by Robert L. Niklaus
Reports from around the world.
IRIAN JAYA: Resettlement Evangelism
A massive, multi-billion dollar resettlement program is underway in Indonesia. The government is attempting to solve overpopulation on some islands like Java, with 80 million people in an area the size of Arkansas, by transferring people to sparsely settled regions of the 3,000-island nation.
Each family willing to resettle receives about five acres of land, a house, seed for planting, and enough food to last until the first harvest. Thousands of Indonesians are taking advantage of this new homestead program.
The resulting shift in population distribution is likely to effect changes both foreseen and unexpected by the government in Jakarta. "Perhaps nowhere do these changes promise to be more radical than in predominantly Christian Irian Jaya," writes Sharon E. Mumper in Christianity Today.
Only just decades out of a stone-age culture, the Irianese sense keenly the contempt in which they are held by other Indonesians whose culture is reckoned by millenia. Furthermore, for many Irianese who had hoped for independence for their island, or at least some continuing association with their former Dutch colonial masters, the prospects of becoming outnumbered and outclassed on their own island by outsiders have been hard to accept.
The Jakarta regime, however, has little sympathy for such separatist sentiments. The government hopes that through resettlement and intermarriage, Irian Jaya will become more closely integrated with the nation. Some suspect that the massive transfer of predominantly Muslim people is also intended by Jakarta is Islamize the largely Christian island.
Already more than 53,000 live in transmigran villages. Another 700,000 are expected to settle in coastal areas within five years. New homesteaders from Java are arriving by the hundreds every week by plane.
Some mission and church leaders look upon this influx of new people as a rare opportunity for evangelism.
"We are seeing this as one of the greatest challenges of the Christian church," says Roland Hill, chairman of The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM) work in Irian Jaya.
"The church had not been able to go before to minister in Java," he points out. "Now the Lord is bringing two million Muslim people into an area where we can minister to them. We want to prepare the church in every way, helping them to know how to work with these people."
His optimism is something more than whistling in the dark. Response among the newcomers is already greater than Hill and others anticipated. The reason may lie in the fact that many of the transmigrants are only nominal Muslims. Once uprooted from familiar and stable surroundings, they are more open to the gospel than would be otherwise possible.
Mumper also reports in "Christianity Today" that Christians are multiplying and spreading into nearly every province of Indonesia. Even in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital and an Islamic stronghold, Christianity is growing through a house-church movement.
Don Richardson, director of the Institute of Tribal Peoples Studies, says, "More Muslims have turned to Christ in Indonesia since 1965 than in all other Muslim countries since Islam began."
INDIA: Christ for Progress
People have left all to follow Christ for various reasons, but the Amri Karbi of Assam, India, by unanimous tribal council action came up with a rare, if not original, reason: the progress of the tribe.
The Amri Karbi number about 100,000 people spread in 175 villages throughout western Assam. They are among the poorest, least educated people of the region. Their literacy rate of 18.5 percent is the lowest in the region. As a result their welfare has been among the least concerns of local government officials.
Utpal Bordoloi, an Indian reporter, writes in "Global Church Growth:" "The Karbi Anglong district is a scene of perennial neglect. Roads are appallingly poor and travel between villages in the hilly Karbi region is difficult."
It was precisely this grinding poverty that convinced tribal leaders they needed the gospel. Some 260 delegates met in council for more than a year and discussed the move. Although heavily influenced by Hinduism, they collectively and unanimously voted to convert to Christianity. Their reason: for the good of the tribe.
On July 23, 1983, the delegates formed the Amri Baptist Council to welcome any who wanted to embrace Christianity. They resolved that no one converting to Christ would be hindered or subjected to social boycott.
The tribal leaders settled upon Christianity because the missionaries among them were tribal people like themselves. Pona and Teresa Ao had been sent by the Nagaland Baptist Church Council to evangelize the Amri Karbi in 1982. The Aos did not hesitate to tell the Amri that conversion to Christ would bring progress and development to the tribe.
Changki Ao, Naga headman, visited the region and gave this witness: "We were like you-poor, backward, and uneducated. In fact, we were even worse off until we became Christians. We were called naked Nagas, the headhunters.
"But look at our condition now," he said. "We are the most progressive tribals in India. We can tell you from experience that if you, as tribals, want to advance in India, you must convert to the Christian faith; you must accept Jesus Christ."
In one year Pona and Teresa Ao led 797 Amri to Christ, reached 27 villages, planted six churches, and started five primary schools. Some families were deeply divided over the new faith; in some instances converts were disowned, spit upon, and socially ostracized.
Probably the worst incident took place on Easter Sunday, 1984. About 50 Christians were meeting in their thatched chapel when they were surrounded by non-Christian Amri. Forced to leave the chapel, they watched the structure hacked to pieces and then torched.
But Bordoloi reports that opposition seems to be waning, as educational and medical facilities begin to take root in Armri towns. Each of the five primary schools has about 100 children in attendance; they are taught by Amri teachers who receive food and a small income from the villagers.
Pona Ao sees education as a priority for the Amri, who, he says, have become "people of the Book." He plans to set up more schools and teach English to the children.
Bordoloi concludes, "The Amri Karbi resolved to receive Christ ‘for the progress of the tribe.’ If the schools are any indication, this progress will come about. The Amri people saw Christianity as their only hope for improving their lives. All other avenues had failed.
"Their conversion, in a real sense, has been a revolt against backwardness, exploitation by high-caste Hindus, official neglect, and social deprivation. By converting, they are gaining dignity and self-respect. In the fullest sense of the word, Jesus Christ has become their Savior."
PERU: Crossfire Casualties
Christians living in Peru’s south-central state of Ayacucho must see a grim coincidence between their plight and the word ayacucho, which in the Quechua language means "corner of the dead." They seem to be cornered in a deadly crossfire between a Maoist guerrilla group called Sendero Luminoso ("The Shining Path") and President Belaunde Terry’s troops sent to crush the rebels.
Last July, Shining Path terrorists bombed and machine-gunned a Pentecostal church, leaving six believers dead and many wounded. Two weeks later government soldiers dragged six men out of a Presbyterian church and shot them on false charges as terrorists.
There seems to be no neutral ground for Christians in Ayacucho. "World Christian" reports that as of February "between 3,000 and 4,000 people died in Ayacucho, and even the peasants who refuse to take a stand are accused of sympathizing with ‘the other side’ by government and guerrillas alike. Evangelicals have become specific targets of the guerrillas because many are community leaders, and of the soldiers because they suspect that guerrillas have infiltrated their churches."
Just as the plight of believers in Ayacucho seems to fit a pattern repeated elsewhere, the response of Peru’s evangelical community also serves as an example of what Christians can do.
The National Evangelical Council of Peru (CONEP) formed the "Peace and Hope Commission" to promote prayer and material help for the crossfire casualties in the war zone. The commission called for a week of prayer in behalf of the people of Ayacucho, initiated a fund to purchase food, clothing,. and medicines for needy families and individuals, and sought relocation sites for refugees.
A team of pastors went to the contested area to conduct a seminar on themes the local congregations would find helpful as they faced tremendous pressures both from terrorists and government forces. The team had expected 30 church leaders would show up; the seminar drew over 300 church and lay leaders.
Believers who have chosen to stay in Ayacucho are finding unusual openness to the gospel that seems to rise in direct proportion to the level of danger. The violence, however, has taken a toll of the number of churches. One denomination has dropped from 80 to 40 churches, and another from 40 to 15, according to John Maust in the January 11, issue of "Pulse."
Shining Path activities have not been limited to Ayacucho. They threatened to kill evangelist Luis Palau if he did not leave Peru within 24 hours. To underline the threat, the terrorists blew up seven high-tension towers, plunging Lima, the capital, into darkness for an evening.
Palau pondered the threat and decided to go ahead with his city campaign. God honored his decision: some 250,000 people attended the eight-day crusade, with about 40,000 people filling the stadium for the closing day. The 3,000 people who responded to the invitation for salvation that day were the most he had ever seen in a campaign.
GREECE: David vs. Goliath
Somewhat reminiscent of the face-off between David and Goliath, the miniscule evangelical community of Greece, (about 20,000) is challenging both the Greek Orthodox Church (about 97 percent of the nation’s nine million population) and its legal guardian, the leftist-leaning government of Andreas Papandreou.
The battle ground is a familiar one to the Christians: religious freedom.
The confrontation was triggered earlier this year when a Greek evangelist and two missionaries were sentenced by a Greek court to three and a half years in prison for proselytism. The sentence is the most severe for this offense ever handed down by a judge since Greek independence in 1827.
This was not the first harsh treatment by the courts in recent days. Just two weeks earlier an evangelical lay pastor was named in a separate indictment for starting a congregation without official permission.
In two other cases still pending, evangelical workers are under indictment by the state for unauthorized showings of the film "Jesus."
Being pushed around by an escalating campaign against their very existence, the evangelicals have resorted to some shoving of their own. The Pan-Hellenic Evangelical Alliance is not limiting itself merely to defending the Christian workers under sentence of the court. It is seeking to overturn the laws by which manifestly unjust procedings can take place in a nation that calls itself enlightened, freedom-loving, and a respecter of the Helsinki Human Rights Accord.
"Those laws [against proselytizing] were pushed through during the 1938-39 Metaxas regime after the monarchy was restored and before World War II occupation," according to a World Evangelical Fellowship news release. "The Greek Orthodox Church pressed for, and obtained, statutes that introduced many restrictions for all religious minorities and made it difficult to carry out any ministries off church properties."
The Pan-Hellenic Alliance leaders believed that the laws, enacted during an undemocratic era of Greece’s history, are in contradiction to the nation’s constitutional guarantee of religious freedom. They also strongly suspect the escalation of legal proceedings against the evangelicals is being orchestrated behind the scenes by the Anti-heresy Department of the Greek Orthodox Church.
An encyclical of the Blessed Archbishopric of Athens and all of Greece, published in "Ecclesiastical Truth," bi-monthly newspaper of the church, urged that clergy seek to identify all "possible religious meetings within the boundaries of the parish," and provide names and addresses to church authorities of all persons who claim "enlightenment" or "salvation."
One of the evangelical workers under sentence is a lay preacher convicted of leading unauthorized church services. Eleftherios Salonikas and his group of believers had applied three years ago for permission to meet as a church. Such a petition must be approved not only by the local police, but also by the area Orthodox bishop. Not surprisingly, the petition went unanswered.
Six months ago Salonikas and the congregation applied for and secured authorization from another government agency to organize as an association, an alternative successfully used by other church groups. But when they met to worship, the leader was arrested and subsequently found guilty of starting a church without permission.
In another case, a Greek evangelist and two missionaries were convicted of attempting to convert a minor, an especially serious offense. The situation began in 1980 when Youth with a Mission (YWAM) docked their mercy ship Anastasis at a Greek port for refitting. Sixteen-year-old Kostos Kotopoulos began visiting some of the YWAM staff to practice conversational English. He became interested in the gospel and was converted. Crew members gave him a New Testament and directed him to a Greek evangelist, Costas Macris, who was holding youth meetings in Athens.
The boy’s estranged mother filed suit against Macris, who is also director of the Hellenic Missionary Union (HMU), and against Don Stevens and Allan Williams, both associated with YWAM’s maritime ministry.
Although the boy visited the ship on his own initiative and with his father’s approval, the three men were convicted of subverting the youth from the Orthodox faith. And although the boy never stayed on board the ship, they were also convicted of trying to take the boy away from his parents.
Even more recent legal actions against evangelicals evolve around the film showing of "Jesus." Although film teams had secured permission from town mayors, indictments were filed against them because the Ministry of Cultural Affairs had not given a special authorization. HMU’s Macris was again named in the indictment, as was Apostalos D. Bliatus, general secretary of the Pan-Hellenic Evangelical Alliance and director of Campus Crusade in Greece.
The three men already sentenced to prison and fined $900 each are free pending an appeal to a higher court. The hearing may be delayed for months because of a backlog in the courts.
In its struggle with the state church and judicial system the minority evangelicals (one-tenth percentage point of the population) can expect little encouragement from the Papandreou government. The Socialist Party, up for re-election in October, will need all the Orthodox votes it can get-especially since the prime minister has alienated part of the electorate by going out of his way to put down the United States and assert that Greece has much in common with the non-Western (Communist) world.
Counterpoint to these undeniable political realities stands the equally obvious fact that Greece still has on its law books some vestiges of an unsavory era totally out of character with its modern constitutional rule.
Will the "Cradle of Democracy" affirm freedom of religion or bend to political expediency? The smart money is on politics, but then, there was this little David. . . .
WORLD: Massive Growth
"The twentieth century would have startled all earlier Christian observers by the sheer magnitude of its numerical increase," reports David B. Barrett, Anglican statistician and editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia.
His "Annual Statistical Table on Global Missions 1985," published in the "International Bulletin of Missionary Research," has surprises in almost every category:
The number of unevangelized people in the world has dropped by 45.3 million in the last five years, leaving an unevangelized population of 1.3 billion, or 27.9 percent.
Christians by whatever name or creed have risen by 115.9 million since 1980, bringing the total Christian population to 1.5 billion, or 32.4 percent of the world’s peoples.
Of the total Christian community, 1.4 billion are affiliated church members, an increase of 10.2 million in the last five years.
Other world religions have also grown since 1980: Muslims added 94 million adherents for a new total of 817 million; Hindus now number 648 million, a gain of 64.8 million; Buddhists added 22 million to claim 296 million followers.
Christian foreign mission-sending agencies grew by 400 since 1980 to a current total of 3,500; these missions have fielded 250,000 foreign missionaries, a net average increase of only 200 over each of the last five years; national church workers are up by 550,000 to total 3.5 million.
In the same period service agencies grew by 1,000 to 19,300 organizations; institutions increased at an even greater rate: by 5,000 since 1980 to a total of 96,000.
Giving to Christian causes of all kinds reached $127 billion, but of that total, only $7 billion went to global foreign missions.
Barrett’s survey includes some items of information not religious in nature but of direct importance to missions. For example, urban dwellers increase by one million per week; 310 million new readers join the ranks of the literates per month.
Among the service agencies working with Christian missions are the media specialists:
Christian broadcasting soared from zero in 1900 to 1,580 radio and television stations with a listening/viewing audience of 1,090 million in 1985; the projected audience by A.D. 2000 is projected to be 2,150 million.
43 million Bibles were produced and distributed by 1985, an increase of 6.2 million since 1980.
New titles of Christian books reached 62,000 by this year, but religious periodicals dropped from 22,500 titles in 1980 to 21,000.
Surveying this growth of global ministries, and no doubt anticipating the application of new technology, Barrett asks, "What totally new surprises of this type, completely unknown and unexpected, can God have in store for the work of the 21st century?"
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