HIV and the Church


What We Do

Why the Church Must Care


If you’re going to be an advocate for people with HIV and AIDs, you have to be able to give an explanation of why!

Five Reasons every Christian Must Care About People Living with HIV&AIDS:

  • It’s unpredictable – no one expects the church will care about a sexually transmitted disease! The church has notoriously failed to talk about sex, let alone a sexually transmitted disease.

    There is a stigma attached to HIV unlike most other diseases. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer I didn’t worry that my husband would beat me or divorce me. I didn’t worry that I would lose my job. I didn’t worry that the neighbors would refuse to let their children play with mine. I didn’t worry that my church would ostracize me. But this is frequently what happens to people who are living with HIV.

  • It’s incurable – When I was diagnosed with cancer, I had a fighting chance - not everyone who gets cancer will die from it. But HIV will kill you eventually. HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system, weakening it so that it can’t fight off disease. After a while, when it has become so weakened, a person is said to have AIDS. They are susceptible to strange fungi, bacteria and other viruses that healthy people can handle. There is no vaccine on the horizon to prevent it or cure it.

  • It’s treatable – If the bad news is it’s incurable, the good news is that it’s treatable. Life-saving medication has been discovered that will extend life. Without it, there is a 3-5 year life expectancy; with medication, an individual can live 20 years or more. This is why you don’t hear much about HIV in this country – medication is readily available. But it is not readily available around the world and it is expensive. Many more of those who could benefit from the ARVs need access to them.

  • It’s preventable – Here’s another piece of good news! We know how to prevent it – it’s not a mystery. How did I get cancer? I don’t know - but we do know how HIV is transmitted: Intimate sexual contact with a person who is HIV+, sharing needles through IVDU, unsafe blood transfusions, childbirth, and breastfeeding. HIV is not transmitted by casual contact.

    Even though there is exciting news about the “beginning of the end” of AIDS as treatment offers the promise of preventing transmission, it seems unlikely that we can treat our way out of the pandemic. There is still an urgent need to prevent new infections through behavior change. This is a message the faith community can give.

Jesus’ Response to Physical Illness

As people of faith, Jesus’ relationship to people who were sick provides a model for us of how to respond.

Mark 1:40-42(NIV) “A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, 'If you are willing, you can make me clean.' Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. 'I am willing,' he said. 'Be clean!' Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.”

Lepers lived lives of isolation and stigma; they were outcasts who had to shout out to everyone “unclean, unclean” as they passed by. This man heard that Jesus was healing every sort of disease, so he braved the stares, cursing, fear, and rejection of others to find Jesus. How did Jesus respond?

  • He CARED
    Jesus was “filled with compassion.” His heart broke as he looked at the leper. He wasn’t filled with revulsion or\ distaste…but with compassion.

    Some of you might be thinking: “Because we know how HIV is transmitted, if people put themselves at risk, it’s their own fault if they get sick. Why should I care about people when they make poor decisions?” This is common thinking – even in Jesus’ day. It was assumed the reason lepers were sick was because they had secret, unconfessed sin. The truth is, it’s possible to become HIV+ through high risk behaviors – but even so – what should the response be? Jesus never asked anyone how they became ill. He always asked “How can I help you?”

    Jesus could have just spoken a word to this man – he didn’t have to touch him – but he did. Physical touch is powerful; it lets people know that they are worthwhile….valuable……loved.

    Jesus didn’t leave the leper weak and sick; he removed the leprosy from him. As Christ’s church, we occasionally have the opportunity to be a part of bringing physical healing to someone, but we are always able to participate in offering emotional and spiritual healing.

    You might think the greatest need a person living with HIV&AIDS has is for medication or physical healing, but an even deeper need is to know that the God who made them loves them and longs to be in relationship with them. Every person needs to know they’re not alone.

    We must do what Jesus did: offer compassion, physical touch and healing. We might not be able to physically heal – although we pray for healing – but we can certainly be a part of someone’s spiritual healing. We can offer ourselves the way Jesus did - we can offer our compassionate presence; we can offer to carry the pain of someone else. When we do, we give the most concrete proof that there is a God who loves as we become “Jesus with skin on him.” We make the invisible God visible by our compassionate response to those suffering.

7 Advantages of the Church


There will never be enough professionals to adequately address the global giants of spiritual emptiness, egocentric leadership, extreme poverty, pandemic disease and crippling illiteracy. The need will always outpace the supply. Government, business and relief agencies continue to pursue lasting solutions, but even their best efforts don’t seem to be enough. But local churches scattered throughout the globe offer seven unique advantages:

1. The Church Has the Largest Participation

With over 2.1 billion members, the church has the largest volunteer labor force on the planet. While there will never be an adequate supply of doctors, nurses, lawyers, educators and social workers, there is an enormous, untapped pool of talent, brains, energy, and relationships sitting unused in churches every week that could be mobilized for the kingdom of God.

2. The Church Also Brings the Widest Distribution

In every village around the world, there may not be a post office, or a hospital, or a school, but there is a church. And in many places the church is the only social structure. The church is the only truly global organization. If you have an idea, a product, or medication that needs to get to local people, the most efficient way is through the church because the local church already has an existing, largely underutilized distribution channel.

3. The Church Has the Simplest Administration

Local churches are grassroots networks, and everybody knows that networks always move faster than centralized bureaucracies.

4. The Church Has the Fastest Proliferation

To beat a rapidly expanding pandemic, you need a distribution network that is growing faster than the problem itself. While the pandemic grows at a rate of about 6,000 new infections every day, the church multiplies by 60,000 new converts every day.

5. The Church Has the Longest Continuation

The church has existed for more than 2,000 years. Empires, governments and corporations come and go, but the church will last into eternity.

6. The Church Has the Strongest Authorization

Jesus Christ himself created the church and gave us his authority to do good in the world. He authorized his followers to go into the world in the Great Commission. He said, “All authority is given to me in heaven and earth…therefore you go.”

7. The Church Has the Highest Motivation

The church has the highest motivation for service: it is our Savior Jesus Christ. He has commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. You’ll find in other organizations, other entities, that there may be different motivations. There could be a political motivation; there could be an altruistic motivation to serve or to care. But after a while, that motivation tends to wear down, tends to give out because the work is hard. It’s wearying. But those who are followers of Jesus Christ have a motivation that will not quit. It is love for our Savior. Because of this, the church has a contribution to make on the global scale of global issues: HIV and orphans, poverty, disease, economic reform, sexual trafficking. The church has a contribution because of what it brings. It is unique and we are players and we bring something effective, something useful, something that can bring lasting change to the global issues that dominate our world.

For more information, please contact us.

The CHURCH Strategy

The HIV&AIDS Initiative of Saddleback Church inspires and equips churches around the world to care for those infected and affected by HIV & AIDS, both locally and globally. Through the CHURCH strategy, local churches are encouraged to take a leading role in ending AIDs by engaging in prevention, treatment, care and support.

C–Care for and support the sick

Churches are commanded by God to care about the sick. It is their calling! It doesn’t require money or special training to love. Local congregations are the only caring organization found in almost every community around the world.

Crawl: Increase your knowledge of HIV&AIDS by watching HIV 101. Send a card, make a call, or visit someone who is sick. This requires only a few minutes of your time. You can choose to make it an on-going, organized ministry of your church, or just an informal way that individual members choose to reach out to those who are hurting.

Walk: Start a support group for people who are infected with or directly affected by HIV. A support group is a regularly-scheduled, biblically based meeting where people can share their stories, find connections, learn new skills, and be accepted in a Christ-centered environment.

Run: Form a CARE Team – a church-based small group that comes alongside someone living with HIV to offer friendship, care, and support. A CARE Team doesn’t just offer love, but offers love expressed through loving deeds such as driving participants to doctor’s appointments, offering assistance in the home, and helping access community health resources.

H–Handle hiv testing and counseling

Everyone should know their HIV status and be tested at least once in their lifetime. Those at higher risk should be tested more frequently. There are two reasons to know your HIV status: if you’re negative, stay negative; if you’re positive, you can access care and treatment and avoid transmitting the virus to others.

Crawl: Encourage members of your church to get tested for HIV. Explain what is involved in an HIV test, and let the congregation know where they can get tested (National HIV and STD Testing Resources

Walk: Take a group from your church to be tested for HIV. Ideally, the senior pastor should lead the group and be the first to get tested. Knowing the senior pastor has been tested for HIV helps reduce the stigma of being tested for HIV (Results can/should remain confidential, revealed only if the person chooses).

Run: If your local health regulations allow it, offer HIV testing in your church. Train church members to comfort and counsel people before and after they receive their results. If local regulations don’t allow you to hold testing at your church, talk with health officials about ways your church can help with testing and counseling.

U–Unleash a volunteer labor force

There will never be enough healthcare professionals in the world to teach prevention, administer treatment, and offer care to those who need it. Churches have the largest volunteer labor force on the planet—more than two billion members. What an impact we can make if this enormous untapped pool of talent, energy, and compassion can be mobilized to support those infected and affected by HIV&AIDS!

Crawl: Equip people for ministry by studying the Purpose Driven Life. Study God’s plan for every member to be involved in caring for the sick in a tangible way.

Walk: Offer frequent informational meetings about HIV. Regularly connect your church members in small opportunities to serve locally and globally. Make sure your ministry is not just about people with HIV, but actively engages individuals living with HIV on the leadership team.

Run: Build a team of volunteers who can help others in your community to become involved in caring for those who are living with HIV. Become a model of what every church can to about HIV & AIDS by being a reliable source of HIV information and support for your community.

R–Remove the stigma

Churches must embrace people who are living with HIV by replacing rejection and alienation with mercy and acceptance. It is not a sin to be sick. We should not ask, “How did you become infected?” but, “How can we help you?”

Crawl: Determine what attitudes, myths and fears prevent you and your church from caring for those who are positive, and what keeps those who are positive from disclosing their status to you. Be a friend to someone who is living with HIV.

Walk: Make HIV personal to your congregation by having men and women living with HIV give their testimony. Dispel stigma by touching and hugging those who are positive. Treat PLWHA (People Living With HIV&AIDS) like you would treat anyone else. Incorporate those living with HIV into every aspect of the life of your church.

Run: Demonstrate to your community that your church is taking leadership in caring and advocating for people who are HIV positive. Show up at community HIV events such as an AIDS Walk. Set up a booth for your church at the AIDS Walk and encourage volunteers to hand out water and refreshments. Partner with a local AIDS Services Organization in projects that reflect shared values.

C–Champion healthy behavior

HIV&AIDS is complex and yet largely preventable. Churches have the moral authority to promote healthy sexual behavior and to offer the spiritual motivation for abstinence, fidelity and drug-free living. Many churches offer Celebrate Recovery, a Christian 12-Step program, to those struggling with co-dependency, alcohol, drug and sexual addiction. Churches can offer a holistic approach that encompasses all aspects of HIV prevention and addiction recovery.

Crawl: Each member can practice personal moral purity by remaining abstinent before marriage and honoring their marriage vows with fidelity. If someone is living with HIV he or she can learn how to prevent HIV transmission. Encourage drug-free living.

Walk: Teach moral purity and sexuality from a Biblical standard to every person in your congregation, including age-appropriate education for children and youth. Teach how HIV is transmitted and how it can be prevented.

Run: Begin Celebrate Recovery and accountability groups; there is power to change in community. Encourage freedom from addictions that increase vulnerability to HIV infection.

H–Help with HIV medications

While it is unexpected to visualize a role for local churches in helping with HIV treatment, the church can be an integral part of helping HIV-positive individuals live longer. HIV treatment offers hope for a normal lifespan but requires specialized pre-treatment preparation and ongoing treatment support that the faith community can provide.

Crawl: Through sermons and seminars, dispel the belief that churches cannot be involved in HIV treatment. Invite a local HIV professional to help your congregation become knowledgeable about HIV treatment.

Walk: HIV treatment requires that an individual take their medications on time every day. Offer to support someone living with HIV by calling daily to remind them to take their medication.

Run: Explore how your church can provide pre-treatment preparation, treatment education and adherence support for the entire family. Visit to learn more about HIV treatment.


The SLOW/STOP Strategy

SLOW & STOP: The Church’s Role in Ending the HIV Epidemic

More than 35 years after the HIV&AIDS pandemic began, millions continue to be infected with the deadly virus. A tremendous effort has been made to find strategies to SLOW the pandemic. We are not content to slow the pandemic. We want to STOP it, and this will require a different strategy.

  • S – Support Condom Use

    The correct & consistent use of condoms can prevent the transmission of HIV.

  • L – Limit Number of Sexual Partners

    Limiting sexual partners reduces the potential exposure to HIV. While not fool-proof, the fewer partners you have, the less likely you are to encounter someone who is infected with HIV or another STD.

  • O – Offer Needle Exchange

    From a public health standpoint, a clean needle can prevent people from contracting HIV through contaminated needle sharing.

  • W – Wait for Sexual Debut

    With the average marrying age increasing and the average age for the first sexual experience decreasing, young people are at a higher risk of HIV infection than ever before. Research shows that pushing back the age of sexual debut reduces the risk of HIV transmission.

  • S – Save Sex for Marriage

    Abstinence before marriage, while a difficult ideal that goes against culture, IS a viable, and proven method of stopping HIV.

  • T – Teach Men & Boys to Respect Women & Children

    By teaching men and boys to view women and children as respected equals created in the image of God, the church is doing its part to reduce gender violence, sexual abuse, and the spread of HIV.

  • O – Offer Treatment Through Churches

    The church can offer more than clean needles & condoms, the church offers freedom from addiction and care for the addict.

  • P – Partner With One Person in Marriage for Life

    When two HIV negative people partner together faithfully in marriage for life, the risk of sexual transmission of HIV is virtually non-existent

The ORPHAN Strategy


The Orphan Care Initiative at Saddleback Church inspires and equips churches everywhere to care for orphans and vulnerable children in their own communities and around the world. Through the ORPHAN strategy, local churches are encouraged to lead the way in caring for orphans and vulnerable children by offering hope, healing and permanency.

  • O – Open your eyes to God’s heart for the orphan

    Caring for orphans is a reflection of what God has done for us. We were vulnerable and helpless and he cared for us in our distress. By providing for orphans physically, we can reflect what God has done for us spiritually in Christ. Helping orphans is something that every believer can do. He cares for them and expects us to care as well.

  • R – Rely on the family as God’s hope for the orphan

    Children belong in families. Work toward solutions which allow children to grow in permanent, safe, legal and loving families—not just group homes or institutions. Promote reconciliation, adoption and permanency as God’s idea for the health and healing of a child.

  • P – Prevent children from becoming orphaned

    Prevent orphans by strengthening the family. Prevent orphans by caring for those living with HIV. Offer care and treatment for mothers, fathers and children who are living with HIV. Give voice to the voiceless. When appropriate, provide care that focuses on family reunification.

  • H – Help children gain access to care

    Prevention of HIV, access to treatment for HIV and basic health care are essential. Immunizations and health promotion can be done through the church to help children survive and thrive. Education regarding nutrition, child development and attachment are core principles for every family. Birth registration is a simple start to help children thrive.

  • A – Affirm the church as God’s provision for the orphan

    Strengthen the capacity of the local church to care for and protect orphans. Launch orphan care ministries in your church Create ways for every person to engage in orphan care or adoption. Develop partnerships with churches worldwide, encouraging the local church to own and direct partnership efforts.

  • N – Nurture the unique needs of every orphan

    Every child needs a secure and permanent connection to a church and a family. Commit to providing permanent solutions that care for the lifelong needs of each child. For more information, visit

The Rwanda HIV/Healthcare model

The Rwanda HIV/Healthcare model

In 2003, the sixth and current President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame read a copy of the book, The Purpose Driven Life. Barely nine years had passed since the horrendous Rwandan genocide that began on April 7,1994. Over the course of 100 days, it took the lives of one million Rwandans and left one million children orphaned before ending three months later. After reading the book, Kagame had a vision to make Rwanda the first Purpose Driven nation. At the same time, while Pastor Rick Warren was speaking in South Africa in 2003, the PEACE Plan was born—Planting Churches that Promote Reconciliation, Equip Servant Leaders, Assist the Poor, Care For the Sick, and Educate the Next Generation. The vision was to mobilize local churches and ordinary people, empowered by God, to make a difference wherever they are. Together, they would fight the five Global Giants of spiritual emptiness, self-serving leadership, poverty, disease, and illiteracy. A year after reading The Purpose Driven Life, President Kagame invited Pastor Rick to implement his newly-announced PEACE Plan in Rwanda. It quickly became a reality to form a partnership and have Rwanda serve as a model to the world. As Pastor Rick says, “It would be just like God to take a small nation like Rwanda, on which the world turned its back in its greatest need, and use it for God and for good.” To implement this plan, Pastor Rick began commissioning Saddleback members to go to Rwanda in small groups. Through the PEACE Plan in Rwanda, the church began working together with the public, private, and faith sectors of the nation, to help lower the poverty rate, empty orphanages, provide health care, train pastors, and offer education. To date, over 2,000 Saddleback members have gone on mission to facilitate this national strategy to mobilize local churches. “I could take you to 10 million villages around the world where the only thing there is the church,” Pastor Rick says. “The church is the biggest organization on the planet and has the most potential to do good if mobilized.” Today, over 4,000 Rwandan churches have partnered with the PEACE Plan and have mobilized thousands of volunteers to serve and invest in their communities. Many have completed a three-year intensive training and are offering everything from micro-savings clubs to training programs for farmers. According to Kay Warren, co-founder of Saddleback Church, ”When we first visited Rwanda, we had no idea what we were doing or what we had to give. But we brought what we knew, which was the love of Christ.” Saddleback leadership saw that the magnitude of churches in Rwanda were located where healthcare facilities were lacking. They envisioned a model of training church members to provide medical care. Today, over 9,000 trained health volunteers serve families in villages that would have otherwise never received medical treatment. Today, Rwanda is one of the cleanest countries in the world, thanks to decrees from President Paul Kagame. Each month in the capital city of Kigali, citizens—including the president and his cabinet—participate in picking up litter on a public clean-up day. Additionally, PEACE has helped reduce the poverty rate in Rwanda by 11 percent, and has worked toward emptying orphanages so that every child has a home. Over the past 20 years, Rwanda has experienced exponential growth and is ranked among the fastest developing countries in the world. Pastor Rick credits God for blessing Rwanda because they have chosen to forgive, are willing to work together, have trusted the Lord, and have persevered. “The mission of Rwanda was not to create a dependency on others,” says Pastor Rick, “which is why the PEACE Plan has thrived so well there. The PEACE Plan is built on the Great Commandment that says, ‘Go and teach them’. People need trade, not aid. They don’t need a hand out, they need a hand up.” In 2014, during a church service honoring the victims of the Rwandan genocide, Saddleback members celebrated the partnership and efforts of the PEACE Plan in Rwanda. Reflecting on those 10 years, President Kagame shared about Rwanda’s efforts to move on from the past and educate a new generation to impact the future. “Our relationship with Saddleback has contributed to the renewal of our country,” President Kagame said. “We continue to work together with friends to ensure our future no longer holds fear, but opportunity.”