Imagine you're a pastor in Africa in the mid-1990s. It's the height of the AIDS pandemic and the adult population is dying off. What would you do?
Every day it seems there are more orphans in your community. Surely your church would rise up to this humanitarian crisis. You would have done something as millions died, as families disintegrated, as the coffin-making business boomed.
When I visited Uganda during the worst of the AIDS crisis, it wasn't seen as a problem that required extraordinary action.
Yes, some people were taking in orphans. Everyone knew a terrible illness was spreading. But the response was hardly sufficient.
"During that time, all we preached was judgment," says Pastor Joseph Senyonga, of Kasangombe, Uganda. The disease was viewed as a well-deserved consequence of immoral behavior. "There was little talk of love or compassion."
Attendance at Joseph's church dwindled as people in the community died. Yet, he didn't know what to do.
"As pastors, we were worried and scared," Joseph recalls.
World Vision began helping those affected by the crisis, but like most aid groups and churches, our response was slow. Pastors and local World Vision staffers had grown up with the situation as it gradually expanded during the 1980s and early 1990s. More and more people were getting sick and eventually dying.
We all were like the proverbial frog in the kettle. The water was gradually heated to the boiling point, but we couldn't seem to move.
It was my own outsider ignorance about the issue that helped jumpstart World Vision's response to this crisis. While the heat was rising, I'd been outside the humanitarian aid world (I had been selling dishes as president of Lenox). When I arrived at World Vision, ...