by Stan Guthrie
International Christians are Meeting the Challenge of Missions
Last year on a trip to Northern Iraq an Arab Christian pastor was going through customs when an officer found a New Testament in one of his bags.
Instead of interrogating or reprimanding him, the official asked, “Can I keep it?”
“Sure,” the pastor replied.
Seeing what had happened, a man next to them in the crowded room exclaimed in surprise, “He just got a New Testament!” The man then turned to the Christian and asked, “Can you give me one?”
“Certainly,” the pastor said.
Then three people from the other side of the room came running over: “Can you please give us copies?” Another pushed forward, asking for Christian literature. Someone else wanted books on Christianity.
As the pastor began opening up his bags, his new friends all started digging through his luggage to “help” him find the precious literature.
“I’ve never been anywhere in that area and seen someone refuse a copy of the New Testament—not one,” the pastor said later. “There is an openness that you can’t believe.”
The Arab Christian leader shared this anecdote at the inaugural Arabs in Mission consultation, hosted by the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., last year. The consultation was evidence not only of new openness to the gospel in the Arab and Muslim worlds, but also of the trend of evangelical Christians from different ethnic groups and regions of the world to meet and discuss their role in fulfilling the Great Commission.
Just as the Clinton Administration has suddenly noticed the importance of Asia and Latin America to U.S. interests, so we in the Western church are coming to realize that our non-Western brothers and sisters are the future of world missions. Patrick John-stone says that only about 30 percent of the world’s evangelicals now live in the West—and that figure will be down to 23 percent by the year 2000. Some missions experts believe that by then the exploding non-Western missionary force will be the No. 1 missionary source. The number of longer-term workers from North America has actually started to decline (although the continent can still boast of sending about half of all missionaries).
The Billy Graham Center hosted three significant missions gatherings during 1992 and 1993—Arabs in Mission, Korean World Missions ’92, and NACSAC, ’93, the North American Consultation of South Asian Christians. Describing the first two, BGC Director Jim Kraakevik told participants at NACSAC ’93, “God is doing a new thing.” This article describes some of the new things happening at these and other recent meetings of ethnic communities, many of them prospering economically, and now taking up the challenge of missions, not only to their own people, but to all peoples.
Korean World Missions ’92: Catching the vision
“As the political and economic climate changes, we also see a change in world missions,” said Dong Sun Lim, chairman of the Korean World Mission Council, a coalition of leaders from key Korean-American churches and the sponsor of Korean World Missions ’92, held July 27-Aug. 1, 1992. “Previously the Western church and mission organizations played the dominant role. But now we see Two-Thirds World churches taking on a greater share of the responsibility of world evangelism, and among them, the Korean Church taking on a leading role.”
The church in South Korea has made tremendous strides since the first Protestant church was started in 1884, according to Johnstone. Seoul alone is about 40 percent Christian, with 7,000 churches, including half of the world’s 20 largest congregations. The goal of the 1992 conference, a follow-up to Korean World Missions ’88, was to energize Korean churches in North America with that same kind of zeal and vision. There are approximately 2,500 churches among the 800,000 or so Korean-Americans.
“There are probably thousands of Korean churches that are quite strong in North America,” said Ian Hay, formerly the general director of SIMInternational. “What this conference is trying to do is . . . to get the Koreans in North America to become part of that movement, to tie them in with the church in Korea.”
Besides networking, other needs mentioned by some of the 2,400 participants included partnership with Western agencies, overcoming a tendency toward cultural imperialism, and better mobilizing of Korean missions candidates. Some 250 volunteered for missionary service at KWM ’92.
“They don’t have a lot of difficulties getting people to raise their hands and say, ‘I’ll go,’” said Dan Bacon, U.S. director of Overseas Missionary Fellowship. “They’ve had difficulty actually getting people to the field.”
Noted David Taiwoong Lee, chairman of Global Missionary Fellowship, Seoul, “The best candidates more likely come from second-generation Koreans. They are quite a bit Americanized, but the Korean church’s main thrust is still the first generation. So there is a generation gap as well as a culture gap.”
Conference organizer Ilsik (Sam) Choe said KWM ’92 “unified the Korean churches for world mission endeavor. They caught the vision and worked together in partnership and cooperation.”
Arabs in Mission: A fresh wind blowing
Forty-three evangelicals from the Arab world, North America, Europe, Africa, and Latin America converged at the Billy Graham Center last June 10-13 to discuss creative approaches to evangelism, network, and to encourage one another with regional updates. This meeting came on the heels of the formation of the Arab World Evangelical Ministers Association in Cairo in March, 1992. AWEMA emphases include fellowship, training, evangelism, and media ministry.
“The church in the Middle East and Africa has been around for centuries,” Kraakevik said after the Wheaton meeting. “But a fresh wind of the Spirit is now blowing in the Arab world. . . . God is stirring up Arab Christians to share the gospel in many creative ways.”
Arabs in Mission participants told of new spiritual openness and opportunities. In Sudan, at least 500 churches have been started in the capital city of Khartoum by Christians displaced by the civil war. Christian young people in Beirut have been bold in sharing the gospel with their non-Christian friends. Yousef Hashweh, pastor of the central Christian and Missionary Alliance church in Amman, Jordan, told how church relief efforts for refugees after the Gulf war have given Christians a good name. In Baghdad, the church has grown from a handful in 1985 to between 300 and 500 today, at least partly due to massive distribution of the Scriptures. Other effective approaches described included literature distribution in Northern Iraq, the showing of the “Jesus” film in North Africa, and media ministries in Lebanon, Egypt, and the United States.
Another goal was to spark North American Arab believers to help their mother churches in the missions task. Among the estimated 3 million Arabs who live in the United States, just 15,000 are evangelicals, and only 91 Arab churches have been identified.
“We affirm that the time is ripe to explore new levels of partnership in mission,” a group statement noted. “To that end, we need to partner in resources, personnel, research and planning. The key will be new bridges, or links, and awareness between us and our churches and related organizations. The mission field is ready and now is the time to mobilize Arab churches everywhere.”
NACSAC ’93: The right time and place
Christians of and from South Asia are also feeling a new responsibility to preach Christ among the 1.2 billion people in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Sikkim (annexed by India in 1975), and also around the world. There are 13 million Asian Indians outside of India, so the potential is considerable. The North American Consultation of South Asian Christians brought 100 clergy and lay leaders together in a new attempt at mobilizing and unifying themostly affluent but insulated churches on this continent for the task. The first try in the early 1980s fizzled, according to Canadian evangelist and consultation director T.V. Thomas. But not this one.
“There was unanimous agreement that the tremendous momentum generated at NACSAC ’93 needs to be channelled into an ongoing movement ‘to mobilize South Asian Christians in North America to evangelize the people of and from South Asia and the world,’” he said, quoting from the “Resolutions” document drafted at NACSAC. “We sensed God calling us to sacrificial giving and bold commitment. We decided to fund this vision by making 12-month Faith Promise pledges. Eight thousand dollars were received in cash and pledges at the consultation.”
Participants, from 15 denominations and 37 parachurch mission agencies, commissioned one among them to go to South Africa with Africa Evangelical Fellowship to work among the 900,000 Asian Indians there. NACSAC ’93 also showcased less traditional approaches to outreach. Differences in outlook between those committed to traditional forms of ministry and their younger and more entrepreneurial counterparts were evident.
When one from the latter group said finances were critical in reaching South Asia with the gospel, one of his elders from the former reminded those assembled that prayer, not money, is the key. And when participants discussed funding NACSAC, one of the entrepreneurs, apparently unaware of the paucity of finances in many ministries, stood up and said that everyone should be ready to pledge $100 a month, drawing gasps and chuckles from some of the ministry leaders.
The draft of resolutions recognizes “the predominance of business and professional people who make up the South Asian diaspora in North America” and says a possible goal of NACSAC should be “to take steps to make lay participation in NACSAC a prominent input and encourage stewardship among them for the work of evangelization.” The entrepreneurs, however, are not waiting.
Moses Jesudas, coordinator of InterServe’s Ethnic Ministries Department, described his vision for a Christian Entrepreneurs Network. Jesudas said the network, which already has several chapters in India, will “create an economic base for missions in India,” where the church is still mostly poor. Ontario’s Ivan Kostka, meanwhile, plans to start a Christian media firm in Bombay to help local churches with their communications needs and, eventually, provide financial support to ministries from its profits. The company will also air pre-evangelistic programming in Bombay, Kostka said.
“We were in the right place at the right time,” said Thomas. “It was no coincidence in God’s agenda that we gathered in Chicago in 1993. God wants those of us who are from the East and now live in the West to take the gospel to the East and the West.”
Other key conferences
The above three gatherings are not the only pieces of evidence that members of the non-Western missions community, like their counterparts in Western Europe and North America, have no intention of forsaking the assembling of themselves together. Here are a few more.
1. Hispanics. “The Whole Gospel to the Whole World from Latin America” was the theme of the Third Latin American Congress on Evangelism (CLADE III), held Aug. 24-Sept. 4, 1992, in Quito, Ecuador. The 800 delegates, according to journalist John Maust, discussed reconciliation between Indian and Latin believers, heard a critique of the problems in the exploding Pentecostal movement, and discussed other important issues, including church and state, and evangelical unity. Speakers urged that Latin cross-cultural missionaries receive better training before going to the field.
Latin missions got a further boost in Orlando, Fla., Sept. 20-24, 1993, at COMHINA ’93, the Missionary Congress of North American Hispanics. COMHINA ’93, which had 1,100 participants, emerged from the COMIBAM movement, or Ibero-american Missionary Cooperation, which held its first big missions conference in 1987. The main goal of the Orlando meeting was to begin mobilizing the believers among the 65 million people in the Hispanic world.
“COMHINA is both an event and a process,” Guatemala’s Rudy Girón, executive director of COMHINA, told journalist Gioia Michelotti. “The goals of this movement are to awaken the missionary vision among North American Hispanics and to establish mission agencies committed to sending Hispanic missionaries to all nations.” Other key recent Latin missions meetings include a “Partnership 2000” summit last August and an Adopt-A-People Conference in October, 1992, both in San Jose, Costa Rica.
2. Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The do’s and don’t’s of partnership were the subject of the “Evangelism in Post-Marxist Situations” consultation held Sept. 1-6, 1993, in Budapest, Hungary, and sponsored by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. The AD2000 and Beyond Movement and the World Evangelical Fellowship sponsored the Nations for Christ congress in Riga, Latvia, May 25-29, 1992. This congress led to the establishment of The Alliance for Saturation Church Planting, which has a goal of 400,000 new churches in 27 countries.
3. Chinese. Some 1,600 people were exhorted to win the world for Christ at Chinese Mission 1992, Dec. 27-31, 1992, in Washington, D.C., Ambassadors for Christ’s fourth triennial convention. Some 200 present “answered the call to missionary service,” according to AFC Executive Director David Chow.
The Chinese Coordination Center of World Evangelism, meanwhile, a parachurch agency linking Chinese Christians in the powerful 57-million-person Chinese diaspora, has had four international congresses since its founding in 1976. The last was in Manila in 1991. “Chinese ethnicity is only a point of departure,” the CCCOWE’s Timothy Lam says. “The CCCOWE movement envisages that through this commonality, Chinese churches all over the world will hence join hands in world evangelization, preaching the gospel not only to their own kinsfolk around the world, but also to all non-Chinese peoples and races on the globe.”
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