The Global Summit on AIDS and the Church will take place on Nov. 28-30 at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. The conference represents one among many ways that congregations can tackle the AIDS pandemic and minister to those affected by it.
Richard Stearns, president of World Vision U.S., speaks at the Global Summit on AIDS and the Church last year. The annual conference, to be hosted this year on Nov. 28-30 at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., seeks to increase awareness of the global AIDS crisis and encourage churches to expand their ministries to help those affected by it. Photo courtesy of Saddleback Church.
Churches across the United States are confronting AIDS, discovering creative ways to provide help and hope for millions who are suffering because of the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time. Despite the numbers — more than 25 million dead, 40 million infected, and 15 million children now living without one or both parents because of the pandemic — churches remain undaunted as they minister to one person, one family, one community at a time.
As a Christian humanitarian organization, World Vision works alongside these congregations, not only by way of ministry, but by way of encouraging others to join the fight against HIV and AIDS.
Educating and Equipping
As U.S. congregations respond to the scourge of AIDS, many are finding new ways to minister to those sick, orphaned, or otherwise affected by the crisis. Leading this call to action among U.S. churches is Saddleback Church
, located in southern California between Los Angeles and San Diego, one of the nation's largest congregations. "We want every believer in our church to begin to care," says Elizabeth Styffe, director of Saddleback Church's HIV/AIDS initiative. "We begin with awareness and move into action."
Today, the church manages a multifaceted response to AIDS that focuses on equipping congregation members to understand and respond directly to HIV- and AIDS-related needs. But even that wasn't enough. Three years ago, Saddleback Pastor Rick Warren and his wife, Kay, decided to go one step further: Equip other U.S. churches to respond as well.
"There simply wasn't anything related to AIDS where churches and organizations could meet and get involved," says Jessica McKnight, who also works with Saddleback's HIV/AIDS initiative. In response, three years ago, Saddleback hosted the first annual Global Summit on AIDS and the Church
. Today, this educational, inspirational, and networking opportunity draws hundreds of church leaders from across the nation. In 2007, some 3,000 are expected to attend.
Escalating the Fight Against AIDS
Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church (left), and Richard Stearns, president of World Vision U.S. (right), speak with participants of the 2006 Global Summit on AIDS and the Church. In 2007, 3,000 people are expected to travel to southern California for the annual event. Photo courtesy of Saddleback Church.
"This is a place where churches can get not only great education on AIDS, but good resources to get ministries going in their own churches," McKnight says. "And since HIV is constantly changing, people keep coming back because we [Saddleback Church] stay up-to-date on what's happening related to [it]."
This year's Global Summit on AIDS and the Church begins with pre-summit sessions on the morning of Nov. 28, featuring seminars presented by experts on topics like orphan care, HIV in the United States, and justice issues related to HIV. The summit continues through Nov. 30, and a Youth Summit follows on Dec. 1, which is World AIDS Day.
The emphasis at this year's summit will be on networking and sharing best practices. The conference will feature several tracks to meet the needs of various churches — from those just beginning AIDS ministries to the more seasoned churches. Every element of the summit is designed to start conversations and build networking that can equip churches to join and strengthen the movement to eradicate AIDS.
Stepping into the 'Real World'
This year's summit also will feature the World Vision Experience: AIDS
, an interactive exhibit that combines stirring audio and captivating photographs, transporting visitors to the heart of Africa. The exhibit is designed to give participants a new perspective on the pandemic that robs a child of a parent every 14 seconds.
The Experience was launched this summer at Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church in Gig Harbor, Wash. "It reminds you that we don't really live in the real world," said Rev. Dean Curry, senior pastor of Life Center in Tacoma, Wash., after touring the exhibit. "It's experiential. It grabs your emotions, it's real, and it's happening right now."
Seventeen-year-old Stephen Grimes, who also attended the Experience, said: "I think if more people went into things like these and they could actually figure out what needs to be done, then I think more people would take action."
In the next two years, the Experience exhibit will travel to more than 80 churches across the United States.