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PRESS RELEASE NO. 24
LWF Youth Delegates
Push for Open Dialogue on HIV/AIDS
Presentation Highlights Urgency of HIV/AIDS Crisis
WINNIPEG, Canada, 28 July
2003 - Choking
back the tears, her voice quivering with emotion, Leonie Vries from
Namibia told the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Tenth Assembly how
she lost her best friend to HIV/AIDS.
The woman died of
HIV/AIDS-related tuberculosis four years ago. She had been infected
by her husband, who had died two years earlier after contracting the
HIV/AIDS virus through extra-marital affairs. Their oldest child is
HIV-positive and still alive. Their second child, a little girl,
lived only up to the age of two years. The woman lingered for
several years, growing thinner and weaker, with Vries as her
volunteer caregiver. Finally, only 34 years old, she died.
The Assembly audience sat
in solemn, respectful silence as Vries, 22, and the other 67 LWF
youth delegates urged them to deal openly and directly with
"Let us fully break
the silence," said James Tan of Malaysia. "Let us make
prevention a priority."
their point, youth delegates wearing black T-shirts stood silently
on stage, their mouths crisscrossed shut with masking tape. Around
their necks hung signs with the birth dates and death dates of
nameless people. At the bottom of the signs in capital letters was
the line: "Stop HIV/AIDS." Finally, on cue, the youth
members removed the tape, symbolizing open communication about the
dreaded disease sweeping across many countries.
The dramatic presentation
on HIV/AIDS and homosexuality highlighted a youth open hearing at
the LWF Assembly this morning (Monday). The hearing focused largely
on the issues of HIV/AIDS and human sexuality.
The seriousness of
HIV/AIDS was powerfully illustrated when audience members were asked
to stand up. They were then told they represented the people newly
infected by HIV/AIDS throughout the world within the past hour –
570 – about the same number as those attending the LWF Assembly.
Nearly half of those who get the disease are young people, including
Finally, the audience was
asked to link hands in a symbol of solidarity against the scourge of
As one youth delegate put
it: "We simply ask that we talk openly about this issue."
Many of the LWF youth
delegates earlier attended a Pre-Assembly Youth Conference (PAYC) in
Guelph, Ontario, July 12 to 18. They presented LWF General Secretary
Ishmael Noko with a collection taken at the PAYC meeting and asked
that the money be donated to HIV/AIDS prevention programs.
Noko said in an interview
afterwards he took the youth delegates’ message seriously.
"The message is clear
and loud," said Noko. "We have to provide space for
discussions at family levels, in confirmation class groups within
the church, and also between adults in the other generation,
particularly about sexual education."
Later, Vries said people
must wake up to the reality of HIV/AIDS and the importance of
treating its victims with compassion.
"AIDS is real. It
doesn’t just happen to someone else. It happens to us all. Even if
you’re not infected with the disease, you are affected," she
said in an interview.
"The little time that
we have with one another, we should show one another love. We should
accept each other no matter what.
"It’s a very lonely
world if you have it and nobody wants anything to do with you."
The LWF Assembly adopted
several resolutions concerning youth. Delegates agreed to refer to
the LWF Council a PAYC recommendation that a Youth in Church in
Society secretary be hired regardless of financial considerations.
Another resolution urging member churches to encourage the
participation of youth in their worship and decision-making
processes at all levels was passed.
Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is taking place
21-31 July 2003 in Winnipeg, Canada, under the theme "For the
Healing of the World." It is being hosted by the Evangelical
Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC).
There are around 820 men, women and youth participants in the Tenth
Assembly including 380 delegates from the
133 churches with full membership and three associate members. The Assembly is the highest
decision-making body of the LWF, and meets normally every six years.
Between Assemblies, the LWF is governed by its Council that meets
annually, and by its Executive Committee.
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