We just got back from a monthly meeting that the leaders of the different local fellowships of our church have. Its a time to think back and reflect, to pray and to challenge each other.
As a set of house-fellowships - found mainly in the north eastern suburbs of Mumbai and out to Dombivili we have lots of short-comings. One of the thoughts that we were challenged with this evening was about our identity: Do we identify ourselves as what we are not, or by what we are? By what we turn away from, or by what we are turning to?
But thinking back on this evening's time another thought came to me. In every fellowship represented, there was a common refrain, and underlying thread that ran through much of the evenings conversation.
All are now linked in some way with HIV.
One of the first groups to share stated that though the church has started some reaching out to people with HIV in their general area, they as a home-fellowship were not involved with this and this troubled them.
The next group - one in which one of the elders has been specifically released to focus on ministering to people with HIV/AIDS - had much to say about the different people that they are working with. This included 2 orphan siblings who are being looked after by a church facilitated care-giver - all 3 being HIV positive. As the boy has not been responding well to his medications, the elder in charge shared how difficult it was for him to keep visiting the boy, but how at the same time this challenging time as brought the boy so much more intimacy with God. This elder also shared how one of his dear friends with HIV - a man who had struggled for years with alcohol and broken relationships at home and work - is now such a source of joy and encouragement to him. "If I were to live my whole life and change just one life like [the name of the man with HIV] it would be worth it" said the elder. There were many other things shared too - but this will do, to give a small taste of what can be done by people determined to help people with HIV.
When it was our turn to share, we touched on a lady who our local fellowships are supporting and her desire for baptism - and at the same time how her church care givers have been transferred out and so she needs new ones. We mentioned how a significant portion of the JSK team are members of the fellowships in Thane. A point was shared about how one of our friends from Thane had gone back to his native Bihar and was asked to be a resource person there at a training organised for local groups working with HIV there. We also mentioned a young man who is the head of his 2 teenaged siblings - a small child-headed home where parents died of HIV.
Further up the tracks, a couple who are church planting - and of whom the wife had worked with us at JSK for 2 years shared about how they had come across a lady with HIV who needed to be started on ART. And how the wife had been doing teaching on a weekly basis with the care-givers of this lady.
And so it goes. Woven into the fabric of the church - nested in multiple relationships - of caring, challenge, growth and worship - is the undeniable presence of people with HIV.
If we were to rewind back to 5 years ago, this would just not be true. But it is today. Our fellowships are far from perfect. Very far. But it is amazing to see how much the body life of the church now is involved with people with HIV as a normal (though challenging) every-day part of living out the love of Christ - the reason for the church in the first place.