Seeing the Pain and Responding with Love

08/05/2017 .
Clayton Heilman  .  Storyteller

In a busy hospital in South Manila, people sat along the wall, gazing quietly forward. Fear and anxiety draped across each face; afraid of the results the doctor would soon bring. The words HIV positive, forever altering the course of their lives. The beds in every room were filled. The children in the waiting area did not have the exuberance and bounce-off-the-wall energy expected of kids their age — their lives wrecked as they were forced to deal with the loss of their parents. Imagining their uncertain future as orphans, sent shockwaves through Babes’ mind — how could this be happening? Babes had never seen a picture of human suffering so vivid and heart wrenching. She looked around and saw so much hopelessness, she had to do something, anything, to help.


Babes’ brother had been involved with a local nonprofit in South Manila that served individuals living with HIV and AIDS. He brought the issue to her attention and explained the stigma attached to a positive diagnosis. He invited her to come along to an awareness event, changing the course of Babes’ life. She had no idea the people who were afflicted with this disease were shunned and socially ostracized in her home city. The lack of hope cast a grim shadow on the faces of the sick and their families.


Babes and other volunteers assembled simple care packages, filled with small gifts and messages of encouragement, to hand out in their local hospital.  The small gifts breached the beginnings of a smile on many faces as she handed them out in the hospital. But those little gifts weren’t enough in Babes’ eyes. The 70 care packages they brought along went too quickly, and there were more hospitals they could have visited. It wasn’t much, but it was all she could think of doing to help.


Babes felt compelled to do more. She wanted to help more people. She wanted her church to make a difference in this community. She wanted to bring joy to those suffering from the merciless progression of this disease. And she knew it had to start with her. “As I prayed for these people, I felt God urging me to reach out to the HIV and AIDS community,” Babes said.


Babes had been attending Saddleback South Manila since the launch of the church in 2014. It wasn’t too long before her husband and children regularly joined her for the weekend service. Now, as a family, they were looking for a way they could all serve together with their new church family.


Babes approached Pastor Narry and asked how she could get involved helping people with HIV and AIDS. At the time, Babes didn’t know Saddleback Church had an initiative in place to serve this community. Pastor Narry gave her resources to get started and connected her to the team from the United States to find out how she could do more.


At night, lying in bed she began to stress about everything that would be required to start this new ministry. There was a lot of work to be done, but she was ready for the challenge. For World AIDS Day, Babes organized an HIV&AIDS Initiative event around the theme of hope. An oppressive stigma exists in Manila and Babes saw how crucial it was to help people move past that. During the service, one young man who found hope and belonging in the church was invited to share his story of living with HIV and dealing with the stigma of his sickness. It was a big step forward for the people in the church to confront this issue head on. The young man and his family felt encouraged when they entered the church. They were greeted and welcomed with open arms.


Babes knew the new ministry was making progress, but she wanted to keep moving forward. Babes still has many unanswered questions and concerns. She feels inadequate for the task, but seeing the need gives her a drive to continue. And with it comes the assurance that by being obedient to God, he will give her the strength and wisdom to make a difference.


“There are more than 33,000 people living with HIV in the Philippines,” Babes said. “And this population is growing. I am blessed to see a church that inspires and equips our congregation and others around the world to care for those infected and affected by this disease.”


Eliminating the stigma of HIV gives Babes motivation to continue getting the word out — training more volunteers, hosting more awareness events, and seeing church members come alongside those who need comfort are some of the ways she has witnessed progress. But there is still a lot of work to do. Babes is confident God will continue to teach her and others the best ways to care and respond to this crisis with mercy and compassion.

Learn more about the HIV&AIDS Initiative at saddleback.com/hivaids.