“I came here to know the difference between HIV and AIDS, and to distinguish the role of women, especially women pastors, in educating, empowering, and enlightening people in her flock about their view on HIV,” said Rev. Mary Ann Kadile, a pastor from the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. She traveled from Mindanao to San Pablo City, Laguna to participate in a workshop on HIV led by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP).

Kadile was among 26 women participants from all over the country who are clergy, lay leaders, theologians, seminarians from NCCP member churches. Some are living with HIV.

“In response to the continuing rapid spread of HIV and AIDS in the Philippines, the NCCP HIV and AIDS program, together with the Women’s Desk, continues to provide opportunities and spaces for comprehensive education and training to equip our churches in addressing this alarming issue,” said Darlene Marquez-Caramanzana, NCCP program secretary on Ecumenical Education and Nurture.

Rev. Pauline Wanjiru Njiru, East Africa regional coordinator for the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy, facilitated sessions on contextual Bible studies (CBS).

Rev. J.P. Mokgethi-Heath, director of advocacy and partner relations with INERELA+ (International Network of People Living with or Personally Affected by HIV) and also a member of the Church of Sweden, conducted workshops on the pro-SAVE (Safer practices, Access to treatment, Voluntary Counseling and Testing, Empowerment) and anti-SSDDIM (Stigma, Shame, Denial, Discrimination, Inaction, and Misaction) approach to HIV and AIDS.

Contextual Bible studies and SAVE approach

“Key aspects of engaging on HIV are both the accurate information about HIV, (prevention, treatment, care and support) addressing the stigma and discrimination as well as identifying and addressing the very specific vulnerabilities to HIV. More often than not these vulnerabilities run along the fault lines of exclusion and marginalization. Faith communities are not immune from this, rather the pervasive patriarchal power structures and teaching within Christianity and other faiths feed into this paradigm,” said Heath on the SAVE approach.

To deepen understanding of the vulnerabilities, the CBS model was employed. CBS was first developed by the Ujamaa Centre for Community Development & Research as an initiative from the University of KwaZulu-Natal to address sexual and gender-based violence from within the faith community.

Njiru said that “we need to highlight the way in which women in the Bible have not only stood up to the powers of their time, but received strong endorsement from Jesus to be authentically who they are. Even though Tamar was raped by her brother, she did not keep quiet about it; even though the Samaritan woman at the well was self-stigmatized, she engaged with Jesus and Jesus engaged with her; even though the disciples encourage Jesus to send away the woman who is anointing his feet, Jesus praises her and gives her example of service to be something to be remembered every time He is remembered. Women are a key part of Jesus’s ministry, and without their ministry His ministry is vastly diminished.”

Heath added that bringing the two disciplines, the two methodologies, together strengthened the content and impact of the workshop. “In the post-workshop wrap-up session, participant after participant not only spoke about the way in which they had been personally challenged and touched, but about the commitment they wanted to make to the group to further this work in a number of key areas,” said Heath.

A future pastor of the United Methodist Church affirmed that, “the contextual Bible studies opened a new way for me on how to study and understand the Bible. And I can also apply these new learnings by loving more and become a more accepting individual.”

The SAVE approach offered concrete ways for church women to prevent the further spread of HIV and AIDS in the country, and also helped women religious leaders to understand that HIV and AIDS are more complex than just medical conditions.

At the workshop’s conclusion, Kadile said, “I can promote men and women to test for HIV. I can be more compassionate and understanding with people living with HIV and influence my organization to do the same. For youth organizations, I can educate them about being protected and to not discriminate against people living with HIV. I want to be partners with NCCP in promoting and advancing the cause for #PreventionNOTCondemnation.”

World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy