Illustration by Randall Nelson
2013 Volunteer Hall of Fame: Arthur Rouner
Day job: Reverend doctor, and retired head minister at the Colonial Church of Edina Volunteerism: Christian Volunteers of Minnesota
Imagine a starving family traveling miles on foot, losing loved ones along the way to exhaustion and famine, all in search of nourishment and a better life. Now imagine two enemies sitting a few feet from one another praying for forgiveness and peace.
Arthur Rouner has witnessed both of these situations. Rouner was a minister when he and 17 other people from five local churches founded Christian Volunteers of Minnesota in the 1990s, after traveling to Africa in 1982 to provide food and care to starving Ethiopians. “We helped with the famine for 12 years,” Rouner says. In 1994, the focus moved to Rwanda, where a different kind of aid was in order. “With the genocide, the work shifted to the great lakes of Africa, where we worked exclusively with healing work: reconciliation and peacemaking.”
Rouner is retired now, but he’s still committed to the organization, the cause, and the mission trips that help soothe the deepest hurts imaginable by gathering leaders of feuding tribes together.
“People affected by genocide live with that trauma. It affects their whole life. The priests and leaders who are affected are collected and sent to us for three days,” Rouner says. Groups of as many as 30 people sit in a circle, tell their stories, discuss forgiveness, and pray. “It’s quite an experience when your enemy comes and joins in a prayer for you,” he says. At the end, they wash one another’s feet, cleansing past sins to create a new start.
Rouner’s work has inspired others. “Christian Volunteers of Minnesota has spawned a number of other organizations, including the Children’s Center that offers support to African orphanages and schools,” he says.
The healing is happening here, too. “Minnesota has become a new home for African refugees," Rouner says. "We’ve already had 14 three-day healing retreats with people who have come to Minnesota from Ethiopia and South Sudan.”