This following is an excerpt from Shane Stanford’s Speech to the Global AIDS Summit, 2006, held at Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, California. Dr. Stanford spoke in the first session just after Rick Warren opened the summit. Others addressing the Summit that year were John Ortberg, Franklin Graham, and a young Senator from Illinois named Barack Obama.
As a person living with HIV and AIDS, my entire life has been a race. A race against illness and disease, against fear and uncertainty, against discrimination and prejudice. A race against time.
Sure, the race has been difficult with many twists and turns—from growing up a Hemophiliac to discovering my HIV status at sixteen to watching how the secrecy of my HIV status affected the emotional life of our family and relationships.
It is a journey with spiritual struggles and tension—from watching my denomination’s struggle over whether to ordain me to being rejected by the first church to which I was appointed as pastor.
And certainly, it is a race with great loss and disillusionment—from the loss of dear friends to the disease to the loss of others for the fear surrounding it.
No, it has not been easy, pushing me to trust beyond what I can see and understand even, at times, pressing the limits of my faith, not necessarily as much for God as for God’s people.
Certainly, this is not a path that I would have chosen. But oddly enough, so many miles into it now, I would also not trade it with anyone.
You see, HIV has also afforded me an incredible glimpse into the best of what God offers in this world and the best for what God’s people can become. This journey informs me in God’s call for each of us to respond faithfully as God’s children and teaches all of us who call ourselves “Christian” important lessons that, potentially, can change our world.
Lessons about time: Because of my illness I am reminded each day that time is a privilege given to us by God, a luxury afforded to us with the possibility that each of us can make a difference in this world.
Lessons about relationships: I am blessed with a beautiful wife, three wonderful daughters and countless family and friends who remind me that the most important things we do in this world are not done alone.
Lessons about simplicity: More, bigger, nicer, pale in comparison to simple things like sunsets with those you love and the laughter of children at play.
And most importantly, lessons about real faith: Personally, HIV reminds me every day that, with God’s grace, what I need I have, and what I have is sufficient. Sufficient to confront the struggles of my health and the uncertainties of tomorrow. Sufficient to meet the needs of others if we, the Body of Christ, might agree to meet them together. For still, more than anything I have ever known, the Body of Christ (when we truly live like it) with all of its imperfections, holds as the hope of the world, bearing witness to this amazing Gospel that says God passionately loves the unlovable, the marginalized and the forgotten.
No, HIV is not easy for any of us. But it is a journey with real lessons for real life, and if we listen carefully it can teach us much about loving God and each other.
Grace and Peace,
Saddleback Community Church 2006
Shane Stanford is a pastor, teacher and author committed to sharing the hope of Jesus Christ with the world.