Saturday, 13 June 2015

Telling our stories

We spent today discussing about telling our stories.  We were 25-odd folks together at Jeevan Sahara Kendra.  Half HIV positive. Half negative.  Every one with a story to tell.

We focussed on helping our Positive Friends understand the power of story. The remarkable journey that they are on.  The vital role they have to play in speaking up and speaking out.  The amazing way that God has helped them so far.

But Positive or not, each one has a story to tell. Many stories.   Jesus talking to His disciples said that they would be 'his witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'   Telling stories is not an option. It is a command.  A prophecy.  A grateful response to outpouring love that we have received.

The key to witness is sharing experienced truth.  

For people living with HIV, their world of challenge is still largely hidden and basically ignored by society at large.   But there are so many who need to hear.  30 years into the epidemic and we still are talking monkey-business simple stuff.   3 decades of progress in so many areas and still the shroud of fear cloaks our friends who are living with HIV.

One way of change is to tell.  To let people see the flesh and blood reality.  To give glimpses of the pain and sorrow, as well as the amazing grace so many have experienced.

We talked about how if we speak up, others will be blessed.  Speaking up is not for ourselves, it's primarily for others.  Primarily a gift.

If others know, then they can start treatment early, or be tested to find out about their status, or do something about their relative who they have heard has HIV.  

If others know the sorrow that 'normal-people-like-you-and-me' face, then some of the stigma that pierces us can be lifted.  Some of the normalcy that we need may seep in.  None of us like cancer.  But when a person gets it, we speak it out.  We tell others.  We pray and weep and comfort and encourage.  But that still is not the case for most people living with HIV.

Speaking up and speaking out can also challenge others to help.  So much can be done by simple, ordinary people who are touched with love.  Who seek to love our neighbours as ourselves.

Sharing our stories also gives God the glory.  So much of the hope in our friend's lives comes from encounters with the Living God.   A God who loves and cares and accepts.  A God whose hands are pierced with love and who listens to our cries.   As our friends tell their stories, they also tell about the One who helps and cares - our wounded Healer.

So when to share and what to share.  Well that is what we talked about today.  We did not come away with any cookie-cutter solutions.  But we did come away with a renewed sense that we need to both push the boundaries - step out of our comfort zones - and at the same time be very sensitive to what God is saying.

Speaking up, and speaking about ourselves can so quickly become a vanity project.  Or a pity party.  Or a long-drawn out attention seeking gig.    But speaking the truth as a witness changes the focus.  Grounds our experience in the bigger picture.  Challenges the listener and viewer to change.

Yes, I used the word viewer.

We did something today.  We did a small video shoot.  Totally in-house of course.  But we wanted to help our Positive Friends think and pray about moving the next step.  

We have over the years had folks share in their families and churches.  We have even had a few public meetings where people living with HIV have stood up and told their stories - identifying themselves as HIV positive.  The results have been uniformly positive.  Often in the feed back to a training we organised, the participants will say that the 'testimony of so-and-so' was the highlight of my day.  But all of these situations have been largely controlled.  Not quite 'preaching to the choir' - but certainly in fairly safe and sheltered environments.

Today we gently tried pushing the boundary back a bit.  We talked about speaking our stories to 'the ends of the earth.'  One of the amazing ways we can do this is through video.  Our friend Sheril Mathew and Pankaj his colleague were with us today.  They took three short videos in the morning and did a quick edit and had them back by mid afternoon.  Wow.  The power of these stories. 

We are some way from making what we saw today public.  But we would like to dig deeper into this.  Having our friends share their stories - and have them in short video forms which can be shared on the net and over mobile phones.   Having stories of truth and hope penetrate areas where we would never dream of being able to go.

Exciting days.  Big thoughts.  Long ways to go.  Carpe diem.

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