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Preacher's Wife

Kay Warren is convincing Christians worldwide that AIDS is their problem.


Every Sunday, atop a hilly expanse of acreage in Lake Forest, California, Saddleback Church welcomes 22,000 of the evangelical faithful for worship. Kay Warren, 53, who co-founded Saddleback with her husband, Pastor Rick Warren (also 53 and the author of the perennial best-seller The Purpose Driven Life), sees power in these numbers. As the executive director of Saddleback's HIV/ AIDS Initiative, she contends that the global church is the best hope in the fight against the ever-growing AIDS pandemic.That belief is predicated on the idea that the nearly ubiquitous presence of Christian churches worldwide (greatly outnumbering hospitals in many Third World regions) constitutes an existing, untapped resource: an infrastructure of channels through which AIDS medication could be effectively distributed, especially in regions where, Warren says, "they have the meds but they just can't get them to people."For instance, in the small towns of the western Rwandan province of Kibuye-where only three hospitals serve thousands of people over a widespread area-there are hundreds of churches. "Here's an existing distribution channel that's trusted in the community," says Warren. "It's already there. The church has something that government doesn't."But the church, particularly the evangelical church, has for years largely been silent on the issue of AIDS, a fact that has drawn the ire of long-time AIDS activists. "We deserved it," Warren says, addressing skepticism of the evangelical response to the AIDS crisis. "We were late to the table. We hadn't raised our voices. We hadn't opened our doors. But we're here now."
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I can't read the Bible and not see God's compassion for the sick.
Some of Warren's staunchest critics occupy prominent positions on the other side of the ideological fence. During Saddleback's second annual Global Summit on AIDS-an event that brought activists, clergy, politicians, and the major players of the AIDS world together in November of last year-Phyllis Schlafly and other prominent figures in the Christian Right criticized the invitation of pro-choice politicians like Barack Obama, and chastised Warren's support of condoms and needle exchanges as effective methods of slowing HIV transmission.Undaunted by critics, the native Southern Californian and mother of three won't apologize for her resolve or the faith that fuels it. "When it comes to the religious Right," says Warren, "or some other group who thinks this isn't something that the church should be involved in, I just have to say, you know what, I can't read the Bible and not see God's compassion for the sick."With that in mind, Warren is currently writing Dangerous Surrender: What It Takes to Change Your World, which chronicles her faith-driven, education-based work in the AIDS sector and, she hopes, motivates people to "take on the pain of others." Her emphasis, she says, is on "very simple, very direct, very doable" actions. Like all of Warren's endeavors, the book's impetus was a spiritual one. And, for her, that's the only incentive that matters.