Samaritan Ministry reaches out to the HIV/AIDS community, one person at a time

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by David Shuler
Staff Writer

KNOXVILLE – In 1995, the pastor of a large church in Houston, Texas had two bombshells dropped on his head – with more coming that he didn’t even see.

The first was his son coming out and having been diagnosed as being HIV positive. The second came a couple of months later, when the pastor’s daughter-in-law found out she was HIV positive from getting a blood transfusion, and his two grandchildren were HIV positive having been passed through their mother.

Weighed down with this burden, he went to his congregation for love, support, and strength during this time. Instead of compassion, what he got when he told his people of the tragedy that had befallen his family, the church fired him on the spot and ran him out of town.

After hearing what happened to the pastor in Texas, Mack Dingham, minister of education at Central Baptist Church of Bearden, felt lead to do something with the church and community concerning the HIV/AIDS issue.

Early in 1996 he decided to form a group consisting of local medical experts, educators, community leaders from the church, and volunteers. The medical experts came in and educated the group about HIV/AIDS, and how it affects individuals, families, friends, and even the church. Once the group was trained, Dingham decided that the next step was to educate Central Baptist Church.

That’s just what he did. In February 1996 they had an education blitz educating the kids in kindergarten through seniors in high school. From there they educated the adults of the church. The group of doctors, educators, and volunteers were the forbearers of Samaritan Ministries. Samaritan Ministries has been going for about 10 years, with their HIV/AIDS support group going for about five years. The goal of Samaritan Ministries is three fold: first is to help people with HIV/AIDS live better lives. Second is to educate the church and the public about HIV/AIDS and people living with the disease. Lastly they want change the preconceptions the public has about people living with HIV/AIDS.

“Bridging the gap between the faith (Christian) community with the HIV community is the key,” says, Wayne Smith, co-facilitator of Samaritan Ministry. “Christians shouldn’t be in the business of pushing people away from God.” Wayne Smith, formerly a high school principal, retired to work full time for Samaritan Ministry.

Samaritan Ministry provides direct services to clients living with HIV, such as food deliveries, transportation to doctor’s appointments, help with power and rent bills, food, clothing and shelter. It also has a support group that meets monthly. The support group has an average of 12-15 people at their meetings; a group of volunteers from Central Baptist Church comes to the meetings, to provide a hot cooked meal for everyone attending the support group meeting.

Four years ago on World AIDS Day, Samaritan Ministry and Central Baptist Church decided to have a worship service, for those living with HIV/AIDS to attend who didn’t normally go to church or were not welcome at their home church any longer. The special worship service is called Remembrance and Hope. In Remembrance of those special ones we’ve lost to HIV/AIDS over the last two and a half decades, with Hope for a brighter and better future with love through Christ. During this special worship service the AIDS quilt is on exhibit.

Samaritan Ministry mission is to be a beacon of light and hope, by way of Christ, to anyone who suffers from or has family or friends, who suffer from HIV/AIDS. In cooperation with FOCUS Prison Ministry, Samaritan Ministry has a special project producing a video for the Tennessee Department of Corrections. This video will be used at the Brushy Mountain and Morgan County facilities. Dr. Janet Purkey and Bill Williams, retired news anchor with Action10 News, are assisting in this project that deals with Hepatitis C and HIV in the prison system. The project would provide prevention case managers in four East Tennessee State Prisons to work directly with inmates that are considered at risk for HIV infection and inmates there are already HIV positive.

To learn more about Samaritan Ministry you can visit their website at www.samaritancentral.org.