The CHURCH Message
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.
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.
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!
R – Remove the Stigma
Churches must embrace people who are HIV positive 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?”
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.
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.
Essentials for Pastors
By Manda Gibson
Bill Bruneau says pastors need to remember three essential character traits when starting HIV&AIDS ministries through their churches – humility, patience, and love.
Bruneau, pastor of Penn Friends Community Church in Cassapolis, Mich., has been working to start an HIV&AIDS ministry
through his church since he heard Rick and Kay Warren speak about the crisis at the 2005 Purpose Driven Church Conference
and, then, at the 2005 Purpose Driven HIV&AIDS Conference.
Starting with humility
One of the first steps he took was to contact and visit his local public health nurse. “I went in there as a student,
not to tell them what I knew,” Bruneau said. “That’s critical to developing a partnership.”
A pastor, Bruneau said, should ask HIV&AIDS workers: Is there anything I can do to help?
When Bruneau first visited the public health nurse, she was suspicious of a pastor wanting to make a difference in the
HIV&AIDS pandemic. In the past, public health officials had found churches – like most organizations – had hidden agendas, Bruneau said.
So the nurse and her husband visited Penn Friends Community Church unannounced one Sunday to discover that agenda.
“I was teaching on the P.E.A.C.E. Plan, particularly on the pandemic of HIV&AIDS,” Bruneau said.
As the nurse left the sanctuary that morning, she told Bruneau, “We will work together.”
Bruneau and his fellow church leaders still are trying to fully gain the trust of local HIV&AIDS organizations.
This is a slow process that takes patience, Bruneau says. For now, they’re not doing hands-on work with
people suffering with HIV&AIDS. But they’re helping in other ways as they continue to gain trust.
Recently Bruneau helped the public health nurse spread the word among churches about HIV&AIDS testing,
held at the health department and county jail. Together, they developed an information packet for pastors.
The packet announced and explained an upcoming testing opportunity; it also listed local HIV&AIDS statistics
and state HIV&AIDS services. Bruneau wrote a letter, emphasizing Christians’ responsibility to minister as Jesus
would and challenging pastors to champion the HIV&AIDS issue in their churches. He also offered to speak
personally with pastors or whole congregations.
Bruneau hoped the packets would encourage pastors to tell their congregations about the testing. A pastor’s
encouragement often is the most effective way to encourage someone to be tested, said Bruneau.
In addition to mailing 152 packets, Bruneau met with eight pastors prior to the testing. “I wanted to get a sense
of whether they were aware of the problem,” he said. “They were not.”
When he presented HIV&AIDS statistics about their own community, their jaws dropped.
In addition to sharing about the testing opportunity, Bruneau encouraged pastors to offer counseling for people
who test positive for HIV. All eight pastors pledged their support to spreading the word about testing and invited
Bruneau to tell their churches about HIV&AIDS.
Bruneau is planning to follow up with phone calls to many of the 152 churches that received information packets.
Additionally, the public health nurse has told him that when people test positive for HIV and want in-depth counseling,
she will refer them to Penn Friends Community Church.
Doing everything with love
Bruneau says the skepticism he’s encountered from HIV&AIDS organizations is deserved because of the many years that he didn’t care for those with HIV&AIDS.
“I had a cousin who died of AIDS. He was part of the gay community, and because of that, I had little or nothing to do with him,” Bruneau said.
For years Bruneau didn’t think about his cousin’s death, but recently God reminded him of it. “I could have loved my cousin, and I didn’t. Maybe that’s why I’m so passionate about this now,” he said.
“I’ve accepted forgiveness, but I know there’s a responsibility not to let that happen again.”
Love also will help you introduce your church to the idea of HIV&AIDS ministry, Bruneau said.
When God first convicted him about the HIV&AIDS crisis, he felt such urgency that he immediately began sharing with his whole congregation. “My passion got the best of me,” he said.
Instead, Bruneau wishes he first had shared with Penn Friends leaders and then asked their advice about how to share his new conviction with the congregation.
“It has to be done very carefully and with a great deal of love,” Bruneau said.
Despite a shaky start, he knows his congregation supports his heart for HIV&AIDS, and some are getting involved alongside him.
“I’m not expecting the entire congregation to jump up and down and wear red wristbands that say, Stop AIDS, like I do,” Bruneau said.
“But our church is basically 100 percent supportive of everything I do. The folks are open to doing whatever it takes to reaching people
for Christ and making an impact on community.”
Bruneau knows that HIV&AIDS isn’t just a passing interest for him. He brings it up every chance he gets – whether that’s during
a local Optimists Club meeting or during a casual conversation with another pastor. “I would not be surprised if the remainder
of my ministry was focused on HIV and P.E.A.C.E.,” he said.
For pastors wanting their churches to get involved in HIV&AIDS ministry, Bruneau suggests that they attend the Saddleback Church
Radicalis Conference, and take key lay leaders and staff members with them. “Nothing will take the place of doing that firsthand,” he said.