The President and Community Initiatives
To commemorate World AIDS Day last Friday, President George W. Bush and his wife Laura met with representatives of faith-based groups in a roundtable discussion at Calvary United Methodist Church in Mount Airy.
The purpose of the meeting was at least two-fold. First, the president wanted to have a conversation to better understand their experiences and roles in the global fight against HIV/AIDS.
The second reason was to highlight the important role of faith and community-based organizations partnering with the president's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in this world-wide struggle.
I jumped at the chance to cover the event. I have covered two previous presidential visits. I mention this because in spite of my advancing years, there is still an exhilaration that comes with the opportunity to meet a president of The United States, especially this president, as it is my personal view that history will be kind to such a great leader.
There is a theme, which has resonated from my previous experiences, that is important to highlight. In spite of the dominant narrative established by the elite media, Mr. Bush’s visits to central Maryland have brought to light his empathy and compassion.
On October 7, 2001, I attended the 20th Annual National Fallen Firefighter's Memorial Services at the National Emergency Training Center in Emmitsburg. President Bush was the first president to honor the families of the fallen firefighters by attending these ceremonies in the then-20-year history of the services.
The next visit of the president I covered was on December 8, 2001. At that time he went to the Church of the Brethren Warehouse in New Windsor to take part in the first shipment of humanitarian aid from American children to their counterparts in Afghanistan.
For those of us with one foot in the past and another in the future, we can remember when challenges in our greater community were met by the community coming together to roll up our sleeves and formulate solutions to meet those challenges.
A sea change has occurred in just one generation in how we as a greater community deal with problems. Fortunately the view of many remains that most – not all, mind you – problems are best met by faith-based and community initiatives, and local government.
To be certain, there are those who believe that big government, and the accompanying big taxes, solve problems. I respect that point of view; however, I disagree. It is far better to contribute to cost-effective and innovative local initiatives rather than have money confiscated by taxes to invest in big government.
Furthermore, it hurts my head when those who feel that the failure to support big government initiatives demonstrates a lack of compassion.
Many of us agree with the president’s position, when he said: “from the first days of my administration, we've championed the idea that those in need are better served when government draws on the strengths of every willing community partner – secular and faith-based, large and small … These efforts fortify America's safety net and expand our nation's supply of compassion.”
The president selected Mt. Airy’s Calvary United Methodist Church because it has a history of supporting the global fight against HIV/AIDS. He said “faith-based groups like these are the foot soldiers in the armies of compassion.”
In 2007, the church budgeted $125,000 toward its 33 mission projects. Those projects include “Gary and Rebecca Mink Ministries,” which the church has supported for 15 years, and the Children of Zion Village (COZV) group home and school in Namibia, in southeast Africa.
COZV was founded by the Minks, who are from Rising Sun, MD, and the Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Bel Air, nearly six years ago. After an exploratory trip by four volunteers to COZV in 2006, 18 Calvary church members, primarily from Frederick County, divided into two teams and spent a number of weeks at COZV in June and July of this year.
The 17-acre school is the home to 55 children, between the ages of 2 and 17, who were orphaned by AIDS. It is located in the Caprivi Zepel – panhandle of Namibia, near the town of Katima Mulilo.
The 45-minute private meeting with the president and the first lady last Friday was attended by Calvary’s Rev. Dennis Yocum, Ms. Mink, Clydia Koch – an administrative coordinator at Calvary, who went on both Calvary sponsored trips to Namibia, and several other missionaries and representatives of AIDS faith-based initiatives.
After the meeting, the president made a 12-minute statement to a closed gathering of national and local press in which he announced plans to visit sub-Saharan Africa in 2008 to highlight the plight of AIDS and the need for additional funding.
In his remarks, the president pledged to “turn the tide against HIV/AIDS – once and for all.”
After the president’s remarks, Ms. Mink said that as they walked up the stairs to meet with the press, the president put his arm around her shoulders and said: “You are one of our heroes.” She was “impressed that the president was very down-to-earth. He laughed with us. He cried with us. I could tell that he really cares.”
Lisa McLaughlin, the Children of Zion Village board chairman, who was also in the meeting, echoed that it was obvious the president was moved by the meeting. “He had tears in his eyes,” she said as she nodded in agreement with Ms. Mink.
In a recent conversation, 6th District Congressman Roscoe Bartlett reiterated that “private efforts, like that of Calvary United Methodist Church, to assist AIDS victims in Africa are most fulfilling, and it is just such an initiative that we ought to remember at the Christmas holidays.”
To learn more about Calvary and/or its numerous mission projects – or hopefully, to make a contribution – visit www.calvary-mtairy.org .The address is: Gary and Rebecca Mink Ministries, Calvary United Methodist Church, 403 South Main Street, Mount Airy, MD 21771.
For more information on the Children of Zion Village visit www.childrenofzionvillage.org.
Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at: email@example.com