We’ve all been told that ‘Love conquers all.’ Actually, truth does. And therein lies my mission…
By DAN WOODING
ASSIST News Service
COSTA MESA, CA — Kathi Winter is an American businesswoman who has experienced both betrayal and forgiveness and now she is dedicating her life to helping others who, like herself, are HIV-positive.
She has traveled all over Africa and also to China on her unique mission to bring the message of Christ’s forgiveness especially to children and women who feel betrayed by those who gave them the deadly virus.
And she should know because she was given HIV by a man who she trusted.
Days after returning from another trip this time to Congo and Uganda, Kathi, who has been a successful business woman for 32 years and is a committed believer in Jesus Christ, agreed to share her dramatic story.
She began by saying, “I was born in Northern California to a white, upper middle-class family with strict religious beliefs and was taught reverence for God and to obey and never question a priest—or any man, for that matter,” said Kathi. “Our family life revolved around my father who spent most of his time at work training super-star athletes. My mother was a Sorbonne-educated alcoholic, a condition my father chose to ignore.
“Taking my cue from him, I began what became a course of denial that led to my looking at life through rose-colored glasses. The tragedy is how that caused me eventually to blindly make certain decisions that will affect me the rest of my life.”
Kathi went on to say, “Life is all about choices and, without blaming anyone but myself, given my family history, I wasn’t prepared to make the right ones. But what I have learned from my mistakes is what compels me to tell my story. We’ve all been told that ‘Love conquers all.’ Actually, truth does. And therein lies my mission: through education to help lead people to understand the truth about HIV/AIDS. In the mid ‘90s the disease was still very scary and people thought it was contagious. Even today, some look down on and have negative opinions about those who are living with the disease. Hosea 4:6, tells us, ‘We will perish but for lack of knowledge.’”
My Heart has always been with Homeless People
Kathi says that she always had a deep compassion for homeless people and some years ago, a Christmas; she went to a Homeless Shelter to bring dinner to needy families.
“At first sight, I fell in love with a young man who was managing the Shelter when he testified that God had delivered him from ten years of drug addiction in one day,” she said. “He loved Jesus and had the light of God all over him. Shortly after our working together, he fell in love with me, too, and for seven months I was ecstatic. Even though he had been an I.V. drug user, Fred wouldn’t get tested for HIV. ‘I’m not sick and don’t need to,’ he told me. This should have been a red flag, but being prone to denial, it was all I needed to hear.
“But seven months later, when he moved temporarily to the East coast, I decided I should get tested. I did and was told I was negative. What a relief! In my mind, that meant that neither he nor I was infected with the dreaded disease. We kept in touch and two years later, he returned to Southern California and we resumed our relationship and our work with the homeless.
“For Easter of 1995, together we planned and then hosted a huge feeding program for the homeless that was attended by 5,000 people. We both awoke that morning with flu-like symptoms. By the end of the day, we dragged home and went to bed. I got up 24 hours later feeling tired, but relatively o.k. Fred couldn’t get out of bed but refused to let me call a doctor. Three weeks later, I drove him to Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, California, to be tested. The doctor asked me to wait outside while he examined Fred, and when he called me in for the verdict, he told me that Fred had AIDS and he was likely to die in three days.
“He also told me that I needed to be tested, and when I explained that I had already done that, he said, ‘Just because you had one test doesn’t mean that you don’t need another.’ Two weeks later, I was given the diagnosis that I was HIV positive. The fear that overcame me was inexplicable. Not for myself, but because the man of my life was going to die, the very man who, after my two failed marriages, had taken my heart to a new level of trust. I forgot about my own health and hoped the prognosis for him was wrong. It turned out that it was and for the next three years I took care of Fred: that is how much I loved him.”
Kathi said that probably the worst day of her life was when Fred revealed to her that he had been told in 1989 that he was HIV positive, but that he didn’t accept it, and never believed he would give it to anyone.
“On hearing this, I was so angry I wanted to kill him,” she said. “True, he was the man who helped me accept the Lord and brought me into my wonderful relationship with Jesus. But now he turned out to be a man who didn’t protect or care for me more than he cared for his own desire to be with me. I felt totally abandoned by family and friends. But more than that, I felt that God had betrayed me. I asked myself, ‘Where is God in all this?’ Why hadn’t He protected me? Where was God when I was making poor judgments? Well, now I know He was with me all along, letting me have my free will and now letting me receive the consequences. God loves us that much that He gives us free will to do what we want. But we do reap what we sow.
“With God’s help, I found the proper spirit to listen to Fred’s apologies and take in his repentance, forgive him, and actually maintain a friendship with him. (It took me much longer to forgive myself). HIV could have ruined my love of God or turned me into a bitter, angry person. I thank God that it did not. But there is no question that the whole experience has kept me from trusting men again and it’s been thirteen years. I pray that I can one day trust them as I now trust God.”
HIV Is a Disease of Brokenness
Kathi said that HIV is a disease of brokenness – of the heart, the spirit, the mind, and the body.
“Christianity demands that we help heal the entire person, not just the physical part,” she said. “For the three years after my diagnosis and of caring for Fred, I sought help and, looked for a way to get over the pain in my heart. The only place I could find counseling was in a gay and lesbian center that had state funding to provide it without charge. My church pastor told me he was sorry to hear my bad news, but never again did he address the issue, and in his own way he asked me to stay quiet about it, not wanting to ‘upset the congregation.’
“Churches have been so quiet for the past 25 years about this disease, out of ignorance. It is not curable, but it is preventable. It is heartening that more and more public and private groups are taking the lead in sponsoring educational HIV/AIDS programs. And increasingly, some churches are joining them. But more are needed. This devastating disease will continue to spread and there is a major role for more churches to play. They must wake up and talk openly about sexually transmitted disease.
“The painful rejection that I felt from the church could have kept me from God for the rest of my life, but the Holy Spirit pulled me in deeper to depend more and more on His guidance to repair my broken spirit and mind. It is the role of our Christian Church to love and accept everyone, as Christ did. I know God loves me and accepts me. He is my best friend. His grace and mercy are what have pulled me through. And while my teaching is directed toward preventing women from making the mistakes that I did, I also pray that reading my story will lead those who are infected to recognize that their faith can see them through.”
Being Sick is Not a Sin
Kathi Winter says that being sick is not a sin and she said she learned this lesson from Kay Warren, wife of Rick Warren at Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, California, when she was asked to lead their HIV support group.
“Kay helped me to understand that we must separate the label of ‘sinner’ from the disease and know that all God calls on us to do is love people who are sick and pray for their healing, not to judge them with labels,” she said. “Speaking as a ‘positive woman,’ I stand with Saddleback in declaring that the stigma and shame can be stopped at the church level. I knew that I had to fight the battle and win it—and fighting back against the disease and being a speaker for truth and God’s love is the mission to which I am devoting my life.”
In 2005, Kathi formed B.E. HIV Ministries, (Believing Education for HIV) to help local churches better understand the true facts about the virus, and through it she says she will continue her life’s mission throughout the world.
Outreach to Africa
“I believe God sent me Evelyn Komuntale, a beautiful young woman from Africa, who prayed and cried with me for many months while I was healing,” said Kathi. “It really was she who taught me to trust God again. Also, through her, I came to know and love Africa. I now have traveled to Uganda over 12 times to help set into motion Outreach to Africa, a nonprofit corporation that ministers to, and supports children and families who have been infected with or are affected by the AIDS virus. Outreach to Africa holds major HIV Education Conferences in Uganda and is currently building schools and clinics throughout the country.
“I will be forever grateful to Evelyn for her continuing nonjudgmental support, as I am to Christ for his mercy and forgiving grace.
He Intends Victory
Another friend who has helped Kathi is Pastor Bruce Sonnenberg of the Village Church of Irvine, California, who is the President/Executive Director of He Intends Victory, a group within the church that sends educators to its world-wide chapters offering personal testimonies and teaching others that they need to know the Lord in order to survive.
“My real saving grace was finding the support group in He Intends Victory,” said Kathi. “This gave me great healing and love and closeness with other Christians living with the disease. I thank God for Pastor Bruce. I love this ministry and thank God from the bottom of my heart for the hope it has given me. What a blessing to finally find a God-centered support group where my pain and loneliness could be healed.”
Lessons to be learned
Kathi went on to say, “Part of my purpose in telling my story is to expose the myths of HIV and give others an idea of my heart and how easy it was for a newly divorced, middle-class white woman who had had sexual relations with only a very few people to contract HIV. I used to believe that it was for someone else. I used to believe that nothing bad would ever happen to me. I used to believe that there would be no repercussions for my behavior. Now that I know I was wrong, my desire is to break into the false thinking that led me to the behavior that gave me the virus and trust that by telling my story, untold numbers of others will be enlightened and learn the truth.
“God prunes us to make us more in His image. The pruning hurts, the lessons are hard to learn and humbling, but the end result for me is that I am depending more on Him for everything. This is the answer—the way to get through having HIV. Trust God for everything.”
Note: Kathi Winter’s story will be featured in the 14th edition of “He Intends Victory” which was written by Dan Wooding and is due out very soon. The website for He Intends Victory is www.heintendsvictory.com.