30 Chairs | By Pastor Brad Baker
The College Ministry had the incredible privilege of partnering with Saddleback’s HIV&AIDS Initiative to promote World AIDS Day and Compassion Weekend at Saddleback Church. On December 1 and 2nd the entire weekend experience was devoted to the HIV&AIDS crisis, God’s heart for the sick, and the “Getting to Zero” campaign, which seeks to get to zero babies born with HIV, zero stigma and discrimination attached to HIV&AIDS, zero AIDS-related deaths, and zero children in Rwandan orphanages by 2015. We invited our students to several meetings leading up to our campus outreach to get their input into things, help them understand more about HIV&AIDS, and give them ownership over our outreach activities. These meetings helped spark tons of creative ideas and built excitement and momentum leading up to World AIDS Day and Compassion Weekend, plus we were able to plan out what our strategy to promote World AIDS Day looked like on local community college campuses.
In one of our early meetings, we decided to paint thirty wooden Adirondack chairs and bring them onto college campuses. The thirty chairs represented the 30 million people who have lost their lives to AIDS since it was discovered in the early 1980s. Fifteen smaller wooden chairs were also painted to represent the 15 million children who have lost one or both parents to AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. The chairs were a great way for our community to get involved—college students from all over Orange County took chairs and used their artistic skills to create moving works of art with paint, photographs, statistics, verses, and other materials. Local artists involved in Saddleback’s art ministry, Ex Creatis, also painted chairs.
The week before World AIDS Day, our college ministry team and student leaders headed to two local community college campuses—Saddleback College and Irvine Valley College. We set up the chairs in the main quad at Saddleback Community College and in front of the main registration building at Irvine Valley College, and brought tons of free stuff with us to hand out to students with no catch—hot Krispy Kreme donuts and fresh-baked cookies, coffee provided for free from Starbucks, “Getting to Zero” t-shirts and stickers, and booklets with information about the “Getting to Zero” campaign and HIV&AIDS. We know that students love free stuff, but we also were reminded about how much they care about social justice issues. When they approached our table for a free donut and coffee and inquired what we were doing, they listened intently as we explained to them that HIV&AIDS is the greatest humanitarian crisis in history. Seeing their faces respond to what the chairs represent and asking them to look at them caused many of them to thank us for what we were doing and even inquire how they could get involved. The response from people was incredible—they did not just take stuff and leave, but lingered, looked at every chair, asked questions—they engaged with us. They cared.
We spoke with over one thousand students in the two days we spent on the campuses—all with different beliefs, ethnicities and backgrounds. Some of them have personally suffered from the damage that HIV&AIDS does to families and relationships. Some wondered why the church would care about HIV&AIDS and were surprised that we were from Saddleback Church. Others didn’t even know World AIDS Day existed. We were so privileged to be able to share God’s heart for the sick in a way that spoke to students regardless of their beliefs. It was incredible seeing some of the students we met on campus at Saddleback Church for the first time during Compassion Weekend.