LAKE FOREST, Calif.-- Megachurch pastors Bill Hybels and Rick Warren both expressed their deep regrets for not joining the fight against HIV/AIDS sooner as they partner to call the Church to quickly take action in the battle against one of the world's greatest humanitarian emergencies.
Bill Hybels, senior pastor of the 18,000-membered Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, Ill., and Rick Warren of the 20,000-membered Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. both began their sessions Tuesdays with apologies for their lack of awareness and response to the pandemic that is expected to kill 93 million people by 2010.
"Willow would be on the list of churches to get it too late," reflected Hybels. "As I look back, I take full responsibility for this. Our church just celebrated its 30th anniversary last month. I have to live with that. I confess it. I believe it is covered with the cross but it is a mystery to me why I didn't get it
Similarly, Warren lamented during the opening session,"A few years ago I had to repent. How did I miss this? What were the blinders on my eyes? You can't just care about people spiritually but you have to tend to people physically too."
Kay Warren, Rick Warren's wife and Saddleback co-minister, also shared the burden of remorse during the press conference.
"Just go ahead and admit it. We have largely not been there," she said. "We have to take a moment to say that we were wrong. We know that God cares about people with HIV/AIDS. We believe the church has a significant role to play
As a result of their realization, the two megachurch pastors and their wives - who actually were the ones to initiate the idea to their husbands that churches should respond to HIV/AIDS - co-sponsored the first international "local" church conference on the role of the Church and AIDS. One of the resounding messages throughout day was the need for churches to respond and respond quickly.
"I met a woman from Uganda who told me, 'I think it is really great that you people come together to plan. But you have to remember that every day you come to meet, people are dying,'" said Lynne Hybels, wife of Bill Hybels
"We didn't know anything but we had a sense of urgency that we had to move on," she added.
Lynne, who visited Uganda and other African nations a few years ago had described her experience as "one of the most disturbing moments in my life."
She continued by saying, "I hated who I was. I was a privilege American to the children. I was just one more person who failed to respond to their needs. I sobbed at the horror at the moment
Bill Hybels followed by urging pastors and church leaders attending the conference to simply do what they can despite their insufficiencies, lack of knowledge and resources and let God take care of the rest.
"That is what God is asking 'give it a shot,' said the Willow Creek Senior Pastor. "He will meet you along the way but you have to move. He will give you the people, resources, and money."
And Rick Warren, in concluding the day, said, "When we look at AIDS crisis and the overwhelming complexities, it is despairing. But despair is the starting point, not the end. The church has to get involved."
"The church has been missing in action. If we are the Body why aren't we ministering with the whole Body?" he asked.