Bonosi Sewagodimo: Some pastors are afraid to ruffle feathers. They think they will lose followers by talking about these issues or even disclosing their HIV statuses
BY SUN REPORTER
A devout evangelist living with HIV, Bonosi Segamodimo believes prayer is not always enough for the many human problems that require human solutions.
One of those problems is HIV/AIDS and she says it’s time pastors and church leaders stopped the wilful blindness that the church makes in conversations around sex and HIV/AIDS.
“The reality is that HIV doesn’t go away when you don’t talk about it. This is a virus that thrives on secrecy and shame,” she said in an interview. “We need to be truthful and not live double lives.
“Facts are, even with teachings about no sex before marriage, people are having sex in the church. Some of them are not married yet, some are married and they are being promiscuous. Even more important, young people as young as 14 years are exploring sex.
“Many people are being abused, but we don’t have these conversations in our churches.” Even as she talks, you can see the passion in her eyes. And beneath that passion you can sense the desperation in her voice.
While confident and outspoken, there is something about Segamodimo’s demeanour that tells you the 37- year-old mother of two has been to hell and back. The HIV/AIDS peer educator had her first child while still young.
“A couple of years later I was physically and sexually assaulted by someone I was in a relationship with, and not only did I contract HIV, I got pregnant again. Fortunately the baby was born HIV negative and I am forever grateful for that.”
It has been a long road which took a lot of self-reflection, introspection and educating herself a lot about HIV to find peace with herself. “I was so depressed, I didn’t know who to trust,” she remembers. “How could this happen, and it was like everybody turned their back on me. I rediscovered my love for God and realised that he loved me regardless of what was going on in my life.
“I am HIV positive but I saw other people who came out about their statuses way before I knew what HIV was and they were still living their best lives. I realised if I adhered to my medication that could be me as well, my life wasn’t over. It was just beginning.”
Today, Segamodimo, a Treat All Ambassador at Fhi 360 works with the Botswana Christian AIDS Intervention Programme (BOCAIP) to support people living with HIV, helping them to come to terms with their status and advising them on treatment adherence.
She also visits different churches to teach about HIV treatment and what it means to live with the virus. But she says not all churches are embracing the move. “We send letters requesting to come and share information with congregants but some church leaders are reluctant.
“Some pastors are afraid to ruffle feathers. They think they will lose followers by talking about these issues or even disclosing their HIV statuses. Church leaders should understand that congregants are often faced with hard challenges in their lives outside the church and the church can be that safe, non-judgemental space for them.
“Their commitment to addressing social ills that afflict our communities should be exemplary. Otherwise the shame and stigma of HIV will literally continue to kill us as we suffer in silence,” she said.
Segamodimo says her two daughters are also passionate about sharing information especially about the importance of abstinence and the prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT).