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Christian mission cannot avoid tackling HIV and AIDS

“It gives me confidence that we can fit in and coexist with our differences,” said Sarah Kaulule at the Edinburgh 2010 conference. Photo: Juan Michel/WCC Photo: Gary Doak/Edinburgh 2010

“Almost every family in Zambia is affected by HIV,” says Sarah Kaulule. A lay preacher in the United Church of Zambia, was interviewed at the Edinburgh 2010 conference on world Christianity (2-6 June) where she has come as a delegate.

“We say, you are either affected or infected. There is a lot of work to do for the mission of the church,” says Kaulule, who serves as one of the five vice-moderators of the World Council of Churches’ Faith and Order Commission.

To witness to Christ today in this context, the United Church of Zambia has an annual HIV and AIDS Awareness Sunday. On that Sunday local congregations work to identify people in need and encourage testing, counselling, direct and material help. “We hope that the spiritual dimension of our ministry can help long-term to prevent the spread of the disease.”

Kaulule identifies additional challenges to Christian mission in Zambia, such as the way society segregates the roles of women and men, and the dramatic differences between the urban and rural populations. Bearing witness requires breaking through these cultural barriers.

Zambia calls itself a Christian nation and the church is growing strongly, says Kaulule. Yet this involves its own challenges as rapid growth brings a need for more full-time church workers and requires an investment of time and precious resources to train ministers.

Describing her impressions of the conference, the preparatory process and published material for Edinburgh 2010, Kaulule is upbeat: “It gives me confidence that we can fit in and coexist with our differences. We can understand one another and move together in our faith. I really thank God that I have been part of this.”

The Edinburgh 2010 Conference commemorates the hundredth anniversary of the landmark 1910 World Mission Conference which took place in the same city. Some 300 delegates from over 60 countries and virtually all Christian traditions are attending the event, which aims at inspiring new perspectives on Christian mission for the 21st century.

Kaulule affirms that she felt fully included in the process but notes that delegates from the global South were underrepresented because of the relative financial vulnerability of many churches in those regions.

“We need to speak out much more,” she says. “The presentations from the South have been very frank about what is expected from our relationships of being one in Christ. We need to be more assertive.”

Looking to the future, Kaulule hopes the World Council of Churches (WCC) as a whole will take up the issues coming out of Edinburgh 2010. She expects the WCC to embrace the challenge of holding mission, evangelism and unity together.

Kaulule encourages the churches in the ecumenical movement to move forward in mission with a spirit of humility but also with confidence, learning lessons from one another. She adds, “It is my prayer that in 100 years’ time there will be many more representatives from Africa – and that the celebrations and fellowship may even take place there.”

Rev. Jane Stranz coordinates the WCC language service. She is a pastor of the Reformed Church of France and of the United Reformed Church in Britain.

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