Hundreds of church leaders will enter the "Race Against Time" at Saddleback Church's second HIV/AIDS conference in November and many are saying it's already long overdue for churches to join the fight.
"It's past time for those who claim to be Christ's followers to join the struggle against the devastation that the HIV virus brings," said Kay Warren in a released statement. "We must get in the race to stop AIDS and to care for the millions already affected."
Confirmed speakers at this year's Global Summit on AIDS and the Church, Nov. 30-Dec. 1, include evangelist Franklin Graham, president and CEO of Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association; Dennis Rainey, president of Family Life; John Ortberg, author and teaching pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church; and Bishop Charles E. Blake, pastor of West Angeles Church of God in Christ, among others.
Politicians are also featured speakers in the church mix including U.S. Senators Sam Brownback and Barack Obama. Other session speakers include Ambassador Mark Dybul, United States global AIDS coordinator; Robert Redfield, M.D. of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland; and Edward Green, Ph.D, Harvard University anthropologist and AIDS prevention authority.
"Most people expect the government, not the Church, to take care of people living with HIV/AIDS," Rick Warren said. "But Jesus, speaking to his Church, said, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’"
Rick and Kay Warren co-founded Saddleback's HIV/AIDS Initiative which launched its first milestone conference last year.
Rick Warren commented, in an earlier interview, that "it's time to act."
"This is not a small battle; it’ll take the rest of my life to do this. But we believe that we’ve come up with a series of different campaigns to help a church actually grow and improve and become what we need to do."
A new report by the South African government revealed a sharp rise in the death rate of men and women in the past seven years and the increase is partly due to the country's staggering AIDS epidemic. The report stated that the large increases in the death rates of women in their 20s and 30s are thought to result mainly from HIV.
The Warrens began mobilizing churches in the AIDS fight after visiting villages and churches in Africa where the scene of poverty, orphaned children and still passionate pastors broke them down.
Last year's historic conference at Saddleback brought some 1,700 pastors, ministry workers and government staff together for a wake-up call to the ever-present AIDS pandemic. It was the first major conference the evangelical community held to address the AIDS battle and to mobilize its worldwide network of local churches against the pandemic.
"The global HIV/AIDS pandemic is the Church’s greatest opportunity to serve the hurting like Jesus, to show God’s love to skeptics, to share the Good News, and to extend a helping hand in communities and around the world," said Warren. "Churches offer faith, help, love, forgiveness, and grace – spiritual support that neither business nor government can offer."
There are currently 40 million people worldwide who have HIV/AIDS and more than one million are in the United States.
Local churches may not perceive how to begin addressing a global giant like HIV/AIDS, but Warren is convinced that it is the Church's "greatest opportunity."