In a groundswell of support, Christian leaders are gathering to learn more about AIDS and how their churches can respond. Whole congregations are extending care to those who are sick, not only in their own communities but around the world as well. As exemplary work is accomplished, leadership awards are being bestowed on churches with outstanding ministry among those affected by AIDS.
"I could enumerate many reasons why the Church has a stake in the fight against AIDS," says Steve Haas, World Vision's vice president of church relations. "But none speaks with greater clarity than that the Church — the greatest moral agency in the world — has the opportunity to respond with compassion and hope to the world's greatest humanitarian threat. And the world is watching us as we do."
When AIDS was identified in the early 1980s, the few evangelical churches bold enough to care for those infected and affected often were little more than a cry in the wilderness. Today, that cry is a growing chorus of hope as some of the nation's most influential churches provide leadership on this urgent issue. As a result, the stigma in the Church is quickly evaporating, and Christians are rolling up their sleeves to help those who care for the 6,800 people who become infected with HIV each day and the 15 million children who have lost one or both parents to AIDS.
In late November, just before World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, some 1,400 U.S. church leaders gathered at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., to explore ways their congregations can come alongside those affected by AIDS. Under the leadership of Rick and Kay Warren, this annual Global Summit on AIDS and the Church is designed to call and equip churches to join forces in turning the tide on AIDS.
"We've seen tremendous growth and movement in U.S. churches as more accept the responsibility and privilege of serving Christ by serving the sick and the orphan," says Kay Warren. "The Church can become even more effective if each congregation took this seriously, made it personal, and utilized practical church-based strategies to become engaged."
Church Partnerships in Africa. U.S. church leaders are flying to Africa to visit and build partnerships with AIDS-ravaged communities. "The Pastor's Vision trip ... turned my life inside out and upside down," said Keith Stewart, pastor of Springcreek Church in Garland, Texas. "There has not been a day in the past year that I have not yearned to see my precious friends in Katito, [Kenya]." Today, Springcreek Church is one of 56 U.S. congregations partnering with African AIDS-affected communities as local residents are equipped to heal and lift themselves out of poverty.
Caregiver Kits. Across the country, churches are responding to God's call to serve others by equipping volunteers in poor nations who are caring for those living with AIDS. More than 230 U.S. churches have assembled 70,903 Caregiver Kits, which provide essentials like soap, antibiotic cream, gloves, and flashlights to trained volunteers ministering to the sick and dying in their often-isolated communities. Recently, the 600-member Pine Lake Covenant Church in Issaquah, Wash., assembled a record 7,500 kits. "We grew a greater heart for the world, Africa, and specifically, AIDS," says Tamara Buchan, the congregation's associate pastor. "Most importantly, we built bridges of friendship and partnership in our [Zambian] community and helped do something that has left a lasting impression on people in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools."
>> Please pray for churches around the world that have dedicated their ministries to helping those affected by the AIDS crisis. Pray that these churches would be an example for all to follow and that God's love and compassion for the suffering would be reflected through their efforts.
>> Assemble Caregiver Kits for volunteers around the world who care for those suffering from AIDS.
>> Participate in a Pastor's Vision trip to Africa. Build a partnership with a community on the frontlines of the AIDS crisis.
>> Reserve tickets for a showing of the World Vision Experience: AIDS in a city near you.
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