by Sharon E. Mumper
Reports from around the world
NICARAGUA: The wrath of man praises God
In Nicaragua, evangelicals can vouch for the fact that God can cause the wrath of man to praise him. Revival began in Nicaragua a few years ago, according to church leaders, and continues today despite the increased harrassment of evangelicals.
In fact, some mission leaders would go so far as to say that revival may continue because of, rather than in spite of, persecution. "It is not unusual to see revival connected with persecution," said a mission leader who asked not to be identified. He said that churches connected with the mission had seen a "real sovereign move of God" in a number of places in Nicaragua. A high point for the group occurred about two years ago, when 3,000 people were converted during a two-month period.
Today, the faith of many is being severely tested, according to a number of sources in the country. Prominent religious leaders, both evangelical and Roman Catholic, were arrested and subjected to interrogation after the suspension of civil liberties in October.
Campus Crusade for Christ and the Nicaraguan Bible Society were forced to close their offices. The only Protestant radio station in the country was shut down, and leaders of the evangelical pastors association, CNPEN, were interrogated, as well as other pastors and parachurch leaders.
Even more alarming are the reports of the murders of pastors and lay leaders in outlying areas. Mission spokesmen confirm that such murders have occurred, but state that they are thought to be the work of over-zealous local authorities, rather than the central government.
The charge most frequently leveled against church leaders is that the church forms a front against the government. Most evangelical church and parachurch leaders have attempted to be politically neutral. In the Sandinistas’ view, however, anyone who does not actively promote the regime and its policies is against it. In Nicaragua, as in many communist countries, there is no such thing as political neutrality.
Even so, the church continues to grow. In Nicaragua, as in most Central American countries, the faithfulness of God is one of the few absolutes in life.
LEBANON: A trivia game without answers
A new joke is circulating in Lebanon. It seems there is a new trivia game designed especially for Lebanon. The questions are really tough, and there are no answers.
Unfortunately, the joke is on Lebanon. The questions that plague the tiny country are heart-rendingly difficult and the answers are few. Once a haven for Christians, Muslims, and Jews who wanted to co-exist peacefully, the country is being torn to pieces by sectarian warfare.
What happened? There are no simple answers to Lebanon’s present predictament. Increasingly, however, international media are pointing an accusing finger at outside meddlers.
"Lebanon is aroused today by an influx of Islamic fundamentalism from abroad-represented by the Shiite Hezbollah, backed by Iran, and the Sunni Al-Tawheed, backed by Libya," William McGurn charged in a "Wall Street Journal" report.
"Lebanon is the only state in the Middle and Near East where Muslims, Christians and Jews are guaranteed their democratic rights by law and tradition," he wrote. "But modern Lebanon is under siege from Muslim fundamentalists-inspired mostly by other countries-intent on replacing its pluralistic society with a Khomeini-like system of Islamic law known as Sharia."
Some would argue that his statement, while perhaps true, fails to take into account other significant factors.
"The Christian rulers set themselves up for the terrific amount of dissatisfaction the indigenous Muslims feel, particularly the Shiite Muslims," said Harry Genet, director of communications for the World Evangelical Fellowship.
Genet, who is a former missionary to Lebanon, said that the seeds of today’s tragedy were planted in the organization of the Lebanese political system. The primary government role went to the majority Christian population, and the secondary role to the Sunni Muslims, who had a working relationship with the Christian president. But over the years, the Shiite population grew, and the Sunnis became a smaller proportion of the Muslim population in Lebanon. Nevertheless, the old balance of power continued, and the Shiite Muslims experienced a growing sense of disenfranchisement.
The fate of Lebanon’s Christian population is of keen interest to Christians throughout the Middle East. "Christians in the Middle East used to look to Lebanon for identity," said George Houssney, a Lebanese Christian who for 12 years was Arab world director for Living Bibles International. "They had aspirations for freedom like that enjoyed by Christians in Lebanon."
Today, those dreams have largely died. "Christians in other countries have become less interested in working for freedom. There is the feeling that they had better remain quiet and maintain the status quo," he said.
In the Middle East, as elsewhere, the term "Christian" is broadly applied to groups representing a wide spectrum of theology and practice. Many of those who call themselves Christians are adherents of traditional Middle Eastern churches, or are nominal Christians whose Christian culture was inherited from their forefathers.
It is groups like these that have taken up arms in the conflict between Christians and Muslims. Attempting to remain outside the fray is the tiny evangelical church, representing perhaps 1.5 percent of the Christian community.
In the 10 years since the eruption of full-scale civil conflict in Lebanon, the evangelical church has seen the destruction of some of its churches and the displacement of others. Today, there are probably fewer than 30 evangelical congregations in all of Lebanon.
Since fighting broke out, thousands of Christians from all groups have fled the country, including hundreds of evangelicals and scores of pastors and lay-leaders.
"The situation is terribly confused," admitted Douglas Anderson, director of Middle East Christian Outreach. And yet the state of the evangelical church in Lebanon is encouraging, he said.
"The church in Lebanon has been vitalized and made to stand on its own two feet," he said. "The church is stronger spiritually now that it ever was before."
MISSIONARY RADIO: No visa needed
The Saudi Arabian professors in the Islamic university were shocked by their colleagues’ confession of interest in Christianity. "Cast Satan out," they earnestly told him. But the man could not forget the "Voice of Forgiveness" broadcast he had heard. "So, I switched on the radio and they listened and became like me," he later wrote Trans World Radio.
Far to the south of Saudi Arabia, in Marxist Mozambique, 20 new converts huddle around a radio. "We have formed a congregation bearing the name of your program, ‘Gift of God,’ " they wrote the station. "This congregation exists through you in the power of the Lord."
For millions of people today in countries where normal missionary work is restricted, the radio forms a kind of altar where God may be worshipped and faith strengthened.
Increasingly, over the last 40 years as one country after another has closed its doors to missionary activity, radio has assumed a critical role in missions.
Despite this fact, the church has failed to recognize the significance of missionary radio, broadcasters say.
"Two-thirds of the world cannot be reached by a missionary. You have to go to mass media to reach these people," said Robert Bowman, president of FEBC Radio, International. "International radio is not just a little appendage on the side of the total missions picture. It ought to be a central thrust in world missions today."
Countries in which Christian activity is restricted include those with communist, Marxist, Muslim, or dictatorial governments. Even some democratic countries, such as India, Israel, and Greece, restrict missionary access to its people. Others, like Mexico, are closed to religious broadcasting from within the country.
Radio has the advantage of secrecy. "A Muslim can sit in the privacy of his own home-even use earphones, if he wishes-and listen to the gospel without fear for his life," said Paul Freed, founder and president of Trans World Radio (TWR).
In many countries, radio enjoys high credibility. "Some pastors have written to FEBC asking us to cover certain problems in our teaching by radio, since what is heard over the air carries a lot of weight," said Francis Gray of FEBC. "In China, FEBCs teachings over the years has become the yardstick against which other teachings are measured." This is an especially critical ministry, given the fact that in countries like China access to the Bible and Christian teaching materials has been limited and for many years no theological education was available.
Radio is accessible to even the poor. The transistor revolution has swept the world, placing high quality, low cost radios within the reach of nearly everyone. Bowman estimates there are 1.4 billion radio sets in use around the world today. Nearly every family in China has a radio, he says.
Missionary radio is making an impact in Russia as well. Remarkably, there are 39,750 "isolated radio churches" in Russia, according to the "World Christian Encyclopedia," edited by David Barrett. Some 80 percent of newly-baptized believers in Russia say their first serious thoughts about God occurred while they were listening to a gospel broadcast, according to the Slavic Gospel Association, the largest producer of Russian-language Christian broadcasting.
Today, scores of broadcasters, small and large, blanket the entire world with the gospel message. With nearly six million total watts of power, TWR is the most powerful missionary broadcaster in the world. FEBC’s international broadcasts are beamed from superpower transmitters with a combined power of 1.6 million watts. HCJB World Radio broadcasts from Quito, Ecuador, with over a million total watts of shortwave power.
For the two-thirds of the world’s people who may never hear the gospel apart from missionary radio, broadcasting is not simply an expensive luxury. It is a vital artery leading to the path of life.
EMERGING MISSIONS: A vast new force
If you listen carefully, in the distance you’ll hear the sound of marching. It’s the sound of a vast new force gathering its resources to join the task of proclaiming the gospel throughout the earth. An estimated 20,000 strong today, the movement is expected to reach 100,000 by the year 2000.
Who are they? They are the men and women of the so-called emerging missions, the non-Western missions movement. And according to Larry Pate, Overseas Crusades (OC) coordinator of emerging missions, they are growing at a rate far in excess of that of Western missions.
The non-Western missions movement is not a new phenomenon. Tahitian missionaries were preaching in Samoa in 1830. Three years later, the Karens of Burma began a cross-cultural outreach among other tribes in Burma and Thailand.
Despite a distinguished history, however, only in the last 15 years has the emerging missions movement come into its own.
Non-Western missions grew at a rate of 448 percent during the decade beginning in 1972. Although he stresses that his research on the last three years is incomplete, Pate says he believes the growth rate continues at that level.
Today, there are perhaps 40,000 North American missionaries in a missions force that increases by only a few percentage points each year.
"A larger and larger portion of the world’s evangelization is going to be done by emerging missions," said Allen Lutz, vice-president for new ministries at the Christian Nationals’ Evangelism Commission, Inc. (CNEC). "This doesn’t negate the necessity of sending Western missionaries. It simply multiplies the resources many fold."
Most non-Western missionaries are members of some 380 Third World mission agencies. Perhaps 1,000 are members of Western agencies that have internationalized their missions staff.
With some 4,200 missionaries, India is the biggest non-Western missionary-sending country, according to "Bridging Peoples," an OC publication. At least 98 percent of those missionaries work cross-culturally with people groups within India.
The second-largest missionary-sending country, Nigeria, is home to the Evangelical Missionary Society, the largest non-Western mission agency in the world. Although some of EMS’s 620 missionaries go out to neighboring countries, most work cross-culturally among Nigeria’s vastly different tribes and people groups.
Many other emerging missions concentrate on reaching the diaspora, members, of their own nationality scattered throughout the world. Although some Korean missionaries reach out to people of other nationalities, most are reaching second and third-generation Koreans in other countries.
Some Third World agencies pursue foreign missions in the pattern of Western missions, sending Japanese missionaries to work with Indonesians and Brazilians to minister to Zimbabweans.
Throughout the Third World, interest in all forms of missions activity is increasing, and some agencies are looking for ways to cooperate in training, recruitment, and outreach. One of the most significant evidences of the growing interest in missions is COMIBAM ’87, a continent-wide missions congress planned by Latin Americans for Latin Americans.
The congress, to be held Nov. 24-30, 1987, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, is designed for pastors, missionaries, educators, students, and laypeople from the entire Spanish and Portuguese-speaking world.
Even more significant than the congress, according to Luis Bush, president of the coordinating committee, is the series of national missions consultations to be held in 23 Latin American countries. Through the meetings, coordinators hope to "generate a process of awakening and new missionary participation in the churches."
Do you hear it? It seems the sound of marching is not so distant now.
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