Hunger, work to alleviate the short-term suffering of individuals while taking multi-pronged approaches to improve the long-term health of the communities. Below are some examples of this important work.

Educación Popular en Salud (EPES)

EPES in Chile provides nutritional courses with a twist through its Promotion of Nutrition project. It looks at the issue with a focus on rights and with attention to gender, in addition to nutrition value. What this means in practice is that in addition to education about nutritional foods and recipes, they examine the food production chain and how that can affect the nutrition of the food and the health of the surrounding environment, which in turn affects the health of the people. The participants then decide on actions to take to share this information and encourage healthy food choices and changes in food production or availability so that all may have access to nutritious food. Most recently, they have created a cookbook filled with nutritious recipes as well as a mural on a street advocating for decreased production pollution that can impact the ability to cultivate crops and the quality of the food.

Artists with EPES celebrate in front of the completed mural

Lutheran Communion in Southern Africa (LUCSA)

LUCSA InfoHuts projects in Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi work to contribute to a generation free of HIV and AIDS by combining life skills and sexual and reproductive health education with computer use training. At first it may seem like an odd mixture of topics for a project; however, as with many of the projects that combine health education with livelihood training, students leave more knowledgeable about how to prevent and/or treat HIV and AIDS and have a new employable skill that allows them to earn money for nutritious food, medications and other needs to maintain good health or treat any future health concerns early on. By addressing both health and poverty, the impact is often greater and more transformative.


Students learn computer maintenance at the Vashandiri InfoHut Zimbabwe

A life skills facilitator teaches students in Zimbabwe.

Lutheran Health Care Bangladesh (LHCB)

LHCB provides quality clinic care as a hospital and mobile clinic but also operates activities focusing on other aspects that impact the health of their patients and community. They provide livelihood training in agriculture development, vegetable gardening, poultry and livestock, and tree planting. They organize the installation of safer stoves that are less harmful for the lungs of the women who cook over them. LHCB also works on raising awareness and mobilizing their community through workshops on gender and human rights, advocacy meetings, and community dialogues. Recently, they arranged a space in the hospital for breastfeeding to encourage the practice while providing mothers with privacy should they desire.

How are we as a church called to respond to health inequalities in the United States and around the world this World Health Day?

I had been in this position for little over a month when we recognized World HIV Day here. One of the most impactful parts of the day was a reflection read aloud by Kim Serry, who attended the US Conference on AIDS in 2016 with a delegation from the ELCA. Throughout the reflection, she came back time and again to the proclamation of African theologians, “The Body of Christ has AIDS.” She also paraphrased Melissa Harris Perry who made a similar claim:

“Our collective HIV status matters. It is not to say that our individual status does not matter, it certainly does. It means that our communal life suffers when individuals in our community suffer. It means that our communities are gravely sick when power and privilege determine who is shielded from harm and who will suffer it… and a pharmaceutical will not fix that.”

An aspect that is present within each of these projects that positively impacts health (although we often don’t think about it in these terms) is the sense of community that arises. These and many other ELCA World Hunger-supported projects work with groups over time, and these groups become social support systems that can help participants maintain good health physically, emotional, and spiritually. This support can arise through sharing knowledge between neighbors, helping one another recognize health symptoms that may not be noticed otherwise, lending money through Village Savings and Loan Groups for medication or transportation to a hospital, and, importantly, listening to one another and praying together during difficult times.

We are part of that Body of Christ. While some of us receive the burden of poor health unfairly, we all suffer. We are part of the social support system that is so important in creating equality that all may have the best health possible – that there is justice in who has access to health care and medication, to clean water and nutritious foods, to environments free from violence, and to opportunities to learn.

So, this World Health Day I give thanks to our partners, companions, and missionaries around the world and in the United States, striving to alleviate short-term pains and illnesses and to address root causes of health inequalities to ensure that all can live a healthy and joyful life. Thank you for your work and thank you for teaching us how to address health injustices with a Christian heart.

Photos above are courtesy of: EPES (Chile), Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe, and Lutheran Health Care Bangladesh.



A Time to Listen: The ELCA and HIV & AIDS

By Allison Beebe

ELCA World Hunger recently held an event outside of Atlanta, Georgia on the topic of HIV & AIDS. Those in attendance were a blend of professionals in the field, people with personal testimonials related to HIV & AIDS, and interested members of the faith community. We looked at HIV & AIDS from our vantage point in the U.S., and also from an international perspective. It was an event which encouraged open dialogue and informed action.


I have had a heightened interest in HIV & AIDS after spending some time in East Africa. While in college, I studied and volunteered in Kenya through a program called “Minnesota Studies in International Development.” This particular study abroad program focused on public health as it relates to international development.


This experience brought me to an organization called “Solidarity with Women in Distress” or SOLWODI. This organization provides vocational training, access to basic health care and counseling to women who find themselves in difficult situations. Specifically, SOLWODI serves women who have been coerced into commercial sex work. Prevalence rates of HIV & AIDS are high within this demographic. With families to support and no jobs to be found in their community, women have sold their bodies in a desperate attempt to earn some income. Many of the women who frequented SOLWODI were people living with HIV or AIDS. They came for health screenings or vocational training, but stayed for the encouraging community where they wouldn’t be judged for their actions. While I admittedly arrived at SOLWODI with my own set of stigmas and assumptions, I left knowing that these were women with hearts of gold in desperate situations. They inspired me to find ways that I could be involved with the HIV & AIDS community in my home context.


The time spent in Atlanta reminded me of my cherished Kenyan friends. This was a chance to stand in solidarity with them, and rally around the same cause though we are in different places. When one member of the body of Christ suffers, we all suffer.  With that logic, when one member of the body of Christ stands up against injustice, we can all stand together.


One of the things I took away from the event was that hunger and HIV & AIDS are very closely connected. Some reasons are obvious – people who are not eating a nutritious diet are not as healthy, and therefore have a more difficult time fighting off disease. Some reasons related to my SOLWODI sisters – people who are hungry will do anything to earn money for a good meal. This can lead to prostitution, where HIV & AIDS is more likely to be transmitted. Some reasons are consequential – once a person contracts HIV, they must purchase medicine, which may prevent them from purchasing adequate food. As the list goes on, it becomes clear that hunger is a thread which is woven into the HIV & AIDS story.


It is my hope that people left Atlanta knowing that ELCA World Hunger is a place where they can be engaged to support work related to HIV & AIDS. When we fight against hunger, we fight against many more issues of injustice, not the least of which is HIV & AIDS.

Allison Beebe, Assistant for Constituent Relations ELCA World Hunger

Service Opportunities for the 21st Century

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.

-Ryan Fordice

We must ask for forgiveness and open our doors to respond to global AIDS

This is the third post in our HIV/AIDS series by young adults. It is written by Jacquelin Rostad, who attends Luther Seminary. Her home Congregation is Trinity Lutheran Church in Moorhead, MN. She plans to bring HIV/AIDS advocacy into her future ministry.


Bishop Mark Hanson’s call for public acts of repentance by members of the church to oppressed communities was a powerful and proud moment for Lutherans during the 2008 International AIDS Conference. In front of five hundred onlookers, Hanson washed the feet of two HIV+ women.

Certainly the message is on the mark – there is no room for discrimination against anyone in the body of Christ, and the presence of stigma is the absence of Christian love. But the move towards repentance, reconciliation, and lived Christian love cannot end with one leader’s largely symbolic act while the cameras were flashing and all eyes were on him. The challenge now lies with us, the church, to answer the call, to repent for being openly or subtly exclusionary, to make amends for turning a blind eye to those in desperate need. How might the neighborhood church and the individual Lutheran respond?

To truly make amends, a symbolic gesture or word is not enough. Things must be set to rights. Action must be taken. Individuals might feel powerless to respond to the global AIDS crisis – “I don’t know anyone with AIDS!,” or “What can one person do?” But acts of repentance don’t have to happen publicly or on the global scale to be powerful. It could be as simple as church members coming together to create an AIDS visitation team, a small group of people who visit or bring food to individuals in the community with HIV/AIDS. The community church can also help to erase stigma by encouraging church members to get tested for HIV. Familiarity erases stigma, and something as simple as having a conversation about getting tested for HIV can start to erase that stigma.

Churches can begin to repent for the discrimination of the past by welcoming stigmatized persons into their communities. Many churches claim to be welcoming and friendly, but make little effort to truly position themselves as centers of their communities or reach out to stigmatized people in their neighborhoods. Offering support groups for persons affected by HIV/AIDS and their friends and family, or hosting a community meal with a facilitated discussion of AIDS in the community can open doors for conversation. To truly show a spirit of repentance, the emphasis should be on learning and dialogue, with the attitude that the church is already walking with the community, not reaching down to it.

Going forward, we must remain mindful that real people are hurt by the actions and words – and the inaction and silence – of the church. Getting rid of stigma implies opening our doors, our arms, and our hearts to individuals who may have had a very different life experience, and a very different experience of the church. It implies salving the deep wounds of discrimination with the healing balm of unconditional Christian love, even if someone looks different or loves differently or lives differently than us.

-Jacquelin Rostad

Are we answering the call to respond to HIV/AIDS?

David Creech mentioned in his post this week that we would be featuring entries from young adults who attended the Interational AIDS Conference in Mexico City this summer. Here is the first.

It is written by Joni Ricks, who is currently a 2nd year doctoral student in Epidemiology at University of California Los Angeles. She is also an Associate Member of Lord of Light Lutheran Church.


Christians are often comfortable relating with certain groups of people that do not challenge our Christian values or make us feel uneasy. Historically global challenges such as poverty, homelessness, and diseases were acceptable and were seen as opportunity for service.

Today HIV and AIDS (a disease associated with issues that Christian organizations have been dealing with for decades) creates segregation, contrary to the Scriptures call -‘We should be the first ones to combat the epidemic’. Christians have shied away from this mission. HIV and AIDS is not a ‘comfortable disease’ for many Christians. We increasingly build walls with people affected by HIV and AIDS, yet we gather together every Sunday to celebrate Christ’s unconditional love for us.

The apostle Matthew invited Jesus and other disciples to dinner at his home; together with tax collectors and other ‘disreputable sinners’. Pharisees referred to tax collectors as “scum” and wondered why anyone would debase themselves to be seen with “such” type of people. We similarly brand people living with HIV and AIDS as ‘sinners’. Christians are called to love sinners and not the sin. We are all saved by faith in Jesus Christ. And I often wonder why we Christians perceive ourselves to be better than those whose lifestyles are not what we would consider acceptable.

In the United States we are comfortable ministering and ‘donating’ to people halfway across the world but ignore those living with the disease in our own locality. How often do we think of offering services to a homeless shelter? Or bother to make eye contact with people who seeks our help on the street?

We are created in God’s image hence are co-creators. Our actions and deeds ought to reflect Christ’s teachings. But how are we to show the love of Christ if we refuse to minister to people in need? We must strive to be the people of God we are chosen to be and that will only be demonstrated with our un-conditional love to people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS.

-Joni Ricks


I’m in Wausau, Wisconsin where I’ve had the great pleasure of hearing Pastor Lisandro Orlov speak today. Pastor Lisandro is from Argentina and is the Latin American regional coordinator for the Lutheran World Federation HIV/AIDS campaign. He said a lot of intriguing and challenging things about the relationship between the church and those in the world who are stigmatized and excluded. A few statements, in particular, really stood out for me. These aren’t exact quotes, but they are close:

  • Be more than the boundary established in your culture.
  • My job each Sunday is to scandalize my parish.
  • Be a sanctuary for the dignity of all people.

Pastor Lisandro was emphasizing that living the Gospel is not easy. It can mean walking with people and in places that are unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and sometimes unacceptable to people around you. But it’s also incredibly important, enriching, and ultimately just.

I love these ideas and how they relate to our work in World Hunger. Building relationships with those who live in poverty is not particularly comfortable to many of us who live in relative wealth. But our lives are enriched through such relationships. And a mutual, real understanding of each other is critical for building the trust and structures and processes necessary for ending poverty. We also need to get more people involved. To get the attention and support we need to make real changes, we often have to push others out of their comfort zones, too. Sometimes, we must speak truth to power, which is not easy or safe. But in doing these difficult things, what if we, by our actions, become a sanctuary for the dignity of all people? Picture that: sanctuary for the dignity of all people. I can’t imagine a better legacy for a life, or a better display of the divine.