HIV/AIDS Conference Shifts Focus From Education to Action

Dr. Rick and Kay Warren concluded the second day of the Disturbing Voices International HIV/AIDS Conference at Saddleback Church, which shifted the focus fro- educating the nearly 1700 participants on the overwhelming statistics and facts about HIV/AIDS to looking at the practical and pragmatic ways of combating the disease.
“Yesterday was the problem side,” said Pastor Warren as he opened the session. “Today is the solution side. Statistically you have someone in your church who has HIV/AIDS. So, how do we address it locally? And how do we do it locally?”
This question was answered by a tag-team line-up of pastors using the acrostic C.H.U.R.C.H. to outline the response being put forth in this conference: Care and comfort the sick; Help test and counsel; Unleash a worldwide volunteer force; Remove the stigma; Championing healthy behavior;’ and finally, Hand out medicine and nutrition.
“The church is the best positioned organization to reduce and remove the stigma of this virus,” Kay Warren said. “Government can’t do it, only the church can – because we offer love and forgiveness. Sin hurts, and there are consequences – but it is not a sin to be sick.
“One of the consequences that should never happen is for Christians to turn our back on people,” Mrs. Warren continued. “Jesus never asked anyone how he or she got sick — only the Pharisees did. Do you want to be a Pharisee? Or do you want to be like Jesus? If your compassion level goes up when you know it wasn’t someone’s fault, then there is something wrong.”
The Warrens were joined by three other clergymen who have been at the forefront of combating the AIDS pandemic, who shared their personal testimonies and encouragement with the attendees: Bishop Charles Blake, pastor of West Angeles Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles; the Reverend Kirbyjon Caldwell, Senior Pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, TX and founder of Windsor AIDS Ministries (WAM); and the Reverend Francis Karemera from the Anglican Diocese of Kigali, Rwanda.
“Think of the guilt, shame and sense of rejection experienced by people with AIDS,” Bishop Blake said. “The fear, anxiety and depression are enough to kill – even if the disease did not. That millions have gone through this ordeal, and too many of them all by themselves. The Lord would not have anyone deal with the challenge of AIDS alone.”
However, Rev. Caldwell cautioned fellow pastors to make sure they and their churches are ready to take on this challenge. “If you are going to launch an effective AIDS ministry, don’t expect your congregation to get it overnight,” he said. “You’re going to need to talk about it, and teach about it and preach about it.”
Rick Warren also explained how the church’s response to the HIV/AIDS crisis fits under the “C” in his PEACE plan which he unveiled earlier this year. The PEACE plan is Pastor Warren’s outline for how the church will be able to come up against what he calls the five global giants of our time – spiritual emptiness, egocentric leadership, extreme poverty, pandemic disease and illiteracy. Each letter in the word PEACE stands for the response to those giants Warren has identified: Planting churches, Equipping leaders, Assisting the poor, Caring for the sick (which is where the AIDS response fits) and Education.
“There are three elements to implementing the PEACE plan,” Pastor Warren explained. “Personally, in which you serve your family, your friends and co-workers; locally, which focuses on the community around you; and then globally, where you focus on the world. You don’t have to cross the sea, just see the cross.”
The afternoon session focused on AIDS prevention, and Dr. Edward Green a research anthropologist from Harvard University presented statistics demonstrating the real progress that has been made in Africa with regard to stemming the infection rate has been shown to be the “A” and “B” of the ABC method – Abstain, Be faithful and Condom usage.
Dr. Green emphasized statistics show that being faithful has seen the biggest behavioral shift, followed by abstinence. Though condoms have proven least effective – only a 3 percent increase in usage from 1998-2003 — the media still continues to attribute the slowing rate of new AIDS infections in Kenya and Uganda to condom usage.
“There’s a bias and it is away from the things that churches like to promote,” Green noted. “You (the church) have a comparative advantage in promoting the things that really work.”
Reverend Martin Ssempa brought the audience to the edge of their seats as he presented a high energy message outlining how he and his wife have spent the last five years changing the culture of the local college campus from one that applauded promiscuity among students to its current state where students keep each other accountable in their actions. His plan gave three elements to a successful AIDS ministry implementation: 1) Be prophetic – translating the data of statistics to people; 2) Be practical – creating effective activities and programs; and 3) Be progressively changing communities.
“Get outside the walls of the church and start marching,” Ssempa challenged. “Everyone else is marching, and the church is sitting home. This is how we awaken the giant. The church has to get outside the walls of the building.”
Gary Haugen, President of the International Justice mission, an international human rights agency that rescues victims of violence, sexual exploitation, slavery and oppression, brought a new dimension to the discussion as he talked about the segment of African population that does not have the ability to make choices regarding their sexual activity.
“Violence profoundly affects how the disease is spread, and is one of the engines driving the pandemic,” Mr. Haugen said. However, violence is not covered by the current methods of protection. Women and girls don’t get to make decisions about their sexual activity when they are the victims of crime and abuse.”
Dr. Warren closed the conference by emphasizing the distinctive of compassion that only the church can provide. “If you are going to join this battle against HIV/AIDS, it has to start in the heart – you have to care,” he said. “One day you are going to be judged by how you treated other people. You may not be able to change the world, but you can change the world for somebody.”
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