Rick Warren, pastor of the Southern Baptist mega-church Saddleback Church in southern California, recently testified at a Senate hearing on global health problems. And what he had to say in that 9 minute testimony was pretty incredible.
At the beginning of his remarks, he explained that he’s also the founder of the Global Peace Plan, “which has sent teams to 197 countries,” which, he pointed out, is 57 more than the number of countries that have been served by the Peace Corps. He said that 24,869 people have been sent just from his church alone.
While he acknowledged that there’s been a lot of progress in recent years towards the eradication of diseases like malaria and HIV/AIDS, the world shouldn’t let up in its efforts. He argued that the less than 1% of the federal budget that the U.S. puts towards foreign assistance is some of the best spent money in the budget. Not only is it “life or death” for million of people, he said, but it helps make friends for the U.S..
“When America saves the lives of dying people from preventable diseases, we make friends – that’s obvious. And around the world I’ve often been told, ‘Please thank Americans for PEPFAR, it saved my husband’s life, it saved my wife’s life, my children’s life, it kept our family from economic disaster, and we will always be grateful, and we pray for you.'”
He also said the U.S. needs to rethink how it partners with other groups, especially local churches. “The actual number of people without faith is quite small outside of Manhattan and parts of Europe,” he said, eliciting laughs. “Most people have a faith.”
So, he said, those fighting disease around the world need to mobilize churches. “I could take you to 10 million villages around the world, the only thing in it is a church. In much of the world, the church is the only social sector outside of the capital.”
He then gave an example from a western province of Rwanda. The area only had three hospitals (two of which were faith-based), and most of the population was within a two day’s walk. There were 18 clinics (16 of which were faith-based), and most of the population was within a day’s walk. The same area also had over 600 churches. “Now where would you like to get your healthcare?” he asked rhetorically. “Two days walk? One days walk? Or give minute walk?”
He said Melinda Gates came up to him after giving a presentation on this once, and said, “I get it Rick, the church could be the distribution center for healthcare.” His response? “Melinda, it has been for 2000 years. Let’s put this in perspective: the Church invented the hospital.”
Here’s a video of his full remarks (it’s definitely worth the watch!):
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