Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, and author of The Purpose Driven Life, announced plans earlier this week at a press conference in Kigali, Rwanda, to host an unprecedented gathering of pastors and church leaders from all 54 African nations in conjunction with a national day of Thanksgiving next year.
The All Africa Purpose Driven Church Congress, which is planned for August 6-10, 2015, will be held during Rwanda Shima Imana, a relatively new celebration in Rwanda, a "Day of Thanksgiving" to celebrate reconciliation and gratitude on the anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.
The conference will be the first of five annual continent-wide conferences to take place by 2020, with the second planned to be held in Latin America in 2016, organizers said.
"I have been to Rwanda many times but this is by far my most important trip," said Warren. "This week I am bringing over 100 leaders from 30 African nations as well as Russia, China, India and the U.S. I want them to see what is happening in this country and to see the growth, development and progress that has been made in both this nation and its churches as we prepare for the 2015 gathering."
Warren explained how the idea for The PEACE Plan was birthed in 2003 while he was speaking in South Africa, but two years later following a call from His Excellency Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda, it became a reality as the country became the first Purpose Driven nation.
"I have been working with and watching the churches of Rwanda for nearly 10 years, and I believe now is the time for them to be a model to the world," Warren said. "It would be just like God to take a small nation like Rwanda on which the world turned its back 20 years ago in its greatest need and use it for God and for good."
Warren emphasized that as leadership training begins this week in Rwanda and continues in 2015 with the continent-wide gathering, it will emphasize reconciliation, with Rwandan leaders sharing their stories of forgiveness and healing following the 1994 genocide, which took the lives of 1 million Rwandans and left 1 million children orphaned over the course of 100 days.
"I believe the secret to Middle East peace is in Rwanda," said Warren. "World leaders should be studying Rwanda. This should be the model."
The 12 pastors who serve on the Rwanda PEACE Plan Board of Directors joined Warren for today's press conference along with eight of more than 25 leaders that serve as Master Trainers for PEACE.
"These men, whether you realize it or not, are world leaders," Warren said. "What they are doing with churches in Rwanda is being watched by churches all around the world."
The PEACE Plan works worldwide to Promote reconciliation, Equip servant leaders, Assist the poor, Care for the sick and Educate the next generation, through a massive effort to mobilize millions of Christians to combat the five global evil giants of spiritual emptiness, self-centered leadership, extreme poverty, pandemic disease and illiteracy/education, according to church officials. Since its founding, Saddleback has sent over 23,000 members to implement The PEACE Plan in all 197 nations of the world.
"Most nations are validated by their strength in exports; Rwanda can become famous for exporting leadership," Warren said. "Rwanda should be the leadership and innovation capital of the continent of Africa. That is why I am calling leaders from across the continent to come to Rwanda next year to learn. The strength of Rwanda is not in the ground; it's in the people."
Through The PEACE Plan in Rwanda, Saddleback Church has worked together with the public, private and faith sectors of the nation – what it calls the three-legged stool of churches, government and businesses – to help lower the poverty rate, empty orphanages, provide healthcare, train pastors and provide education.
"What makes The PEACE Plan unique is that it is done by local churches, in local churches, in the community," said Warren. "I could take you to 10 million villages around the world where the only thing there is the church. The church is the biggest organization on the planet and has most potential to do good if mobilized."
Over 3,200 pastors have completed a three-year intensive training in the purpose-driven PEACE Plan. These churches now offer everything from micro-savings clubs to preschools to programs training farmers how to double their crops on the same amount of land.
The media site AllAfrica.com reports that Rwanda Shima Imana is a national Christian Thanksgiving Day and was "inaugurated in 2012, by Peace Plan, a brainchild of Pastor Warren, with a presence in most Christian churches in Rwanda."
"It is a day when believers come together to thank God for the progress made in the country and the Church so far," according to AllAfrica.
The 3rd annual Thanksgiving crusade is this Sunday (Aug. 17), at the Amahoro stadium. Warren is a member of the Rwanda Presidential Advisory Council and would like to see Rwanda Shima Imana a public holiday, "just as [Thanksgiving] is in some other countries, including the US, Japan, and the Netherlands," reports AllAfrica.
"It is my prayer that this day becomes a national holiday just as it is in some parts of the world," Warren said. "Twenty years after the Genocide, we are now a new Rwanda. We have seen the country develop and have nothing to hold against God, other than celebrating what He has done for our country."
For more information about Saddleback's work in Rwanda or The PEACE Plan, visit http://www.saddleback.com or http://www.thepeaceplan.com. For additional information about Rwanda Shima Imana, visit http://www.shimaimana.rw.