by Andrena Ingram—

Of the 1 million people in the U.S. diagnosed with HIV, nearly 1 in 4 are women. How is the church being called to serve women and girls—both those who are living with HIV/AIDS and those who desperately need the education to prevent this disease?

Considering my traumatic childhood, what can I, a grown woman living with HIV, tell my younger self? What can I tell women about being aware of who they are, about treasuring and respecting their bodies and teaching others to do the same?

More to the point, what can I, a religious woman living with HIV, do to help the faith community reach out and serve the women and girls living with this disease? What can I share with you about how to better prevent them from contracting this disease in the first place?

I believe this can be an opportunity to live into our Christian calling. The work of educating others about HIV/AIDS is something Christians are called to do. This is a humanitarian issue which needs the help and communication from all faith communities.

The church is a place where we hear about God’s grace in troubling times. Where some of us once went to church to hear sermons centered around the stories in the Bible, now we also hear the stories of current events: mass shootings, kidnappings, the reasons for the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement, the murder of our LGBTQIA siblings in Christ, and more. I believe that the church, an institution which proclaims the expansiveness of God’s love, mercy and grace, should not shy away from sensitive subjects. It is in these spaces we should learn about sanctuary and acceptance.

It was difficult for my mother to have the “talk” with me. I recall getting my period and coming home to a book on my bed about my changing body. While I did get a stern talk about not playing behind the garage with boys (with whom I frequently played innocent games of hide and seek), my mother said nothing about the birds and the bees or how to protect myself (just in case). She certainly didn’t say anything about HIV.

I did have a neighbor, however, who pulled her daughter and me to the side and informed us that our bodies were a beautiful “gold mine” we were sitting on. We laughed, because at the ages of 12 and 13 we just thought it sounded so funny. What gold mine? What was she talking about? She told us we wouldn’t understand then, but one day we would. In her own way, she was trying to let us know how valuable we were and to take care of ourselves.

We must find ways to talk with our daughters, sisters, mothers, spouses and grandmothers. We can teach compassion and self-care in our homes.Unfortunately, many young people do not receive required sex education at home or at school (and some parents object to sexual health being taught in schools at all). Where are they to get this information?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the church could be a supportive place to encourage and empower women? Of course you would need people learned in the subject matter. This is the month to begin that learning! There’s an African proverb which states: “It takes a village to raise a child.” And it does. Raising girls begins in the home, but unfortunately in some communities, children are being raised by single moms working two or three jobs in order to feed, clothe and keep a roof over their heads.Some women suffer domestic violence in their homes and have no sense of self-esteem. Many of these women are frightened to death to take an HIV test. I have walked with women and girls as they got tested. These women and girls need our help.

This article is excerpted from the March 2020 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.

The Rev. Andrena Ingram has spent the last three years recovering from a heart condition. She is currently on leave without a conventional call, yet she ministers to folks in her daily walk and remains focused on heart care and being a long-term HIV thriver.