Recent statistics show that HIV/AIDS in Uganda is again on the rise. Some say the public has grown complacent, in part because of a false sense of security. Critics say that sense of security may be due in part to certain groups that say prayer cures AIDS and that blood tests for the disease show mistrust in God. From Kampala, VOA’s Peterson Ssendi has this report.
Many Pentecostal churches in Kampala invite the afflicted to be cured.
Mrs. Frances Adroa, who is HIV-positive, took them up on the offer.
She said, “I am a sick person (I have HIV AIDS) so, I was promised that if I sacrificed then I would be healed. I sacrificed my car and soon after that, I fell very sick. I was actually sick toward the end of 2005 and most of last year. When I got better, I came back to claim my car because I was still sick anyway. What they had promised had not come to pass. So, when I came to claim it back they just turned around and started blaming me."
That’s when she contacted a Pentecostal pastor, Solomon Male. Pastor Male is also the director of Arising for Christ Ministries in Kampala. It’s a local Christian group dedicated to fighting what it says are false Christian teachings in Pentecostal churches.
The ministry worked with Adroa to retrieve a car that she had given to a local church in exchange for being healed of HIV AIDS.
Pastor Male says the church misled her.
"This lady," he explains, "comes to me in great pain. They [said] if she gives her vehicle as a sacrifice for her ailment she will be healed of HIV. She gave the vehicle, she was not healed. She went to [re-claim it]. They told her “you [owe] Ug. shs 2,050,000. [ or US $ 1,216.620]. she refused because she did not have the money after one year being bedridden. "
The head of the church said he did not promise to cure her, but only promised her God’s healing.
Those who do complain say they’re told that in order for a miracle to occur, one must not confront pastors, who the Bible says are “men of God” and “anointed ones.”
The church eventually returned the car, but with over one thousand dollars worth repairs needed that the church will not pay.
According to Frances Adroa, Pentacostal churches like her own emphasize the name of God and promises miracles in exchange for valuables.
She said, " They come and say 'You have to sacrifice your best.' And you really believe that what they are telling you is the truth so, that’s what I did. They even asked us (for) requests, which they are going to take to Mount Sinai and pray (over). They are using God’s name to cheat people. I did not believe that they could do that to me. You believe pastors to be on a certain level that’s how every body looks at them.
Francis Adroa is not the only one to complain of misbehavior by certain Pentecostal church leaders.
Susan Walusimbi is another who has put her case in the hands of Pastor Solomon Male.
The young woman accuses her former pastor of encouraging her to enter into a relationship with a man who she says later died of AIDS. Walusimbi says she, too, is now infected, and is staying healthy thanks to anti-retrovirals.
The church official allegedly told her that the man had been cured of HIV/AIDS and showed her an HIV status report for him – signed by the pastor’s doctor – saying he was HIV-negative.
Walusimbi said the church supported the couple – and others – by providing them with a one-night “accommodation” at a local hotel before marriage. It was here, says Walusimbi, that she and her proposed husband began their relationship.
A spokesman for the church maintains that the man was not infected with the HIV virus and there is no proof that he died of AIDS. Walusimbi says tests taken by her future husband after he fell sick showed he was indeed infected. He died before the two could be married.
Dr. Sam Okware is the deputy director of Clinical Services for the Ministry of Health. He says it is investigating the reported spiritual healings.
“I think it should be investigated and am talking about everything even if it is just prayers or spiritual healing or something like that there is some investigation carried out,” he said.
Pastor Solomon Male of Arising for Christ Ministry says that probe is not enough – because, he says, it is not a judicial investigation. Male says he wants a judicial investigation, but the government has not yet responded.
Pentecostal pastor Bishop David Kiganda is the chairman of the National Fellowship of Born Again Churches (NFBC) in charge of Kampala District. He says it’s only a minority of Pentecostal pastors who are involved in questionable activities. He says all groups have members who stray or fail to uphold standards, and his denomination is no different. He and the National Fellowship of Born Again Churches led an effort called Operation Clean the House to rid the denomination of dishonest preachers. At the end of the effort, he declared 15 of his fellow churches to be “cults.”
Health advocates are also reacting to the controversy.
In an e-mailed comment in April, Craig McClure, the executive director of the International AIDS Society, denounced churches that attribute HIV / AIDS to “demons.” He said, “The use of this terminology, specifically referring to HIV as a demon, serves only to fuel the stigma and discrimination related to HIV infection. He says HIV/AIDS is not a demon. It is a biological and medical condition.”
He emphasizes that anti-retroviral treatments are scientifically proven to prolong the lives of people living with HIV. He says it’s irresponsible to urge people to stop this treatment as a show of faith.