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HIV/AIDS Blog Central

HIV Behind the Walls

By Rev. Andrena Ingram

March 15, 2013

The Holy Spirit strikes again.

I have been praying about this for the past week. It is settled, and it is well with my soul.

As you may or may not know, I had an interview with POZ magazine last month.  Because I have had a "personals" listing for YEARS, I mentioned in the article that I was single, not realizing how "far-reaching" this magazine is. It's a worldwide magazine, and is even delivered into the prisons and penitentiaries.

When the first letters began to arrive, I had forgotten about this interview, and was a little perplexed ... until I opened the first letter and found out that the person had read about me in POZ magazine.

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Not only that, he even informed me that he had cut out my picture and hung it on his wall.  I must admit, that initially, that image did not give me the greatest feeling. This, coupled with his "undying love for me," was equally troubling. Oops!

But you know what? Sometimes the Holy Spirit leads us into situations, and if we are wise, if we are paying attention, we can see the situations as opportunities.

I received about five more letters. These were not romantically driven, but simply:

  • Cries for attention.
  • Cries for understanding.
  • Cries for compassion.

"My family has deserted me." "It's hard living in here with no one to talk to about HIV." "I made a mistake and am paying for it." "I need a friend." And tearfully, "Does God still love me?"

I didn't initially know if I should respond to these letters. I don't want to give anyone any false hopes, simply by responding.

But I have the virus. I am a RELIGIOUS LEADER living with HIV! Why wouldn't I respond in that capacity? Why can't I give someone a sense of mutual understanding about what living with this disease entails? Why can't I be a vessel of hope for someone behind the walls?

Now, I am not saying that I am getting ready to make visits.  I don't see that happening.  But I am saying that I can drop someone a letter every now and then, to see how they are doing, and to encourage them -- to let them know that they are NOT alone -- even behind the walls.

Besides, those places were a "yet" for me. At one time, I was but a stone's throw away.

So, if they want to cut out my picture and hang it on their wall, may they do so, knowing that it is someone who knows the love of Christ, and extends the same love, grace and mercy which Christ extends to us all ... even I. Yes, they are behind a wall, and I am sure they are dealing with some stigma and could use some words of encouragement and grace.

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'" -- Matthew 25:37-40.

Do it Pastor! Do it!
Thanks be to God.

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See Also
More Personal Accounts and Profiles of Prisoners With HIV/AIDS

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Rev. Andrena Ingram

Rev. Andrena Ingram

Reverend Andrena Ingram (also known as "Pastor Andrena" or "Pastor Ingram") has become a strong advocate for those living in the margins, as she once was. She is an activist in the HIV/AIDS arena, herself living openly and unabashedly with the HIV virus for over 22+ years.

Raised in South Jamaica, New York, Reverend Ingram served seven years of active duty in the U.S. Army. She would later move to the South Bronx, where she attended Transfiguration Lutheran Church with Pastor Heidi Neumark as her pastor and mentor -- empowering her to rise up out of herself and her life challenges, which seemed to her, at the time, insurmountable.

Reverend Ingram is a graduate of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, with a Master of Divinity. She has been the pastor of St. Michael's Lutheran Church on Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, Pa., for the past four years.

Reverend Ingram can frequently be found speaking about HIV/AIDS, encouraging everyone "to know your status, get tested, and be informed." Silence = Death.

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