Terre Haute, Indiana: Disciples HIV-AIDS Ministry, a Hands on Mission of Disciples Home Missions will unveil ‘Malachi’, a state of the art outreach unit at General Assembly in Nashville this summer.
“We are nearly 30 years into the HIV epidemic, and more than one million Americans are living with HIV” Jody Grieb, Program Director of Disciples HIV-AIDS Ministry and Volunteer Director of the AIDS Ministry Network of Disciples Home Missions told me recently. I was in New Orleans, Louisiana covering a human rights story and I ran into Jody, who was in town meeting with members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of the Great River Region, the Archdiocese of New Orleans, The Louisiana State Department of Health and the New Orleans AIDS Task force. Jody and I sat on the steps in the shade of St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square. Jody went on, “Under the National HIV-AIDS Strategy for the United States we are called to reduce HIV incidence; increase access to care and optimize health outcomes; and reduce HIV-related health disparities in the U.S. The Strategy also emphasizes the importance of HIV testing and calls us, as people of faith, to action! The National Strategy notes that an estimated 21 percent of people living with HIV in the United States are unaware of their sero-status. Studies show that people who do not know that they are HIV-positive are more likely to engage in risk behaviors associated with HIV transmission. While some of these individuals are already accessing health care services opportunities to diagnose their HIV disease is continually missed. It’s time for us, as people of faith, to get into this fight.”
Jody began to tell me about ‘Malachi’, Disciples newest and greatest response to the HIV epidemic. “Whenever I speak to prevention educators and testers and question them about the obstacles they face in bringing education and testing to their priority population one thing is continually cited – the lack of a proper venue in which to provide confidential testing and services outside of their primary offices. Although testing in night clubs, health clubs and medical clinics has become popular, the number of people reached at these events only account for a fraction of at-risk populations and confidentiality issues continually arise at these venues.
Our experience using a converted cargo van to provide HIV testing over the past two years convinced me that a properly equipped mobile platform could provide a unique opportunity to reach populations that traditionally have been missed.” With private funding, including his salary as Program Director of Disciples HIV-AIDS Ministry of Indiana which he donates back to the ministry, Jody recently started on a journey of epic proportions. In November of 2010 a used 30 foot Blue Bird Transit Bus was purchased from the City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Transit Authority and transported to Terre Haute, Indiana. In January of 2011 the bus was dubbed Malachi. From the Hebrew word Malachias, Malachi translates to ‘my messenger’, a fitting name for a vehicle operated by a faith based organization. In late January of 2011, Malachi was transported to the U.S. Coach Company in Buffalo Gap, Texas, to undergo extensive reconfiguration and re-tasking. When complete, this vehicle will feature two confessional style HIV testing rooms, and a third testing room which is wheelchair accessible via lift. The third room, located in the rear of the vehicle, can be used for phlebotomy and a multitude of other uses such as mobile care coordination, interviews, counseling sessions, therapy sessions, substance abuse counseling and needle exchange services. Indeed, other than medical exams, this mobile platform will be capable of providing all services on the road that can be provided in the office. Limo tinted windows covered by blackout curtains will provide absolute privacy to all persons coming onboard. Malachi will also have a small intake area and seating for five in an area designed for prevention education via oral communication or pre-recorded prevention education/intervention messages via monitors which flip down from the ceiling. Malachi will feature an on-board laboratory area for processing rapid tests and a centrifuge for preparing blood/serum samples. An on-board refrigeration unit will ensure that specimens are kept at the proper temperature until they can be delivered to the state lab.
A pre-wired system will provide internet access and printer services to the computers located in each testing room and the intake area. Secured wireless routers will ensure that these services can be accessed from anywhere on the bus or in the direct vicinity. Malachi will feature two generators, each capable of supplying the platform with energy needs to run all on-board systems and out-board video monitors and sound system. When weather permits, three privacy tents can be unloaded from onboard storage to allow three additional testing sites in the direct vicinity of the bus. An off board video monitor and speaker system will play prevention messages and advertise services to passersby.
Disciples Home Missions has been great to us. They provide support by acting as our fiscal intermediary on contracts and grants. Jody credits Ron Degges (DHM President) with the success of the program. “Ron has been very supportive from the day we met. He truly understands what we’re up against out here in the field and has been very generous with his time and talents in helping get this ministry off the ground”. Jody also credits Lonna Owens (VP for Finance at DHM) with helping keep him grounded.
Jody noted that this is the only vehicle of it’s kind in the Midwest. Malachi will debut in Nashville for General Assembly this July. After Assembly Malachi will travel to its new home in New Orleans, LA.
“There were several factors taken into consideration when we decided to relocate Malachi from Indiana to Louisiana. The primary one was the prevalence of HIV. Of the states who track HIV infections, Louisiana currently ranks 9th while Indiana ranks 28th. The Louisiana State Department of Health strongly encouraged us to make this relocation and has pledged funding over the next five years to supplement our budget while the Indiana State Department of Health declined to participate in the program at all.”
Malachi will debut in Nashville where volunteers with Disciples HIV-AIDS Ministry will provide HIV testing for those attending Assembly during the daytime and will assist a local organization, “Nashville Cares” with testing in the evening. Disciples HIV-AIDS Ministry and the Malachi Project receive no direct funding from the church. The almost one hundred and fifty thousand dollar budget comes from private giving, state contracts, and private grants.
Congregations that would like an appearance by Malachi at an event can contact Jody Grieb – [email protected], or call Jody at 812.229.8192.
More information is available online: www.discipleshomemissions.org, www.disciplesbus.com, or on Facebook – Malachi – Disciples Hiv-Aids Ministry: www.facebook.com/pages/Malachi-Disciples-Hiv-Aids-Ministry/113865595368886
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by Judah David