Indiana Avenue Missionary Baptist Church will hold special services on Sunday and March 11 during national "Week of Prayer and Healing for HIV/AIDS" to raise awareness and promote education about the deadly virus.
Church member Juanita Smith led the way for the church's involvement after her son, Donald, died of AIDS in 1998.
Ever since, the church has been working to educate the Toledo community about HIV and AIDS, as well as to pray for the healing of those who live with the incurable disease.
"I think we need to spend more time trying to educate people," said the Rev. John E. Roberts, pastor. "There's a lot you can do to help others. But I also want people to abstain from the things that would cause you to get AIDS."
Ms. Smith said Mr. Roberts "opened up the door to deciding that we need to educate members about this virus and I think it's wonderful."
On March 11, Ms. Smith and other members of Indiana Avenue's HIV/AIDS committee will set up a table at Indiana Avenue Baptist with pamphlets and other educational material, and will hand out red ribbons symbolizing awareness of the disease.
"It's important that we get to our young people and teach them about the virus and just educate them. They have got to be aware and they need to be educated," she said.
Jerry Kerr, AIDS program coordinator for the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, praised Indiana Avenue Baptist for its efforts to combat a disease that disproportionately affects the African-American community, both locally and nationally.
According to the county health department, 46 percent of Lucas County residents with HIV/AIDS are African-American, while African-Americans make up just 19 percent of the population.
The latest Lucas County statistics report 788 people known to be living with HIV/AIDS in the county, with 30 percent of them female.
The national Centers for Disease Control said African-Americans comprise 14 percent of the U.S. population while accounting for 44 percent of all new infections. Young African-American gay and bisexual men are especially at risk of HIV infection, the CDC said.
Mr. Kerr said he greatly appreciates Indiana Avenue Baptist's work to reduce HIV/AIDS infections.
"I perk up every year because of their efforts," Mr. Kerr said.
"They provide HIV prevention education to their membership, and they take on the difficult subject of how Christians should respond to a disease that affects primarily gay men."
He said he personally would like to see more churches go a step further and start affirming gay men, because low self-esteem is a factor that causes homosexual men to take risks that can result in HIV/AIDS infection.
"I hope churches will approach HIV prevention as a matter of being good to people in the biggest risk group and make them feel welcome," Mr. Kerr said.
The national Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS is organized by Balm in Gilead, an Atlanta nonprofit organization whose mission is "to prevent diseases and to improve the health status of people of the African Diaspora."
The Rev. Makeba D'Abreu, national director of the Balm in Gilead's Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS, said the program began 23 years ago for black churches, but in the last few years has expanded to include all faith groups.
"We want to be more inclusive because it will take a more inclusive community to address this issue," said Ms. D'Abreu, a Baptist minister. "We believe in prayer. Prayer is an action and so when one prays there is an action that goes along with our prayers."
Sunday services at Indiana Avenue Missionary Baptist Church, 640 Indiana Ave., start at 10:45 a.m.
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