HIV and the Church

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Who We Are

Letter from Kay

Even though there have been remarkable advances in treatment in recent years, HIV&AIDS is still the greatest humanitarian crisis of all time. Every year, the virus claims the lives of millions of men, women and children, and leaves millions of orphaned and vulnerable children behind.

In the middle of this tragedy, the love of our Savior Jesus Christ is real and available to anyone infected or affected by HIV and AIDS. The HIV&AIDS Initiative at Saddleback was born out of the conviction that God cares about sick people – he loves people who are HIV positive. A study of Scripture reveals a God who is passionate about the sick, the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, and the poor. Over and over he instructs the children of Israel to make provisions for them, treating them fairly and with compassion.

The New Testament records that Jesus spent one-third of his ministry healing the sick. There is no doubt in our minds that if Jesus was walking the earth today he would be with orphans, widows, and people living with HIV and AIDS. His heart was always with those ignored, neglected, or rejected by society.

Today the church of Jesus Christ offers concrete hope not found anywhere else – hope for acceptance and grace, hope for spiritual and physical healing, hope for a rich spiritual community where no one is alone, hope for making a meaningful contribution to others in spite of living with HIV, hope for homes and permanent families for orphaned and vulnerable children, and most of all, hope for the reality of heaven!

If we link arms together, united in vision and purpose, we can bring healing and hope to millions of people infected and affected by HIV&AIDS. In fact, we can do even more than that: we can end AIDS.

In hope,

Kay Warren
Founder, HIV&AIDS Initiative
Saddleback Church
Lake Forest, California

Our Story

One of the lessons many of us are taught as we grow up is “Never talk about politics or religion.” We’ve obeyed that cultural mandate. Now all we want to talk about is The Bachelor, or American Idol, or the latest sports figure, or the price of gasoline. Christians are just as guilty as non-Christians! Even worse, we refuse to read or talk about the painful subjects like child prostitution, child labor, rape, poverty, injustice, ethnic hatred and racism, greed, materialism, environmental destruction, or HIV&AIDS. These are disturbing topics. But if we’re not disturbed by the world in which we live, we will be consumed with the trivial, the insignificant, the temporary. We will spend the days of our lives pursuing all the wrong goals, living for the wrong measurement of success, evaluating our legacy by the wrong standard.

The word “disturbed” is associated with mental illness and instability. We say “She’s disturbed” when we describe someone who is troubled emotionally. That’s too bad, because God is looking for some disturbed Christians. He is searching for men and women, students, and young adults who will allow themselves to be disturbed by the world in which we live. So disturbed that they will be compelled to do something about what they see.

Instead of being disturbed, we’re comfortable. I’m comfortable. I have no complaints. My material needs are more than met. I live in a beautiful part of the country. I have a rich and satisfying marriage. I have children and grandchildren who make me proud; they’re great human beings. I have meaningful friendships that fill me with joy. It is actually very easy to remain aloof and untouched by the suffering that defines the existence of the vast majority of the world.

If you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of the people in the world! If you have ANY money in the bank and some in your wallet, and some spare change in a dish some place on your kitchen counter, you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy. Ninety-two percent of the world have less to live on than you do! If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 500 million other people in the world. If you can attend worship services at church without the fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death, you are more blessed than three billion people in the world.

All of that “comfort” came crashing down one day in the spring of 2002. I was sitting in my comfortable living room reading a news magazine when I saw an article on AIDS in Africa. I have to really be honest and tell you at the moment I didn’t care. I didn’t care about AIDS in Africa, I didn’t care about AIDS in my community, I didn’t care about AIDS anywhere, but I read it anyway. As I read that article, it was accompanied by pictures that were graphic of people suffering, of people’s bodies emaciated, of children too weak to brush the flies away from their faces. The pictures were so horrible I couldn’t look at it. I tried to cover my eyes with my hands. I was trying to block out the monsters of what I was seeing in those pictures. But God is really sneaky. He got my attention through the words in the article.

There was a little box in the middle of this article and it said “12 million children orphaned in Africa due to AIDS.” I threw the magazine down in horror because at that moment, sitting in my comfortable living room drinking a cup of tea, I realized I didn’t know the name of a single orphan. This article said at that time there were 40 million people who were infected with this incurable virus and I didn’t know a single person. I thought to myself, “How could this be? How did I get to this place where I’ve been building my own life, and my family, my church, and my ministry and a pandemic is taking over the world, killing millions of people and leaving millions of children orphaned and I not be touched by it?”

That night when I went to bed, all I could hear were the cries of children who were orphaned. All I could see in my mind’s eye were the pictures of men and women whose bodies were wasting away to nothing. I didn’t know what to do with that. When I woke up the next morning, all I could hear was that sound in my ears of children crying and the pictures of people dying. For the next month, those images haunted me. I started having this war with God by saying, “Leave me alone. Go away. I can’t deal with this. I’m not a medical person. What could I possibly do about all those orphans? There’s nothing. God, you just need to leave me alone. Get somebody else.”

Really, after about a month of this internal dialog with God, trying to convince him that he needed to leave me alone, that I was the wrong person to even be thinking about this, it occurred to me that there would be one day when I was to stand in front of God. When I stand in front of God to give an account of my life, the first thing he’s going to ask me is “What did you do with my Son Jesus Christ?” Well, I know the answer to that. The answer is, “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.” Go that one covered. But then I started wondering…what if God then asked me: “Do you remember that day that I showed you that article and I opened your eyes to a reality that you never understood before? What did you do about it?” I had this very clear sense that if I said, “Oh, you meant me? You don’t understand, God. I had a really good life planned out. I was busy. I’m sure you meant for other people. You couldn’t have meant me.” The knowledge that oh, yes, that is exactly what God was asking me. I had to make a decision. I could either leave my comfortable life where I had all my little ducks in a row, I had all that I needed materially, I had a good marriage, I had everything. I could leave what I knew, what was known, what was comfortable. And I could do what felt like to me, just jumping off of a precipice, to an unknown future uncomfortable.

I knew the answer. God was asking me to say yes to him. The minute I said “yes,” God broke my heart. It’s as though he took my heart and put it through a meat grinder. What went in was an intact heart, but what came out on the other side was a heart in a million pieces. That day I became a seriously disturbed woman. It has not changed. It’s been years now. That day I became an advocate for men, women and children who are infected or affected by HIV&AIDS and for the children who are left behind. For me, it came down to a decision. I had to decide. I could stay with what I knew, I could stay with what felt good to me or I could make a decision to jump, take a leap of faith, and believe that God was calling even though it did not make sense. I chose to let God disturb me.

You have to choose to be disturbed. God puts horrific and startling images in front of us daily through the newspaper, through the television, through eyewitness accounts. You can do what I did at first - choose to ignore it all, retreating behind every excuse your brain can think up. For me, “I’m a white suburban mom with a minivan. What do I know about a medical disease or orphans? I’m busy. There’s nothing I can do. It won’t make a difference anyway. Someone more gifted and intelligent than I am should do it. It’s messy. It’s ugly. It’s smelly. What if I get sick? I was planning to use that money to buy this or that......” Or, you can become disturbed – seriously, dangerously disturbed, so disturbed that you are compelled to do something.

But WHAT? Let me tell you the pathway that God led me on.

  • Be willing to engage. See what he sees, hear what he hears, feel what he feels, touch what he touches when he was walking with us, cry over the things that made him weep, get angry about the issues that enraged him.
  • Be willing to pray. I have pictures on my desk that surround me in my home office of women, children who are suffering TODAY from the effects of HIV& AIDS. I pray for them daily; I identify with them in their suffering. You have to let HIV&AIDS become PERSONAL for you – not just about the millions – but about the face of ONE person.
  • Be willing to give. Open not only your heart, but your wallet as well. I believe that an open heart just automatically leads directly to an open wallet. Why? Because our checkbook gives an accurate assessment of the things we truly value.
  • Be willing to go. If at all possible, leave the United States for a short-term mission trip. Don’t go as a tourist – anybody can do that. Anybody can be a tourist. Go as an ambassador for Jesus Christ. There is nothing in the American experience that can prepare you for the poverty, the disease, the hardships that billions of our fellow brothers and sisters experience every day. You’ll never really know it until you’ve seen it.
  • Be willing to become a voice for those who have no voice. Women don’t have much of a voice in this world, little girls have almost none. Fight for the children of our world with all the energy, passion and zeal you would if it was YOUR baby, your toddler, your boy, your girl.
  • Be willing to make some drastic changes in your own life. Life passes by so quickly and all the good we intend to do often gets lost in the urgency of our day-to-day lives. Begin to live for the purposes of God, not for the things that can be taken away. Start now….start today! Ask God to seriously disturb you.
  • Be willing to mobilize your church like we did at Saddleback. We began with volunteers – people who didn’t know much but they had compassionate, disturbed hearts. We made our church a safe place for people to disclose their HIV status. We started support groups for people who were infected or affected. Then we started CARE teams, - people who would come alongside, walk alongside in friendship with those who were positive, meeting practical needs. We had information/educational events for our congregation. Then we engaged our community. Then we engaged the world.

I didn’t know what saying yes to God would mean, but that’s the glorious adventure of taking that risk of faith. God will catch you. You jump off; you take that leap of faith. He will catch you. You don’t have to know it all; you don’t have to have all the information. You don’t have to have a strategy; you don’t have to have a plan. It starts with a heart that says yes. And when you do that, when you say yes, when you take that leap without even knowing what the answer is going to be, he’ll use you to be a part of ending AIDS in our world for Jesus’ sake.

Staff

Kay Warren
Founder, HIV&AIDS Initiative

Kay Warren, co-founder of Saddleback Church with her husband, Rick, is using her far-reaching influence as a voice for the weak and vulnerable.

In 2002, Warren became, in her words, “seriously disturbed” by the suffering of the millions infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS. Through the PEACE Plan, she is now challenging the worldwide church to take on not just HIV&AIDS, but the global giants of spiritual darkness, lack of servant leaders, poverty, disease, and ignorance.

Warren frequently travels around the globe to encourage HIV positive men, women, and vulnerable children, and today she is a powerful advocate on their behalf. In 2004, she began the HIV/AIDS Initiative at Saddleback Church and serves as its Founder.

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In 2005, she was instrumental in presenting Saddleback Church’s first HIV/AIDS conference. The Global Summit on AIDS and the Church was held in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Warren launched the HIV/AIDS Caring Community in 2006, and a newly redesigned site for and by people living with HIV&AIDS. Located at www.hivaidsinitiative.com, the online community offers resources and inspiration for individuals and churches involved in HIV/AIDS ministry, as well as encouragement for people living with HIV&AIDS. Her passion for caring for orphans and vulnerable children is reflected in the website www.OrphansAndTheChurch.com. Many of her messages, videos as well as featured resources for her books can be found at www.kaywarren.com. She is also on Facebook and on Twitter (@kaywarren1).

As a two-time cancer survivor, Warren knows firsthand how a life-threatening diagnosis alters one’s daily life. Her own bouts with suffering have motivated her to serve others who are sick. She has come face to face with the hurting as a volunteer in her own community; at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying in Calcutta, India; at the leper colony and AIDS hospice in Manila, Philippines; and with World Vision and The International Justice Mission in Thailand and Cambodia. In Mozambique, Malawi, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda she has ministered to those living with HIV/AIDS through several organizations, as well as through Saddleback Church’s partnership with local African churches. She has become a student of HIV&AIDS and attended the XV International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand; the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto, Canada; the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, Mexico and the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C.

As a speaker, Warren has been a voice for suffering individuals. In addition to being featured at various Purpose Driven Church and Radicalis conferences, Warren has addressed many government, church, academic and professional groups, including the Government Women Leaders of Rwanda, the Management Association of the Philippines, the Learning Community of Willow Creek Church, the Nootbaar Institute at Pepperdine University School of Law, Loma Linda University School of Public Health, and numerous other colleges and universities She co-hosted with her husband, Rick, the Saddleback Civil Forum on Global Health, honoring President and Mrs. George Bush. Recognized for her passion and influence, Warren has spoken to The Global Coalition on Women and AIDS (UNAIDS), and at the Ecumenical Pre-Conference of both the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto and the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, as well as being a featured speaker at the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C.

In 2006, Warren was among eight women honored at the CNN Inspire Summit, which recognized women for their impact on global issues through political, social, and humanitarian efforts that have inspired others to get involved. In 2008, she was awarded the Distinguished Service Award from Loma Linda University’s School of Public Health.

A best-selling author, Warren’s doctrinal study, Foundations, co-authored with Tom Holladay, won a Gold Medallion Award in 2004. Her book, Dangerous Surrender, was released in December 2007, and the revised and expanded softcover edition, retitled Say Yes to God, is now available. Her latest book, Choose Joy, Because Happiness Isn’t Enough, was published in April 2012. She has contributed to The AWAKE Project – Uniting Against The African AIDS Crisis. Additionally, she has been a columnist for Christianity Today and Purpose Driven Connection magazine. Kay has written for CNN.com and the Washington Post. She has been featured in POZ, Reader’s Digest, Guideposts,Today’s Christian Woman, Missions Mosaic, Sojourners, Seed, Worship, Worship Leader, Encouraging Women, Good, and OC Metro magazines.

In 1980, Warren and her husband began Saddleback Church in the living room of their condominium. Now one of the largest churches in America, Saddleback Church has given Warren a platform for influencing Christians and other leaders worldwide.

Raised in the rich heritage of a Christian home, Warren attended California Baptist College and earned her B.A. from California State University, Los Angeles. She is mother to Amy, Joshua and Matthew, and grandmother to Kaylie, Cassidy, Caleb, Cole and Claire. She and Rick reside in Southern California.

Elizabeth Styffe
Director, PEACE HIV&AIDS Initiative

Director, PEACE Orphan Care Initiative

Elizabeth Styffe is the co-founder of the HIV&AIDS Initiative at Saddleback Church with Kay Warren. She currently directs the HIV &AIDS Initiative, the Rwanda Healthcare Initiative, and the Orphan Care Initiatives at Saddleback Church, which focuses on equipping churches locally and globally to end the orphan crisis. An author and international speaker, Elizabeth combines her background in pediatric nursing, loss, grief and trauma with a passion to see the church at the center of HIV and orphan care, Having received a BSN from Biola University and Master’s Degree in Nursing from UCLA, she has helped develop robust programs and tools for churches across the globe and is helping churches launch effective ministries which are church-initiated with an emphasis on permanency as the right of every child. Married for 29 years, Elizabeth and her husband Glenn have seven children, three of whom were adopted from Rwanda.

Ashley Eure
Manager, HIV&AIDS Initiative

Ashley Eure is the Manager of the HIV&AIDS Initiative at Saddleback Church. Ashley earned her Masters in Public Policy from USC and an undergraduate double major in Communications and Political Science from UCLA. She is passionate about helping the local church become a source of hope and healing for the hurting and vulnerable. A licensed minister, Ashley is currently pursuing a Masters of Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.