In an act of faith, the Good Samaritan Church, Pinellas Park, FL, sent to its sister churches in southern Africa a large full-spectrum piece of material with the word "AIDS" and a cross inscribed upon it. Whatever its intended purpose, it was unstated and seemingly uncompleted. Partnership was intended. The Holy Spirit inspired those who had received the material to complete the project so that it would have true meaning where it was sent.
The Berea Congregational Church appropriately added matching panels and swatches and converted the material into a large banner. Breathtaking in its beauty, it was envisioned that the banner would remember the past thereby evoking a great deal of optimism and hope for the future. For one year, a different local church will host the banner each month. The congregations will pin white ribbons to the banner with the names of loved ones who died of AIDS inscribed upon them. The banner will travel around the region, gradually filling-up with white ribbons, and confront churches with the depth of the crisis within the church yet also remind them of the eternal hope we have.
In South Africa, often called the ‘Rainbow Nation,’ six and one half million, or one and five adults, are infected with HIV. Approximately nine hundred people a day die in South Africa. For most, if not all, Congregationalist church members in kwaZulu-Natal, AIDS is not a disease one discloses. Many who are infected are silenced during life as well as death. The silence produces hopelessness. We believe that by recognizing and remembering the tragedy, specifically the individual tragedies, we can invoke hope.
The banner represents an almost inexplicable lesson of our faith. The story of Noah made the rainbow a sign of hope for the future because it was a reminder of the past. This interesting paradox is being emulated in the sojourn of the HIV and AIDS banner throughout local churches in kwaZulu-Natal, an area that many consider to be the epicenter of the global pandemic. The global deluge is not an event that humans would want to necessarily remember. The deaths of so many members of the one’s community, church, and family are not comfortably recollected either. Yet, in the pain of the past, faith in the future can be borne. The banner can be likened to the rainbow and cross: reminders of a tragedy and simultaneously signs of hope and an eternal promise that God shall never leave us.
Scott Couper and Susan Valiquette are missionaries serving in South Africa. Scott serves with the UCCSA as pastor at a UCCSA congregation in Durban. Susan serves with the Inanda Seminary in KwaZuluNatal, South Africa as chaplain.