NAIROBI, Kenya — The American evangelical pastor Rick Warren, who visited Rwanda this week, told The Associated Press that he hopes to expand his ministry to East Africa.
"I could take you to 10 million villages in the world, and the only thing in them is a church," Warren said in a phone interview from Kigali, Rwanda's capital. "The biggest organization on the planet is the Christian church. (East African countries) have the equivalent population of about half of Europe. If they work together, there's great possibility."
The conservative pastor addressed a big rally in Kigali on Sunday during thanksgiving celebrations to mark 20 years since the genocide in which more than 800,000 Rwandans were killed. Warren's speech capped off a week-long leadership gathering in Kigali that was attended by Christian leaders from 35 countries.
A bigger meeting dubbed the All Africa Purpose Driven Church Congress —an evangelical Christian conference that Warren says will include leaders from all of Africa's 54 countries— is planned for next year in Rwanda.
Warren's Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, has been working in Rwanda since 2004 after Rwandan President Paul Kagame read Warren's best-selling book "The Purpose Driven Life." Since then more than 1,200 members of the church have come to Rwanda as volunteers, especially in education and health care.
Citing Rwanda as a model for stability, Warren said the central African country has since its genocide has "figured out a way for people to live together in reconciliation."
In Africa, Warren has long urged a "three-legged stool" approach in which the church, business and the government work together to build stable institutions. But the cleric is a controversial figure in the eyes of some critics, especially over his stand on social issues like gay rights in the U.S. and in Africa.