- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 1, 2006

KIGALI, Rwanda

The road to the Husabyimana home is lined with churches.

From the T-junction in tiny Kibungo, down the single paved road jammed with bicycles, and finally onto the dirt track that disappears into Rwanda’s terraced hills, there are churches of various Christian denominations and a handful of unmarked mud buildings that emit boisterous music from dawn to dusk each Sunday.

There are 36 churches in Kibungo, a frontier town of a few thousand people surrounded by dense banana groves in a corner of Rwanda that leads to Tanzania and Uganda.

The Husabyimana family, six children ranging from toddler to teen, and a widow who survives by planting and harvesting a small garden a third of a mile from her home, walk past most of these churches each Sunday to sit in the pews of the evangelical Good News Church.

Recently, three white women sat among them.

When they left to return to their homes in Southern California, they gave the Husabyimana family a new corrugated roof for the mud-and-cornstalk home the family has been building, piece by piece, since the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

The roof is a small example of a fledgling partnership based on the “Purpose Driven” philosophy, outlined in a popular Christian book that spent more than 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.

“Even where there is no road, where there is no post office, no shop, no supermarket, no Internet, no telephone — even in places where there is none of those, you will find there is a church,” said the Rev. Augustin Ahimana, an Anglican pastor and the lead Rwanda contact for the Purpose Driven missionaries.

“Working through the local churches is like making change from the bottom up,” said Jane Wallace, one of the three missionaries to visit Kibungo.

“Purpose Driven” was created by Rick Warren, who presides over the 30,000-member Saddleback Church that meets on a 120-acre campus in Orange County, Calif.

Rwanda was declared the first “purpose-driven nation” a year ago, after Mr. Warren visited the country in March 2005 at the invitation of Paul Kagame, a rebel leader credited with halting the genocide who is now Rwanda’s president.

Mr. Kagame was moved to write Mr. Warren after reading his book, “The Purpose Driven Life.”

The partnership matches evangelical missionaries with genocide survivors, in the hope that a shared belief in Christ will help repair a broken nation. The key, say the faithful, is the faithful.

“For years and years, governments, businesses and [nongovernmental organizations] have been working hard to tackle these ‘giants,’ but they are not getting anywhere,” Mr. Ahimana said.

Over the year, Rwanda will see more than 30 small groups of Saddleback congregants visit more than 200 Anglican, evangelical, Pentecostal and Presbyterian churches and, in concert with Rwandan congregants, identify the “giants” plaguing the community.

Mr. Warren calls them global giants, what he sees as the “five seeds” of the world’s problems: spiritual emptiness, self-centered leadership, poverty, disease and illiteracy.

Mr. Warren, a fan of the catchy acronym, came up with the PEACE plan to slay those giants. It involves planting churches, equipping leaders, assisting the poor, caring for the sick and educating the next generation.

With the exception of “planting churches,” governments, charities and NGOs have spent decades pouring money and expertise into equipping, assisting, caring for and educating poverty-plagued African communities.

“This is not new, even to us. Rick knows this, and Saddleback knows this,” Mr. Ahimana said.

“If I think of all the things Africans and Rwandans need — from a healthy diet to clean water — discovering Jesus Christ is probably relatively low on the list. After the genocide, people were very skeptical of the church,” Mr. Ahimana said.

During the 1994 massacre, police and politicians are thought to have encouraged scared Tutsis to seek refuge in the churches, which were then used as killing chambers.

At least four priests face war-crimes charges in connection with the genocide, and two nuns were convicted in Belgium of helping slaughter some of the 800,000 Tutsis who were killed during the 100-day genocide.

Yet Rwanda seems perfectly primed for the Purpose Driven plan.

The country, disillusioned by its traditional churches and their role in the genocide, leaped at alternatives preaching reconciliation and forgiveness.

“We had been a religious country, but history proved the opposite,” Mr. Ahimana said.

“We were nominal Christians without a life changed by the Gospel. It was so-called Christians who rose up and killed other Christians. It was church leaders betraying church members. People were butchered in sanctuaries. How can you explain this in a country that was said to be 90 to 94 percent Christian?

“Only because of a superficial faith. There was none of God’s love in people’s hearts, no faith in their hearts,” he said, noting that in the language of Mr. Warren, there was spiritual emptiness.

Because a major component of the PEACE plan is spreading the Purpose Driven message of serving Christ, it has kept Muslims and a few fringe religious groups from joining.

Also, the absence of Catholic support in a country such as Rwanda, where 60 percent of people consider themselves Catholic, is a major hole in the plan.

“It’s a process,” Mr. Ahimana said. “With the PEACE plan, we hope that when it becomes active … the [Catholic] community will come forward and say, ‘Why are we not doing this?’ ”

Rwanda, like most of Africa, lacks industry and infrastructure. The genocide, preceded by years of civil war, left the country nearly destroyed, with a shaky electrical system and chronic water shortages.

There also is a serious lack of professionals.

And although all that may change in a generation or two, the country still must contend with being landlocked, overcrowded and reliant on every square inch of overworked soil to feed its 8 million people.

Rwandans do not expect miracles.

“Saddleback is coming to build relationships, and also to encourage us in our fight for recovery, in our fight for building hope,” Mr. Ahimana said.

“What we need more than anything else, first, is human dignity,” he said.

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