March 8, 2012
Indiana Avenue Missionary Baptist Church members have been involved in HIV awareness and education since 1998, when congregant Juanita Smith's son died of AIDS. The Rev. John E. Roberts, pastor at IAMBC, "opened up the door to deciding that we need to educate members about this virus, and I think it's wonderful," said Smith.
As part of the National Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS, on March 11, the church will host a special service in which members of the HIV/AIDS committee will staff an information table and hand out red ribbons symbolizing AIDS awareness.
"I think we need to spend more time trying to educate people," said Roberts. "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." Smith agreed, saying younger people especially need to take precautions. "They have got to be aware, and they need to be educated," she said.
Approximately 46 percent of Lucas County residents with HIV/AIDS are African-American, though blacks make up just 19 percent of the population. The county has 788 known cases, of which 30 percent are female.
Jerry Kerr, AIDS program coordinator for the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, praised IAMBC for its work. "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.
Kerr added that he would like to see churches eventually go a step further and start affirming gay men. "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," he said.