by Robert L. Niklaus
Reports from around the world.
CHAD: MEDIA IMPACT
What news, if any, should a missionary publish about religious problems in his host country?
Most third world governments are deeply sensitive about exposure of their problems in the foreign press. Unfavorable reports traced back to missionaries residing in the country may result in their arrest and expulsion, and may bring additional suffering to local Christians.
Peter G. Batchelor, a missionary consultant on rural development in Chad, looking back over the troubles of that African country since 1974, thinks the media helped stop persecution of the church. The Chadian government of President Ngarta Tombalbaye had mounted a campaign of compulsory tribal initiation rites known as yondo. Missionaries were expelled, church leaders were tortured and killed, thousands of Chadians fled to the forests or escaped into neighboring countries rather than submit to the humiliating, demon-appeasing rites.
"The day that three missionaries were temporarily imprisoned near Lake Chad," Batchelor reported in Life of Faith, "the news got out and was broadcast by Radio Voice of the Gospel in Addis Ababa and by the Voice of Germany. This was the first that many had heard about the imprisonment.
"President Tombalbaye was in Paris at the time, and newspaper reporters questioned him about the imprisonment, and also challenged his repeated denials that any had been put to death in Chad for refusing to undergo – yondo. The President was angry, and denied all knowledge of the capture of missionaries; but within hours they were released."
Mr. Batchelor further pointed out that in only a matter of months after the foreign media began reporting on yondo- inspired activities, the Tombalbaye regime was overthrown. He reasoned, "The knowledge that at least the outside world knew something of their problems could well have been a factor in making the coup possible."
The Western media at times are a powerful deterrent and influence on Third World leaders. Yet timidity forces on missionaries a self-imposed censor in situations where an errant government has more to fear from world opinion than a missionary has to fear from the government. Missionaries in the early days of penetration into Central Africa recognized the potential of the media and, as a result, forced an end to the brutalities of the rubber business in the Congo Free State.
The media are an alternative missionaries need to consider when asking themselves what they can do to halt or avert inhumanity inflicted upon the people with whom they work. Fear of inflaming an ugly situation may discourage recourse to the media and thereby tragically deprive the missionary of his only chance to help effect a solution.
LEBANON: CONFESSIONAL UNEASE
A Cairo newspaper published the photograph of a Phalangist guerrilla, with a huge cross hanging from his neck, guarding Moslem prisoners in Beruit. Two days later the newspaper received-but did not print – a report of disturbance between Moslems and Coptic Christians in Upper Egypt.
In Damascus, Moslem leaders, in their Friday sermons, reminded the Syrian faithful of the struggle by their fellow believers in Lebanon, while Syrian Christians worried about relations with the Moslem majority. In Amman, Jordan’s King Hussein warned militant Christian leaders in Lebanon of dangerous consequences if they tried to turn the southern part of the country into a miniature Christian state and then secede.
The bloody, year-old sectarian conflict between Moslems and Christians has sent tremors of tension throughout the Arab world where minority Christian groups total perhaps fifteen million persons. At the peak of fighting in Beruit, an envoy of the Vatican privately warned Christian radicals in Lebanon that the situation could endanger the status of Christians under Moslem rule elsewhere. One foreign resident in Damascus was quoted in an article by The New York Times: "There is a certain confessional unease as a result" of the Lebanese strife.
If the Lebanese confrontation between Moslems and Christians can be resolved, the combustible tensions elsewhere in the Arab world may subside and relations return to normal. But for the present, at least, the Lebanese strife is another source of concern in Arab lands where Christian minorities and missionaries already pay a penalty for U. S. backing of Israel.
NORTH AMERICA: MISSION LIB
With perhaps two-thirds of the overseas missionary force composed of married and single women, the question of the woman’s role in missions was bound to surface sometime, somewhere.
It happened in late January at the Missionary Internship center, Farmington, Michigan. Fifty-one women representing twenty-three mission boards met for three days to study the topic, "WOMAN IN MISSION -The Personhood of Woman and Her Role in Missions Today." Coming from Canada and the U.S., the participants ranged in background from missionary candidates to experienced missionaries from every continent.
Four basic concerns emerged during initial discussion periods and participants divided into study groups to consider each one. The topics were: biblical principles vs. cultural conditioning; the personhood of women; women in mission leadership and decision-making; priorities for life and ministry.
Each of the study groups presented statements for consideration by the full group. The study on biblical principles, for example, included statements such as: "Overbearing authority in any relationship does not reflect the spirit of Christ in servanthood or humility of leadership. Likewise manipulation of persons is contrary to the high regard God has for individuals. I Peter 3:7; 5:3-6."
The study groups on personhood concentrated on what it means to be a mature woman, and on how to grow in relationship with God, with self and with others. Those considering priorities included family relationships and ministries outside the home, furlough relationships and obligations. The study group on leadership and decision-making drew up guidelines on how to develop this potential.
Gladys Hunt, one of the workshop speakers, noted that participants commented frequently on the inconsistency between what is acceptable on the mission field and in the homeland. Women who were expected to establish churches, teach and preach overseas, had a limited ministry at home because they were women. Others noted how they were involved in leadership responsibilities pertaining to the national church but were not permitted to participate in decision-making within their own mission structure.
Patricia Mortenson, coordinator of the workshop, reported that "there was a positive climate of enthusiasm and expectancy with a noticeable absence of anger and hostility. " The positive emphasis throughout the sessions was the responsibility of each woman before God to understand his Word, will and purpose for her.
Faced with the complexity of issues raised, the workshop participants formed task forces to explore in depth these and other subjects before the next workshop this fall. Gladys Hunt reported in Christianity Today (March 26 issue): "Probably the most strategic move of the conference was the establishment of a task force to pursue the issue of women in mission leadership and decision-making. This action reflected the group’s concern for women who have gifts of administration and other leadership abilities but who are not allowed to develop their potential."
Another task force will continue studies on the problem of biblical principles and North American culture. Problems common to missionary women while serving overseas and ways they can relate to secular women in different cultures are topics for study by other task forces.
Giving women a larger role of leadership in missions is not as revolutionary as some may think. A paper written in 1890 by A. J. Gordon reasoned from Scripture that women are not only permitted but obligated to involve themselves deeply in the spread of the gospel.
RUSSIA: LIVELY OPIATE
The Soviet newspaper Izvestia carried a major policy statement on January 31 concerning religious freedom in Russia. Vladimir Kuroyedov, chairman of the Council for Religious Affairs, maintained that Soviet legislation on religion is eminently fair because it respects equally the rights of believers and unbelievers. "In the USSR no one is compelled to be a believer or an atheist, to perform religious rites or not perform them."
Kuroyedov backed his assertion by describing at length the freedom enjoyed by Soviet believers: more than 20,000 churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious meeting places; about twenty monasteries and convents, and "eighteen higher spiritual educational establishments"; the Bible and Koran have been published in Russia and "will continue to be issued in the future."
Emphatic though Kuroyedov was, he did not tell fully the story of religion in Russia -no doubt because a lot more is happening than the government cares to have outsiders know. Religion among Russian youth is one example. The Soviet magazine Molodoi Kommunist (Young Communist), reported that between two and three percent of the 14-30 age group (1.2 to 1.8 million youth) openly declare themselves believers. The highest percentage of believers-15 percent -is registered among collective farm youth. The lowest 1.5 percent-is among students.
The response of Russian listeners to Christian broadcasting is another embarrassment to Soviet authorities. Ten missionary stations-six shortwave and four standard band-ring Russia and penetrate it with over 1,000 programs monthly. On the receiving end are an estimated forty million shortwave sets. The Center for Study of Religion and Communism reports that "millions of believers (including government officials) listen in the privacy of their own room." Eastern European Mission broadcaster Earl Poysti says that Russian Christians estimate "at least one million" people have become Christians through missionary broadcasting.
Counter to the wishes of the State, churches continue to grow and multiply. In the Ukraine alone 1,200 registered churches and another 400 seeking registration claim 250,000 believers in regular attendance. The All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians — Baptists reported in January that 6,185 converts joined local churches last year. With a total of 540,000 members in 4,030 congregations, Baptists are more numerous in Russia than in any other European country. (The Baptist total includes some other denominations forced into the Baptist Council by government pressure.) The one evangelical church permitted to operate in Moscow (population eight million) has 5,000 members. One visitor reported that in each of three Sunday services about 2,400 attended.
The availability of the Bible is one of the biggest problems faced by Russian Christians. Although perhaps 20 percent of the total population of over 250 million is actively religious, there is no Bible society, no distribution system, and no importation of Scriptures. Only a few small printings of the Scriptures have been permitted since World War I.
Perhaps 1.25 percent of the population has received a portion of Scripture since World War II. Another 58 million people living in Russia have no access to the Bible since no translation exists in their language. The Bible, or parts of it, has been translated into about forty of the 127 major Soviet languages. All Bibleprinting in the 124 major non-Slavic languages ceased after World War I.
But if the churches have their problems with the State, so does the State with religion. Despite a cradle- to- the-grave emphasis on atheism by the government, a 1974 Leningrad study of 1,737 children showed only 61.5 percent had a properly "positive attitude" toward atheism. A 1975 study in the Ukraine disclosed that only 595 skilled workers of 1,048 interviewed felt that religion exerted a bad moral influence. Moreover, nearly a third of those polled ducked atheistic indoctrination because they found it boring. The researchers warned that such "indifferent" people might be vulnerable to religious influence.
WORLD: BURGEONING BILLIONS
Somewhere on planet earth during the day or night of March 28, the baby was born who brought the world population to four billion. The Population Reference Bureau in Washington, D.C., estimated that it took until 1850 to raise world population to the one billion mark. The second billion took eighty years, and the third billion only thirty years. That time was cut in half to roughly fifteen years to reach the four-billion mark on March 28. The growth rate this year averages an additional 195,000 babies each new day.
The latest volume of the United Nations Demographic Yearbook, released in March, made some projections on the basis of the current population growth rate. If the latest 1.9 percent annually is maintained, the five-billion mark will be reached by 1989, and the world’s population will double to nearly eight billion by 2010.
The population in developing countries is increasing much more rapidly than in industrial nations. Africa and Latin America have the highest growth rate among the major geographical regions2.7 percent each. Other growth rates are: Asia-2.1 percent; Oceania-2.0 percent; North America-0.9 percent; Europe-0.6 percent.
What do these population figures mean in terms of Christian witness? Two years ago at the Lausanne International Congress on World Evangelism, Dr. Ralph Winter, one of the main speakers, concentrated his remarks on the 2.7 billion people (their number will increase to 4.0 billion in less than 20 years) who are not now being reached by existing denominations, and will be evangelized only if additional funds and personnel are committed.
According to Dr. Winter, 95 percent of the 10,000 missionaries working in the Western world (Europe, North and South America), concentrate on the 965 million who make some claim to being Christian, while only 5 percent (500 missionaries) concentrate on the unevangelized 327 million people. In the non-Western world, 95 percent of the 40,000 missionaries work among 214 million professing Christians and 403 million non-Christians. This leaves 5 percent (or 2,000) missionaries in the non-Western world to concentrate on 2,396 million unevangelized Hindus, Moslems or Chinese.
Lest Christians be overwhelmed by the spiritual need of the burgeoning billions on planet earth, Dr. Winter drew the attention of the Lausanne participants to the population clock ticking away during the Congress. According to him, the Christian community in the world was increasing by 70,000 daily. During just four days of the Congress, the number of Christians had grown more than a quarter- million. More important, he pointed out that each day in practically every country of the world, the percentage of Christians in relation to that country’s population is increasing.
Considering the recent fourbillion mark in world population statistics, Dr. Winter’s conclusion is still apt. "I don’t want you to wonder if there is any hope of being successful in world evangelization . . . we are being successful right now, and we surely have no statistical reason not to make definite plans . , . to move ahead with Jesus Christ, Lord of history, to finish the task of world evangelization.
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