Behind the pulpit of Institutional Baptist Church, the Rev. Judy Johnson-Truitt spoke with conviction about AIDS and the importance of churches responding and showing love.
The National Week of Prayer for the Healing of HIV/AIDS began Wednesday night at the church. The three-day event will continue through Friday with church leaders and special testimonies. It is being hosted by the Sampson County HIV/AIDS Task Force.
Johnson-Truitt used Bible scripture from 2 Timothy 1:7 — “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” The words influenced the title of the message, “Running from AIDS with a spirit of fear, the remix.”
“People are living longer. That is a blessing from the Lord,” Johnson-Truitt said. “Medications, treatments and advancements have taken place to give our people a better quality of life, we thank God for that. But the problem still exists.”
Although many strides have been made, Johnson-Truitt said society still has a long way to go toward the global issue. She stressed the importance of churches becoming more involved. Many years ago, it was considered an elephant in the room and some evangelists even declared that the disease was a form of punishment from God.
“Instead of the church standing out on our own and on the grace of God, we cowed, we joined in and we pointed fingers,” she said. “By the time we knew anything, everyone was running from AIDS with a ‘spirit of fear.’”
Today, she expressed how it’s important for people to show love and become active when it comes to helping the diagnosed and spreading awareness on national and international levels.
“We think that what we do here in our corner of the world can’t possibly have an impact,” she said. “But yes it can, because God can do that.”
Making an impact is of the missions of the international awareness campaign created by The Balm In Gilead. More than 100,000 churches are involved and is considered one of the largest campaigns targeting African-Americans. This year, marks the 28th observance.
“During the Black Church Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS congregations are joining hands across the Atlantic Ocean and throughout urban and rural America to pray for strength, courage and wisdom as they work to make their churches community centers for HIV/AIDS education, prevention and care,” said Task Force member Juanita German.
The Rev. Willie Bowden Jr. of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church echoed some of the same sentiments.
“If we would walk in the words of that sermon, it would be a better world for all of us,” Bowden said.
Courtney Boyette, a community relations specialist for Eastpointe, also shared her passion to join. Task Force. It began when she was working in the Rocky Mount area and helped a infected man, whose family did not want to have anything to do with him. But a similar organization made his life better by providing assistance.
“That was many years ago, but that drove my passion,” Boyette said. “I always wondered if he came and said he had cancer or heart failure would they have reacted differently? I always think about that.”
In addition to seeking resources and testing, Boyette encouraged everyone to challenge stigmas that come with HIV/AIDS.
“They are a person first, before they were diagnosed,” Boyette said “That’s very important.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) more than 1.2 million people in the United States are living with an HIV infection. Kenneth Cook, a 52-year-old Clinton resident, shared his testimony about catching the infection more than 20 years ago. He spoke about having an optimistic outlook, despite facing the hardship.
“I appreciate you having concern for people like me who are suffering from this condition,” Cook said to the task force and supporters in attendance.
Like others, survivor Thomas McLaughlin Jr. is showing hope. He currently leads the Task Force as chairman and served as the master of ceremonies for the even.
“It’s not a death sentence anymore — Amen,” he said. “I’m a living witness.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.