Thursday, August 28, 2008

Something Encouraging, But Be Careful: An Answer From the AIDS Care Unit at Saddleback Church

If you haven't done so, read the post for August 23rd: An Open Letter to the Mrs. Rick Warrens of the World. I then forwarded the post to Ms. Elizabeth Styffe, R.N.M.N. of the AIDS Care Unit at Saddleback Church. Ms. Styffe works closely with Kay Warren. I didn't think I would get a response, but I did. Here it is:

Dear Dan Vojir,

Thanks for your email. You have said so many things that resonate with me...exactly! I particularly appreciate your last sentences, "It's just that people do not know how it rankles me to know that people in foreign countries have garnered more "Christian charity" sooner - and with more compassion - than my neighbors." I hear you and hurt for the terrible ways that people have suffered alone. Meeting you, a person living with HIV, is what I love to do everyday. And you're right, churches with an HIV ministry are tragically rare and were horrifically absent early on in the Pandemic. (my emphasis)
We're trying to change that reality and are giving our lives to help mobilize the church...and people everywhere to care and act and engage.

My personal story is that I was caring for people who were living and dying with AIDS in the early 1980s (I am an RN and very involved early and I both know too many people who suffered and died...we both have shed many tears.) Even though I was involved, I did not act enough. I was wrong.

Sadly, I didn't care at all about any other place in the world (I was wrong and ignorant)...I thought AIDS was "solved" with the introduction of HIV medications and I was absolutely wrong and ignorant regarding stigma and the other ways people who are positive suffer. If you've read things from Kay Warren, you'll know that we own the truth of what you're saying regarding "too little, too late". I hope you've also read that we're changing that. After Kay's first trip to Africa, she realized that whatever we were doing in Africa, we needed to also do at home. We launched together the HIV/AIDS Initiative at Saddleback Church which focuses both locally and globally.

I agree with you on so many things you've are not alone in believing that the United States needs a focus and passion, not only from the church and the evangelical....but from everyone. I'm giving my life to these goals. We do care about people living with HIV in Africa, but we have an equally strong local HIV ministry and charge every church with doing the same. We do not believe you can care about global HIV until you also care locally. We have a very active HIV Initiative that mobilizes people to care in very practical ways both locally and globally. I'd be interested in hearing the ways you think we can improve, change and grow. I'm in this for the long haul. As a member of the Orange Country HIV Planning Council, I am constantly learning and working with Kay to make an impact and care and engage others in doing the same. We want your feedback...people living with HIV are our passion.

I would really relish the opportunity to talk with you. If you'll offer your phone number, I'll call you. It's difficult to convey all I long to convey in email. You're also welcome to call me at ______________. You matter to us. Your opinions are important. If you haven't yet visited our web site....consider visiting

Warmly, Elizabeth

Elizabeth Styffe RN MN

Saddleback Church

Director HIV/AIDS & Orphan Care Initiative

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the first time I've ever experienced an apology (of sorts) from anyone attached to a religious community. (The pope crying at the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem's Temple doesn't count.) I truly believe this letter to be heartfelt and I encourage people who want to connect with a faith-based AIDS initiative to investigate this.

No, I'm not sold on the likes of Rick Warren. No matter how hard he tries to provide a place for the "unchurched," I will always be suspicious. Remember, he's something of an inerrantist, and his use of the Bible, while not as a weapon, still has some hard edges to it. And I would like to have access to full accountability of his ministries.

Just a thought.

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