HIV and the Church

How can young women of Orange County without education in medicine or personal experience with anyone affected by HIV do anything to help churches in Rwanda care for people living with HIV/AIDS? That was the question Lauren Franco and Amanda Schaefer asked themselves as they stepped out in faith on a recent HIV/AIDS and Orphan Care PEACE trip to Rwanda. They discovered the only qualification needed to make a difference is being called by God. In this article originally posted by Saddleback WomenLauren and Amanda discuss their unique experiences as the youngest women on their all women PEACE trip to Rwanda and the lessons they learned about how God qualifies those who are called.


How do you know the best way to invest your life when the world says you are too young to make a difference? As the youngest members of the Women’s team taking a PEACE trip to Rwanda, Lauren Franco and Amanda Schaefer wrestle with their inadequacies.


 “Beth Schwartz, Women's Minister, assembled a fantastic team of 17 women leaders for this adventure. I’d never been on a PEACE trip before,” explains Lauren, “and worried my youth might be a deterrent to the team. I had no teaching experience. No years of wisdom and skill to guide me. How could I possibly spread hope, encouragement and solidarity to the Rwandan people?”


As Millennials, both Amanda and Lauren also knew they had to overcome the poor reputation their generation garners. “With social media, we are on our phones 24/7. Sometimes people think we have the world at our fingertips, yet we lack direction,” Amanda says. “It was incredible to be mentored by the women in our group who created a nurturing community ripe for growth. Despite the age differences, everyone in our group shared the same values. All of us wanted to infuse Christ into the lives of the Rwandan people. Since the genocide in 1994, the country has gone through so much, but we were completely blown away by the abundant forgiveness and love the Rwandan people have for their neighbors, church and country.”


“I carried a deep apprehension of never being able to measure up to the women in the group. My place at the table didn’t seem real – the anxiety about my age was driven by fear. In that outbreak of insecurity, I checked my heart to find the source of my fear,” Lauren explains. “My darkest day ended in tears knowing I had to teach a devotional the very next day. With fear, I open my Bible. God led me to the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus and pointed out Mary’s age. She wasn’t more than a teenager and yet God chose her for possibly the most honoring task of all – to be the carrier, nurturer and mother of Christ.” Knowing obedience, not age, was more important to God provided a turning point for Lauren and the group’s younger women.


Lauren continues, “I was an average churchgoer before this trip. I felt God calling me to go and wanted to be obedient.” Amanda adds, “The PEACE Plan’s beauty is that it is not about us or what Saddleback can do, but all about the light being shed on the churches and pastors in Rwanda, making them the heroes, not us.”


Despite the devastation and heartache Rwanda has endured, it is now an example to the world. The wreckage and brokenness of the country have been transformed into the most forgiving and joyful body the group had ever seen. “Grace seeps into every crevice of this country and should push us to set aside denomination, take up unity, let go of differences to take on love, and give our pain to God and take on joy instead,” says Lauren.


Amanda echoes Lauren’s beliefs. “I was heartbroken seeing the street kids living in homelessness. Yet the local church cares for them. Some parts of the world lack many things: material comforts, medicine, education, electricity. Even in these situations, in this particular country hope abounds.”



The team experienced situations very different from their comfortable lives in Orange County. “We visited heart-wrenching memorials to genocide victims. Everyone in our group was deeply affected by that. It was also distressing to meet girls forced into the sex trade or who became drug dealers because that was the only way they could support themselves,” Lauren explains.


God’s light overpowered all the darkness. Amanda explains: “It was uplifting to witness the church in action. Whether in the capital of Kigali or Kibuye, a rural city, the church is working to ease the pain of HIV/AIDs patients, closing down orphanages and reaching out with God’s love to those who suffered the gravest inhumanities. In one town, we participated in Umuganda, a service day. The goal was to build a gutter to prevent flooding during heavy rains. The entire community shared a passion for this, desiring to be unified, working together, despite differences to build a better city.”


Amanda continues, “We taught The Purpose Driven Church, but most were already living it. Faith is a living action. Their faithfulness to God is inspiring. Rwandans are teaching each other and the world, you can’t snuff out hope, you can’t smother it. Hope exists because Christ came to this earth.”


Amanda and Lauren encourage other women to step out of their comfort zones to participate on a PEACE trip. Both agree their most profound learning was a renewed trust in God. “He met us every time we questioned ourselves. He provided love by surrounding us with a strong, safe community of Saddleback women,” Amanda clarifies. “He gave us a new perspective on our blessings. His light will continue to burn when all the other lights go out. We hold more strongly to his hope because we were warmed in places we didn’t even know had grown cold.”


“Pray about going on a PEACE trip. Be willing to be uncomfortable,” says Amanda. “Ask God, ‘Where do you want me to go? I’m ready to go where you are leading.’” Lauren adds, “Maybe he isn’t leading you to go on a trip now. For example, while financial support is needed, the young moms on our trip were encouraged by those in Orange County who cooked family meals, drove their kids to practice, cleaned their homes or simply prayed. Invite God into your plans. He will respond. You will be forever changed by abandoning your fear and placing your trust in God.”


Blog re-posted from Saddleback Women. Check out the original blog post and more from Saddleback Women here.

Are you ready to take your next step of faith by going on a PEACE trip? Join us January 22nd at PEACE Practical on the Saddleback Lake Forest campus to learn more about HIV and Orphan Care ministries and how you can GO or support what our church is doing to live life on mission. Please email or call 949-609-8555 with any questions! 

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