Kay Warren, Executive Director of the HIV initiative at Saddleback Church, California, USA, is adding her support to a Tearfund programme raising the awareness of HIV and AIDS with UK churches. She says there will be no be end to AIDS unless the church responds, describing this as “the greatest opportunity for the church to be the church.”
Ms Warren is married to the prominent US evangelical leader Rick Warren, whose 'Purpose Driven Life' book has been an international bestseller. The Warrens' theology is markedly conservative, but they have been prepared to embrace progressive approaches to issues such as HIV-AIDS and the environment, in contrast to the religious right.
Tearfund, the major UK evangelical development agency, has produced resource material for churches seeking to understand the HIV and AIDS pandemic and to respond practically.
It also supports an HIV conference for churches, part of a wider awareness programme by the Christian development agency, co-hosted with The Kerith Centre, Bracknell. Kay Warren will be the main speaker at the event on Saturday 15 March 2008.
Whether addressing the need within the local church community in the UK or engaging with the issues globally through partnerships with church programmes in the developing world, Tearfund says it believes the church has a crucial role to play.
“As you learn about HIV and engage your church, people living with HIV will be touched and changed,” says Kay Warren. “You will be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. This practical resource is biblically based and refreshingly practical. It will guide you and your church through a life-changing endeavour that will leave you seriously disturbed and gloriously ruined. It will require a response to God’s call to care.”
The conference will draw on global perspectives and biblical truth with the realisms of today’s culture. It will both communicate and challenge, seeking to provide clarity and context for UK churches today and why we mustn’t ignore the opportunity.
The booklet resource, 'HIV - how your church can respond', lifts the lid on the surrounding issues with practical advice and responses for churches to reach out with care and support. As well as drawing on the views and experience of church pastors in sub-Saharan Africa – one of the regions where HIV is most prolific, it looks at the rate of UK infections, currently some 73,000, and the increase among ethnic communities and others groups here.
The booklet contains a bible study, a focus for prayer, a group ice-breaker quiz and further reading.
“It’s our vision to stop the spread of HIV by 2015 in the poorest places where we work,” says Matthew Frost, Tearfund CEO. “We are convinced that local churches are God’s chosen tool for making this happen. The church has to take a stand and bring a message of hope and practical care to those affected. With the right approach HIV is preventable and manageable.”
Tearfund has over the last 10 years partnered with churches and Christian organisations worldwide to reduce the spread of AIDS. Their financial support and training for compassionate Christians to draw alongside orphaned and vulnerable children provides hope.
It overcomes stigma and shame that can destroy families and undo decades of development work. Raising awareness of HIV is essential around the world, as it is here in the UK where new HIV diagnoses have doubled annually since 2000.
HIV is not just a problem for communities thousands of miles away - all too often it is a problem on the doorstep of a UK church, says the agency.