From the Worldwide Faith News archives

HIV victim finds new meaning to life through ministry

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.UMC.ORG>
Date 22 Oct 1998 13:37:50

Oct. 22 1998        Contact: Tim Tanton*(615)742-5470*Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: This story is a sidebar to UMNS #610.

By Deanna Armstrong*

OKLAHOMA CITY (UMNS) -- He grew up surrounded by the love and teachings
of a rural United Methodist Church in Southwest Oklahoma. 

By the time Victor Cutnose was a teen-ager, he was already very active
in jurisdictional activities, representing the Oklahoma Indian
Missionary Conference on a number of youth events. He said he learned
more about life through the church than in any other arena of the
community. While in high school, he was selected to travel to Washington
for a trip to learn how the church and the world worked. He loved it.

Cutnose headed for Oklahoma City University to begin his studies,
considering a career in the ministry. He joined a fraternity and enjoyed
his classes and the social life.

During the summer of 1983, he was selected for an internship with the
United Methodist Board of Church and Society in Washington.  

"The summer in Washington D.C. opened my eyes to who I was and where I
fit in the world. I came out," he said.  

The realization that he was gay changed everything. Cutnose, now the
south west associate coordinator for the Regional AIDS Interfaith
Network (RAIN) in Lawton, Okla., described his journey during an Oct.
15-17 AIDS conference. The event was sponsored by the Leadership
Development Committee of the United Methodist Church's Native American
Comprehensive Plan. Cutnose is Cheyenne/Arapaho.

Cutnose discovered that admitting he was gay in Washington was one
thing. Back in Oklahoma City, it was another. His fraternity did not
handle it well. 

"I was physically attacked and left to lie on a curb, bleeding," he
said. "Another fraternity group picked me up and saw that I got medical

He dropped out of college, disillusioned with life. He began drinking
and experimenting with drugs to dull the ache. He moved back home, where
he chose not to say anything to his family.  They didn't ask. 

"During the '80s, the church was struggling with whether to ordain
gays," he said. "I took it personally. That was a bad period for me. I
was drinking, doing drugs, and looking for approval and love. It seemed
natural then to substitute sex for the love and affection I needed and
wanted.  The stress of living that kind of a lifestyle without my family
knowing was intense. I left my job at the department store and started
delivering pizza to support myself."

In 1990, Victor met the person he thought he was going to love the rest
of his life. When the relationship ended, he went through what he calls
his worst period. He felt abandoned by his lover, his church and his

"It was during that period that I was HIV infected. I found out in 1992,
when I went in for a blood test. I was in denial for six months. I
didn't do anything about it. I got more and more depressed, and after an
argument with my new partner, I was suicidal. I called the crisis

Victor went in for treatment at the crisis center and began to deal with
his depression. With the help of a counselor, he told his immediate
family he was gay and had tested positive for HIV. 

In 1993, he attended an AIDS conference in Lawton. Hearing the speaker
and talking to friends at the conference inspired him to seek treatment
for the HIV and to accept what had happened.

"I still had a life. I was ready to live it. I discovered I couldn't
tolerate the medication they put me on then for the HIV. When I realized
it wasn't going to work for me, I knew I had to take control and do
something else. I was nearly 30 years old, and I had to change my
lifestyle. I stopped
drinking, I started eating better, and I got involved in an organization
in Lawton for people with HIV/AIDS. 
"I got to meet people who had experiences similar to mine. I met so many
wonderful people, and they helped me learn I had to accept
responsibility for my life."

Victor started speaking publicly about living with HIV/AIDS in 1995 when
he became involved in the Ryan White Foundation.

"The thing that was keeping me going was being able to do something for
someone else. I started feeling the need to be around a church family
again. I didn't feel comfortable about going back to my home UMC church
because I didn't want to make all my family uncomfortable with my
presence. So I started attending the Great Plains Metropolitan Community
Church. They made me feel whole and welcome again.
"It is everything I felt a church should be. I see the possibility of my
dream of having a ministry becoming a reality in this church. I had
given up hope in the UMC."

A few years ago, Victor ran into a woman who was working with RAIN
(Regional AIDS Interfaith Network). She suggested he talk to her boss
about a job coordinating and training care teams for people with
"Everything came together. God moved me into a position where he wanted
me, and where he could use me. I have met more caring people who want to
do something, and it has been my mission to help them realize where they
need to be."

As RAIN's south west associate coordinator, Cutnose coordinates the
existing care teams in the Lawton area and recruits new teams from
communities of faith. 

Sometimes the job is difficult. 
"You put your emotions at risk because there is so much loss. In the
last month I have lost three people to the disease."
God helps him deal with it, he said. "I believe that God provides us
with enough strength. I've just come to understand recently the meaning
of God's grace. We are given it, whether we deserve it or not. We never
have to earn it - it's just there."
His strength was put to the test recently when he watched his newborn,
premature nephew die. 
"I don't think I truly knew what loss was until then," he said. "I have
dealt with the death of AIDS patients, but this was a life that never
had a chance. I don't know why my nephew is gone and I am still here,
but I believe God has something more for me to do.

Cutnose plans to work as long as he is able. His years of hard living
have left his body weakened. He needs bypass surgery and must lose more
weight before the operation can be done. But he is taking care of
himself and plans to be around for a long time. He has a message to

"We should never be afraid to stand up for what we believe in and put
100 percent of ourselves in what we believe in. If we truly believe that
people are deserving of care, we should make that our position and stick
to it. People should not be so influenced by other people's opinions. 

"I believe we were taught to love as God loved us, and God loves us,
good and bad. If he sent his son to be our savior, he loves us in spite
of what we have done, and that's the way we should love other people."
# # # 
*Armstrong is a Kansas City, Mo.,-based correspondent for United
Methodist News Service.

United Methodist News Service
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