Spotlight: Channels of Love
I visited while in Chattanooga and initially met a client who was doing laundry and meeting with a case worker. She explained her frustration with isolation, her battle with addiction and even her rejection from local churches.
As we struggle to cope with our own brokenness, we often miss the healing that is available in listening to others without judging them. Ubuntu teaches us that our own humanity is recognizable in the eyes of every other person, and this is the connection that holds the key to transcending ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Susan Davis, Channels of Love’s longtime Director, spoke to me about how their ministry tries to meet the needs of people with HIV/AIDS in a way that affirms the wholeness of each person.
How do you try to provide holistic support to clients?
“We aren’t here to beat people over the head with the Bible, but to help them learn that they are unconditionally loved and how that can help. Many of our members come from broken families so they don’t know they can be loved. This is an inner-city ministry so other factors like poverty come into play. If someone’s homeless, we can’t start talking to them about ‘Did you get your lab work?’ This person needs a place to live.
“We have to look at people holistically here. We’re a very relational ministry and that’s given us the privilege of being able to speak truth in people’s lives, but that comes from relationship. We strive every day for this not to be an ‘us’ and ‘them’ ministry. We certainly didn’t do anything to warrant being born into a middle-class family.”
In other words, it sounds like people who are HIV positive have been rehumanized, as though we are now saying, “You’re worth saving.” What does this shift look like for clients?
“That’s true! From our standpoint, I don’t know how many recognize that shift. We’ve certainly seen a difference in some clients who don’t see the death sentence. What’s difficult is clients who’ve been positive a long time and they’ve seen so many friends die. It’s so difficult to get them to live like they can live — it’s like they live under a cloud of HIV and other people see the cloud, but that’s not the reality.”
“The general public has a picture in their head of what the face of HIV looks like. HIV looks like me and you. It doesn’t care if you’re black or white or what school you went to. We haven’t seen the community change as much as we’d like because people are afraid to tell others — even at work they’re afraid the employer will find some ‘other’ reason to fire them — so there’s this big fear and secrecy over HIV. It also goes back to seeing so many people die from AIDS that people are still like, ‘Are they sure?'”
How do you seek to transcend that division and counter that fear?
“I think obviously one of the ways we do that is we don’t take away anyone’s self-worth by doing too much for them. Oftentimes we have a tendency to do too much instead of helping people see how much they can do for themselves. I think that helps to instill a sense of pride. This isn’t a crutch but another tool in their toolbox.
“It’s also about not putting our own values on someone else, that understanding it’s not that our values are right and theirs are wrong. We have to come to a place where we understand differences without that. It grows that ‘us’ and ‘them’ for things to be addressed as right and wrong or good and bad. We try not to impose our own values on anyone else’s situation.”