by Sharon Mumper
Important news stories from the world of missions.
REMEDYING A ‘COLD’ IN LATIN AMERICA
Nearly 200 evangelicals meeting for prayer outside Mexico City are chased and beaten by a machete-wielding mob of Roman Catholics. In Guatemala an evangelical church is burned by Catholic neighbors opposing its rapid growth. In Venezuela, the supreme court rules a Baptist denomination may not conduct evangelistic activities because the Roman Catholic church is the only "recognized organism" entitled to carry out religious activities in the country.
What is happening here? Throughout Latin America, tension between Protestants and Roman Catholics is rising as the warm glow of Vatican II fades.
In the more relaxed atmosphere following the pronouncements of Vatican II in the early 1960s, evangelical churches grew rapidly. Viewed in many places no longer as Public Enemy Number One, they have drawn throngs of both the curious and the spiritually hungry. Encouraged by their own progress, they have set and announced evangelism goals that must have sent shivers down the spines of Roman Catholic priests from whose parishes the new evangelicals would come.
After years of "shivering," the Roman Catholic church in many places has finally caught cold, and in an at-to squelch the evangelical "infection" is administering its own homemade remedies.
In many places it is apparent a by the Roman Catholic church is in progress. Even in Brazil, where evangelicals now form 16 percent of the population and Protestants have been generally well accepted, a growing Roman Catholic conservatism is evident.
"I am concerned about the back-tracking in the appointment of bishops in the Roman Catholic church in Brazil," says Anglican Bishop Bill Flagg, general secretary of the 152-year-old South America Missionary Society, U.K. In the last 10 to 20 years authorities have been replacing more evangelical and socially-oriented bishops with more rigidly-conservative ones, says Flagg. This does not bode well for the future relationships between Catholics and Protestants, he indicates.
The chilled atmosphere is apparent at the highest levels of the Roman Catholic church. In Mexico City last year, Pope John Paul II deplored the growth of the Protestant church. Referring to them as "sects," he called for believers to return to the "true religion."
In most Latin American countries, though the evangelical populations growing, evangelicals still comprise a percentage of the general population. Nevertheless, they are becoming more willing than perhaps ever to stand up for or to pursue-in a low-key fashion-a political agenda.
In Mexico, some of those injured in the to secure an unusual audience with the president after experiencing from security police.
In Bolivia, where Catholicism is the religion, evangelicals are pressing for separation of church and state.
In Peru, despite the fact that evangelicals comprise only 3 of the population, they were a very visible force in spring elections which saw not only the election of their favored presidential candidate, but that of some 13 prominent evangelicals to the senate and chamber of deputies, Peru’s top law-making bodies.
As evangelicals in Latin America increasingly seek to lake their place in society, it is possible that a threatened Catholic church-once Latin America’s supreme power broker-may continue, officially or unofficially, to sanction the violent opposition that has already begun to wrack some evangelical communities. It may be necessary once again, as it was years earlier, for some evangelicals to lay down their lives for the gospel in Latin America.
ASIA’S ONE-ARMED WARRIOR
Like a warrior valiantly fighting with one hand tied behind his back, the church in Asia is attempting to do what may be impossible-reach Asia largely without the help of the only group of Christians with to the majority of the population.
In Asia, only women can reach women, who comprise half of the region’s population. Similarly, women have primary responsibility for the nurture of children, both male and female, under the age of 12. Together, these massive blocks comprise the majority of the unreached population.
It is not that Christian women are unconcerned. "Asian women are hungry for God," says Juliet Thomas, coordinator of Women’s Ministries, Operation Mobilization, India. They are excited when they find that they are important to God, that they have worth in his eyes, and that there is a role only they can fulfill, she says.
They are hampered by fulfilling that role by two major obstacles. One is a deeply ingrained low self-image produced by generations of societal denigration of their importance and value. "In our cultures we are treated as things to be used for the pleasure of men and convenience of others," says Thomas, "rather than as a person of worth who should be developed, loved, and cared for.
"They are told by their society they are totally useless, a nothing, not capable of doing anything worthwhile," says Thomas. In India, where women are regarded as basically irresponsible, an often-quoted proverb asserts that when a woman is young, she must obey her father, when married, her husband, and when widowed, her son.
Only when women come to understand God’s love for them and realize they have been raised to the status of his child are they able to step out in faith to fulfill the challenges of the ministries to which they have been called, says Thomas.
Another obstacle to the mobilization of women in the church is lack of training, says Thomas. "Asian women have not had teaching or training geared to them in their situation," she says. Most training programs are too generalized to meet their particular needs. Moreover, denominational women’s programs tend to be project-oriented, rather than person or need oriented.
In general, the teaching approach of the church is geared so much to the male perspective that it does not address the woman where she is in her need, nor demonstrate how she can become involved in ministry.
"It amazes me how much time, money, and energy has been spent for the training and challenging of men, not only now, but down through the decades," says Thomas. "Now people are saying they want to do something for women -but they are not prepared to invest time and people and resources in a serious way."
Yet the possible impact of the release of millions more Christians into effective ministry is staggering. "Everywhere I go in Asia I find there is not only a hunger among women for God, but a desire to do something," says Thomas. "It is the church’s responsibility to release the untapped potential of the resources of women. It is basic for the dynamic growth of the church."
Perhaps now it is time for the one-armed warrior to free his other arm for a battle that surely requires the whole effort of the church.
"POWER ENCOUNTER" IN NORWAY
In their flowing black gowns and masks the satanist priests were quite a spectacle in the quiet Norwegian community as they led their followers from church to church. One by one, they circled the churches, pronouncing curses against them and their leaders.
The incident, occurring just as a weekend series of meetings got under-way in one church, made for startling, if appropriate, introduction to Marit Landro’s messages on the power of the gospel.
Forced to encourage nervous congregants, Landro, director of Hed-marktoppen Bible and Mission School, reminded church members that God’s power in them was stronger than that inciting the satanists.
In fact, the bizarre incident is not the end of the story. Some six months later, Landro received happier news from that community. The satanist leader and the man with whom she was living had both become Christians and were planning marriage. They had been literally "loved to God" by a fearless Lutheran couple who refused to give up on them.
"This is going on in many places," says Landro. The battle against the devil is stronger than ever, but Christians are becoming more conscious of who they are and more willing to take a stand for Christ."
Revival is occurring throughout Norway, Landro asserts. Most Norwegians are members of the Church of Norway, the country’s officially-recognized Lutheran state church. Only 3 percent of the population, however, attend church on Sunday morning. Some 15 to 20 percent consider themselves committed believers.
A relatively small free church boasts membership in the thousands, rather than millions. At about 40,000 members each, the Norwegian Pentecostal Assemblies and the Salvation Army lead the other free churches by a wide margin.
Much of the recent growth is among renewal groups on the fringe of the established denominations. However, even older churches have experienced renewal, Landro says, as they have been forced to examine themselves, and to question why their members are attracted to the zealous new groups.
Charismatic renewal is penetrating both free and state churches, and has been received with apparent openness. In fact, says Landro, in many places barriers between churches have been breaking down. "It is a new thing in Norway," she says, "But we think less of ‘my church’ and ‘our organization’ and more of the kingdom of God."
ROCKING THE BOAT IN SINGAPORE
Singapore’s travel brochures praise the city-state’s multi-cultural urging visitors to sample Chinese opera, Malay dancing and India cui-sine. Its cultural diversity, brochures the announce, is the city’s It is also its Achilles’ heel.
In its early days as an independent country, multi-racial Singapore was racked by riots. Since careful attention to preserving harmony has the country peaceful, and it to become one of Asia’s most prosperous cities.
Over the years, Christians have been left largely to their own devices—as every other group that does not rock the boat. Lately, however, Christians have been, however unwittingly, rocking the boat.
Their biggest offense is evangelizing too zealously and growing too fast. Early in 1989, the government issued alarming reports based on a survey claiming to show Christians now comprise 18.7 percent of the population, a nearly 100 percent increase in an eight-year period. Although many Christian believe the actual number of Christians is lower, acknowledge the church has grown extremely fast, particularly among the young, well-educated, English-speaking Chinese population.
Such a demographic shift, the government believes, does not bode well for religious harmony in the city—a nearly two-year public discussion of the issue resulted last fall in the passage of a religious harmony bill, which seeks to put some restraints on evangelistic methods.
Clearly out of the question are door-to-door evangelism and the public distribution of tracts, activities deemed offensive to Muslims and Hindus in particular.
"We will increase our evangelism," says Benjamin Chew, a retired medical doctor who divides his time among several national and international denominational and parachurch boards. "But we must major on friendship evangelism."
It is a simple concept for Singapore’s sophisticated, creative, and highly-motivated Christian community, which in the last decade had become accustomed to issuing grand plans with catchy names. Caught off balance by the swift shift in the government approach-to them, Chris-are rethinking their evangelistic and the way they present themselves. Will new methods result in fewer new Christians? That remains to be seen. The government hopes at least they will result in fewer offended non-Christians.
EMQ, Vol. 27, No. 1, pp. 74-78. Copyright © 1991 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.