[CHRISTIANITY] Rick Warren's Peace Plan For All Cultures
- Field testing Pastor Rick Warren's peace plan
Missionaries raise spirits and expectations, but can their methods
By GWENDOLYN DRISCOLL
The Orange County Register
RUHUHA, Rwanda "The first thing to understand is it's not about
me," says Mark Broussard, a Saddleback Church missionary from
Capistrano Beach. "I'm not the most important person in the world."
Broussard's audience about 1,000 peasant farmers packed inside an
austere brick and concrete church in southeastern Rwanda stare at
him from concrete-block pews draped with disintegrating banana fiber.
Broussard pauses to look down at the crib sheet he is holding, an
excerpted passage from "The Purpose-Driven Life." It is the book that
brought Broussard and his group of Orange County PEACE plan
missionaries to this faraway village last March.
Such short-term trips by Christian groups have more than quintupled
in the past decade, part of what Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren
and others hope will foster a "second reformation" of humanitarian
and spiritual aid. It may also, as Broussard's presentation suggests,
"Contrary to what many people say, it's not what people see in movies
or read in books that's what's important," Broussard reads.
He waits while his translator thinks about how to phrase this in
Rwanda's language, Kinyarwanda. There are no movie theaters in
Ruhuha, an isolated hamlet of aluminum-roofed mud shacks at the
unpaved terminus of a long, bumpy road. There is no library or
bookstore. Illiteracy is high. Possessions are few.
"We never really own anything in our brief stay on Earth. It was
God's property before you arrived. And God will loan it to someone
else after you're gone. You just get to enjoy it for a little while."
Broussard's presentation one of five that missionaries from
Saddleback Church gave to Ruhuha's Episcopal Church during a one-week
visit is meant to turn thoughts from material gain to spiritual
In America, and especially in Orange County, this message has made
Warren, author of "The Purpose-Driven Life," one of America's most
In Rwanda, something might have been lost in translation.
"In our Rwandan language we don't have such language," says Louis
Muvunyi, a pastor and the Saddleback group's translator. "I have
traveled in Europe. I understand how it works there. It's a much more
material and individualistic culture. Everything is 'I, I, I, mine,
mine, mine.' I think ('The Purpose-Driven Life') speaks much louder
Not that Muvunyi is discounting the importance of these visitors from
Orange County, the first wave of missionaries to come to Rwanda as
part of Warren's PEACE plan.
"Presence evangelism is very powerful," Muvunyi says. "Just (being
here) can make an impact more than words."
To understand why, travel down Ruhuha's rutted dirt road a mile to
the local administration buildings and to the slabs of inelegant
concrete that sit nearby, surrounded by fences draped with mournful
About 8,000 bodies, or remnants of bodies, lie buried here. It is one
of dozens of genocide memorials that speckle the countryside of
Rwanda like a tragic constellation.
The root causes of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda are complex. The
response from the rest of the world was not. The international
community failed to intercede. Up to 1 million Rwandans were killed
waiting for help that never came.
Many of the people in church today are survivors. Jean-Pierre Bukizi,
an Episcopal pastor, fled a massacre in a nearby church. He and his
pregnant wife hid for six weeks in a swamp, where his child was born.
Muvunyi lost 40 members of his family, including three brothers.
"Most Rwandans, after the genocide there was a feeling that people
in the West didn't care about us, they just left us to die," Muvunyi
That sense of abandonment explains much about the joyful reception
given Saddleback's missionaries during their brief time here.
When one of the group, Nicolette di Cicco, talks about being a widow,
there is a murmur among the women in the congregation.
"Because there are many widows here in Rwanda," Muvunyi
explains. "The (Rwandan) women said: 'Eh! Even the (Americans) they
are widows.' God can use just that small thing to help us feel we are
There are other reasons to welcome Saddleback Church.
After one of the services, Bukizi shows the missionaries his new six-
bedroom brick house, which sits in splendid contrast to the smaller
mud and thatch houses of the village.
"This would go for $1.5 million in Orange County," Broussard says
In Rwanda, the house cost Bukizi's parishioners about $21,818 a
monumental sum in a country where most villagers live on less than a
dollar a day. But more is needed. Bukizi wants the Saddleback group
to fund an electrical line to his house and church.
Bukizi has other uses for Saddleback's money as well: a pastor's car,
a hospital, a school, "modern cows" that give more milk for his
pastoral fields. Although he is grateful for theevangelism, "it
wasn't like we didn't know those things before."
Bukizi's association of missionaries and material resources is
typical, according to Gary Scheer, a Baptist missionary from Denver
who has lived in Rwanda since 1979.
"People flock to (missionaries) because (they) are a white person and
(they've) got money, but the minute (they're) gone it collapses,"
The missionaries themselves, who incited mini-riots in the village by
tossing small gifts of candy, jewelry, pencils and water bottles out
the windows of their van, may have fostered this impression, a point
they are quick to acknowledge.
"I feel like I committed a lot of faux pas this week," says the
group's leader, Nicole Lu. "In Africa there's a whole lot of
etiquette I don't understand. We need a whole lot more training."
PEACE plan staff members say they are aware of the dependency issue
and caution their missionaries against giving handouts. Confronted
with Rwanda's extreme poverty, however, some promises are hard to
The problem, Scheer says, is growing across the country as short-term
visits by Western missionaries increase.
"Every day there's a new group," he says. "People feel sorry for
Rwanda, so there's more money coming in, and it's making that issue
of dependency even worse."
Mission trips of two weeks or less rose from 63,995 in 1996 to
346,270 in 2001, and amateur missionaries outnumber professional
missionaries by a rate of more than 10-to-1, according to The
Protestant Mission Handbook.
"There is good reason to believe that more than one-and-a-half
million U.S. Christians travel abroad each year on short term mission
trips and ... are transforming the way North American Christians are
engaging the world," scholars wrote in the October edition of the
The scholars, including Robert J. Priest of Trinity International
University in Deerfield, Ill., say the estimate is a conservative one.
"What we have is a grass-roots movement," he wrote.
The PEACE plan hopes to harness that movement by posting Web-based
trip reports by its missionaries. The idea is that any group that
travels to Ruhuha in the future could build on the knowledge and
experiences of previous visitors.
In practice, short trips by successive waves of strangers are
problematic because, Scheer says: "This is a relational culture. If
you want to have an impact, you've got to have a relationship, and
the bigger the relationship, the bigger the impact."
During their visit, Saddleback missionaries visited churches and
schools, meeting with a variety of local leaders and community
groups, taking notes on worksheets prepared for them by PEACE plan
staff members and politely fending off requests for resources.
What short-term missionaries can give, says Steve Haas, vice
president of the Christian aid organization World Vision, is their
compassion and their physical labor.
"There's no end to the number of volunteers that can be employed to
do tasks" such as teaching literacy or public health, Haas says.
Haas is less optimistic about short-term groups' ability to find long-
"It usually takes us one to two years of sitting with (African)
leadership to understand the problem," Haas says. "Short-term teams
may not understand the longstanding issues in a community. They may
not have the language skills."
But he is "absolutely delighted" that Saddleback is getting involved,
saying that such exchanges will build Americans' knowledge of, and
advocacy for, disadvantaged places like Ruhuha. And he warns about
any rush to judgment of the PEACE plan, an experiment in its earliest
"Down the line there's going to be a very hard look by media, by
churches themselves, on who's ... really making a difference," Haas
says. "But a lot of people are trying to get to the last chapter ...
when they're not even on the first, or even the prologue."