Although Romans 3:23 says we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God, some believers assume that pastors and prophets are beyond reproach and immune to HIV and Aids. But as Reverend Pathengo Banda of the Balaka Zambezi Evangelical Church (ZEC) told our reporter WATIPASO MZUNGU JNR in Balaka last week, faith leaders are equally vulnerable to the virus.
Some people believe that HIV and Aids is God’s punishment for sinners. Do you agree?
I disagree. HIV and Aids is not a punishment; rather, it is a scourge just like other scourges the world has had such as polio. It has nothing to do with punishment for sins of mankind.
But why should God send a scourge to torment his own people? What is his intention?
You should appreciate that God loves us despite sinning against him. It is not his intention to wipe us out through this pandemic, but to teach us to live by his ordinances. I believe that God sent HIV and Aids to test our faith in him. Remember what happened to Job? He suffered for decades although he was faultless. After testing him, God restored his health and wealth. I believe that God will restore the health and wealth of those who will remain faithful to their creator although they are going through misery because of HIV and Aids.
The Community of Sant’ Egidio’s Drug Resource Enhancement against Aids and Malnutrition (DREAM) is concerned that some churches pose a threat to the fight against the disease. This follows revelations that people living with HIV and Aids are abandoning ARVs because of prayers.What do you recommend between prayer and ARVs?
I would recommend both prayer and ARVs. We all need the intervention of God when something goes wrong. However, we need to understand that the use of drugs is another means of seeking God’s intervention. God himself commissioned the use of drugs to cure diseases. King Hezekiah is a very good reference point for this. God advised Hezekiah to prepare poultice to cure a boil that had tormented him for some time. This is despite the fact that Hezekiah remained prayerful during the time of his illness. This is to signify that God can use any method he prefers to cure our diseases.
What role have you as faith leaders played in scaling up the provision of care and support to people affected by HIV and Aids?
Initially, our role was limited to the provision of spiritual assistance to people infected or affected by the virus. However, the coming in of DREAM Programme has helped us to expand our role. We are now involved in identifying people and families who may need assistance after being infected or affected by the problem. We also provide psychosocial support to children infected or affected by HIV and Aids.
Some people believe that pastors and prophets cannot contract HIV and Aids. Is this true?
As long as they are human, they can never be spared the pandemic unless they observe all abstinence and prevention measures. Therefore, no one should deceive you that simply because they are a pastor or prophet, they cannot contract the virus. The truth is that there are so many pastors and prophets in the country who are living with the virus. However, they are failing to come out in the open for fear of being rebuked by their congregations. Let me take this opportunity to appeal to organisations working in the HIV and Aids sector to extend their messages to faith leaders as well. We are equally infected and affected by this pandemic.