by Sharon Mumper
Important news stories from the world of missions.
Papua New Guinea: Witness from Prison
"We’re freer than you." How does a group of convicted felons witness to community leaders? In Papua New Guinea they invite them to a celebration on the prison grounds, where through skits, testimonies, and songs they freedom In Jesus Christ.
But the witness doesn’t end in the prison yard.
"Ex-convicts are going to government ministers and telling them the only way they can change the country is to turn and accept Jesus," says John Toguata, chief superintendent of police and a provincial police commander who is also associate pastor of Christian Revival Crusade church in Papua New Guinea.
The country, he says, needs changing. Less than half of Papua New Guineans complete six years of school. Only a fraction go on to college. Rising unemployment, too-rapid urbanization, escalating crime, and enormous political problems, including what is virtually a civil war in one province, has brought many government leaders to the end of their resources.
The Christian prisoners and ex-convicts are credible witnesses, says Toguata. For a few years now, Papua New Guinea prisons have experienced what can only be called revival. In some prisons, half of the prisoners have become Christians.
Prison ministry outreaches have up around the country. One of the leading ministries, says Toguata, is the Tanibel Project, led by evangelist and pastor Charles Lapa. Although the program has been in existence eight years, it has seen its greatest growth in the last two or three years.
Outreaches led by converted prisoners and ex-convicts target prisons, recently released convicts, and unemployed youth. They have begun a "Jesus Center," with halfway houses and other facilities. Eventually, they would like to establish such centers in every major city in the country.
Their work and that of others has drawn the attention of government leaders frustrated by rising crime and violence. Increasingly Christians are being given the opportunity to tell why their rehabilitation efforts succeed where government programs fail.
For many government officials it is no surprise. "The Lord is moving mightily in the upper echelon of government," says Toguata. "Supreme court justices are being born again, as well as government ministers, senior public officials, and people in the police force and army."
Even in the province wracked by civil war God is moving mightily, says Toguata. "Christians are ministering to rebels. In the midst of anarchy, revival is taking place."
In the last few years, revival has filled churches and increased their number, with Pentecostal churches and those affected by the charismatic movement growing most rapidly.
Papua New Guinea for years has been at least nominally Christian. New believers have come primarily from the ranks of mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. As a result, there has been some tension-and in some cases outright hostility-between these churches and the rapidly growing evangelical and Pentecostal churches.
In July, a priest in a predominantly Roman Catholic village incited parishioners to bum a local church begun by, among others, ex-convicts whose enthusiastic witness was making an impact in the community. Church leaders were severely beaten, says Toguata. Unfortunately, he says, this kind of opposition is not uncommon.
It can also occur within the prisons. But even there, official opposition has its limits. In one place, says Toguata, prison officers who tried to hamper the prison ministry were converted after the witness of prisoners.
Media Ministries Gather Momentum
In a Muslim republic in the former Soviet Union, Christians form a chapter of the Fellowship of Artists for Cultural Evangelism. In a town in France, Christian Berbers from North Africa prepare a radio program for broadcast into their homeland. In Hong Kong, an evangelistic outreach to teenagers decides to publish three new books a month.
Throughout the world, Christians eager to communicate the gospel are aggressively seizing the media opportunities at hand, using tools ranging from mime and Indian classical dance to postcard-size antennas and microchip audio players.
Yet, Christians have hardly tapped the potential of the communications media. Some of that potential as well as the richness and diversity of the means used by Christian communicators today was on display when some 500 participants from 63 countries assembled in Sheffield, England, in September for a conference of the International Christian Media Commission (ICMC). ICMC was formed in 1986 as a network for Christians to engage in dialogue on communications issues and to explore ways to work together to communicate Christ.
Gathering under the banner, "The Word in the World; Communicating Christ Together," Christians in print, radio, video, film, television, and the traditional arts met to share ideas and resources, discuss issues, hone communication skills, and seek ways to cooperate.
It was a media bazaar. Participants told of a sophisticated new studio in central India now producing Christian videos for one of the world’s largest video consuming nations. A New Zealand publisher related how his magazine is distributed to hundreds of thousands. There were stories of the impact of mime, drama, music, and dance troupes from North America to Indonesia.
But it was more than a media fair. Participants identified and discussed the problems that limit, hinder, or render ineffective much of Christian communication.
Lack of adequate funding is a major problem, conferees agreed. One answer, said some participants, is increased cooperation and partnership designed to share costs, avoid duplication of efforts, and maximize re-suits. Meeting informally in affinity groups during the conference, some participants formed new cooperative projects or laid the groundwork for exploratory efforts.
Western media was seen by some as domination the world at the expense of local media ministries; there were calls for more cooperation with local broadcasters and greater cultural sensitivity. All groups, in fact, were challenged to communicate in more culturally sensitive ways, especially when working cross-culturally. Participants recognized in-increased training as a real need in order to improve the professional quality of Christian communications; some church leaders admitted to being embarrassed by the poor quality of much of the church’s communication.
Participants were chided for failing to develop programs and materials for evangelism. Most media efforts, speakers noted, were geared to meet the needs of Christians, rather than non-Christians.
It is obvious the full potential of the media has not yet been exploited. Nevertheless, the church can be heartened by the diversity, creativity, and energy present in today’s media ministries around the world.
Repentance in Beirut
There is no electricity, water, telephone, mail, or public transportation in Beirut. But, after 16 years of war, the citizens of Beirut are emerging from their bomb shelters to rebuild their lives and homes. Little by little things are getting back to normal. Whatever that is.
Lucien Accad, director of the Bible Society in Lebanon, has lost his home and furniture six times. There is some hope for his present home, though considering the country’s tragic record, certainly no guarantees.
There is considerably more hope, he says, for the church in Lebanon. The pre-war evangelical population has been decimated by emigration. Despite this, the churches are overflowing as nominal Christians come to faith. Even the mainline churches have been experiencing renewal.
Much of the renewal has been centered around study of the Bible.
"There is a fresh interest in studying the Bible," says Accad. In the last decade, 500,000 New Testaments in Today’s Arabic Version alone were distributed in Lebanon among both Muslims and Christians.
At one time, Lebanon was a center of missionary activity. The last foreign missionaries left three or four years ago. Nevertheless, the church has survived and even blossomed.
"It was a big loss for us and for the country, because they were excellent missionaries," says Accad. "But I think the Lord wanted to teach us to fly with our own wings. In some ways, I feel the situation now is healthier."
During the years of warfare and uncertainty, Christians were forced to depend on the Lord, rather than on their own strength, says Accad. As a direct result of those difficult years Christians are more willing to work together; denominational labels have become less important.
They are especially irrelevant to the young people who have flooded into many of the churches, and in some places are now taking over leadership.
The young people are a source of encouragement to older leaders.
"They have discovered the power of prayer," says Accad. "I know many young people who spend nights in prayer; who have times of fasting and prayer. We have seen the sick healed and people delivered from all sorts of things."
Nevertheless, those who will influence the country’s future face daunting obstacles. Besides the shattered infrastructure, the torn families and devastated lives, there is the failing economy. Five years ago, one U.S. dollar bought 2.2 Lebanese pounds. Today, it buys 900. The average income is about $100 a month.
The first order of the day, says Accad is repentance. "Because of the Christian atrocities, we need to repent as Christians." Repentance is a key, he says, to rebuilding the nation-and to preserving Christianity in the Middle East. "Lebanon was always a place where a diversity of religions, communities, and ethnic groups lived side by side-not always in perfect harmony, but basically accepting one another."
If this model of coexistence and tolerance dies in Lebanon, says Accad, then it is more or less the end of Christianity in the Middle East. But as long as there is a Christian population in the country there is hope for Lebanon, says Accad, But only if the Christians repent of the sins of the last 16 years. (See Lucien Accad’s article in this issue, p. 54-Eds.)
Coming of Age in Brighton
It has been described by its leaders as "probably the largest grassroots ecumenical movement of the last 1,000 years." It includes members of Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churches, and it is some 391 million strong.
What is it? The Pentecostal/charismatic movement, a fledgling, incredibly diverse, and completely unorganized movement that in some ways came of age at a conference last summer in Brighton, England.
Described by its leaders as the first worldwide conference of its size representing all the major Christian streams, the International Charismatic Consultation on World Evangelization (ICCOWE) brought together some 3,000 delegates from 115 countries.
The conference, called Brighton ’91, was centered around the twin themes of evangelization and unity. Admitting that, unlike Pentecostals, charismatic have been "short on global vision," Anglican Canon Michael Harper, chairman of ICCOWE, said he hoped the conference would provide the necessary impetus to "get charismatic back to the first priorities…the Great Commission command to go into all the world."
A theological consultation running concurrently with the conference brought together some 150 theologians, scholars, and church leaders to examine issues related to the charismatic renewal and its impact on the church. Presenters included theologians from both within and without the charismatic and Pentecostal movements. Organizers expect a permanent theological organization will be formed as a result of the conference.
ICCOWE also plans to continue as an organization, convening regional meetings similar to Brighton "91, and promoting evangelization and church renewal.
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