Woman With HIV Uses Faith to Heal the Past

From the outside, Rev. Andrena Ingram's childhood looked charmed -- an attentive, stay-at-home mother, a father, a nice home in Queens, NY. But on the inside, Ingram recalls feeling strange.

"At the age of about nine or ten, I began to feel very strange and very alienated," Ingram, a blogger for TheBody.com, told Louisiana high school students crowded into an auditorium. "It was about that time when my father began to drink."

When her father started drinking, he began to molest her and to abuse her mother physically. As a teen, Ingram found solace in heroin, which then morphed into alcohol and cocaine addiction. She married, but did not escape the troubles of her youth. Her husband physically abused her as well.

She moved back into her parent's home -- the home in which she had been routinely abused by her father. She soon clashed with her father, eventually becoming homeless with one child and another on the way. But when her second daughter was born addicted to cocaine, Ingram knew something had to change.

"I decided I wanted to go home. I called the house and I said, "Can I speak to Daddy?" And my brother said, "Daddy died. We've been looking for you," Ingram said. "So I did the only thing I knew how to do; I ran. I ran the streets for three days. When I came to myself I couldn't bear to think about my situation. I couldn't bear to continue living the life I was living. I thought the only way out was suicide," she explains in her testimonial.

"But I am a fighter," she proclaimed. "I fought to get the drugs; I fought to get the bottle; I began to fight for my life."

Ingram went into rehab and met the man who would become her second husband. However, their marriage did not last long. In March 1993, he received an HIV-positive diagnosis; he died six months later. Ingram tested positive at that time, too.

Not long after her husband's death, she began to attend church. She became an active member of her church community and later graduated from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia with a Masters in Divinity. Today, she is the first female, African-American pastor at St. Michael's Lutheran Church in Philadelphia.