by Robert L. Niklaus
Reports from around the world.
KENYA: COMMON GROUND
In the alphabet soup of acronyms for African organizations, two stand out as opposites in the Christian community: AACC (All Africa Conference of Churches), the liberal-oriented grouping of churches, and AEAM (Association of Evangelicals of Africa and Madagascar), the evangelical branch of African Protestantism.
Another acronym dropped into the soup last December: PACLA (Pan African Christian Leadership Assembly). The one-time-only convocation was organized to provide common ground for African Christians concerned about evangelizing their continent. It drew 800 delegates to Nairobi, Kenya, from forty-three African countries – a larger representation than that of either AACC or AEAM.
Rev. Gottfried OseiMensah, chairman of PACLA and also executive secretary of the Lausanne Continuation Committee, pinpointed the purpose of the assembly: "We should resolve before the Lord that the unevangelized people of Africa will yet hear the Good News, presented to them in its purity, power and relevance as much as possible freed from its foreign and cultural trappings."
Seeking common ground for evangelism drew cross-fire from the two church associations. Controversial Burgess Carr, AACC general secretary and a former staff member of the World Council of Churches, was tentatively listed on the roster of speakers, but protests from the AEAM and evangelicals elsewhere caused his name to be dropped. In turn, Carr criticized PACLA in a three-page memo to the AACC constituency last August.
PACLA had its beginnings in 1974 at the Lausanne International Congress on World Evangelization which encouraged such regional meetings. It was, however, only indirectly connected to the Lausanne Continuation Committee. Two members of African Enterprise, an evangelistic mission, were primarily responsible for organizing the assembly: Michael Cassidy of South Africa was program chairman and John Wilson, a Ugandan, was coordinator.
Evangelist Billy Graham gave the PACLA delegates a demonstration of what the conference was all about. He spoke to some 50,000 people at a rally held in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park. Hundreds walked forward to indicate publicly their decision to follow Christ.
Mr. Osei-Mensah emphasized several times that PACLA was a one-time event to help the existing churches of Africa in their proclamation of the gospel. The organizers had no intention of starting another permanent organization. Their hope was, and is, that PACLA will be remembered for the impetus it gave to the winning of a continent for Christ.
VIETNAM: FAR FROM OVERCOME
A three-man delegation of Mennonite Brethren had a rare opportunity in early January of seeing how the churches in Viet Nam are faring under Communist rule. Their impression: the churches are far from being overcome by the changed situation.
The delegation first visited churches in Hanoi. Roman Catholic churchmen asserted that the "church will not be removed." At least a dozen Catholics, including three priests, are members of the National Assembly. The delegation made an unexpected visit to a mass in the Hanoi cathedral and found it full of worshipers of all ages.
Leaders of the Protestant Tin Lanh Church said that many of their members went south at the time of partition in 1954, but that there is still some church growth. The church in Haiphong, for example, baptized fifteen converts just before Christmas. The church leaders expressed hope of a reunification with Tin Lanh churches in the south. (Churches on both sides of the former partition line were once affiliated with The Christian and Missionary Alliance.)
The delegation did not talk with Rev. Bui Hoanh Thu, general secretary of the northern Tin Lanh churches. He was at that time in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) working with southern Tin Lanh leaders on reunification.
Most church leaders in former South Viet Nam seem reluctant to accept reunification, and Bui Hoanh Thu himself is one reason why. After partition of the country in 1954 Thu posted Communist slogans in the Hanoi church, preached support of the regime and became a member of the National Assembly.
As one inducement toward reunion, the government is delaying the reopening of the Biblical and Theological Institute at Nhatrang. This is the central school for training workers of the Tin Lanh churches in the south. The school will resume classes, authorities say, when the two churches merge.
From what the Mennonite delegation observed, they concluded that church life in the south continues almost as usual. While visiting Danang they saw four Tin Lanh churches, all in good repair and continuing their programs. The area superintendent mentioned that several churches had been rebuilt with financial aid from the government including one destroyed by a direct hit from an American bomb.
The delegation was accompanied by an official from Hanoi and his presence no doubt deterred the southern pastors from speaking too freely.
Letters from Viet Nam, however, fill in some of the empty blanks about church life in the south. They come in response to two hours of daily broadcasts to Viet Nam by a Tin Lanh team using the facilities of the Far East Broadcasting Company in Manila.
A student in Ho Chi Minh City wrote that a new church was recently opened there. A young woman in the Mekong Delta reported that church meetings are very limited and that all witnessing bands and open-air evangelistic services have been suspended. A pastor’s wife wrote that many non-Christians listen to the broadcasts and want to accept Christ. Another noted that all youth rallies and conferences were banned and that all young people must now belong to the government’s Labor Youth Union.
The 1959 Constitution of the Communist regime guarantees the right of people to practice religious beliefs. The Communist Party Congress last December reaffirmed that right. It would seem that in practice this means that conditions for Christians in the new Viet Nam may not be favorable, but they are tolerable. That is cause for guarded rejoicing.
ZAIRE: LEAP BACKWARD
The nationalization of Zaire’s church-run primary and secondary schools in 1974 was an overdue but positive move. Since the late 1800’s practically all education in the former Belgian Congo was done by Catholic or Protestant missions and churches. Even in 1974, fourteen years after independence, 80 percent of Zairian children still went to parochial schools.
Supervision of the schools with the attendant problems of managing personnel and administering government funds occupied more time and energy of many churches than anything else. After nationalizing the education system the government found out for itself the headaches involved.
At the close of 1976 the government had had enough. The word went out over the state-owned radio: "The administration of public primary and secondary schools will be returned to the churches."
Although details of the transfer are still being negotiated, Zaire’s churches are bracing themselves for the return of well over 3,000,000 students and 80,000 teachers, and a budget which since 1965 has averaged about 20 percent of the total national budget.
The return of the schools could seriously hamper the government’s widely publicized goal of complete "Africanization" of the schools by 1980. Expatriate teachers and administrators were being gradually replaced by Africans. But now that the churches are suddenly faced again with the responsibility of educating thousands of children in some districts up to 80,000 – some churches with mission ties are already asking for expatriate help to restore their dismantled systems.
The government’s decision could result in a leap backward for the churches as well. Following nationalization in 1974, church leaders found they had time to stress evangelism, a priority that should have been theirs all along. An American Baptist Churches mission spokesman observed, "Zairian school directors and missionary educators felt a new sense of freedom and found that more of their time and energy could be devoted to programs of evangelism and Christian service."
That new sense of freedom was sensed by church leaders as well and more attention was being given to evangelism. Will the insatiable demands of running a school system once again relegate this priority to a secondary slot?
The government’s decision to return the schools need not be a leap backward for either the church or the government. The policy of "Africanizing" Zaire’s education can be continued, and the emphasis on evangelism can be continued. But it will take One greater than Solomon to help the churches do both.
ARGENTINA: THE ROSARIO PLAN
"The Rosario Plan may prove to be a breakthrough in evangelism and a model for future mass evangelistic efforts all over the world," according to Dr. Donald McGavran, the noted church growth authority.
The unique feature of the Rosario Plan is that it not only anticipated discipling converts in a city-wide campaign, it also provided for the opening of new churches as permanent and immediate spiritual bases for the new believers right in their neighborhoods.
Such a feature requires long-term preparation, and the Rosario Plan had it. Back in 1975 over seventy evangelical pastors and leaders in Rosario, Argentina’s second largest city, met to map a strategy for evangelizing their city. How could fewer than fifty evangelical churches with a combined membership of about 3,800 make an impact on an industrial city of 1.6 million people?
Guest speakers at the conference helped the Rosario church leaders to find some answers. They were: Dr. Vergil Gerber, a church growth analyst, Dr. Edward Murphy, Overseas Crusades executive, and two Luis Palau Team members, Edgardo Silvoso and James Williams.
Dr. Gerber described the strategy of that 1975 church growth consultation as a twopronged plan. First, local believers began small house churches in unchurched neighborhoods. Here they grew together, learning to evangelize and then teach new believers. Second, they cultivated friendships among unsaved neighbors in anticipation of a citywide evangelistic campaign. Should these neighbors respond to the gospel, they would find evangelical church groups in their neighborhoods ready to receive them.
Luis Palau, perhaps Latin America’s foremost evangelist, was invited to conduct a three-week campaign. Accepting the invitation he commented, "Up to now we have talked about decisions. Followup has been something that takes place after the evangelistic harvest. We need to make follow-through, the gathering into churches, our goal, not an aftermath. "
When the crusade began last October, twenty "daughter" congregations had begun and another twenty-six "house churches" were expected to become full-fledged churches in the next few months.
Rosario was subjected to the total-media impact that Luis Palau has used so effectively elsewhere (see April 1976 issue). This included a fiveminute daily "Luis Palau Responds" radio broadcast that gained a 90 percent primetime listener rating, nightly half-hour TV programs during the crusade, and six weekend telecasts of the meetings broadcast live over a four-state area. Other half-hour programs were seen simultaneously in Argentina’s eight major metropolitan areas, reaching potentially 85 percent of the nation’s 25 million population.
The center of action in Rosario was the Polo Stadium. By the final meeting, 10,000 people were in attendance. More than 5, 000 people many of them men and married couples – signed decision cards. An estimated 90 percent were first-time decisions. If all these seekers are discipled as planned, it would mean that the evangelical community of the city more than doubled in less than a month.
The Rosario Plan insisted on visible church growth as an essential part of evangelism. That insistence could turn the potential doubling of the evangelical community into reality.
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