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Religious Freedom, Development and Interfaith Dialogue Collide: A Reflection on Pastor Rick Warren at Georgetown

Everyday I am reminded that my interests, although seemingly disparate, are all connected in a larger narrative. I never thought that my interest in religion and interfaith dialogue would intersect with my passion for global health and healthcare infrastructure issues. That all changed when I heard Pastor Rick Warren speak at Georgetown last week. Walking into Gaston Hall, I honestly did not know what to expect from this event. I did not know very much about Pastor Warren, only that he had written a bestselling book and that he was the pastor of a large congregation in California.
I immediately realized what a charismatic personality Pastor Warren has and I became excited to listen to him talk about religious freedom. When I think of religious freedom, I always think of it in connection to faith, belief, and practice, but I do not usually associate religious freedom with societal development. I know that in many countries, the majority of hospitals and clinics were started and are still maintained by churches and other religious organizations, but I had never really thought about the crucial role these organizations have in the development of healthcare systems.

About half an hour into Pastor Warren’s talk, the discussion took a turn straight into this territory when the discussion facilitator, Professor Timothy Shah, asked Pastor Warren about his work in Rwanda. Pastor Warren talked about how there is a sector of society that is often overlooked, but that has major impacts on the societal development: the faith sector. In some countries, the only institutions that have a presence in the small villages that the majority of the population in developing countries lives in are faith-based. These organizations can universally distribute treatment and medication, and they have the ability to do extremely important work, as long as the country that they are located in has a high tolerance for religious liberty. Pastor Warren specifically talked about his organization’s initiative in Rwanda, where they trained healthcare workers that were sent to them by both Catholic pastors and Muslim imams. His project has now trained and certified over seven thousand healthcare workers that live in a western province in Rwanda that was served by only one doctor when they arrived two years ago. His perspective on this issue was enlightening and I knew after listening to him that I would never think about healthcare infrastructure in developing countries in the same way.

I left the event in a state of semi-shock. In addition to talking about the intersection of religion and development issues, Pastor Warren was even promoting interfaith collaboration! It was almost too much for me to handle. How was this man, who did not even know me, able to pinpoint one of my interests and expose me to an entirely new side of an issue that I believed there were no more sides left to explore? I know that Pastor Warren was not speaking directly to me, but his talk will stay with me moving forward and continue to inform my perspective on issues surrounding healthcare infrastructure in developing countries. It just goes to show that you never know who will change your perspective on the issues that you care most deeply or who will help you to link all of your interests together and to find that one point where everything intersects.

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