It occurred to me today, on this World AIDS Day, that for many of the youth in our churches, AIDS is something that happens to Other People Far Away. But for many of us who work with youth, we went through the time when AIDS was a death sentence that affected people close to us. I wonder if sharing those stories and memories will help to make our current response to AIDS more compassionate and more urgent.
At St. John's Oakland, where Confirm not Conform was developed, we are lucky enough to have a story of AIDS from halfway across the world who came to live among us. Chris Ategeka, whose parents both died from AIDS in their home in Western Uganda, was sponsored by a family at St. John's and eventually came to live here. Last May, he graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. You can see his commencement address here. He is now the executive director of Pedal or Power, a nonprofit that helps people in Western Uganda build their own bicycles and scooters. Among its goals, this program will allow AIDS/HIV positive patients easier access to anti-retroviral drugs.
The youth of St. John's have had the opportunity to see up close that AIDS is not just something that happens to Other People. What stories do you have in your congregation that can help your youth--and other people--see AIDS as something real, present, and worth fighting?