LAKE FOREST, Calif. (BP)–Today’s young Christians are the church, not the church’s future, and it’s time they take seriously the Bible’s call to care for “the least of these,” including those with HIV/AIDS, Francis Chan told students at a youth summit on World AIDS Day.
“You’re not the future of the church. You are the church and as a pastor I am begging you: Set the example for the rest of the church,” said Chan, who is teaching pastor at Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, Calif.
More than 1,000 people gathered Dec. 1 at Saddleback Church for the first-ever HIV/AIDS Youth Summit, while more than 4,100 others joined in by satellite uplink at 200 locations in 35 states and Canada.
Chan’s message was echoed over and over again by pastors, people living with HIV and others -– including Jenna Bush, daughter of President Bush -– who addressed the students during the summit.
Chan’s own eyes were opened to the suffering around the world around five years ago when he went to Africa and saw children searching through trash for food. Chan immediately thought of the verse that tells Christians to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
“If that’s my kid starving to death, what would I do?” he asked.
So, instead of carrying out their plans to build a new church facility, his congregation has started giving away 55 percent of its income and spending only 45 percent on church needs.
“If we love our neighbors as much as ourselves, shouldn’t we spend as much on our neighbors as we do on ourselves?” he said.
Chan said his congregation’s students are changing the church. Three college students were so affected by a missions trip to Romania that they went home just long enough to say goodbye to their parents, and then they returned to Romania to help address the country’s needs.
“Our church has never been more alive, more excited,” Chan said. “Our church’s high school and college students are leading the charge. You guys are the ones who are changing the church.”
Instead of wanting to live like their friends, today’s Christian students are following in Jesus’ footsteps, saying, “I want to be like Jesus. I want to go where Jesus would go. I want to help who Jesus would help,” Chan said.
First Lady Maureen Mwanawasa of Zambia also urged the students to take the lead in addressing HIV/AIDS, challenging them to have zero tolerance of HIV/AIDS –- by targeting a goal of no new infections.
“We need you in order to fight HIV/AIDS,” she said. “We will do our part as parents, but the responsibility falls on you and we hope that you are ready to take the burden, the responsibility.”
Rick and Kay Warren urged the students to respond to people who are sick and suffering the same way Jesus did: with compassion.
“You have a voice, and you can raise your voice on behalf of people who are sick and children who are orphaned,” said Kay Warren, executive director of Saddleback Church’s HIV/AIDS Initiative.
She challenged students to touch people who are suffering and to pray for physical, spiritual, and emotional healing.
Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., told the students about a Catholic bishop who was visiting a leper colony when the cross he was wearing fell into someone’s open wound. At first he was repulsed, but then he was filled with compassion and reached into the sore to pick up the cross.
“That is the greatest definition of Christianity I’ve ever heard,” Warren said. “If we’re not doing that, I doubt our Christianity.”
John Thomas, pastor of Fish Hoek Baptist Church in Cape Town, South Africa -– a church whose HIV/AIDS ministry ministers to more than 7,000 people each year — challenged students to take the lead in addressing the pandemic.
“If you’ve messed up sexually, there is hope,” Thomas said. “God has a sexual plan and purpose for your life.”
He told students how you can’t get HIV -– through hugging and kissing -– and how you can get HIV -– through oral sex and sexual intercourse.
He also underscored God’s sexual plan and purpose for them -– which is to enjoy sex inside marriage.
“God made you a sexual being. You are a sexual person -– no apologies for that,” he said.
But he reminded the students that sexual contact outside of marriage is immoral.
“Prior to marriage, no looking, no feeling, no stimulating,” he said. “That is God’s plan prior to marriage.”
Thomas also challenged students not to give in to the temptation of pornography.
“Pornography is such a trap; it never lets go,” he said. “Pornography lays the foundation for a wonky sexual life premaritally.”
He reminded the students that the Holy Spirit will give them the strength to resist sexual temptation.
“Do you believe the Holy Spirit says: ‘Teenage hormones! I can’t deal with that!’?” Thomas asked. “The Spirit of God can give you the strength to cope when you’re pumping crazily hormonally.”
Jenna Bush told about traveling in Latin America and meeting Ana, a 17-year-old orphan and mother living with HIV. Despite the difficult life she’s lived, Ana had hopes and dreams similar to those of most American teenagers.
“I was so impressed with her hopeful look at life,” Bush said. “If she can live with this optimistic view of life, I think we should be able to too.”
Bush challenged the students to offer small gestures of kindness, like helping students who are new to their schools or sitting with students who are alone. She also urged students to get educated and to educate others about HIV/AIDS, abuse and other important issues.
“We can all do so much,” she said. “Often small gestures of kindness make the biggest difference.”
Lesley Clementi –- a teenager who was born with HIV -– told of the hardships her family has faced. They were kicked out of one church because of her HIV status. A gun was once pulled on her siblings because they were part of “the AIDS family.” One opposing soccer team forfeited a game because parents didn’t want their children to play against Clementi. Fellow students have spread rumors that she has HIV because she slept with all the football players.
Her message to her fellow teenagers was simple: “Fight AIDS -– not people with AIDS -– and be safe.”
Sean Blakeney, Saddleback’s high school pastor, closed the youth summit by telling the story of David and Goliath.
“The whole nation of Israel was aware there was a giant, but everybody stood on the sidelines and watched the problem day after day until a teenage kid said, ‘I got this one,'” Blakeney recounted.
Then, when Israel saw David kill Goliath, they were so affected that they charged the Philistines, who fled in the opposite direction.
“It took a teenage kid to impact a nation,” Blakeney said. “One of you in here can impact society forever by responding today.”
He suggested that students respond in one of five ways:
— Initiate: Begin a relationship with Christ for the very first time.
— Educate: Educate yourself and your friends about HIV.
— Donate: Give your time, money or self to address HIV/AIDS.
— Participate: Take a missions trip or participate in a local volunteer project to address HIV/AIDS.
— Pray: Pray for individuals who are infected and affected by HIV.
“We’re aware of the issue at hand; it’s time for you to respond,” Blakeney said.
Manda Gibson is a writer with Saddleback Church. The Saddleback Church HIV/AIDS Initiative is online at www.purposedriven.com/hiv.