Fourteen years ago, World Vision launched the Hope Initiative: our groundbreaking effort to engage U.S. donors and churches around the tragic effects of HIV and AIDS around the world, but especially in sub-Saharan Africa, which was hardest hit.
Today, our Chief Catalyst Steve Haas takes us back to 2001 when this initiative began, to look back at the challenges faced … and the "unimaginable" transformation that's happened.
See where the AIDS crisis is today, and how you can continue to help bring hope to those affected.
In the early days of the Hope Initiative, our mission to awaken the U.S. Church to the ravages of global HIV infection could have easily been relabeled, “The Impossible Dream.” Every indication was that much of the U.S. Church populace was resolute in their stance that AIDS and those whose lives were impacted by it were none of their concern. The virus was deemed the price paid by those engaged in at-risk lifestyles and therefore more akin to proof of God’s judgement than an invitation to provide care and compassion.
In that era, Barna national surveys of the general public, conducted by World Vision, stated that “Born-Agains” were less likely than their secular counterparts to engage personally on the issue. In our church work nationally, it was clear that there was little knowledge as to what the HIV virus was, who it impacted globally, and the nature of our faith in relation to it.
I remember one auspicious “Pastor’s Breakfast,” graciously hosted by a leader of a large church in Knoxville. The meal invitation was standard procedure for an 18-city “World Vision Hope Tour” organized to inform the public and awaken Christian engagement. Our special guest for that morning was none other than the Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, a man whose story needed no introduction, along with World Vision President, Richard Stearns.
That morning, overwhelmed by enough food to feed over 150 hungry faith leaders, four pastors showed up. Two of the four were recent church planters with less than 100 people between the two congregations. Needless to say, Rich and I were devastated by the turnout and embarrassed by the over 300 disregarded invitations. Sensing our severe disappointment, Dr. Koop leaned over and cautioned, “If you are going to get serious about this disease, you are going to have to get used to breakfasts like this.”
As an organization, we are known primarily for our mission to impoverished communities where God has invited us to serve. In most of the countries where HIV infection was at its worst, often with communities besieged by infection rates over 20%, our staff were hard at work creating healthy environments and teaching preventative practices in doing battle with AIDS.
As a U.S. staff, we realized that our battle wasn’t to be with “flesh and blood,” but primarily to be waged in the spiritual trenches of ignorance and fear. This meant a strategy that moved aggressively to the heads and hearts of Jesus-followers, reminding them of our Biblical mandate to care for the orphan and widow, reaching out beyond what they thought themselves capable of to those least able to care for themselves.
Rather than attempting to charge up the mountain of Christian ignorance and stigma head-on, a sure recipe for short discussions and abbreviated advocacy engagement, we plotted a course that took the Church on a journey: passing along the story of the AIDS affected and infected children and the young families we serve. In private conversations and public presentations, and with aggressive invitations we opened up the Scripture to what has always been our call to reach out to the vulnerable and in solidarity place ourselves underneath their burden.
For churches across America, this meant enlisting their church and community leaders in compassionate response through sponsoring children whose communities were AIDS impacted, caregiver kit builds to resource frontline compassion heroes, hosting information gatherings like Hope Parties, or hosting the 3,300 square foot Experience: Aids Exhibit, to name a few.
The African Church was our indispensable partner as the Savior’s hands and feet to those impacted by HIV, while the U.S. Church became a primary source of funding, advocacy, and love. For the thousands of Churches here that chose to take this faith journey, the push against congregational stigma and ignorance only spurred on greater acts of faithfulness with full devotion now defined by a multitude of services considered unimaginable in those early days.
This morning I received a call from a pastor from a large Midwest town known primarily for its conservatism and lack of racial diversity. Hearing about the AIDS Pandemic nearly 15 years ago, this spiritual leader followed a divine prompting and went with a group of clergy on a trip to Africa to see the impact of the virus for himself and to determine the level of his congregation’s investment. “It’s an outmoded phrase, but that trip changed my life,” he said. “It changed the trajectory of our church.”
Armed today with an enlarged vision of what God can do as a result of his participation in the Hope Initiative, this pastor stated, “There’s nothing we can’t accomplish!”
The AIDS pandemic has devastated families around the globe, leaving children without the care and support they need to grow, survive, and thrive. In fact, it is estimated that 15 million children have been orphaned due to AIDS. Your gift of hope today will multiply 4x in impact to help care for children and families whose lives have been forever impacted by HIV and AIDS.