Churches Challenged to Join AIDS Battle, 'Step Out in Faith'

Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., will be hosting its second global HIV/AIDS conference this year to open the eyes of the Christian community and challenge church leaders to enter the battle for the millions dying of the incurable disease.

The second conference, slated for Nov. 29 - Dec. 1, will come exactly one year after Saddleback’s Rick and Kay Warren first launched the groundbreaking conference on the role of the Church in the HIV/AIDS battle for the evangelical community.

"We're a little late; the AIDS pandemic has been going on for 25 years," Kay Warren, wife of Rick Warren, told a group of pastors and lay leaders at a Purpose Driven Church conference last month. "But we're here with our heart and conviction to show a watching, skeptical, suspicious world that Christians care about AIDS."

Although churches, at large, had been missing in action in the HIV/AIDS fight, more recently the Church has been waking up to the crisis and is calling on the network of Christian adherents to respond to the crisis – a crisis so large that only the world’s largest religion can fight, according to Rick Warren.

At the recent 2006 Purpose Driven Church Conference on May 16-19, Kay Warren, executive director of Saddleback's HIV/AIDS initiative, mapped out six steps for churches to respond as they begin to face the widespread pandemic.

First, churches must care, she said. Stepping back from the indifference and the stigma largely attached to AIDS, churches are called to be filled with compassion as Jesus was when encountering a sick person. Second, churches should get involved in HIV testing and counseling. This lets the world know that it is not afraid and that the Church is a safe place for those who are HIV positive.

The Church was also called to unleash a volunteer force of compassion, remove the stigma, champion healthy behavior such as abstinence and strong marriages, and help with nutrition and medication.

One Purpose Driven conference attendant who had his life turned around after attending last year's landmark gathering said he had never even had AIDS on his mind until recently.

"I never gave the HIV/AIDS pandemic a thought until the Holy Spirit melted my icy heart with the disturbing voices from around the world that are calling out for God's healing embrace," said William Bruneau, the pastor of Penn Friends Community Church in Cassapolis, Mich., according to Purpose Driven Ministries.

Bruneau said he is preparing to rally churches to get involved in HIV testing.

"Step out in faith," he told this year's conference attendants. "Nothing is impossible with God."

Along with an increase in church mobilization in the AIDS fight, the United Nations and countries around the globe made a stronger declaration early this month to try to stop the spread of the disease with a global commitment to providing universal access to AIDS prevention, treatment and care in the next five years.

Also, on June 5, the world marked 25 years since the first report on AIDS was published.