Positive Action: Living with HIV

Karen Koczara, Writing Ministry Volunteer

Six years ago, Ray Angulo’s doctor called him with some grim news – he had tested positive for HIV. In his gut, Ray already knew. Two years before, he had tested negative for the virus, but still had feared that someday he might contract the deadly disease.  In a way, the news came as a relief. He’d no longer have to worry about waiting for that dreaded phone call. But what would this mean? Would he live? How would this change his life?

A long-time resident of Portola Hills, Ray had never visited Saddleback Church before. But one day, he ran into a friend who told him about  a book called The Purpose Driven Life. Ray’s HIV diagnosis had left him searching for meaning and purpose in life. He began attending church and soon got to know Pastor Rick and Kay Warren, and others in the HIV&AIDS Initiative who befriended him.

Ray started attending information sessions and learned that Kay Warren had started the HIV&AIDS Initiative after God spoke to her heart about the devastating, worldwide pandemic. Feeling welcomed and loved, Ray joined other people at Saddleback who were infected or affected by HIV&AIDS. He learned that many people at Saddleback truly cared about him.

Ray began attending the HIV&AIDS support group at Saddleback and immediately found himself at home. In the Support Group, he was not alone. He related to those who were facing the same struggles, both receiving encouragement and giving the same to others.

Ray now attends bi-weekly support meetings and is immensely grateful for the friends he’s found in the group. In these sessions, people take turns sharing, swapping stories about their current health struggles and other issues they face.  Medication is just one of the subjects discussed around the table.  Though HIV&AIDS medication allow people infected with the virus to live a fairly normal life, those living with the virus still face challenges. Medication must be taken regularly, and if one misses a dose, the virus can quickly mutate. Being adherent is crucial.

Statistics show that there are nearly 7,000 people living with HIV&AIDS in Orange County and 35 million people living with the virus and its complications worldwide.  As Ray says, “HIV&AIDS is an indiscriminate disease.” People from all walks of life can find themselves in his shoes. Most are devastated when they receive the diagnosis. Some walk into a support group with a chip on their shoulder, wondering if they’ll ever feel hopeful again. But in these support groups, they discover, like Ray, that they are not alone. And with that knowledge there is immense relief.

In addition to support meetings, Ray and his friends participate in other fun activities together. They enjoy a special Thanksgiving dinner at the Saddleback retreat center each year and expect 100 people to attend this holiday season. Last year, a wonderful benefactor donated time, expertise and beautiful decorations for their annual event. They are currently discussing the possibility of Christmas event for people living with HIV&AIDS.

As Ray became more involved in the community, he noticed many with HIV&AIDS struggling with basic needs. One day, he visited his friend’s house and found nothing to sleep on but a blanket on the floor.  Ray soon learned of others facing the same struggle, living in transitional housing without linens, cookware, dishes, beds, couches or tables. Troubled by their plight, Ray began brainstorming and founded a Saddleback furniture ministry which matches people in need of furniture with people wanting to donate furniture.  

Soon, donations to the furniture ministry  came pouring in. Ray realized that the ministry could be expanded to serve people living with HIV&AIDS and struggling women and children in transitional housing as well.  To date, Saddleback’s furniture ministry has helped furnish over 200 homes.

Last summer, Ray joined a Saddleback PEACE team and attended the International AIDS conference in Washington DC along with Rick and Kay Warren. There, scientific, political, philanthropic and entertainment leaders spoke on this pressing subject. At the Saddleback Church Exhibit Booth, Ray used his personal life experience  to talk with people about the hope he finds in Jesus Christ.

”There is still a strong stigma regarding HIV&AIDS,” Ray says,  “and some people struggling with the virus are resistant to church.”  Ray  hopes to spread the message that the Church is a place to find God’s love.   

Ray is grateful for Saddleback Church, Rick and Kay Warren and the other pastors and leaders involved with the HIV&AIDS Initiative. Though he still faces daily struggles, he now knows that he is not alone. He smiles as he refers to Pastor Rick Warren’s book, ThePurpose Driven Life, “I like when Pastor Rick reminds us, “God has created each person to minister to others from their own unique experiences and pain.”   Ray hopes that many more people facing HIV&AIDS will step forward and find support at Saddleback Church..“  I want to let people know that we are not ‘less than’,” Ray says. “We are not alone.”

To learn more about the HIV&AIDS Initiative at Saddleback, click here.