A church that listens fosters healthy communities
“A church has to embrace its sick, go out in the world, and work with its people to heal the communities,” said Dr Erlinda N. Senturias from the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, in an interview.
A medical doctor by profession, former staff of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Health and Healing program, and former consultant with the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), Senturias has been engaged with health issues from a Christian perspective for more than 20 years.
“Churches have direct access to the communities,” said Senturias. “Therefore with concrete actions like mobilising health workers, working for justice and coordinating the work of Christian hospitals, there is a significant role churches can play in healing the communities,” she added.
Senturias noted that there is always a stigma attached to health issues, especially in relations to HIV and AIDS and mental illnesses. “This shows that these illnesses are not just medical conditions but have social and communal repercussions too,” she said.
This is why it is important for the churches to help with spiritual care, and educate people to diminish the stigma attached to these illnesses, she noted. “The church has to listen,” stressed Senturias. “It is only through listening that the church can follow the example of Jesus, who did not exclude the sick, but embraced them, heard them and healed them,” she added.
Speaking about HIV and AIDS, Senturias said the pandemic became more visible in the last decade in Asia. According to the United Nations reports, more than four million people in Asia are living with HIV, while the number of children infected with HIV is still more than two million around the world.
To formulate a response to HIV from the Asian churches, Senturias used the resources produced by the Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative in Africa (EHAIA), a project of the WCC.
Beacons of Hope, an EHAIA publication produced by Dr Susan Parry, was a major breakthrough in helping Asian churches to adopt an HIV-competent approach, said Senturias. An excerpt from the book, the “HIV Competent Church Benchmarks”, was translated into eight Asian languages and was used by several churches in Asia, including in the Philippines, Myanmar and Thailand.
In a CCA consultation on HIV and AIDS, Senturias invited Parry, EHAIA’s regional coordinator for Southern Africa, to share her experiences.
Advocacy for healthy communities
As part of the EHAIA network, Senturias also participated in the international conference on the “Global Race to Save Lives from HIV and AIDS” in Lilongwe, Malawi, 2012. At the event, she shared the learning from churches’ work on HIV in Asia.
As part of these initiatives, she has been promoting the SAVE toolkit, which shares prevention methodology used and taught by the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV or AIDS (INERELA+).
Since Senturias is the chairperson for the INERELA+ Asia and Pacific region, she sees a great potential in the ecumenical networking to liaison with international organisations.
“It is important to secure international support for church initiatives to address the HIV pandemic effectively,” said Senturias. “Without sufficient funding, it is not possible to carry out HIV work at the grassroots level among local communities,” she added.
In preparation of the upcoming WCC Assembly, it is crucial that the churches keep HIV and AIDS in their agenda of priority work, opined Senturias.
The WCC 10th Assembly will take place in Busan, Republic of Korea from October 30 to November 8, addressing theme, “God of life, lead us to justice and peace”.
Given the theme of the assembly, churches from around the world also need to ask, if they are ready to be led, she said. “If they want to be led towards peace and justice, as the prayer from the WCC assembly theme reminds us, they have to make themselves HIV and AIDS competent,” added Senturias.
“Therefore the WCC assembly will be an opportunity for the churches to take a step forward to help eliminate the HIV pandemic from the world,” she concluded.
Read full text of WCC publication Beacons of Hope
People of faith in Malawi work towards an HIV-free world (WCC news release of October 30 2012)
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