Church leaders play a huge role in influencing how HIV-positive people are treated in their community. When they show compassion, the stigma of HIV is gradually eradicated, first from the church itself and eventually from the whole community. This story from Malawi shows how, by setting an example, a pastor was able to help a woman in distress.
Mrs Banda was an active member of the Good Samaritan group at her church in Mvera, Malawi. Getting diagnosed as HIV-positive in 2016 was a huge shock: “I was feeling ill, but I never had the courage to take the HIV test.” She was anxious and did not want to tell anyone, because she was afraid of the reaction of her friends and family. She was right to be afraid. As soon as she revealed her status to her close friends, they began to withdraw from her life. Her relative did the same. Left alone, she decided to keep her status a secret from the other members of the Good Samaritan group.
In the coming months, heavy rainfall engulfed Mrs Banda’s community. Her grass-thatched house, which was already in a poor state of repair, was badly damaged. With no financial support, she had no idea how she would be able to rebuild her home.
Pastor Solomon Yeremiya oversees the Good Samaritan volunteers in Mrs Banda’s community. When he heard rumours about her situation, he was filled with compassion. He encouraged community and church members to donate what they could, and before long he had collected 18,500 Malawi Kwacha (about US$ 26.00) which was used to buy wooden poles, nails and other roofing materials. People gave their time to renovate Mrs Banda’s house, and some also brought food and clothes.
“I saw the hand of God touch and assist me through the Good Samaritan group,” she says. “I pray that many lives can be saved in the same way”.
One of the unique aspects of the Good Samaritan program is that it works with churches to ensure that leaders reach out to individuals and families who are infected and affected by HIV and AIDS. The program also encourages voluntary counselling and testing. The Bible Society of Malawi has been running the Good Samaritan program for more than five years and has held many community-based workshops.
Photo: women with HIV/AIDS material in Kasarika, Malawi (© Clare Kendall)