A staff member of the Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative in Africa (EHAIA) has been elected as General Secretary of the Council of Christian Churches in Angola (CICA).
The Rev Deolinda Teca will be the first woman to serve as General Secretary of the CICA, a position she considers an “opportunity to mobilise African churches to do more” in healing HIV affected communities.
HIV and AIDS is a pandemic threatening the health of people and communities at large. Social, economic and gender dynamics need to be incorporated in formulating a response to this brutal disease.
This is what the Rev Deolinda Teca from Angola believes. As Lusophone regional coordinator she coordinates the work of EHAIA in the Portuguese-speaking countries such as Angola, Mozambique, Sao Tomé, Principe, Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde.
EHAIA is a project of the World Council of Churches building the capacity of African churches and theological institutions to prevent the spread of HIV, provide care and counselling, eliminate stigma and discrimination, and bring healing to the affected communities.
“HIV and AIDS is a global pandemic which has cost the lives of millions,” says Teca. “It is therefore a responsibility of the churches to engage in a ministry that can help lessen sufferings of those who are affected by this brutal disease.”
Being a pastor of the Evangelical Reformed Church of Angola, she explains how members of various congregations, including non-Christians, seek her help. Some of those, she says, have lost family members to the HIV while others carry the virus themselves.
The stigma attached to HIV prevents people from going for a check up and taking up the required medication. This is an everyday observation, in Teca’s experience.
“The African churches need to be aware of this reality,” she says. “If we want to achieve ’zero tolerance’ towards HIV infection, stigmatisation and death, a goal set up by UNAIDS on World Aids Day 2012, we have to listen to our congregations with more compassion and guide them in the right direction.”
“The churches need to encourage people living with HIV to receive professional help from medical experts. We need to support the people living with the HIV by creating safe environments in and outside the churches,” said Teca. “The prayers should be accompanied by concrete actions.”
To implement these Christian values in a response to HIV, Teca has organised several capacity-building trainings, workshops and seminars with EHAIA. These events engage church leaders, community workers, women and young people in a dialogue on HIV and AIDS, sexual and gender-based violence, sex and sexuality.
One of the useful resources used by Teca is the Tamar Campaign: Contextual Bible Study Manual on Gender-Based Violence. This resource focuses on perspectives of women and men on issues of sexual violence and rape. Other publications which she feels have been useful in creating awareness on the HIV issues include 'Africa Praying', 'Listening with Love' and the 'Called to Care' series.
Teca feels particularly moved by the transformation of people living with HIV who were able to defeat their trauma, find the courage to disclose their HIV positive status and, with the help of medication, were able to live normally again.
One such story is that of a 28-year-old man, a member of Teca’s church, who came to her seeking help. This is when he discovered that he had the HI virus. The only brother among five sisters, and not educated enough to get employment, he saw HIV as the worst thing that could happen to him.
“It was heart wrenching for me to see such a young person going through the trauma inflicted by HIV,” says Teca. “The only option he thought he had was to end his life. With hours of counselling we were able to convince him how his life is a gift from God, and he is not alone in his struggles, and that help is available.”
Teca was able to send him to a hospital where he received the medication as well as to a centre for psychological counselling. With this support, he found the courage to fight the impact of HIV on his life. Later he managed to find employment in a local company and even was able to have a family.
“These are the stories of people who keep us motivated in our work,” says Teca. “As churches and pastors it is our responsibility to take care of the ones suffering.”
She went on to say that the churches in Africa are striving to help the communities affected by HIV. However they, need to do more, challenge their own indifference and contribute to the healing of people, which is the essence of a true Christian ministry.
* More on the HIV/AIDS Initiative in Africa (EHAIA) - http://www.oikoumene.org/en/programmes/justice-diakonia-and-responsibili...
With thanks to the World Council of Churches' media team.