Conference to mark World AIDS Day


The numbers are mind-blowing: 40 million around the world infected with HIV/AIDS, 8 million dying daily.

On Dec. 1, World AIDS Day, the Mississippi Conference will host “8K Every Day…Each Day,” an educational and advocacy event free to the public, at the Jackson Medical Mall.

Presenters will include Bishop Fritz Mutti of the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, Dr. Craig Thompson of the Mississippi Department of Health, Rev. Gary Henderson of the United Methodist Global Health Initiative and Rev. Shane Stanford of Hattiesburg, an HIV-positive United Methodist pastor and advocate. Bishop Hope Morgan Ward will lead a time of remembrance and worship at the end of the day.

“On Dec. 1, World AIDS Day, United Methodists will demonstrate that we care. We care that 40 million persons worldwide are living with AIDS. We care that 8,000 people are dying every day from AIDS. These are our brothers, our sisters, our neighbors and our friends here in Mississippi as well as our global friends,” said Bishop Ward. “The church is in every community, is a trusted community, has capacity for compassionate response and is called to be a healing place for all.”

Following introductions at 10 a.m., the event will be organized into four sessions:

Session 1: HIV Unveiled, led by Mutti
Session 2: HIV 101, led by Thompson
Session 3: HIV and Global Health, led by Henderson
Session 4: HIV and the Potential of the Local Church, led by Stanford

United Methodists of all ages are encouraged to attend. Event organizers strongly urge civic and business leaders, pastors, parents, youth groups, young adults and leaders of youth, young adult and/or campus ministries to participate. “We plan to offer practical action steps that anyone can take to help stem the tide of this disease,” Casteel said.

Free HIV screening using mouth swabs will be offered.

To commemorate the 8,000 people who die every day of AIDS-related illnesses, participants will walk 8,000 steps in silence to conclude the event. Those attending will also have the opportunity to register for Footsteps in Hope, an 8K walk to raise awareness of HIV and raise funds for HIV/AIDS clinics in Mississippi and Zimbabwe. Footsteps is tentatively set for April 6 at the Mississippi Craft Center in Ridgeland. “The first, shorter walk on Dec. 1 provides us with an opportunity to acknowledge this crisis. The second, longer walk this spring provides us with an opportunity to act against it,” said Liz Coleclough, Footsteps organizer.

“There are so many myths that abound around HIV/AIDS issues. We hope to expose some myths and educate ourselves with useful facts in the area of prevention and advocacy,” said the Rev. Timothy Thompson of Meridian, leader of the event planning team. “We hope people will leave informed about how the HIV/AIDS issue fits and connects to overall global health issues such as malaria and tuberculosis. Eight thousand men, women, boys and girls die each day, every day while the church stands by and debates whether it should get involved.”

Helping The United Methodist Church get involved are Mutti (left) and his wife, Etta Mae, co-coordinators of the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund. The couple lost two sons, Tim and Fred, to the disease in the early 1990s.

“A huge hole was left in our lives. It can never be filled with total healing,” said Fritz Mutti. “Yet we live by faith and gradually we have moved from suffering to sharing, from aching heart to advocacy. We have written a book, Dancing in a Wheelchair, that thousands have read. We have told our story in scores of places. We have learned to be tough in the face of hostile judgment. We have given our lives to witnessing.

”Now we serve as coordinators of the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund and our task is to help the church break the silence, overcome the denial and end the stigma with the worst health crisis the world has ever known.”

The United Methodist Church created the fund in 2004 to raise $8 million – or about $1 per member – by 2008. Funds are to be used to support programs offering HIV and AIDS education, prevention, treatment and care services in the United States and around the world.

Thompson is an expert on infectious disease. Henderson, a Jackson native, was recently named executive director of the Global Health Initiative of The United Methodist Church. Stanford is the teaching pastor at Main Street United Methodist Church in Hattiesburg and the host and preacher for The United Methodist Hour radio and TV ministry. Ward is the presiding bishop for the Mississippi Area of The United Methodist Church.