“We want to minister to the spiritual and physical.”
Rev. Oscar B. Howard, Jr. with Freedom Home Baptist Church deeply understands the need for outreach and testing in his East Austin community.
For the past 31 years, Pastor Howard has been a pillar of strength, holding services and organizing health ministries to help those in need. “I’ve seen people come and go, seen crime, violence, instability, and HIV/AIDS.”
Pastor Howard first took notice of ASA’s work during a collaboration for the National Week of Prayer. It was then that he became aware of the real depth of problems in his community. So over the past few months, he has been working with ASA staff like La’Toya Swan. “He has opened his church to be a hub for testing and outreach,” she explains. “He’s very genuine and honest … people feel safer going to a church than an office.”
Ministering to the health of his congregation has always been a high priority for Pastor Howard. In the past, Freedom Home Baptist Church provided exercise classes in collaboration with the University of Texas; participated in health fairs with the City of Austin; and attended African American Family Support conferences.
In addition to making ASA’s services more accessible to people in his community, Pastor Howard wants to revamp the health ministries to start a peer outreach team and reduce stigma through education. “We’re hoping people will step up and share in the responsibilities of getting services rendered.”
About stigma, he says: “I think everybody gets caught up in stigma at one time or another.” He also understands that people may already think they know about HIV and AIDS, but that they keep holding on to old myths. “They understand what you say about HIV and AIDS, but you have to get them to believe it.”
Pastor Howard especially looks forward to implementing several new collaborations between ASA and Freedom Home Baptist Church.
“I’m [excited and] thankful for the privilege to work with people who are knowledgeable and take the time to educate and provide services.”
He has already gotten positive responsse from the community and attributes this to his honesty at the pulpit. “They can count on us to be a friend to them.”