Rwandan President Paul Kagame told a jam-packed crowd at a California event commemorating the 20th anniversary of one of the worst mass slaughters in modern history, that the Central African nation embodies the best and worst of humanity.
"It's obvious to me that our history contains lessons on how human beings can get to the point of destroying themselves and at the same time the progress we've seen in Rwanda shows what human beings are capable of in their best moments," Kagame told the audience Saturday night at Pastor Rick Warren's 37,000-member Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.
Kagame, who is visiting the United States and spoke at Tufts University last week, spoke at an event commemorating the 20th anniversary of the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which more than 1 million Tutsi's and moderate Hutus were killed over three months. Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front stopped the genocide by overthrowing the majority Hutus government that orchestrated the slayings.
Since then, more than 120,000 people have been detained and accused of bearing criminal responsibility for their participation in the killings. While U.S. and British officials point to how Kagame has helped transformed the nation into one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, critics say it's come at the cost of a government that suppresses the opposition and jails its opponents.
Under Kagame's leadership, the nation has undergone a process of reconciliation and is now considered one of the safest countries in Africa. More than 1 million Rwandans have come out of poverty and the World Bank listed Rwanda as "among the ten most improved economies in 2013."
Warren, the bestselling author of "The Purpose Driven Life,"
has worked with Kagame over the past decade through the PEACE Plan – a global movement to mobilize Christians to copy Jesus' model of ministry by addressing the five "global giants" of spiritual emptiness, self-centered leadership, poverty, disease, and lack of education.
After reading "The Purpose Driven Life" in 2004, Kagame sent Warren a letter asking him to "help make Rwanda the first purpose-driven nation and the first national model of the PEACE Plan." Since then, nearly 2,000 Saddleback members – entrepreneurs, investors, doctors, teachers, city planners, contractors and others – have traveled to Rwanda.
These members, along with Warren and PEACE Plan officials, have worked with Kagame's government and thousands of church and private sector leaders to help the nation "come out of the ashes in amazing growth and amazing development," Warren said.
"You may be thinking, ‘Why has Rwanda grown and developed and become such a place of prosperity and safety so fast and in such a short amount of time?' " Warren said. "I mean it's gone from Third World to First World in a generation. Let me give you the reasons in my opinion. No. 1, God has chosen to bless Rwanda because the Rwandans chose to forgive."
Kay Warren, the pastor's wife, said she was amazed at the forgiveness that has taken place.
"Rwanda has a tender place in my heart," she said. "It impacted me, it haunted me and it broke my heart. I knew that I wanted to be a part of the healing of a nation of brave and courageous people."
Kagame said no words could express the gratitude Rwandans "feel to see so many of you gathered here to mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide."
"This moment is important for me and for all Rwandans for it brings us to remember that more than 1 million lives were lost in the genocide and through the strength of the survivors, as well as the resilience of Rwandans, that has kept our nation alive."
One of the reasons why the PEACE Plan has worked so well in Rwanda is because it it's based on Jesus' command to "go and teach them to do everything I've commanded you," Warren said.
"It doesn't say go do it for them," Rick Warren said. "Almost all mission work done by every mission agency … says we are going to come over and do stuff for you. That creates dependency. The philosophy of the PEACE Plan is we don't do anything for you. We teach you to do. People need training, not aid. They don't' need a hand out. They need a hand up."
Based on the success of the PEACE Plan in Rwanda, Warren said leaders of several other African nations have asked him to replicate the success of the PEACE Plan in their countries.
"And in all three cases I said this, ‘No, but I'll send the Rwandans,' Warren said. "And they are up to the task."
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