Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Saddleback Members Making a Difference in Africa

Apart from Billy Graham, Rick Warren is perhaps the most well-known pastor in America. The church he pastors, Saddleback, is one of the nation's largest and his book, The Purpose Driven Life, has been read by tens of millions of people. But these days he is getting quite a bit of attention for the focus that he has placed on eliminating debt and addressing the HIV/AIDS problem on the continent of Africa.

Pastor Warren is nobly using the platform that he's been given to minister to Africans and help to meet their physical and spiritual needs. According to an article in USA Today, over 1,000 members of his church have traveled to the country of Rwanda (not to mention other countries) in the past three years to volunteer their time for days or months at a time.

However, some question the motives of the mostly middle-to-upper class, white members of Saddleback that have traveled to Rwanda:
"Outsiders professing good intentions are regarded with some suspicion on a continent that has seen its share of failed Western interventions: colonialism in the 19th century, exploitation of natural resources and Cold War meddling in the 20th. But many American programs are paying off with declines in AIDS deaths and poverty rates. African governments also are doing more to encourage peace and economic development.
Nowhere has the transformation been as dramatic as Rwanda, where in 1994 as many as 1 million people were killed in a horrific 100-day spree of ethnic violence. The economy is still recovering — the average wage is less than $1 a day — but visitors to the capital, Kigali, are often shocked by the strides Rwanda has made. The airport is orderly and clean; the streets are safe to walk; and a tourism boom has led to several restaurants opening.
Warren told USA TODAY he believes that, the way things are going, within a few decades, Rwanda could be an oasis of prosperity — "the next Singapore," he says."
Because of the complicated history of the countries of Africa, there will likely always be suspicion when it comes to outsiders traveling to the continent to "help." But this should not stop individuals and churches who desire to help from making themselves available to do so. But we should be mindful to examine our own hearts first and check to make sure that we are seeking to serve and not trying to push our agenda (no matter how good an agenda we may believe it to be) above the needs of those that we are seeking to serve.

There are those that like to knock individuals like Rick Warren who are seeking to make a real difference in the world. But I applaud him for his leadership and his attempts to help make an impact in a part of the world that much of the western Christian world has often neglected. He certainly will have misteps and make his share of mistakes (as we all will), but at least he is trying to influence his world for Christ and make a lasting eternal difference.

For those that fault Rev. Warren and his efforts, I can't help but think of one of my favorite quotes from Teddy Roosevelt:

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."
What are you doing to impact your world?

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