The eleventh annual Black Church Week of Prayer for the Healing of aids swept through more than 7,500 American congregations in March, reminding many that the fatal disease poses a significant threat to African Americans.African Americans comprise about 13 percent of the population. But according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African Americans account for 45 percent of new AIDS cases and nearly 50 percent of total AIDS deaths. One in 50 African-American men and 1 in 160 African-American women are believed to be HIV positive, compared to 1 in 250 white men and 1 in 3,000 white women.Balm in Gilead, a Christian outreach program, founded the Black Church Week of Prayer of the Healing of aids to counteract the disease's spread in the African-American community."Sometimes I feel like we're just getting started," says Balm founder Pernessa C. Seele, despite 11 years of the group's educational seminars, re source-building, and prayer vigils. "If churches were doing enough on this issue, there wouldn't be a need for us."Balm in Gilead encourages churches involved in its aids education and prevention network with frequent phone calls, program ideas, pamphlets, and study materials.Four theologians recently completed a weekly Sunday-school curriculum based on issues of sin, disease, and spiritual healing. Balm also offers materials and training for abstinence education."Not only do their resources and events get our congregation thinking more about HIV, but they also challenge church members to use their gifts and talents to reach out to the suffering," says Marla Bonacile Johnson, executive director of the Reach, Act, Provide Health Awareness (RAPHA) Program for Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church in Pittsburgh.Other churches have found that starting an AIDS ministry allows them to speak truth to people who have previously heard only condemnation from Christians."We don't scorn people because of their activity," pastor Charles Edward Cook of the House of David Pentecostal Apostolic Church in Brooklyn told The New York Times. "We offer them a way out through love and Scripture."As churches nationwide send in reports of film festivals, lectures, and healing services organized to mark the week of prayer, Balm's founder remains convinced that the church is the most effective way to reach African Americans. "Our culture is centered around the black church," she writes in a letter to prayer participants. "The black pulpit is the mouthpiece of black America."

Related Elsewhere

The Balm in Gilead's site offers information about the Black Church Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS as well as other resources about AIDS, the organization, and other ways churches are engaging the issue.The Institute for Minority Health Research at Emory University offers a history of the Week of Prayer and more information about how the church—particularly the African American church—can help in the AIDS crisis.The New York Times' article, "Slowly Breaking the Silence on AIDS," is available at the newspaper's Web site (but registration is required)."An Open Letter to the U. S. Black Religious, Intellectual, and Political Leadership Regarding AIDS and the Sexual Holocaust in Africa" appeared in's Books & Culture Corner January 24.See also our recent story on AIDS in Africa, " 'Have We Become Too Busy With Death?' " (Feb. 4, 2000)

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