For at least 5 years I participated in a wonderful service provided by Dr. Donna Sweet, ….the AIDS Doctor…in Wichita. Just before Christmas Dr. Sweet would invite Clients, and friends of the Clients, to attend a wonderful Christmas dinner at the First United Methodist Church. It was a turkey dinner with all the trimmings of a family style meal. It was a time for those facing uncertainties about life and death to take a break and to socialize with others sharing the same dilemma. I was invited to attend, probably because I have been certified twice as a legitimate worker with those with Hiv and AIDS. I was also privileged to take a local young man who has Hiv. Though we were not familiar with most of the people that attended, we were able to make new friends and I was able to interpret for a deaf person or so, using the American Sign Language. Part of the agenda was some sort of program provided by staff that works with Dr. Sweet and some of her clients. Most of the time it was an opportunity to act crazy and to sing some songs. It was certainly a good time to be held by all. I noted the youth of a United Methodist Church in Wichita served as hosts and servers, which allowed them to learn more about knowing persons with the disease. Each year there was a different church providing youth for the opportunity to serve this worthwhile program and dinner. As you could imagine, there was a drawing with prizes and beyond that each participant went home with a gift and a sack of fruit and candy goodies. Each year it was the same gift…..a beautiful ball, a Christmas ornament inscribed….”A Christmas to Remember” with the year it was given. I am very proud of my collection of ornaments.
Being Christmas, there was definitely a Santa Clause where one could sit on his lap for a picture to be taken. My picture sort of overshadowed Santa by my size but it was all in fun and I got to tell Santa what I wanted for Christmas.
During the Spring or Summer of each year Dr. Sweet sponsored a yard party for the AIDS, Hiv Community. It was an opportunity for friends and Clients to come together and have a wonderful outside meal, plenty of beverages and even cotton candy. Being a yard party the menu was usually hot dogs and or hamburgers with all the trimmings. At this event, many of the Wichita businessmen donated fine pieces of art, and other expensive items for auction. This was a time for the businessmen and other doctors to contribute to the work Dr. Sweet does in the State of Kansas.. Some items went for a very high price, but the items were not run of the mill auction items either. Again it was a wonderful time to socialize and to make new friends in the AIDS Community.
Back in the late 1990;s, I enrolled in a program for certification to be an AIDS worker. It was so meaningful to me, I enrolled a second time and was certified a second time. The training was with patients who were experiencing Hiv and AIDS in their lives, and helped those of us in the training to understand how to work around such clients and how to talk with them appropriately. I thought the most meaningful part of the training was the exercises helping to get past the small talk and to delve deeper into the feelings of the individual client without being intrusive or insulting. This is where one has a chance to challenge the heartfelt love they have for ALL human beings with no conditions attached.
It was shortly after my certification process, I became a regular visitor at the housing development for people with AIDS or Hiv. This was a Mennonite housing project and the apartments were usually full with a waiting list of those seeking to live in a non-discriminatory environment. Once a month we had a meal at the apartment complex clubhouse, which was generated by a couple Catholic Nuns I was able to form some very meaningful friendships and often was called to help a client for one reason or another. When I visited about once a week or so, the residents knew me as Pastor Joe and was anxious to visit with me about what had happened in their lives.
On Lincoln Avenue in Wichita is a Nursing Home that accepted AIDS patients. Some of them were waiting out the remainder of their life. I became a regular visitor to the home, bringing my autoharp or playing the piano to which I sang a variety of songs. I usually brought each patient some small gift such as a small cross, a Christian bookmark or some other item that they could keep in remembrance of my visit. Some of these patients latched on to me as a lifelong friend which was a blessing to me as well.
In the late 90’s it was reported to me by the Health Department and by AIDS workers in Wichita that Cowley County had at least 32 people with AIDS or HIV. The number has lowered with the advent of better medication and the fact that most clients from Cowley County moves to Wichita where they will have greater access to Dr. Sweet, and where they are treated with more care. I was told by a client about SRS being rude to or denied services to AIDS and Hiv patrons. This was exactly why I was certified to recognize those kinds of abuses, and served very well as a mission of my ministry. I simply set up a meeting between SRS and the AIDS Support Services delegate and today the treatment by SRS (now called CFS) is much better. There are still people with Hiv and AIDS in Cowley County and I still visit with 3 of them on a semi-regular basis
——–Woe to me because of my injury! My wound is incurable! Yet I said to myself, “This is my sickness, and I must endure it.” Jeremiah 10:19
—–But some of them said, Could not this man, who opened the eyes of him was blind, have caused that this man also should not die? John 11:37
—– So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” John 11:3