My first trip to Africa to learn about HIV&AIDS was full of unforgettable sights, sounds, and experiences. The men and women living with HIV I met moved me to tears; their brave struggle to live touched a very deep place in my soul. It was on this trip in 2003 that I first heard the words from desperate mothers that I have since heard on nearly every continent: “What will happen to my children when I die? Who will care for them once they know I’ve died of AIDS?” Sitting on the plane headed for home and “normal” life, I gazed down at beautiful Mozambique as we gained altitude. I realized that I was feeling not only shocked and sad, but angry as well – angry that the African pastors I had met weren’t doing more for the people they served. “How could they let a very ill homeless woman die under a tree rather than bring her into their homes? Why were they afraid to take a stand against the horrible stigma and shame this woman had experienced?” A simmering rage began to build in my heart as I mentally chastised them for not doing enough.
Suddenly, I heard the Lord ask me a very bold question: “What are YOU doing for people with HIV& AIDS in the Saddleback Valley? Do you even know any HIV+ people in your community or church? Have you or Rick ever preached a message about caring for people who are sick?” In an instant, the finger of condemnation that I had been pointing at my African brothers and sisters turned and pointed directly at me. I took stock of my own absence from the fight and knew I had no moral high ground to stand on. I had allowed silence and apathy to be my response. I wept again, but this time it was not out of frustration at someone else’s perceived failure but at my own. I made a determination that we would immediately begin an HIV& AIDS ministry at Saddleback to care for the people living with HIV in our church and in our community, as well as the millions infected/affected around the world. We would build a ministry that encompassed both local and global efforts from the start – we call it “being glocal.”
As December 1 approaches – World AIDS Day – you and your church have the opportunity to take a stand with us against this terrible virus that decimates individual lives, rips families apart and leaves millions of children orphaned. I encourage you to plan a worship service to recognize this global day, not only remembering the 30 million who have died, but also to celebrate the hope that Jesus Christ offers to all. Remember: the Church is the only entity that offers compassion, community and real solutions! Please contact us with any questions – we can’t wait to help you demonstrate God’s love in your community!