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PEACE Is Cause for Church’s Celebration

Times Staff Writer

As a resident of south Orange County, Ron Wilbur couldn’t imagine how he would be able to help a remote village in Kenya.

But his pastor asked, so the longtime Saddleback Church member volunteered to fly across the globe to bring healthcare, food and God to Africa.

Wilbur, of Rancho Santa Margarita, is one of 4,500 charter members of a program officially unveiled Sunday by Pastor Rick Warren at the 25th-anniversary celebration of the Lake Forest church.

The milestone drew 30,000 to Angel Stadium in Anaheim for an afternoon of sermons, prayer and upbeat Christian music, with the centerpiece being the launch of Warren’s PEACE plan. The acronym stands for planting churches, equipping leaders, assisting the poor, caring for the sick and educating the next generation.

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“Even for those of us who aren’t rich, we’re all beginning to understand that we can do something about the world’s problems,” Wilbur, who owns a marketing firm, said in an interview in the dugout as the church choir sang on the field.

Small groups within Saddleback’s 20,000-member congregation are to adopt a village from a list supplied by the church and determine how best to help the residents by such activities as raising money for medicine, loaning money to start businesses and finding schoolteachers.

During the service, Warren spoke from a stage erected on second base, with a backdrop of hundreds of singers in green T-shirts in the bleachers.

Although other groups and governments have tried to launch initiatives similar to the PEACE plan, Warren said, the only one with the power to succeed is the network of thousands of Christian churches around the world.

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“God is going to use you to change the world,” he told his audience.

Warren, whose book “The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?” jumped to the top of bestseller lists again recently when a woman held hostage in Atlanta read it to her captor after he allegedly killed two people, flew in Rwandan President Paul Kagame for the event.

Kagame praised the PEACE plan for its straightforwardness.

“It is practical, and it is simple in its strategy,” he said, “because it is built on using average people rather than the rich.”

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Other Saddleback members who participate will use the model provided by Wilbur, 56, and the dozens of others who have participated in pilot programs over the last 18 months.

Wilbur first flew to Kenya five months ago with his wife and four other people for an eight-day assessment mission to visit the village they had pledged to help and gauge its needs. They chose the village from a Saddleback-provided list of about 300 around the world, feeling a connection to Kenya after once playing host to two pastors from that country in their home.

Village elders told them that about seven out of 10 children die before their fifth birthdays, most of them due to unclean drinking water, Wilbur said.

“Their needs were so desperate,” he said, “that it broke our hearts.”

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Within months, he and the rest of the group had raised $2,700 in garage sale proceeds to buy medicine for the village and returned three weeks ago. By the end of their visit, he said, they had persuaded church leaders from a nearby town to take the village under its wing. And hundreds of mud blocks had been gathered to build the village’s first church.

The program that Warren has been describing to his churchgoers for months now is still inspiring to hear about, said service attendee Carolyn Cobb of Lake Forest, who was first baptized by Warren in a backyard spa in 1991.

“He’s not afraid to stand up there and say, ‘We’re going to change the world,’ ” said Cobb, 63. “I have no doubt this will work.”


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