Rick Warren’s Volunteers for Rwanda Profiled

The Orange County Register meets some of Rick Warren’s volunteers for Africa:

This small Saddleback Church group just voted to join Pastor Rick Warren’s new PEACE plan, a program to bring aid and salvation to the less fortunate.

…”Thank you God for letting us make this decision on Rwanda tonight,” prays Elizabeth Brummett, a sleek-haired Dana Point single mom draped in a chocolate poncho and matching necklace. “We’ve all been so divided about going on that huge step – thank you for bringing that on our hearts.”

It is Nov. 1, 2005, and this group of fledgling missionaries just voted to go to Rwanda, a tiny, troubled country in central Africa.

Rwanda has loomed large in the evangelical imagination for a while now – last year we blogged on Rick Warren’s intention of making the country the world’s first “Purpose-Driven Nation”, an aim which has given him access to the country’s president, Paul Kagame. This summer also saw “Hope Rwanda“, a massive forty-day campaign which saw evangelists like Joyce Meyer flying into the country. The “PEACE plan” is Warren’s five-point development strategy:

1) P – Plant new churches or partner with existing ones. 2) E – Equip leaders. 3) A – Assist the poor. 4) C – Care for the sick. 5) E – Educate youth.

The plan is discussed at length in this Christianity Today article. However, one can’t help feeling that it might all end in tears:

Of the six at the table, only one has ever traveled in the developing world’s rougher corners: Mark Broussard, a former magician and professional aid worker. Another, Cleve Dupin, traveled the world as the road manager for Kris Kristofferson, Rita Coolidge, Tim McGraw and others. [Julie] Ellis [a waitress] has never been abroad.

…It is a daunting challenge for these people, who do not know the names of Rwanda’s tribes, capital city or its language. Several say with some discomfort that they were only vaguely aware of Rwanda’s genocide.

…the members of the Rwanda-bound group in the Dana Point living room might supplement local health workers by teaching simple diarrhea-prevention methods or basic literacy. They might spread evangelical Christianity to nonbelievers.

The “nonbelievers” will no doubt include the country’s Muslims; Islam has enjoyed a boom in the country over the past few years, partly in reaction against the involvement of Christians in the genocide.

One Warren sceptic is Ngwiza Mnkandla, of the church-planting organisation DAWN:

“Every effort is to be commended, but there is a question as to how effective their approach will be,” Mnkandla says. “It’s a quick holiday trip. But have I really made a difference? Can I really understand (Africa) after two weeks?”

Warren, though, believes that his enthusiastic amateurs will deepen their expertise as they go along. Lyle Schaller, who writes on church trends, believes that Warren is responding to needs among his own constituency:

The generations that followed [the 1980s]…”tend to have a minimal degree of loyalty to any kind of big institutions,” Schaller says. Instead, younger generations seek transformative, “meaningful and memorable experiences.”

Missionary work, with its high involvement in gritty, idealistic goals, changes people “by challenging them to do what they think they can’t do,” Schaller says. “We’re moving people up to a much higher commitment level than just giving a check.”

No matter that giving a cheque might provide funding for a local person with a few advantages (like, say, being able to speak the language) to do the humanitarian work far more efficiently. No matter that an American without any specialist training of particular use in Africa might be better off using their energies at home. Rwanda’s history may be tragic, but the country is now excellently placed as somewhere for American Christians to feel good about themselves.

Warren is not the only evangelical leader to have an interest in Africa; back in 2002 Bruce Wilkinson announced his own plans, centring on AIDS orphans in Swaziland. Wilkinson’s efforts descended into acrimony late last year; whether Warren will fare any better remains to be seen.

(Hat tip: Cult News Network)