Build up the body of Christ. Support the Pentecost Offering.

Standing at the crossroads on AIDS Awareness Sunday

Hope is to end HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

Mission co-worker Janet Guyer (left) with Buyelwa Maringa (right), co-facilitator for Footprints training with Maureen (center). (Photo provided)

Mission co-worker Janet Guyer (left) with Buyelwa Maringa (right), co-facilitator for Footprints training with Maureen (center). (Photo provided)

LOUISVILLE – The second Sunday of Advent is Presbyterian AIDS Awareness Sunday and PC(USA) mission co-worker the Rev. Janet Guyer believes, as many others do, we are at a crossroads.

“We are in a window of moral urgency,” she said. “If we do not end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030, it becomes a pandemic, worse than anything we’ve seen so far and resistant to current medications. We must act now.”

According to UNAIDS, there were about 36.7 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2015, with 1.8 million infected children. Most of the children were infected by their HIV positive mothers during pregnancy, child birth or breast feeding.

Guyer is now serving as a facilitator for women and children’s interests. She was previously the HIV and AIDS consultant for Southern Africa, the most affected region in the world, and continues to do some work with HIV and AIDS.

She believes faith communities can play a critical role in caring for those affected, providing education programs that help reduce stigma and misinformation about HIV/AIDS, and increase testing and access to services both at home and around the world. That sentiment was echoed at the 222nd General Assembly (2016) in Portland, which passed an overture on “equipping and mobilizing member congregations to better serve those living with AIDS.” Mission co-worker Doug Tilton, regional liaison for South Africa, was instrumental in drafting the overture.

Guyer’s own HIV/AIDS education began before the disease had a name. “I was visiting a friend in San Francisco and he sat me down and said, ‘Janet, there’s this disease out there and they don’t know how you get it. All they know is that if you get it you are probably going to die and I may have it.’”

An ordained minister, who grew up in a missionary home, with degrees in social work and education, she is the daughter of a doctor and she knew about growing up in the tropics with all kinds of diseases. But she quickly learned this was far different. In seminary, she attended every AIDS conference she could to learn about the disease. After graduation, she headed to Thailand to begin her AIDS work there.

“When I first started working with HIV in Thailand,” she said, “I can remember coming back to the states and saying, can you image if two percent of the popular had HIV, two in every 100, 1 in every 50? Wouldn’t that be awful? Then I moved to Africa.” Now she prays that the countries in which she works could have only a two percent infection rate.

In Africa, 25.6 million people were living with HIV in 2015. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for about two-thirds of the global total of new AIDS infections. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported this week that in South Africa there are 1,000 new infections daily.

In Guyer’s work she acts as a trainer and teacher, but also as a listener. “I’m not the one to go in and tell people what to do, I’m the one to go in and listen to them and hear what their concerns are. Then we talk about it together,” she said.

With EMPACT Africa (Empowering Pastors to Act), she shared in the training of church partners in both Zambia and Zimbabwe on HIV and AIDS, creating training teams within the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) churches in both countries. EMPACT Africa helps churches launch programs to name and stop stigma against people living with or affected by the HIV virus. This program is similar to ones she worked with in South Africa and Lesotho. The eight-day sessions include the Christian AIDS Bureau of Southern Africa—CABSA—and focus on the basics concerning HIV and AIDS and exploring the Christian response.

Misinformation, stigma and cultural norms help spread the disease. For instance, in Africa, some believe that sleeping with an Albino or having sex with a virgin can cure you of the disease. Young women are dramatically affected because of the tradition of early marriage. A 15-year-old is married to a 35-year-old man who has the disease. He passes it on to his young wife and she passes the disease along to their infant in childbirth.

“Now with ARVs (antiretroviral medication), treatment is light-years better,” she said. “Today, if you get tested early enough there is really not reason to even be symptomatic if you can catch the disease at an early stage.” But she said, some have told her they would rather die of the disease than admit they have it.

She also worked with the Rev. Buyelw Maringa of the Evangelical Church of South Africa in developing and implementing the “Footprints” training projects that encompass 80 hours of education on eight weekends over five to six months. Teams of people in small communities are trained as HIV/AIDS experts. All teams include an older woman, a man and a young person.

“It’s a very organic process to be caring for people who are caring for people with the virus,” she said. “Traditionally that’s what neighbors did, care for one another. The church has the heart for it but they lack support, mostly for training. Training is the key. We have a good model.”

Two other mission co-workers are actively involved in in supporting the HIV/AIDS training of partner churches. Elizabeth Turk, long-time mission co-worker in Madagascar and Luta Garbat-Welch, the Africa community health facilitator, both of whom have master’s degrees in public health.


HIV/AIDS worship materials are available for download on the Presbyterian Mission Agency website at

To donate to continuing HIV/AIDS education, click on

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.