ASSIST News Service

David Miller has long been one of the most controversial AIDS activists in the world, but now there has been an incredible turn-around in his life. He has found Jesus Christ as his personal savior.

Mr Miller, who is HIV-positive himself, is one of the most arrested AIDS activists in the world, and has led many protests on behalf of those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

David Miller and Dan Woodin

 

A LIFE CHANGED: David Miller speaking to Dan Wooding, of ASSIST News Service. 

 

“So I looked at him and said, ‘David, first of all I’d like to apologise for every single mean-spirited thing that has been said to you in the name of Jesus Christ that Jesus would disavow.’ David is HIV-Positive and has had AIDS for over 20 years. You would have thought that I had socked him in the gut and he stepped back saying he was stunned by what I said. Miller then said, ‘Nobody’s ever apologised to me for anything.’”

- Rick Warren, founder of Saddleback Church in the US.

But now, his life has been transformed after receiving Jesus Christ as his personal savior through the ministry of Rick Warren, founder of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, and author of The Purpose Driven Life.

Mr Warren, who was attending with his wife Kay, the 17th International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, agreed to sit down with me during the event and tell the moving story of how Mr Miller became a Christian.

“Well,” he began, ‘I believe that David Miller is really in many ways going to be an Apostle Paul, though he is in his growth stage right now. He did have a ‘Damascus Road’ experience.

“It began about four years ago, when I was invited to be the opening speaker for the Time Magazine, ABC News and Bill Gates Global Summit on Health in New York City. I did the opening message and that night we were at a reception and I was standing talking to Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic, who was also one of the speakers there. While I was talking to him a young guy came up on the side and I saw him. He really kind of looked like a junkyard dog. I mean he had his teeth all knocked out and he looked a little grizzled like he’d really been through the ringer many times.

“I turned to him and said, ‘Can I help you?’ and he said, ‘Can I talk to you?” and I said, ‘Sure.” So I excused myself. I found out that his name was David Miller and that he’d crashed the conference. He wasn’t a registered delegate but, as a typical AIDS activist, he’d worked his way in and he said very seriously, ‘I’ve never heard anybody talk like you.’ He went on to say, ‘I’ve hated the church my entire life. But there’s something that you said that really made a difference to me and that’s why I want to talk to you.’

“So I looked at him and said, ‘David, first of all I’d like to apologise for every single mean-spirited thing that has been said to you in the name of Jesus Christ that Jesus would disavow.’ David is HIV-Positive and has had AIDS for over 20 years. You would have thought that I had socked him in the gut and he stepped back saying he was stunned by what I said.

“Miller then said, ‘Nobody’s ever apologised to me for anything.’”

Rick Warren then said that he took Mr Miller’s email address and promised to write to him, which again shocked him.

Mr Warren said, “David then told me, ‘I believe you are ill,’ as if he didn’t believe me. So that was my first little encounter with David Miller." The next day as I was taking a coffee break after one of the sessions, I saw him standing up on a stairway and I motioned for him to come down and join me at a table.

“‘I’ve got an hour of time so why don’t you tell me your story,” I told him. He told me how he became infected. ‘I’m not even gay, but I got AIDS through pre-marital sex with another woman.’ He also told me that his wife got HIV through needle intravenous drug use.

“David said, ‘I was a marine and I got AIDS in the early era of it and nobody would pay any attention to me.’ He said the only people who showed him any love were the members of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis Association of New York City. He went on to say that he had previously hated gays, but he started hanging out with them because ‘they were the only ones that really cared about my disease.’

“David then told me, ‘We formed this little group called ACT UP to try to get attention.’ He said their first public demonstration was when they lay down in the streets of New York City to stop traffic. He said the next day there was a picture of him being arrested and carted away by the NYPD on the front page of the New York Times. He said that the caption said, ‘Gay activist hauled away for protesting about the lack of AIDS medicines.’ He told me, ‘OK, if I’m put in jail and people think I’m gay, I might as well go for it.’

“Well over the next 15 or 20 years, David was involved in all kinds of political unrest and was arrested well over two-hundred times in his life for different AIDS demonstrations.”

Rick Warren said that Miller’s story was “heartbreaking” for him to hear. “He told me about the problems he’d had with all of his medicines and the other difficulties he had endured as a man living with AIDS.”

So Mr Warren invited him to attend the upcoming Global Summit on AIDS and Church at Saddleback Church and tell his story there. He also told Mr Miller that he would pay the airfare for him and his wife to come out to Southern California.

"You know, when I was in the marines, I was a sharp shooter in Grenada and I killed people, but I didn’t hate them. I was just doing my job for the government. But I hate the people who’ve opposed me and so how do I now follow a Savior of love when I’m filled with so much hatred?"

- David Miller

“I told David that I wanted pastors to hear an account of his life. So David came out and sat and listened to this AIDS conference for two or three days and told his story. He was dumbfounded by the conference. After it was over, I took him over to my office and said, ‘OK, David, what’s your reaction to all of this?’ He replied, ‘I’ve never been to a conference on AIDS where there were so many people who don’t have AIDS. The only people who come to AIDS conferences that I’ve been to are doctors and people who have AIDS. Nobody else cares.’

“He added, ‘I’ve never felt so much love in my entire life. I just felt loved.’”

Mr Miller was talking about that fact that Mr Warren, at the ending service of that first conference, invited anyone with AIDS to come up on stage with him so he could lay hands on them and pray for their strength that they would be able to deal with the disease.

“Then, I asked everybody in the conference to come by and give them a hug. So for the next 45 minutes, these people, many of them who’d never come out, admitted it and wept profusely at being hugged,” said Rick Warren. “Many of them said that they had never been hugged by so many people at one time.

“So it made a profound impact on David. In my office I said. ‘David, what is it that would keep you from giving your life to Jesus Christ?’ He then made a very profound statement. He said, ‘Well, my question is, all my life I’ve been a hater. I’ve trained myself to hate. I hate the disease. I hate the pharmaceutical companies that last year raised the price four-hundred percent on my drugs that I need to stay alive. I hate the prejudice against people with AIDS. How can a man who’s built his life on hate follow a Savior of love?’

“That was a very profound question when you think about it. He then said, ‘You know, when I was in the marines, I was a sharp shooter in Grenada and I killed people, but I didn’t hate them. I was just doing my job for the government. But I hate the people who’ve opposed me and so how do I now follow a Savior of love when I’m filled with so much hatred?’

“And I said to him, ‘David, you need to understand the difference between anger and hatred. Anger is a legitimate emotion. In fact the Bible says, “be angry and sin not.” There are things you can be angry about and not sin. Jesus often got angry. He got angry and kicked the money changers out of the temple. It is an emotion that God gets angry and yet God doesn’t sin. But hatred will eat you alive. It’s a poison that, if you take it inside your heart, it always hurts you more than somebody else. So you need to learn to be angry. There are a lot of things in the world I’m angry against: I’m angry against injustice; I’m angry against prejudice; I’m angry against women getting raped by men; I’m angry when children are abused. So anger is often an evidence of love.

“‘If somebody hurt my wife, I’d get angry. If somebody hurt my children, I’d get angry. That’s an evidence of love. Your anger is based out of hatred and my anger is based out of love. And my anger out of love will outlast your anger out of hatred.

“I said that Gandhi got angry and Martin Luther King got angry, but they had a love underneath that. So he said, ‘Well, we need a leader to lead the AIDS movement and I think it’s you.’ I said, ‘David, I’m not that guy, but you could be that guy.’

“Instead of trying to lead him to Christ that night, I wanted him to think it through because I have found that, when people seriously think through their decision, then when they make that decision, it is not based on emotion; it’s based on logic and on thinking it through. It makes the commitment more serious and they tend to end up being a stronger believer.”

Rick Warren said that he kept in contact with Miller over the next year. His wife and other staff members from Saddleback Church visited him and his wife at his home in the Bronx. Mr Miller said he was shocked with their kindness of coming to an area which he described as being “full of pimps and prostitutes and needles.”

“David responded by saying, ‘I just have one question. What’s the fine print? What am I getting myself into?...And I said, ‘OK, I’ll tell you it in one sentence. The fine print is this. You must be willing to do whatever Jesus Christ asks you to do, even before He tells you what it is, for the rest of your life....Are you ready to do that? And he said, ‘Yes, I am! So we bowed our heads together and we prayed a prayer and he just began to weep."

- Rick Warren

Mr Warren added, “We just kept showing him love. Well, the next year I asked David to be on the program at our Global Summit on AIDS and the Church. On Saturday morning, after the conference was over, I went over to have breakfast with David at the motel where he was staying. While we were sitting there, I said, ‘OK now, David. You’ve had a year to think about this and we’ve talked about it. You’ve seen that we’re for real and that this is legitimate and we’re not fly by night. So are you ready to receive Christ into your life?’

“David responded by saying, ‘I just have one question. What’s the fine print? What am I getting myself into? When I signed up to be a marine, I had no idea what the fine print was. I just want to know what the fine print is to being a Christian.’ And I said, ‘OK, I’ll tell you it in one sentence. The fine print is this. You must be willing to do whatever Jesus Christ asks you to do, even before He tells you what it is, for the rest of your life. You must be willing to say "yes" to Jesus Christ, fill in the check, leave it blank and say, “Lord you fill in the check in whatever you want me to do. I’m willing to do it in advance'. That’s called making Jesus Christ the Lord of your life. Are you ready to do that? And he said, ‘Yes, I am! So we bowed our heads together and we prayed a prayer and he just began to weep.

“I’ve never heard the most sincere prayer of my life as he opened his heart to Jesus Christ. So then I said, ‘David, tomorrow morning, I want to interview you in our church services. I want you to just tell your story about living with AIDS.’

“So we sat on stage and I interviewed him about his life and about his journey. Then I said, ‘So what happened yesterday morning?’ And he told about how he’d given his life to Jesus Christ. It was his first testimony as a 24 hour old believer. And I said, ‘Now David, do you know what the first thing Christians do after they’ve given their life to Christ?’ And he said, ‘Get baptized?’ I then asked him if he was ready and he said he was. So we walked outside to the Saddleback’s Baptism pool at that first service. And in front of the video and three-thousand people, I baptized him and the place just broke into thunderous applause.

“In that first service, there was a young marine who had just come back from Iraq. He heard David tell his story about being a marine and was one of a number of people who gave their lives to Christ in that service. Between the services, he came up and he said, ‘I want to get baptised. Would it be OK if David baptises me?’”

Mr Warren said that he asked Mr Miller if he would baptize this new believer and he said he would.

“And so, the three of us went back down into the pool and David and I baptised this young marine together,” he said.

Rick Warren then sent Mr Miller an iPod with every sermon he had ever preached in twenty-seven years at Saddleback. “I said, ‘I want you to listen to all of these. This is your seminary education.’ So for the next year, he had been listening to that. Now we’re getting ready to plant a church in the Bronx, New York City, of which David will be a member and a key lay player. My goal is to buy one of these old burnt out buildings where we put a church on one floor a co-op on one floor, and an AIDS hospice on another. I am pleased to report that David Miller is growing by leaps and bounds.”

Just a few yards away from where I was conducting the interview with Rick Warren was David Miller who was waving his hands wildly as he talked with someone.

“He’s obviously trying to bring someone to Christ,” Warren said as a huge smile enveloped his face.