Two World AIDS Day events, a World Apart, Focus on Global Health Pandemic

Two World AIDS Day events, a World Apart, Focus on Global Health Pandemic

By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

ORANGE COUNTY, CA (ANS) -- With attention centered on HIV/AIDS this past week, locations as far apart as Orange County, California, and Russia and Ukraine, focused on the HIV/AIDS pandemic in their recognition of World AIDS Day (Dec.1)

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According to Anita Deyneka of Russian Ministries ( ), Russia and Ukraine have two of the fastest-growing rates of infection of HIV/AIDS among the European nations. Reported cases of HIV/AIDS in Russia is 940,000 and in Ukraine, that number is 440,000.

In a ministry update, Deyneka says the UNAIDS agency in Moscow has previously stressed that "urgent action" is needed in Russia to combat this ever-growing problem.

Said an expert from the agency: "If Russia does not quickly tackle drug addiction, the growing AIDS epidemic, rising suicide, chronic alcoholism and other health problems, the population will move towards extinction."

Deyneka says there's positive news, however, as the media in Russia reported that more people living with HIV/AIDS were turning to the Orthodox Church as it has developed programs that offer support and preventive measures.

"Meanwhile," says Deyneka, "Russian Ministries' young Next Generation Christian leaders have been reaching out to men, women and children who are living with HIV/AIDS, and sharing with them the hope and new life only found in Jesus."

Deyneka says that in Ukraine, young Next Generation Christian leaders have organized action groups who work with national evangelical churches and community leaders to support people living with HIV/AIDS.

"By the time young Next Generation Christians in Kobelyaki, Ukraine met Anatoly, he was seriously ill. A group of doctors had ordered treatment for him, but didn't want to examine him because of his HIV-positive status. These young Christian leaders not only found doctors who would examine him, but also encouraged Anatoly to enter a rehab program," she said.

"When he was in the hospital," recalls one of the Next Generation Christians, "we gave him a New Testament, prayed with him, and supported him."

Overwhelmed with this care and support, Anatoly said, "I have never met people like you, who are willing to help just like that."

Deyneka explains that through Time to Live events, the To Know Is to Live Project, and strategic training conferences on HIV/AIDS with ministry partners such as Samaritan's Purse, young Next Generation Christian leaders confront the problem of HIV/AIDS with the hope of the gospel.

"In addition to these large-scale events, many School Without Walls students are being equipped to work with people living with HIV/AIDS, and families who are living HIV/AIDS in cities such as Chisinau, Moldova, have discovered God's love at evangelistic summer camps," said Deyneka.

Carrie Leeflang lights some of the 33 candles symbolizing the 33 millions of people living with HIV. Leeflang was among the hundreds of people who attended 'An Evening of Hope' at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest.
(Photo courtesy: Rose Palmisano, The Orange County Register).

Back here in the United States, Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in Orange County, Southern California, hosted a variety of activities Tuesday in honor of the 21st World AIDS Day, including live online chats, free HIV testing and "An Evening of Hope" with Warren and his wife Kay.

"HIV/AIDS is still the greatest humanitarian crisis of all time, killing millions every year and leaving millions of orphaned and vulnerable children behind," said Kay Warren.

"In the middle of this tragedy, Christians have the opportunity to make the love of our Savior real to anyone infected or affected by HIV and AIDS."

Founder Kay Warren and Executive Director Elizabeth Styffe, of the Saddleback Church HIV/AIDS Initiative, hosted several 30-minute, live chats on The first was a special interactive discussion for pastors' wives followed by a national conversation regarding orphan care and a noon dialogue on the topic of World AIDS Day.

Recognizing that the simplest way to fight HIV/AIDS is to know one's HIV status, the church provided free, confidential HIV testing throughout the day at the Refinery building at its Lake Forest campus.

In previous years, Rick and Kay Warren and several Saddleback Church AIDS Conference program participants -- including then-Senator Barack Obama -- have been publicly tested in an effort to demonstrate the simplicity of the procedure and remove the stigma. It is estimated that in the U.S. there are 300,000 to 400,000 people who are unaware they are HIV positive.

The culmination of the World AIDS Day activities was "An Evening of Hope," held in the Refinery at Saddleback. This was slated to be a time to remember individuals who have died from HIV/AIDS, pray for those currently living with the disease and celebrate the hope of breakthroughs in a possible vaccine. In addition to a message from the Warrens, Lisa Beyer from the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative was the featured guest speaker.

"As we have seen through our work around the world, because the Church has the largest distribution network, we believe it has the opportunity to not only slow the spread of HIV/AIDS, but to stop it," Rick Warren said.

"HIV/AIDS has been a stigma in the Church for too long. Our goal is to encourage others to show the love of Christ by caring for those infected and affected by this pandemic."

In addition to remembering the fight against HIV/AIDS Tuesday, Saddleback Church is also encouraging people to get involved in other ways throughout the year.

The church is offering opportunities to care for those infected or affected by HIV/AIDS by participating in a local service project or an international mission trip as part of the PEACE Plan, an effort to mobilize millions of Christians to Promote reconciliation, Equip servant leaders, Assist the poor, Care for the sick and Educate the next generation. For additional information about opportunities, visit  .

At the beginning of this year's Saddeback program, it was noted that each audience member was there not by accident, and if anyone knew someone personally who is HIV positive, he/she was encouraged to text to a given number the name and relationship, i.e. "my brother, Tom" or just "my brother." During the closing song, the content of the collection of texts were scrolled on the screen behind the Choir.

During the program, the audience was encouraged to join a Care Team providing individual support for those living locally with HIV/AIDS.

The audience was als encouraged to go on a PEACE trip that is focused on HIV//AIDS internationally.

Saddleback's HIV/AIDS Initiative brochures were also handed out at the door, and a table was set up just outside the auditorium door with all of our HIV Ministry information available -- some free, some for purchase.

Anyone can be tested! Pastor Rick Warren is tested for the HIA/AIDS virus at a previous Global AIDS summit at Saddleback (Photo courtesy Saddleback Church).

As of 10:30 p.m. that evening, Saddleback had done 74 free HIV tests, which was thought to be the final number, a spokesman for Saddleback Church said.

The church spokesman added: "There were hundreds at last night's event. Lisa (Beyer from the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative) spoke on the progress of research for development of a vaccine; how difficult the development of a vaccine is because if the multi-faceted nature of the HIV virus itself -- it's not a simple virus; and that in the last three months there has been a huge leap forward in the research, resulting in great new hope. She also described the basic way that any vaccine works. Lisa (also) showed a 3-min clip of a documentary that she is making."

Erika I. Ritchie of The Orange County Register, who attended the event , spoke to Cynthia Styffe, one of three Rwandan siblings who came to Orange County when she was about 8. She and her siblings are three of eight Rwandan children who have come to the United States.

Little sister Erica cuddled next to her brother Noah and their adoptive mother, Elizabeth Styffe, executive director of HIV/AIDS Ministry, who kicked off the World Aids Day event at Saddleback Church.
(Photo courtesy: Rose Palmisano, The Orange County Register).

"We're here because we care about others," said Cynthia, 10, dressed in black velvet and red satin dress for the evening's events.

Cynthia and her siblings were among hundreds attending "An Evening of Hope" hosted by the Warrens.

Ritchie said the event, which paid tribute to those who have died from AIDS, prayed for those who have it, and celebrated research on a possible vaccine to defeat it, was kicked off by the lighting of 33 candles for the 33 million people worldwide now living with HIV.

Rick Warren said he knew of AIDS but it wasn't at the forefront of his mind until his wife made him more aware.

"I'm embarrassed to say it just wasn't on my radar," he said. "When it started, I knew it was affecting people, but I had no idea what the ravaging disease did. When it grabbed my wife's heart and she told me, I said 'How did I miss this?' "

"Miracle, medicine, vaccine, prevention, I believe in it all," Warren said. "I just want (God) to heal people who are hurting."

Lisa Beyer from the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative spoke of the hope of a vaccine.

"Every day, 5,500 die because of AIDS, the numbers are numbing," she said. "That's the equivalence of a 747 crashing with no survivors every two hours. On any given day, 7,400 people will be infected with the incurable, ultimately deadly virus."

Ritchie reports that Beyer spoke about the research going into a vaccine and the hope it could provide for the future. She talked about the 26 years of research and the tenacity and tricky attributes of the virus. Still, she said, researchers know more about HIV than any other virus.

"We owe it to the future generations to once again make the world free of AIDS," she said.

All day long and throughout the evening, people took advantage of free HIV testing.

"We tested more people on our campus today than some of the clinics in New York City tested," said Styffe.

"In O.C., HIV numbers are still going up. In the world, they're still going up. It's more important now than ever to create awareness, especially in these economic times when it's easy for us to think our own problems are the biggest in the world instead of realizing that HIV is real and people are still dying," she said.

Ritchie says the church encouraged people to continue their fight against AIDS throughout the year and is offering opportunities to care for those infected or affected by HIV/AIDS by participating in a local service project or an international mission trip as part of the PEACE Plan, an effort to mobilize millions of Christians to promote reconciliation, equip servant leaders, assist the poor, care for the sick and educate the next generation.

Saddleback Church has been encouraging the involvement of the church against HIV/AIDS since 2004, when it formed the HIV/AIDS Initiative at Saddleback Church. In 2005, the church held its first Global Summit on AIDS and The Church. The event drew thousands of participants and featured global keynote speakers.

In 2006 and 2007, the World AIDS Day commemoration was built entirely around "local church-based" strategy designed to mobilize millions around the world for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS.

Last year, the Warrens held the Saddleback Civil Forum on Global Health and presented President George W. Bush with the first International Medal of PEACE from the Global PEACE Coalition in recognition of his unprecedented contribution to the fight against HIV/AIDS and other diseases.

Another opportunity will take place February 9-12, 2010 during the Saddleback Church Radicalis Conference, which will include a special HIV/AIDS and orphan care track.

The Radicalis Conference is a unique hands- on, comprehensive experience for church leadership teams. Combining more than10 unique foci in one will help build and inspire church teams to serve God in their community and around the world. For more information, visit

Saddleback Church, founded by the Warrens in 1980, is located in Lake Forest, CA. With an average weekly attendance of 22,000, it is one of the five largest churches in America. For additional information about the Saddleback HIV/AIDS Initiatives, visit  or .


For more information on the work of Russian Ministries in combating HIV/AIDS in Russia and Ukraine, contact them at:
P.O. Box 496
Wheaton, IL 60187

Note to Editors: For more information about Pastor Rick and Kay Warren, please visit  or  

Media Contact for the Warrens: Kristin Cole,
A. Larry Ross Communications,
Larry Ross Communications:

** Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent of ANS, is an international British freelance journalist who was formerly a reporter with a London (United Kingdom) newspaper and has been a frequent contributor to UCB Europe, a British Christian radio station. While in the UK, Michael traveled to Canada and the United States, Albania,Yugoslavia, Holland, Germany,and Czechoslovakia. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China,and Russia. Michael's volunteer involvement with ASSIST News Service is a sponsored ministry department -- 'Michael Ireland Media Missionary' (MIMM) -- of A.C.T. International of P.O.Box 1649, Brentwood, TN 37024-1649,at: Artists in Christian Testimony (A.C.T.) International where you can donate online to support his stated mission of 'Truth Through Christian Journalism.' To suggest a news or feature story idea for Michael, write to him at:ANS Chief Reporter.