One of the church's greatest strengths in the face of poverty is its local presence, its grass-roots knowledge of the people that make up its community. That includes the people living on its fringes, the outcasts, the most marginalised, the kind of people who are often at the bottom of the list when it comes to getting help. As part of our determination to serve those in the greatest need, we're working with local churches, encouraging them to seek out the most marginalised in their communities, often with life-changing, and stigma-challenging results.
Russia: Ex-drug dealer brings hope to the marginalised
Having been a drug user and dealer, Alexei found God while in prison and has turned his life around. He’s now the pastor of a church in Perm, Russia, and leads Light of Life, which is a Tearfund partner supporting people leaving prison, those who are withdrawing from drug addiction and people affected by HIV.
Still bearing the tattoos that mark him out as a former prisoner, Alexei works tirelessly to lead a team that seek to bring hope to some of the most marginalised people in their city.
They are marginalised because drug use is a crime in Russia, and drug users are often vilified and rejected by people in their own communities. Even the medical services are not always fully equipped to support HIV-positive people well. One of the women who is helped by Light of Life says that her doctor refused to take her blood pressure when he found out that she was HIV-positive.
And Alexei still lives with these problems in his own family. His half-sister Irina, 29, is HIV-positive. She cries a lot and worries that she may die, and it is this fear that stops her from seeking medical help.
‘I don’t want to go to the doctors, because I’m afraid of what they will say,’ she says. ‘My friend died, and I’m scared that I will die too.’
‘I don’t want to go to the doctors, because I’m afraid of what they will say. My friend died, and I’m scared that I will die too.’Irina, who is living with HIV
Alexei continues to try to persuade her, especially when Irina gets coughs and colds or a temperature, but still she won’t go. He arranges to meet her to take her to the clinic, but she doesn’t turn up.
And that’s what makes Alexei’s life such a challenge. Driven by passion to see people transformed, he lives every day with the frustrations of trying to help people who sometimes push him away or who change their minds about accepting support.
It’s just one story; one of millions in Russia where HIV prevalence is increasing at a time when it is stabilising in many other parts of the world. Here in Russia, the increase is largely due to injecting drug users sharing their needles and it shows no signs of abating.
That’s why Christians like Alexei, through Light of Life and other Tearfund partners in Russia, won’t stop working until they see change. One person at a time receiving support, one doctor at a time understanding how to serve people affected by HIV, one church at a time welcoming people affected by HIV into their congregation.