"For the last couple of days, I've been spending a lot of time following up on this incident, this unfortunate incident," said Lee, adding that some locals following Saddleback Hong Kong's Facebook page have reached out to him to express their offense to the Red Guard image.
Noting that Pastor Warren apologized for posting the image after learning of its history, Lee agreed that the image was "culturally highly insensitive." He reiterated, however, that the purpose of Saddleback Hong Kong was to serve the local community and be sensitive to its needs.
"For those people who know us, they fully understand that we are helping them," said Lee. He invited those concerned about Saddleback Hong Kong's presence to attend the first service "to see for themselves."
"Saddleback Hong Kong is not focusing (on) the international citizen, but really looking to build up the local church in Hong Kong," he repeated. "I believe that we need a lot of prayer and support from around the world."
Empowering Local Churches
"We really believe the local church is the hero, so we empower the local church…," said Davidson, Saddleback's PEACE pastor tasked with overseeing the global elements of international church planting and engaging unengaged people groups.
"It's really doing what Jesus did when he came," he said of the PEACE Plan, adding that Jesus met people wherever their needs were. "He encountered people who were hungry. He fed them. He encountered people who were sick. He healed everybody who came to him. He encountered people who were spiritually lost, and he preached the Good News to them."
He added, "The PEACE Plan is about ordinary people like me and you being empowered by God making a difference together wherever we are … whether it's locally, in your hometown, your neighbor across the street, or globally. It's about giving people a hand-up because God made people with dignity. … The PEACE Plan is about giving people tools to help themselves."
The PEACE Plan, publicly promoted by Warren since 2003 and brought to Rwanda in 2005 at the invitation of President Paul Kagame, rests on the engagement of local churches in ministry and social justice. The plan involves planting churches, equipping servant leaders, assisting the poor, caring for the sick and educating the next generation — to counter what Warren calls the "global Goliaths" — spiritual emptiness, egocentric leadership, extreme poverty, pandemic diseases, and illiteracy and lack of education.
Davidson, founder and former pastor of Highlands Fellowship in Abingdon, Va., said the "12 Cities" vision came out of Pastor Warren's desire for to "finish the Great Commission."
"These campuses are spread all over the world, and they're accessible," he added. "The pastors who live in China [could get to the Hong Kong Campus] or the ones who live in the Philippines could get to the Manila campus, or the ones in Japan [the Tokyo campus] or the ones in India could get to the Bangalore campus, the ones in the Middle East could probably get to the Amman campus. So we want to train pastors how to plant a church among unbelievers in their areas, and eventually an unengaged people group."
"We know," said Davidson, "the only way the Great Commission is going to be finished is for God's body all over the world to engage and do this."
Warren, as expressed in the earlier statement, is committed to using his influence to encourage and call on other churches to press into Jesus' command to his followers in Matthew 28:16-20 to "go and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."
"The goal would be by the summer 2020 that there would no more unengaged people groups," added Davidson, who pointed to the Revelation 7:9 description of a multiethnic and multinational body of worshippers in heaven. "We don't know when the last person is going to hear about Jesus, but when they do, Jesus says he's coming back for the church. So we're going to do our part to make sure every tribe has a witness."
As for why Hong Kong, Buenos Aires and Berlin were the first of the 12 "gateway" cities set for launch, Davidson said it was a matter of how God provided leaders for each campus. In addition to the churches launching this month, pastors have already emerged for Saddleback Moscow and Saddleback Manilla, the later of which Davidson said would launch in July 2014. The Moscow campus launch date has yet to be determined.
"My role is basically to train," he added, noting that various Saddleback ministry teams are also involved, with aspects such as worshipping "the Saddleback way, the Jesus model of ministry," working with the youth, and effective communication and first impressions.
Pastor Warren, who visited Rwanda in relation to the PEACE Plan last month, plans to visit each Saddleback global campus "to teach, encourage and do training," Davidson explained. "He's very much involved," he added.
Asked to name a sign of success for these first Saddleback global church campuses, Davidson said the primary one would be "bringing people into the fellowship of God's family" and seeing lives changed.
As for possible failure?
"Rick says failure is [not] not having succeeded," said Davidson,"It's basically not even willing to try, giving up."
The Saddleback PEACE pastor echoed his own remark when considering Pastor Warren's lofty vision of completing the Great Commission.
"I love the fact that this guy would be bold enough to stand up and say, 'let's go after it, let's do what he (Jesus) said, let's try.'"
"You know what, if we don't get that done in our lifetime, put on our tombstones 'at least we tried,'" he added. "We're going to give it our best to do what Jesus said and we believe the Lord is going to help us."
"We love people. That's why we do what we do," he added.
Of the nearly 7,000 unreached groups in the world (the U.S. and Canada have 541), the Global Research Department (GRD) of the International Mission Board estimates that 2,987 of these people groups living within populations that are less than 2 percent Evangelical Christian are "unengaged." These groups are considered "engaged" when a "church planting methodology consistent with Evangelical faith and practice" is implemented.