The AIDS Evangelists

World Vision is campaigning to raise AIDS compassion among Christians. The key: focus on widows and orphans.

On a recent Sunday morning, Steve Haas arrives at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to meet a group of Seattle pastors and church members. Haas, a former cleric at one of the country’s best-known evangelical megachurches, Willow Creek Church in Chicago, is leading the group on a trip to Africa. Milling about the KLM ticket counter with him are several people from University Presbyterian Church carrying long thin black bags that make a clanking sound; inside are pipes for a well pump they are bringing at the request of a missionary in Kenya.

This trip isn’t a typical relief effort, though. Haas is a vice president with World Vision, the giant Christian charity whose American headquarters are in Federal Way, and he plays a central role in one of the organization’s most challenging missions: waking Christians to the fight against AIDS.

A lanky, fast-talking 48-year-old who quotes extensively from the Bible, Haas has the zeal of a convert. He recalls being asked about the disease when he was at Willow Creek and responding, “Well, you play—you pay.” In the eyes of much of the Christian community, AIDS has meant two things, both considered taboo: homosexuality and promiscuity. In 2001, World Vision commissioned the Christian-oriented Barna Research Group to survey Christians and other Americans about their attitude toward AIDS. Among all Americans, only 8 percent said they were definitely willing to donate for international AIDS prevention and education. Among evangelicals, World Vision’s base and source of financial support, the number was an even lower 3 percent.

In the past few years, World Vision has set out to change that. In 2003, World Vision embarked on a “Hope Tour” across the country to raise awareness among Christians about the scope of devastation caused by AIDS internationally, and to ask for funds to combat it.

Haas, who is responsible for World Vision’s outreach to churches, now talks about the “ignorance” and “blindness” that kept Christians from tackling AIDS, and which to some extent still does. The most recent Barna survey in 2004 found 14 percent of evangelicals were willing to donate for AIDS work, an increase from the original survey but still a number World Vision finds unacceptable. Last summer, World Vision brought to New York’s Grand Central Station a 3,000-square-foot exhibit that took viewers into the lives of children affected by the disease. The organization is now building a similar exhibit that will travel to churches around the country. A smaller multimedia exhibit will be kept in the Seattle-Tacoma area, debuting at Seattle Pacific University on Friday, Dec. 1, World AIDS Day.

Waiting for the flight to Nairobi, University Presbyterian member Nancy Andrews recalls a recent talk that Rich Stearns, the head of World Vision’s American division, made at the church, which Stearns attends. “It was really very powerful,” says Andrews, a former Microsoft program manager who now works for a nonprofit involved in Africa. The 5,000-member-strong evangelical church already had an HIV/AIDS task force, but after Stearns’ address, Andrews convinced the church to seek a bigger project. In Africa, church members will meet first with World Vision staff in Nairobi for an educational briefing and then fan out to Ethiopia. The University Presbyterian team plans to look for something concrete to support, perhaps, Andrews says, a hospice or a school.

Also meeting Haas today are two members of Capitol Hill Presbyterian, a new evangelical church of only 250 that has nevertheless already made a big commitment—$25,000 a year for the next three years for World Vision work in Tanzania, where the Capitol Hill pair will go after Nairobi. That’s on top of the 75 African children the church signed up to sponsor after World Vision held a “sponsorship Sunday” at the church in September. Some 20 other church members from around the country will join Haas as well in Nairobi.

Haas has led nine or 10 such trips. Writing a check is one thing. “But in order for us to truly do what I think God has called us to do,” he says, “it’s got to be more, and it’s got to be deeper.”

One Sunday last December, Rich Stearns addressed a conference of church leaders and medical practitioners at Eastern Hills Bible Church in upstate New York. The conference was devoted to the role of the Christian community in medical missions, specifically those dealing with AIDS. The bespectacled, white-haired Stearns began by asking what he acknowledged were uncomfortable questions.

Question No. 1, in essence: Where has the church been? “If we honestly ask who are the ones who have taken the lead in fighting against AIDS and showing compassion to its victims, we find a surprising list.” He ticked them off: “the homosexual community, Hollywood, rock stars, political liberals, the U.S. government, the United Nations, secular humanitarian organizations, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.”

He then quoted a man he held akin to a prophet, who had written recently about the AIDS plight in Africa. “What is happening to Africa mocks our pieties, doubts our concern, and questions our commitment to the whole concept [of equality]. Because if we’re honest, there’s no way we could conclude that such mass death day after day would ever be allowed to happen anywhere else.”

That prophet was Bono, Stearns revealed, concluding: “We in the faith community must find our voice.”

As it happens, World Vision and the Irish rocker have become close allies. Both were key players in the coalition that last year launched the ONE Campaign, a coalition of advocacy groups and humanitarian organizations devoted to rallying Americans in the fight against global AIDS and poverty. When U2 played a concert in Seattle last year, Bono invited Stearns to the after-party.

It would be hard to imagine Bob Pierce, the evangelical crusader who founded World Vision 56 years ago, hailing someone like Bono as a prophet, never mind hanging out after his rock show. The now-deceased Pierce was a Billy Graham–like figure who traveled throughout the developing world holding massive rallies aimed at winning converts to Christianity, and who eventually recruited Billy Graham’s son Franklin to a second aid organization he founded called Samaritan’s Purse.

But such is the new voice that World Vision has found. The organization has seen its cause gain momentum. A number of prominent evangelical leaders have turned their attention to the issue, among them Franklin Graham and the Rev. Rick Warren, the best-selling author and pastor of California’s populous Saddleback Church, which is about to hold its second annual AIDS conference. World Vision enlisted Kay Warren, the pastor’s wife, to make several appearances on its Hope Tour. That same year, evangelicals lent crucial support to a $15 billion, five-year AIDS effort launched by President Bush called the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, calls World Vision the “E.F. Hutton” of AIDS work. “When World Vision speaks, people listen.”

And yet, Cizik also notes that “not everybody agrees with them.” World Vision’s immersion in AIDS has put it in the middle of a heated battle over prevention strategies—in a nutshell, abstinence versus condoms.

“Now that evangelicals have learned that HIV is a pressing problem that they need to do something about, the question of the distribution of condoms has gained new salience,” says John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, among others, has staked out a position firmly opposed to condom distribution.

World Vision has tread a more nebulous line that, in some cases, has its staffers distributing condoms. It calls to mind something one of Stearns’ employees told him as he was deciding to forge ahead with an AIDS crusade: “We’re a G-rated ministry getting involved in an R-rated issue.”

Considering its worldwide staff of more than 22,000 employees and its $2 billion budget, World Vision has kept a curiously low profile locally. While its international headquarters reside in California, its vital American division, where its AIDS crusade originated, is based here. The Federal Way headquarters look like many suburban office parks: sleek and modern, with big windows looking out on tall evergreens that surround the building. One distinctive component, however, is a bronze sculpture outside the entrance depicting Jesus, a babe in arms, holding out a loaf of bread.

Also atypical is the weekly ritual that goes on within. Every Wednesday at 11 a.m. sharp, the approximately 500 staffers based here rise from their cubicles and file into an auditorium for a chapel service. Stearns, not a pastor, serves as master of ceremonies, but the event, featuring speakers and Bible readings, is distinctly religious. There is no question of excluding employees who do not happen to be Christian; there are no such employees, at least domestically. While World Vision employs nationals of different faiths in the countries where it works, every U.S. staffer must sign a statement of faith that testifies to belief in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

“I want to welcome you all on this brisk October day,” Stearns says, taking the stage on a recent Wednesday, wearing a blue, open-necked, button-down shirt. He begins by confronting a prominent mention of World Vision in the news. A three-part series in The Boston Globe, concluding the day before, took a critical look at the increasing amount of federal money awarded to faith-based aid groups, many of whom infuse their work with preaching. Although the piece did not delve into World Vision’s practices, it mentioned that the organization was a prime recipient of government aid money.

According to the organization’s annual report, the amount of U.S. government funds it receives has more than doubled since 2002, to $244 million last year, representing about one-eighth of its annual revenue. World Vision explains the increase by saying it has gotten more aggressive in its grant applications.

Stearns holds up a bronze star dangling from a green ribbon, which he tells the crowd was given to World Vision by President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, a Muslim country, for the humanitarian work it did after the 2005 earthquake. “We operate in very different situations,” Stearns says, “and we do it with class and dignity and respect for other cultures.”

Stearns and other World Vision leaders frequently note that they have a policy against proselytizing, but they define proselytizing as making aid conditional on hearing a religious message. Rob Boston, a spokesperson for Americans United for Separation of Church and State in Washington, D.C., says he hasn’t come across any account of World Vision proselytizing, by any definition, with public funds. World Vision stays away from expressing its religious beliefs in non-Christian countries, according to Stearns and other staffers, but it does express them in countries where it feels it is culturally acceptable, and where its work is conducted by pastors.

After his brief remarks, Stearns yields the stage to two Christian musicians making a special appearance: the bearded and jeans-wearing Matt Kees, strumming a guitar, and young singer Debi Davis, wearing jeans and a print shirt. The lyrics of their songs flash on a big screen above them, and several hundred staffers, dressed in the casual office wear of sweaters and skirts and slacks, sing along:

“We long to reflect your light/We burn brighter with you inside/Illuminate me Jesus.”

In the front row, face lifted toward the heavens, eyes closed, and hands reaching outward as she sings, is Marilee Pierce Dunker, the 56-year-old daughter of World Vision’s founder, who was born the same year as the organization. Based in San Diego, she has come to this special “Founder’s Chapel” to talk about her dad.

Stearns and Dunker are a study in contrasts, representing different faces of World Vision. While Stearns doesn’t hesitate to quote scripture, he has the efficient, unsentimental manner of the businessman he was for most of his life. Prior to coming to World Vision, he served as CEO of Lenox, the New Jersey manufacturer of tableware. He has a serious air, but he has a sense of humor. “Whenever Marilee speaks, you want to bring some Kleenex—it gets a little weepy,” he says, by way of introduction. He also notes that he once heard her charismatic but troubled dad described as “God’s psychotic.”

Dunker, wearing a brown, unadorned, calf-length skirt and checkered jacket, speaks in the fevered, singsong tones of a pastor. Taking the stage, she refers to her book, Man of Vision: The Candid, Compelling Story of Bob and Lorraine Pierce, Founders of World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse. “Those of you who have read the book may have been surprised that my father’s spiritual journey wasn’t smoother,” she says.

By her account, Pierce led a life marked in equal measure by inspired leadership, bouts of depression, and long periods of estrangement from his family. He started traveling abroad as a missionary for the group Youth for Christ. On a trip to postwar Korea, Pierce was so moved by the poverty and suffering he saw that he started a fund-raising effort that eventually gave birth to World Vision. Yet Pierce never gave up the evangelical aspect of his work. Whether from Korea, India, the Philippines, or Afghanistan, his letters home were full of ecstatic descriptions of the sometimes tens of thousands who showed up to hear him preach, always taking care to note how many “decisions” to convert to Christianity he racked up each night.

“What would Bob Pierce say to you if he was here today?” Dunker asks, stopping for a pregnant pause before continuing breathlessly. “I think the most important thing that we can do is to understand that World Vision will only be as strong, spiritually, as each one of us,” she says. “Fundamentally, there is one thing that binds us and that’s a heartfelt, unequivocal, uncompromising commitment to the God of the universe.”

She takes out a letter that recently came into her hands, written by her father on his deathbed to the World Vision president who succeeded him. “Everything I ever did that helped a widow or an orphan,” she reads, “the only purpose was not that they have a better life, but that they might have eternal life.”

A week or so after the Founder’s Chapel, Stearns is driving his Acura to lunch at Indochine, a stylish Thai restaurant in an otherwise Korean-dominated strip mall in Federal Way. It’s a new car, with a GPS system, but he concedes it’s not quite the prize that was the company car—a powder blue Jaguar—he drove as head of Lenox. In his last year there, he earned a salary of $800,000. He, his wife, and their five sons lived in a 10-bedroom, 200-year-old farmhouse.

“Coming to World Vision was very improbable,” Stearns says, once settled at a table and sharing plates of phad Thai and Panang curry. A headhunter for World Vision sought him out in the late ’90s, the first time the organization had looked to the business world for leadership. Every previous World Vision president had come from either a church or a Christian college. World Vision was now an enormous operation, however, operating in nearly 100 countries on every continent but Antarctica. The organization was most famous for its child sponsorship program, which matches donors with needy children in the developing world. But it had also branched out into emergency relief and all kinds of development work. It had also long since abandoned the kind of aggressive evangelical work that Pierce practiced.

“Very professional,” is how Sally Cowal, a senior vice president at Population Services International, a secular Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit working on health issues, characterizes World Vision’s work.

Ted Green, a senior researcher at Harvard University’s School of Public Health, recalls how he unexpectedly found himself becoming an advocate for, and eventually consultant to, World Vision. A self-avowed “left-winger,” Green says, “I’ve never voted for a Republican in my life, and I don’t belong to any religious organization.” In the mid-’90s, he came across World Vision’s work while preparing a report for the U.S. Agency for International Development on general health-education projects in Mozambique. Green says he was pleasantly surprised to discover World Vision working in a way that didn’t bear the usual mark of “Western arrogance.” Looking to foster health-education programs, the organization didn’t come in with any particular agenda, according to Green.

“They figured out who the actual leaders in the community were. They prioritized problems,” he says. “The whole thing was very participatory and democratic.” He ended up citing World Vision’s project in his report as one of the best models he had seen.

But while World Vision had a solid reputation in both the religious and secular world, Stearns’ reaction, when the headhunter called seven years ago, was something like horror. “It was the last place I wanted to go,” says Stearns, now 54. Although he had been a longtime child sponsor through the organization and a devoted Christian since falling in love with a religious woman (now his wife) in business school, he says he had no inclination to fully “enter the pain of the poor.”

He also considered himself unqualified for the job, having no experience in humanitarian work. “It seemed like a bizarre move to go from china to World Vision.” And then there was the money. World Vision was offering $200,000, a handsome salary in nonprofit terms (it has since grown to $367,000) but a 75 percent pay cut. To Stearns, it seemed that he was being asked to give up everything that he had achieved at great odds. His dad was a used-car salesman with an alcohol problem who had dropped out of school in the eighth grade. His mom, who stayed home until she divorced his dad and became a secretary, was a high-school dropout. When Stearns was 10 years old, the bank foreclosed on their house.

“I actually turned the job down,” Stearns says. “But I was so conflicted, so haunted by my decision, that I called World Vision back.”

He arrived in Federal Way in the early summer of 1998. On his first day of work, he shut the door, sat at his desk, and asked God for help. He felt in over his head. His staff agreed. “There were a lot of raised eyebrows,” says communications director Dean Owen.

“The first thing the World Vision staff wanted to do was to get this silly president into the field,” Stearns acknowledges. He landed in Uganda, where staffers took him to meet children who had lost their parents to AIDS, who were scraping out an existence not only for themselves but for younger siblings now in their charge. “I had never really thought it through,” he says. “Most people who think about AIDS, they think about the people who die. But what about the children, what about the widows they leave behind? What happens to a community when 30 percent of that community has died?”

Back home, he started asking questions about how World Vision was approaching what he had come to believe was the worst humanitarian crisis of our time, threatening to undo all the development work the organization had done over the years. “Quite frankly, I didn’t like the answers I got,” he says. While World Vision had done limited AIDS work, supporting orphans like those Stearns met, he felt the organization hadn’t really tackled the issue head-on. Nor, he realized, had the Christian community at large. “I thought the church was AWOL,” he says.

Tony Campolo, a sociologist at Eastern University, a Christian institution outside Philadelphia, says not only did many in the church associate AIDS with homosexuality and promiscuity, but they considered the disease God’s judgment for those behaviors. He says the Christian community’s desire to distance itself from AIDS has been so powerful that about four years ago, he saw a youth pastor thrown out of a church because his wife contracted HIV through a blood transfusion.

John Green, the Pew Forum fellow, who also teaches religion and politics at the University of Akron, says the disease has thrown religious values into conflict. “On the one hand, AIDS is connected to two types of sexual behavior evangelicals don’t approve of,” he says. “On the other hand, people such as those at World Vision who are engaged in international relief are enormously compassionate.” And a guiding value for them is the sanctity of life.

World Vision came down on the side of life.

“We knew it was going to take an extraordinary effort,” says Steve Reynolds, World Vision’s marketing coordinator for AIDS programs and part of the team that put together the 2003 Hope Tour.

An earnest, soft-spoken 48-year-old with broad, Midwestern features, Reynolds has been with the organization since 1983 and helped bring about its first connection with Bono. Reynolds started at World Vision as a video producer. One of his first assignments was to travel to Ethiopia to check out reports of a famine. “We just couldn’t believe what we’d seen,” he says, recalling 10,000 people lined up to get one cup of dried maize. The video he took and later shared with British reporters in Nairobi was the first glimpse the Western press had of the devastation, he says.

The resulting media blitz eventually gave rise to Live Aid, the benefit performance by a host of musicians, including U2. World Vision subsequently invited Bono to visit Ethiopia. When he and his wife did, Reynolds was their host, introducing them to a continent they had never before seen.

Around that same time, Reynolds says, World Vision was working on an AIDS relief project in Uganda funded by the World Bank. But when the funding ended and World Vision sought private donations to keep the project going, it hit a brick wall. “We just couldn’t figure out how to get people to be compassionate about people with AIDS,” he says. Bwalya Melu, a longtime World Vision staffer formerly based in his native Zambia, says that there were no clear policies on AIDS even as the organization’s staffers found themselves and their families afflicted by the disease. Three of his brothers died of AIDS.

Under a mandate from Stearns, Reynolds and his team tried to find a way to make the AIDS message resonate with a Christian audience.

“We decided to make it relevant by focusing on the widow and the orphan,” he says. “We chose to do that because there’s a Bible verse, James 1:27, which lays it out very, very clearly for anybody who believes in God, or anybody who’s a Christian, and that verse says basically: ‘Pure and faultless religion is this, that you care for the widow and the orphan in distress.’ And that was kind of like a revelation to us. That was like, ‘Aha, OK, this is the message.’ This is the platform [with] which we can go now to our faith-based audience and say: ‘We have to do something.'”

Clearly, this message offered a way to sidestep the tricky sexual issues bound up in AIDS. It emphasized care not for the sinners, as Christians might see it, but for the “innocent” who suffer through no fault of their own. At the same time, it subtly underscored what for evangelicals was the palatable point that the disease, in most of the world, primarily afflicts heterosexuals.

One of World Vision’s first converts was Kay Warren. On the phone from Orange County, Calif., where her husband’s megachurch is located, Warren can recall the precise date—Nov. 1, 2002—that she and two other members of the church listened by speaker phone to Steve Haas describe the scope of the epidemic. While a magazine article had recently piqued her interest in AIDS, she says, “I knew nothing.” Her attitude had been, “You’ve put yourself at risk, and that’s your problem.”

But listening to Haas talk about the dying and those they leave behind, she says everybody in the room began to cry, and she chokes up even as she talks about it now. She joined World Vision for several stops along the 18-city Hope Tour, and persuaded her influential husband to sign on to the AIDS fight.

Even with such prominent support, the tour did not immediately set World Vision’s constituency on fire. “We faced a lot of resistance,” says Reynolds, who recalls receiving blank stares.

“Let’s put it this way,” Stearns says, “we weren’t playing to standing-room- only crowds.”

Gradually, the evangelical community began to come around. Through donations as well as government grants, World Vision has raised $260 million in the last three years for its AIDS programs, which include care for children, general development in communities affected by AIDS, and prevention efforts. But the sexual issues that World Vision tried to avoid are far from gone.

In May of this year, Focus on the Family’s James Dobson and 30 other Christian leaders signed a letter to congressional representatives urging them to oppose a proposed increase in U.S. contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, a Swiss-based fund that raises billions of dollars in governmental and private money throughout the world. Among the Global Fund’s alleged crimes were ties to philanthropist George Soros, whom the letter linked to “radical causes” like abortion and euthanasia. It also attacked the Global Fund for promoting condoms rather than abstinence and faithfulness. The increase in funding passed anyway.

Dobson, though a spokesperson, declined to be interviewed for this article. Another outspoken signatory, Shepherd Smith, president of the nonprofit Institute for Youth Development, stresses by phone from his office in Washington, D.C., that condoms are an inadequate AIDS prevention tool because, unlike abstinence, “they don’t eliminate risk.” But Smith, whose wife runs a nonprofit helping children affected by AIDS, also believes condoms promote promiscuity. “If you’re saying to young people, ‘I’d rather you didn’t have sex but if you do, use a condom,’ . . . that’s a mixed message.”

“For a lot of evangelical people, to condone condoms is almost akin to apostasy,” acknowledges World Vision’s Steve Haas. For the Christian audience, positive statements about condoms “are war words,” he says.

“This thing is so emotionally loaded in the evangelical community,” agrees Tony Campolo, the Christian sociologist. Landing on the wrong side of the condom debate can, he says, “bring down entire ministries.”

The issue is also emotionally loaded in the secular community. Jodi Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Health and Gender Equity, a Beltway watchdog group that closely follows AIDS issues, expresses frustration at faith-based groups that are not willing to use all the tools available to fight AIDS. “They’ll go into school and communities with a focus on abstinence only. Or they’ll deliver condoms when requested—to truck drivers and prostitutes only.” That doesn’t work, she says, in a general epidemic that has “everyone at risk.”

“I think we would be better off if that sector of the Christian community would stay out of prevention and do what they do best—treatment and care,” Jacobson says.

Ted Green, the Harvard researcher, believes that abstinence promotion is just as taboo in the secular world as condom promotion is in the religious world. He notes that when Bill Gates said a few good words about “ABC”—the policy of abstinence, being faithful, and condoms endorsed by the Bush administration—at the International AIDS conference in Toronto this August, he was booed. Green contends that a condom-only approach, widely practiced over decades, has failed to stem the tide of AIDS in Africa. He’s a strong proponent of ABC.

Green’s research in Uganda, cited by World Vision, found that a campaign to change sexual behavior and promote use of condoms resulted in a big decline in AIDS incidence.

Bearing that in mind, as well as World Vision’s Christian audience, Haas says: “It was critical for us to stay resolute that abstinence and faithfulness in marriage are the best ways to prevent HIV.” Its prevention efforts, largely aimed at children, stress these values—an approach that Stearns, in a World Vision brochure, refers to as “scripturally based.”

“But,” Haas goes on to say, “where people are involved in at-risk behaviors, and they’re either unwilling or unable to stop, we want ’em alive.” World Vision tells these people that condoms “will keep you 85 percent safe,” he says. The organization participates in a project in Zambia that distributes condoms to truck drivers and prostitutes along what Haas refers to as “the AIDS Highway,” near the Zimbabwe border.

Bwalya Melu, who oversees the Zambia project, says the debate over AIDS and condoms among churches in Africa has “ceased to be an issue,” as pastors are eager to do whatever it takes. “They are saying, ‘We’re tired of burying our young people.'” Their message to the general populace, according to Melu, is a very qualified endorsement of condoms: “We have no problem with that rubber thing as long as it is used appropriately—within the context of some moral guidelines of marriage.” He believes that’s the safest kind of sex on a continent that, unlike the West, does not have ready access to AIDS drugs.

Haas formulates World Vision’s ABC approach this way:”We’re saying, ‘Big A, Big B, and in some cases, where the situation mandates, condoms.'”

Even that limited support of condoms separates World Vision from the Christian groups that signed the letter against the Global Fund. In fact, World Vision lobbyists have been vocal supporters of the Global Fund, appearing at a press conference last year on its behalf. It has been in World Vision’s interests to do so, since the organization has won millions of dollars from the Swiss institution for its AIDS work.

World Vision has consequently been the subject of some disapproval by Christian groups. “I’ve been critical at times,” says Smith, of the Institute for Youth Development, who adds that he’s visited World Vision’s headquarters to discuss its approach. He brought up a billboard he once took a picture of in Zambia that had World Vision’s logo on it, along with that of a few other organizations. The message, according to Smith: “Be Safe, Use a Condom.” (World Vision acknowledges co-sponsoring a billboard with a similar message.) “I don’t base our organization on scripture,” Smith says, “but if you’re a ministry, you have an added responsibility.”

World Vision’s billboarding also drew fire in a column last year in the Christian magazine World, which lamented the “boldness of the condom-promotion campaign” by the organization and others in Africa.

World Vision has tried to stay clear of this debate. It has not spoken for or against a controversial 33 percent earmark in the president’s AIDS fund for abstinence programs. As that five-year plan winds down and health groups are debating the details of renewed funding, World Vision’s senior policy adviser in D.C., Robert Zachritz, says the organization is focused on trying to pass a 10 percent earmark for orphans and vulnerable children—relatively neutral territory.

World Vision’s constant message is that AIDS is too big a problem to bicker over approaches. Every approach, it says, is needed.

As Haas prepares to board his plane at Sea-Tac, dressed more casually than usual in jeans and a Seafair T-shirt, and carrying a couple soccer balls in his luggage that he uses to connect with African kids, he looks to the year ahead and World Vision’s new education campaign.

“The goal is that, in 2008, the church does not have an excuse for stigma or bias,” he says. “The church can’t say, ‘I didn’t know.’ No, no, no. Stop that!

“If we could just raise the temperature so that we could realize this is something we all need to deal with. Frankly, for us at World Vision, we’re going to die trying.”