The president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, spoke at a special service in California's Saddleback Church to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, thanking Pastor Rick Warren and his congregation for helping rebuild the East African nation through their ministry called The PEACE Plan.
"We remember the more than a million lives we lost in the genocide. We honor the strength of survivors, as well as the resilience of Rwandans, that has kept our nation alive," Kagame said at the event Saturday.
The 1994 genocidal mass slaughter of Tutsi and moderate Hutu by members of the Hutu majority "destroyed Rwanda's social fabric which had been deliberately damaged over decades," the president said, according to a release by his office. "Our work as a new nation in the last twenty years, has been about restoring social cohesion and the dignity of Rwandans."
Kagame, who is from the Tutsi ethnic group and has been in control of Rwanda since his rebel army ended the genocide, learned about Pastor Warren and his church after reading his book, The Purpose Driven Church, about 11 years ago. The President found it so moving that he wrote to Warren, seeking help in making Rwanda the first "purpose-driven" nation and the first national model of Saddleback's The PEACE Plan.
As a result, Saddleback has sent more than 2,000 members to serve in Rwanda.
Rwanda was once a Catholic-majority country. But after the genocide, evangelical churches began to grow, as sections of the clergy in the nation's Catholic Church were accused of colluding with the killers.
"During the genocide, almost every church betrayed its divine mission," President Kagame said, according to a release by Saddleback Church. "Rwandans sought refuge in the church only to be betrayed. But today, things are different. Thank you, Saddleback members, for providing a meaningful partnership. Faith in God is once again a sense of comfort for many Rwandans."
Pastor Warren is a member of the Presidential Advisory Council formed by Kagame, who is officially identified as a Roman Catholic.
"Human dignity and aspirations are the same for every human being, the president said. "In Rwanda, we sank so low, we couldn't go any lower. Our only choice was to move up. We look back and say we deserve better and we can do better."
While his opponents accuse him of being authoritarian, Kagame is widely credited with bringing economic growth to the country, which was named the world's top reformer in the World Bank's Doing Business Report 2010.
"I have never met a leader like Paul Kagame, he is an uncommon leader in an uncommon country," Pastor Warren said, introducing him to the congregation. "When the nation of Rwanda was destroyed to ashes, people said it can't be done. But it was done and Rwanda confounded its critics. Rwanda has chosen forgiveness. They are not denying the pain, they are willing to work together and move forward."
The pastor attributed the progress in that nation to God. "God chose a nation the world turned its back on during its darkest hour to give the world a new model."
The past should be remembered, Warren added. "More than 2,000 years ago, another nation by the name of Israel was torn by war and everyone thought its days were over. But God raised up a business leader, government leader and spiritual leaders to restore the country. God knew it would take all three sectors to rebuild the nation. In this same way, Rwanda has been rebuilt."
Pastor Warren's wife, Kay, also spoke at the event. "When we first visited Rwanda, we had no idea what we were doing or what we had to give, but we brought what we knew, which was the love of Christ," she recalled.
Saddleback's "PEACE" ministry is an acronym for "Promote reconciliations, Equip servant leaders, Assist the poor, Care for the sick and Educate the next generation." It mobilizes Christians to attack the five global evil giants of spiritual emptiness: self-centered leadership, extreme poverty, pandemic disease and illiteracy/education.