Hybels Moved to Action by AIDS Orphans

Lake Forest, Calif. – Bill and Lynn Hybels, co-ministers of Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, Ill., joined Rick and Kay Warren to host Saddleback’s new Church and HIV/AIDS Conference titled, “Desperate Voices,” to address the Church’s role in eradicating the global pandemic completely.

At the three-day conference at Saddleback Church, which began Tuesday and ends Thursday, the Hybels spoke about their awaking to the giant problem of HIV/AIDS in the last plenary session of the day, “The Hope of the World.”

Lynn said she was changed forever when she met eight Ugandan children orphaned when their parents died of AIDS, leaving them in the care of a grandfather who had no means to feed them. When she visited them at 2 in the afternoon, she had no food on her.

“We had no food in that village either,” she said to a crowd of nearly 1,700 pastors, ministry leaders, and government officials. “It was absolutely one of most disturbing experiences I had because in that moment I hated who I was. I was a privileged American, seeing the need and doing nothing.”

The experience changed her ministry, and her husband’s for good.

It was the same for Kay Warren, who cried after seeing photographs of children orphaned by AIDS. Her visit to Africa then changed the way she viewed people with HIV/AIDS.

It was after those moments that the two women urged their husbands to become actively involved in changing the hearts of their congregations and other church leaders.

“To those children, I was just one more person failing to respond to their needs,” said Lynn. “I walked across the field and just sobbed with just the horror of that moment."

"That experience changed me by pushing me so deeply into despair that I knew I needed to make a choice," she added. "I just had to shut that down and go on as if nothing had happened, or I could make the second choice which is to let that despair turn into action.”

There is something to be said about the similarities of the experiences of Lynn Hybels and Kay Warren, according to Timothy Morgan, deputy managing editor of Christianity Today. He reasoned that Americans must identify with the people suffering of AIDS in order to slough off their apathy – i.e., imagining that the person suffering is a family member.

It takes an experience of “what if those orphans were my own children?” the evangelical magazine’s leading writer on Africa and HIV/AIDS told The Christian Post earlier in the day.

Morgan stated that it is precisely in the identifying moment that change occurs, and the victims become real people, not just statistics.

“So when individual American Christians are touched in a very deep place and they have a bond of identification with a person with HIV/AIDS or someone affected by the pandemic, it moves them,” he said. “Their life is changed, and they can no longer ignore the issue or the suffering.”

At the Saddleback conference, Bill Hybels admitted that the reason behind his lack of response to the missing children featured on cards is because “those kids are not my own kids.”

It was when he finally identified those children as his own he realized “this great theological truth,” he said. “All kids are God’s kids. God feels the same way about AIDS orphans as he does the kids in our white suburban neighborhoods that have decorated nurseries.”

After that moment, Hybels began to speak on the subject publicly and announced during sermons that he wishes to help those living with the disease. Week after week, people began coming up to him to whisper, “Thank you for your sermon. I’ve got AIDS.”

The devastation is not just in Africa, he said, but it is in America’s own suburban churches, which may come as a shock to many pastors.

Most of the people attending the conference have been transformed already, or are on the verge of doing so, said Morgan. The next step is to facilitate this change in others.

And according to Rick Warren, there is hope.

“When we look at the AIDS crisis, and we look at the overwhelming complexity of it, it is despairing," he said, but “despair is the starting point, not the end.”

Churches can make a leap of faith and “create new possibilities based on Jesus,” he said in closing the day. “I think God has been waiting on the church to bring the solution.”

Since the Hybels’ change of hearts, the church has donated at least $600,000 to AIDS projects internationally and the church co-ministers are seeking to mobilize their congregation even more.

The second day of the Nov. 29 – Dec. 1 conference at Saddleback will completely be about the “how to” – how to get others involved, how to preach to the congregations, or how to mobilize a church to do overseas missions trips.