LAKE FOREST, Calif. – The AIDS Summit is not one of the most popular conferences in the church, said evangelical pastor Rick Warren. But more than 2,000 people decided to take the first step in the “race against time” at Saddleback Church’s second annual Global Summit on AIDS and the Church.
“I love my church,” Kay Warren told thousands of participants at the opening session of the AIDS conference Thursday, alluding to the dissipating stigma in her 22,000-member congregation.
Three years after Warren became seriously disturbed by the AIDS crisis, she found her church pointed in a new direction. AIDS was no longer an uncomfortable subject to talk about and AIDS ministry no longer had to be kept a secret.
Still, the church’s response to what many call the worst humanitarian crisis in the world is slow, Warren admitted. More than 20 years had passed since the AIDS breakout before Warren herself began to respond.
Her renowned husband had gone 26 years training pastors but the millions of widows, orphans and victims to the epidemic never came on to his radar. Both Warrens represented the millions of Christians who were crippled by ignorance and stigma.
Now, Kay is an advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness. Although once diagnosed with breast cancer and melanoma, she is an advocate for a disease that is incurable, a disease that threatens the loss of a job, and a disease that distances friends and family from the one infected.
“No one should die alone,” she told the attendants.
Nearly 40 million people worldwide have been infected with HIV, according to the latest U.N. report.
“What is God’s plan for all this?” posed Rick Warren. “You,” he said, addressing the church and ministry leaders and health professionals.
And people across the religious, political and medical spectrum agree – the world needs the Church in the HIV/AIDS fight.
“It (the Church) needs to become the third leg of a stool,” highlighted Dr. Robert Redfield, co-founder of the Institute for Human Virology, explaining the other two legs are the government and businesses. “It is the Church that is the fundamental centerpiece for health.”
Although late and slow in response, “the Church is awakening,” said Redfield. “I can feel it.”
“We started late,” said Richard Feachem, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, “but we are now on the climb.”
Comparing the conquest of AIDS to climbing a large mountain, he added, “To reach the summit of the conquest of AIDS, we need strength, we need intelligence, and we need faith – lots and lots of faith.”
The second annual AIDS Summit continues Friday with Senators Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., publicly testing for HIV.