The Diocese of Niassa is situated in the Northern half of the Republic of Mozambique. Due to centuries of occupation, almost two decades of civil war, and severe flooding in 1999 and 2000, Mozambique is going through a long struggle out of severe poverty. Despite a relatively low unemployment rate for the region (21%), 70% of the population of 19 million lives below the poverty line.
HIV prevalence in this country is estimated around 5% of the population, although no voluntary testing facilities are available and testing by the National Health services is not widespread.
Although Portuguese is the official language of Mozambique, the majority of Mozambicans speak Portuguese as their second language.
||The Rt Revd Mark van Koevering
|Diocesan HIV & AIDS Coordinator:
||Rebecca Vander Meulen
||+258 82 668999
||Kuchijinji Lichinga Niassa Mozambique
||Diocese of Niassa CP264 Lichinga Mozambique
||+258 71 20336
||+258 71 20336
Diocesan HIV & AIDS Coordinator: Rebecca Vander Meulen
Rebecca began volunteering as a part time Diocesan HIV & AIDS Coordinator for Niassa in February 2004. In September, she was appointed to the position in a full time capacity.
Brief background: “I have been working on HIV and AIDS issues in Lichinga since July 2003, when I began advising two local organisations: one which does HIV education, and one which is an association of people living with HIV.
I spent two years working at Bread for the World in Washington DC. We lobbied the U.S. Congress on issues related to hunger and poverty around the world.
I have a master’s of public health degree (with a focus on international community health), and studied biology and international development at the bachelor’s level.”
What makes her tick?
“I first came to Mozambique to take samples of 100 latrines, which I analyzed as part of a broader study of sanitation. I really enjoyed Lichinga and wanted to return. I’m a happy person during mango season (November to February). I enjoy taking photographs.”
Rebecca belongs to the Parish of Santa Cruz, Bairro Popular, Lichinga. She is also a member of the Committee for Evaluation of Projects, Niassa Chapter of the National Council to Combat STDs, HIV, and AIDS and an advisor to both Associação Kwimuka (local association of people living with HIV, and their supporters) and Associação Conhecimento é Poder (“Knowledge is Power Association,” conducts HIV education).
We, the Diocese of Niassa, must play a crucial role in responding to HIV and AIDS.
We must play a crucial role not because we are an active part of civil society in Northern Mozambique, although we are. In many areas we are the largest – or even the only – non-governmental entity. In some communities our church buildings are the only non-residential structures, and in some communities every family considers itself Anglican.
We must play a crucial role not because we have a history of caring for people who are sick and struggling, although this is part of our heritage: our original mission had the biggest hospital in the area, and member of our Mother’s Union have long nursed those who are suffering.
Instead, we must play a crucial role because we are the church –the living body of Christ. As the church, we follow our incarnate God, who served us on earth – and continues to unconditionally love and accept each one of us. We are ambassadors of Christ, representing the kingdom of God both within and outside of the church.
Understanding our calling as the body of Christ, we understand that care is not something we give when people are dying, but through life. Care cannot be limited to people living with HIV and AIDS, but instead must be for all of us who are struggling – mentally and physically. At time this care will, indeed, be medical, but such care is only one aspect.
Understanding our calling as the body of Christ, we can strive for right and whole relationships with each other. Profound respect of others and fidelity within marriage are not merely tools for preventing HIV, but pathways to abundant life and full relationships.
Empowerment of women is also crucial not only in our struggle against HIV, but in our struggle to live out the message that Christ has broken down the dividing walls, and in Christ there is no male or female, slave or free, Jew or Greek. We can then discover the wonderful implications of living in grace (grace that can flow over into the tensions that emerge from our nature as a multi-tribal church).
Our clergy are not able to meet the needs of their parishes. The diocese has 16 active priests for 340 congregations.
In most of our rural congregations, no Portuguese is spoken. Congregations in our diocese worship in five different local languages, and believers speak three additional languages (in which prayer books are not yet available).
Our congregations vary dramatically in their general experience of the world and in their specific understanding of the HIV. Although the majority of our congregations are in very rural, remote areas, some are in urban centers (for example in Nampula, Mozambique’s third largest city). Fundamentals of the gospel, and what it means to be a church, are universal principles that will apply in every congregation. Specific plans will need to vary greatly throughout the diocese.
Logistically, vast distances and poor infrastructure are major impediments to communication and coordination. Our diocese stretches more than 1800 kilometers from one side to the other, and many congregations are accessible only by boat, or only in the dry season. (We aren’t even really sure of how many congregations exist – we have heard rumours of some that we haven’t yet identified.) Telephone access is available in few of our communities.
The diocese has few financial resources. We currently have three cars, all of which are at least 10 years old. Financial giving from congregations is very low. A reliable used car (double cab), costing $10,000 - $12,000, would greatly help; the HIV team currently does not have regular access to a reliable car.
Historically, leadership in northern Mozambique has been quite hierarchical and formal. People in power tell people with less power how things should be done. Like, education is very rote; a teacher transmits to the students one right explanation. This type of learning, void of dialogue, is what people think of as education. Meanwhile, many people have never received any formal training. In our rural areas, 65% of women are illiterate.
The type of servant leadership and community learning required for the realisation of this new vision often seems strange and novel to those who have never experienced it. It will take intentional teaching and learning.
Even basic understanding of HIV is quite low. Many church leaders at our recent Diocesan Synod were unable to explain how people get infected with HIV. Like others in their communities, they have never received good teaching.
Beyond HIV, there is, in general, a poor understanding of health and medicine. People tend to believe, for example, that bigger pills are more powerful than small ones, and that injections are better than medicines taken by mouth – even if they rationally understand these things are not the case. In this context of low understanding, people seek explanations for illness from many sources. Because Christianity often lacks answers about origins of illness (or doesn’t even attempt to address the questions), Christians look to traditional beliefs for explanation. Traditional animism is typically far better at explaining health than Christianity. Therefore, health education based on biology has an important role in the church and can strengthen Christian faith.
In many of our communities, morality and biology are hard to separate. Disease – ANY disease – is rarely seen to be merely biological. People regularly are “sent” diseases or commit some moral failure that leads to illness. A common question for any disease (not just AIDS) is “who sent it?” “Who sent HIV” and “how did YOU get HIV” are fundamental questions people ask.
There is deep and broad church growth happening spontaneously in many areas where there has not been a significant Anglican presence before. There are more than 90 new congregations in Milange, and nearly 40 in Morrupula. However, these churches have few bibles and prayer books, and most catechists lack any training. In some areas where the church is deeply rooted, there are groups of youth actively working to bring new growth and revival.
The training that our leaders have received has been sacramental in focus. In light of HIV and AIDS, this must be supplemented with training in contextual leadership, and with the theological grounding to lead theological reflection at the community level.
HIV and AIDS are the fire that can refine the church by revealing its weaknesses. The response to HIV requires the church to be rooted in the Spirit of God and empowered by grace – any weaker foundation will fail. However, the fruits of a church rooted in God and empowered by grace extend far beyond the area of HIV.
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