HIV and the Church

Posted by Melissa McBride

By Melissa McBride

December 1st, 2013, represented the 25th celebration of World AIDS Day, an event recognized worldwide and dedicated to raising awareness for those living with HIV&AIDS.  Each year, Saddleback Church members come together on World AIDS Day to raise awareness, support those living with HIV and remember those who have lost their lives to AIDS.

This year’s World AIDS Day theme was “Getting to Zero,” representing Saddleback’s commitment to the global goals of getting to zero in several key areas:

·       Zero new HIV infections

·       Zero children born HIV positive

·       Zero AIDS related deaths

·       Zero stigma related to HIV & AIDS

In addition to these international goals, Saddleback has adopted our own “Getting to Zero” goal related to the issue of orphans…

       •     Zero Orphans in Rwanda

Globally, the issues of HIV and orphans are inextricably linked.  There are 17.3 million children orphaned by AIDS worldwide, and children who grow up as orphans are at much higher risk for being infected with HIV.   Saddleback and the Rwandan government are partnering to close all orphanages by placing children in loving families through adoption.  We hope to reach the goal of zero children in Rwandan orphanages by 2014.

Using the Arts: A ZERO with a Purpose

Saddleback’s Arts Initiative, Ex Creatis, chose to highlight the “Getting to Zero” themes on World AIDS Day weekend with a visual art piece.  The “ZERO” sculpture - installed on the Lake Forest campus patio – was a 3D, wood frame structure of each letter of the word ZERO, which was bounded by clear plastic stapled to the frame.  Each letter of ZERO was filled with balloons, one blown up with another uninflated balloon inside.  The goal was to use the medium to involve the congregation by popping the red balloon and inflating the white balloon, replacing red with white in the ZERO.

“We made a huge, colorful installation of about 5,000 balloons. We started with red, and by the end of Sunday night, we’d turned all the balloons to white,” says Jason Leith, Director of Ex Creatis. “We wanted people to be a part of the day in a very symbolic way, and to turn something they’re consuming into something they’re participating in.”

Throughout the weekend, participants popped red balloons and replaced them with white balloons on the patio of Saddleback’s main campus at Lake Forest. The artists hoped to symbolize replacing stigma and hopelessness with the hope of getting those numbers down to zero.

“Families and strangers were constantly around the piece and experienced church in a completely different way,” said Jason. “Our goal was to show them that there is huge power behind lots of individuals coming together and working toward the same goal… to help them know they are a part of the movement.”

What you can do…

The piece served as a reminder that we each can contribute to “getting to zero” in intensely practical, personal ways.  

The first is to know HIV risk factors and your HIV status, get tested and have crucial conversations to encourage others to know their HIV risks and status.  You can get information on Saddleback’s HIV&AIDS Initiative website at, and find HIV testing locations near you at   

The second way individuals can a make a real impact is in reaching the goal of zero children in Rwandan orphanages.  Through the Saddleback Orphan Sponsorship program, sponsors can help a family in Rwanda adopt an orphan from the orphanage.  Sponsorship helps an orphan find a family of their own, as well as provides for school and medical fees.  You can learn more about sponsorship at

While World AIDS Day 2013 is over, Saddleback remains committed to “Getting to Zero” goals.  To learn more about what you can do or how to get involved, please visit

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