"There's a spiritual answer and there's a not so spiritual answer," she said. "The not-so-spiritual answer is that my heart was hard. I had spent the majority of my adult life raising my kids, helping my husband build his church. I had tunnel vision: my life, my dreams, my plans, my agenda, my family, my struggles. Everything was about me and my life. That's the nonspiritual answer. The spiritual answer is, for reasons I don't know, God intended me to read that article that day. I can't think of any other reason."
Warren wrestled with "a very intense internal battle" over whether to take on an issue as daunting, painful and unfamiliar as HIV/AIDS. She says at first a sexually transmitted disease "was not something I wanted to be a part of."
Part of her struggle was the widespread attitude of the evangelical Church toward AIDS and homosexuality.
"In my mind I tied HIV with homosexuality, and coming from the faith tradition I did … we didn't do very well talking about sex. In my mind, that was one of the stereotypes I had. I could never even think about it here," she said. "Somehow, when it was in Africa and it had to do with children, it caught my heart. I could enter in on that level."
"The fact is, HIV is not a gay disease," she said. "I was caught on one particular aspect. I've learned, so what? … What if every single person in the world that was infected was a gay man? Should that or would that change the level of compassion?"
Warren says for her, the answer is no.
"As I began to learn and listen and really get God's heart, it doesn't matter who is sick. It's not a sin to be sick. It doesn't matter how they got sick. Our question should be, how can I help you?"
Ultimately, she decided to travel to Africa, a decision she says came down to a conversation with God.
"For me, it came down to the moment of telling God why I said no," she explained. "I can imagine myself coming face to face with God at the end of my life and [he'll] ask me, 'Do you remember that day I showed you that magazine article ? … Why didn't you do anything about it?' I couldn't imagine myself saying, 'Come on God, I was busy. I had a lot of stuff going on. I had my own problems. You really meant me? You wanted me to do something about that?' I couldn't imagine that conversation going well."
When Warren told her husband about her decision, she says he was proud of her, but he wasn't initially convinced that the problem of AIDS in Africa was related to their church and their message. In 2003, she made her first trip to Africa. Rick stayed behind.
Warren describes the experience of meeting a woman in Mozambique named Gwana who was "about a week away from death." She and her husband had been kicked out of their village in Mozambique because they were HIV-positive.
Warren says her first thought was, "What do I say? I don't know what to say.' My faith did not prepare me to talk to a dying homeless woman under a tree. I mean, I know how to talk to women about how to lose the last 10 pounds, you know, that they can't seem to lose. And I know how to talk to parents about when they're having trouble with their kids … but to talk to a dying woman, homeless under a tree, I didn't have the faintest idea what to say."
For Warren, Gwana gave the disease a face and a name, and changed her life forever. "To me, the goal is to end AIDS," she said.