News Articles

AIDS prayer burden prompts him to begin new ministry

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–“When you pray be careful what you ask for.”
For Eric Raddatz, a 1994 graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, those words are more than just an idle expression. During a seminary class on “The Church and the Disadvantaged,” God gave Raddatz a burden for ministering to people with AIDS. “So I started praying that God would find somebody to do this, not understanding at the time that when he reveals it to you, you’re it,” Raddatz said.
A friend of Raddatz’s died of AIDS in July 1991 and his father contracted the HIV virus through a blood transfusion during quadruple bypass heart surgery in 1983.
Raddatz calls the blood transfusion “a blessing in disguise. I thank God for the blood and the surgery because if he didn’t get it, he would have died, so he got 10 more years of life.”
During that time, Raddatz said, he was able to reconcile a soured relationship with his father. “My relationship with my father wasn’t very good. After I was born again, I could never pray to ‘Father’ because of my whole feeling about fathers.”
Raddatz’s father died in January 1993 with his son by his side. “The last two weeks … were real hard,” Raddatz said. “By that time I had experience working with people with AIDS who had died … [but] because of the attachment [to my] father [it was] very difficult.”
But out of that pain and heartache, Raddatz said, God confirmed his call to be a minister full-time to people with AIDS. Using part of his inheritance from his father’s estate, Raddatz founded the Baptist AIDS Partnership of North Carolina that same year. The office for the nonprofit ministry is located at 121 Front St. in downtown Wake Forest, N.C.
A 1994 associate of divinity graduate of Southeastern, Raddatz filled many of his seminary days volunteering as a caregiver for AIDS patients. He busied himself with cooking, cleaning bathrooms, doing laundry and helping patients who couldn’t help themselves.
Before long, Raddatz began hosting a Bible study on Wednesday nights at an AIDS house in Raleigh, N.C. Four months later, one of his patients accepted Christ as his Savior.
Now, as executive director of the Baptist AIDS Partnership of North Carolina, Raddatz, 55, said, “A lot of what we do is education programs for the church, to bring messages to the church on the Christian response to AIDS and help them understand where we are as Christians.”
Since 1995, the Baptist AIDS Partnership of North Carolina in conjunction with the Baptist state convention has hosted two retreats each year — one at the Caraway Conference Center in Asheboro, N.C., and another at Fort Caswell, the Baptist conference center on Oak Island.
The retreat includes daily Bible study and worship, singing, small-group sessions in which participants share their hopes and fears, free time and a memorial service to remember those who have died of AIDS.
About 125 people have attended the retreats since they began three years ago. Raddatz said at least one person has accepted Christ as Savior at each of the retreats.
Raddatz has many stories to tell when asked to describe the impact the retreats have on participants. There was Tommy, a former prison inmate who had helped lead a revolt in the New Mexico State Penitentiary in 1980.
“He came to all the services and he talked to me, and he went to small group and he talked to others there … and then on Friday, the last worship service in the morning, he came forward and accepted Christ, and then he told everybody and went down to the pond and was baptized.”
Then there was the “drag queen” who attended the retreats. Raddatz said he wouldn’t touch a Bible, despite attending all the sessions. But at a recent retreat, Raddatz said, the man asked if he could have a Bible.
At another retreat, a man who had not been inside a church for 20 years accepted Christ as his Savior. Each retreat has its own success story. Raddatz said the retreat’s counselors and speakers focus on showing God’s love and compassion.
“The way I understand the gospels,” Raddatz said, “Jesus touched people at their need and that is what changed them.”
Camp Kid Care for children with AIDS, sponsored by N.C. Baptist Men and the Baptist AIDS Partnership of North Carolina, was held Aug. 9-12 at Camp Caraway. Children participated in skits, puppet shows, bible study and singing.
Raddatz said that although his ministry has not received universal support throughout the denomination, he remains convinced that he’s doing what God called him to do.
“People say I shouldn’t be working with homosexuals,” Raddatz said. “But I tell them all I’m trying to do is follow what Jesus said to do. To love your neighbor as yourself.
“We’re being nonjudgmental and loving and not condemning. … My job is not to judge. I don’t condone the behavior, but my job here is not to do that. What would Jesus do? He would be here.”
Raddatz lives in Wake Forest with his wife, Bonnie, and their two children Sara, 10, and Christopher, 8.
Summers is a free-lance writer in Wake Forest, N.C.

    About the Author

  • Danelle Summers