by Ruth A. Tucker
The Quiet Miracle is a missions periodical that I only recently became familiar with. It's published by Bible Literature International, and like most mission publications, it's free for the asking. It's a 24-page full-color magazine, with thought-provoking informative articles-well worth your time in writing for it (P.O. Box 477, Columbus, Ohio 43216)
The Quiet Miracle is a missions periodical that I only recently became familiar with. It's published by Bible Literature International, and like most mission publications, it's free for the asking. It's a 24-page full-color magazine, with thought-provoking informative articles-well worth your time in writing for it (P.O. Box 477, Columbus, Ohio 43216). The January-February, 1986, issue features articles on Hinduism and deals with the most recent obstacles confronting Christianity in India. One of those obstacles relates to untouchability-the outcastes who in the past have most readily converted to Christianity. But now the Christian love and acceptance of these people is being used against them. "In recent years the Indian government began giving financial aid and other benefits to the often-jobless untouchables. But India's supreme court has now ruled that untouchables who convert to Christianity will lose their government aid, unless they reconvert to Hinduism." Why? "Because Christian untouchables are treated so well by fellow Christians that they don't need government aid" (p. 5).
But despite such setbacks, Christianity is growing in India, largely because Indian nationals have developed so many effective outreach ministries of their own. One of those is Cornerstone World Challenge, founded in 1971 by A. Stephen, a young evangelist from Bangalore, India. In the past four years, he and his co-workers have established 15 churches that average more than 100 members each. Tract distribution, street meetings with films, and church planting are the main activities of the movement, and this year Stephen plans to reach 1,000 villages in South India with the gospel (p. 10).
There are other optimistic reports from South India as well. The cover story of the Church Herald (April 4, 1986), entitled "Vellore Diocese Celebrates Ten Years," highlights the work begun in 1826 by John Scudder, a Reformed Church missionary. In 1976, after 150 years of evangelistic endeavors, there were fewer than 40,000 church members. But in the last decade since the Vellore Diocese has been created, the number of baptized church members has more than doubled. The anniversary was marked by a festive parade, depicting the biblical story on floats-one of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, another of Noah and the ark, and others on the life of Jesus and his death on the cross. It was an impressive display of the Christian faith in a Hindu country, and it "made an impact on the whole city" (p. 9).
An area that has proven to be more resistant to the gospel than India is Europe. Although The World Book Encyclopedia still states that "Christianity is by far the major religion in Europe," the statistics of low church attendance and stories of apathy are familiar to us all. Yet, we need to be reminded of the great need for missionaries in that one-time stronghold of the faith. The Fundamentalist Journal (March, 1986) focuses on this need in a lead article, entitled "Missions in Europe," and articles that follow on France, Scotland, Ireland, and other countries. Howard Erickson emphasizes the fact that the spiritual decline has not only occurred in the mainline Protestant churches, but also among the Roman Catholics – some of whom actually jeered the Pope during a recent visit. Though 15 of the 34 European countries are considered to be more than 90 percent Catholic, the actual loyalty to the church is very low. Indeed, many people in both Protestant and Catholic countries are "dropping out of organized religion, turning Communist, becoming agnostic, or are pursuing other means of 'fulfillment.' England is in the midst of the biggest explosion of interest in the occult in a century. Poland has one of the world's worst alcohol abuse problems. Denmark and Sweden are leaders in world pornography. Austria has one of the highest suicide rates in the world" (p. 33).
How do people respond to the gospel? David Hagg, a missionary to Scotland, indicates that there is a mixed reaction. "Most people are interested in those who take an interest in them. If commitment and a degree of compassion have brought you to Europe, people will receive you and will usually come to accept you. However, in Scotland the response to the gospel is cautious. We are not ostracized or rejected, but there is an attitude of complacency toward our message. Most people here don't consider Christianity as an option for today" (p. 36).
Reaching the world-class cities with the gospel has been an important focus of missions in very recent years, and that is the theme of the February, 1986, issue of Impact (published by the Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society). One of the articles is entitled "Taking the Gospel to Urban Africa." Here, Al Dobra offers some fascinating insight on Abidjan, a city of two and a half million located in the Ivory Coast. Because there are no entry restrictions on people from other countries in West Africa, the city has become a melting pot of scores of language and ethnic groups. "In the struggle for development," writes former missionary David Parker, "it is as though a tidal wave of westernization came crashing into a tidal wave of ancient African tradition and cultures, and the hopelessly entangled result is Abidjan" (p. 13).
There are some 700 immigrants arriving in Abidjan every day, large numbers of whom are traditionalists or animists, who bring with them their fetishes and charms. The amazing factor is that many of them quickly forsake their traditional tribal religion, but not for Christianity. "One survey showed that 70 percent of the Mossi people who were traditionalists upon arrival in Abidjan converted to Islam soon thereafter. This is largely a result of the food, lodging and jobs which can be offered to newcomers by the Muslim community" (p. 13).
Dobra does not give an encouraging report of Christianity in Abidjan. The Christians are a minority and they are simply not reaching the immigrants in large numbers. The Muslims, on the other hand, comprise nearly 50 percent of the population, and they are rapidly increasing in numbers. Dobra reports that "no mission or church has direct ministry among them" and that "there are exceedingly few converts from Islam" because "the traditional methods of Western evangelism just do not work with Muslims."
One of the attractive features of Islam for traditionalists is that it does not strongly discourage charms and fetishes. "Even in front of the mosques merchants sell fetishes. These charms, ornaments, pieces of dead animals, birds, plants and various bottles and containers of who-knows-what are all purchased to help ward off the evil spirits" (p. 13).
Another world-class city where traditional religion flourishes alongside Christianity is Lima, Peru. Here, evangelical Christianity has made significant gains in recent years, and there is a wide variety of urban ministry programs. One of these is featured in a recent issue of Briefing (1985, Number 4, published by the Luis Palau Evangelistic Team). The ministry is focused on the some two million underprivileged children and their families, and it is headed by Rosario Rivera, who "doesn't fit the stereotypes most associated with relief-oriented work. She isn't European or American, she isn't supported by a mission board, and she didn't travel more than a mile to arrive at her mission field."
Rivera, a former communist guerrilla converted through the ministry of Luis Palau, is viewed by some as the "George Mueller of Peru" (p. 2). Her work begins at 4 a.m. when she and other volunteers begin preparing breakfast for some 2,000 needy children. The food is distributed to more than a dozen local churches, where the children come not only for food, but for Bible lessons and singing. Rivera is also the founder and superintendent of a Christian school in Limaâ€”a school that began in 1981 with 12 and grew to 70 by 1985. She is an amazing woman and an example of what can happen when an individual's zeal for revolutionizing society is redirected, and God becomes the motivating force.
Concern for church growth is closely related to urban ministry, and recent articles in Christianity Today have focused on this subject. One of these is a provocative essay entitled "Keeping the Church Doors Open" by Nathan O. Hatch (March 21, 1986). Dr. Hatch, who teaches at Notre Dame, offers a solemn warning for Christians in the United States, a country that "appears to be one of the world's most religious nations." Some 40 percent of Americans attend church as compared to 10 percent in England and 5 percent in Scandinavia. Why is there such a difference? From Alexis de Tocqueville to contemporary sociologists, observers have suggested that it is because American churches are not tied closely to the state or to political parties as they traditionally have been in Europe. "What struck de Tocqueville about America was not merely the formal separation of church and state, but the nonpolitical character of American denominations. In stark contrast with Europe, he found Protestant and Catholic clergy here generally avoided political entanglements" (p. 14).
Hatch sees grave consequences when churches become so entangled politically that they alienate certain segments of society. "In the wake of the French Revolution, when society seemed to be unraveling, churches cemented their ties with traditional elites and conservative politics. As a result, at the dawn of the industrial age, many churches forfeited the possibility of Christianizing working-class culture…. The same danger exists in our own day when Christians align the gospel too closely with any given political framework" (p. 15). Indeed, our TV evangelist-politicans should be warned that the short-term religious gains that are made in the wake of popular political causes may over the long haul do irreparable damage to church growth and stability in America.
Another perspective on church growth in Christianity Today is Tim Stafford's cover story on Donald McGavran, "The Father of Church Growth" (February 21, 1986). The fascinating article recognizes the enormous contribution this 88-year-old professor-missiologist has made over the past 50 years, and explores his early years as a missionary in India. During those years he evaluated his own ministry and that of others and "concluded that a great deal of missionary work fell short…. That message stung, particularly those who were not seeing numerical growth but still believed they were doing good" (p. 21).
In the years that followed, he developed principles of church growth that have been thoroughly tested by field strategists. Some have suggested that he has tried to make the work of God too scientific. Indeed, what do statistical analysis and sociological theorizing have to do with saving souls and building the church?
"To Donald McGavran, they have everything to do with it. The church-growth movement views evangelism in much the same way that an engineer views an airplane. The first question is, Does it fly? The second question is, How efficiently? As jarring as those questions are in a religious context, so jarring has the church-growth movement been. Church growth does not lack for critics" (p. 20).
Was John Wesley a church growth strategist? George Hunter III, the Dean and Professor of Church growth at Asbury Theological Seminary, argues that he was. In his article, "Rediscovering Wesley, the Church Growth Strategist" in Global Church Growth (Jan.-Mar., 1986), Hunter points out that Wesley was for 50 years the head of what he perceived to be a movement to recover apostolic Christianity, and that "he wrote and spoke frequently of the 'increase,' the 'spread' and the 'advancement' of this apostolic movement and believed that its expansion was expressing 'the design of God'" (p. 3).
Hunter further maintians that "Wesley's pragmatism corresponded remarkably to today's Church growth Movement" in that he "practiced rigorous observation" and "gathered data through thousands of interviews." Like today's church growth specialists who pride themselves in honesty and objectivity, he was always a bit of a skeptic and did not hesitate to make his own investigation. In 1748, he made a personal check of the reports from Dublin: "I inquired into the state of the society. Most pompous accounts had been sent me, from time to time, of the great numbers that were added to it; so that I confidently expected to find therein six or seven hundred members. And how is the real fact? I left three hundred and ninety four members; and I doubt if there are now three hundred and ninety six!" (p. 5).
It was Wesley, according to Hunter, who pioneered the church growth principle now called "the multiplication of units." "He was instrumental in the spawning of many hundreds of classes, bands, societies, and other groups with their distinct agendas" (p. 8). The real message we can take from Hunter's article is that church growth principles and practices worked for Wesley, and they continue to work today.
MINISTRY FOR ALL AGES
A short article in the Winter, 1986, issue of Trans World Radio caught my eye recently. I liked the titleâ€”"Retired & Rehired." It's a story featuring eight "senior citizens" who are actively serving the cause of missions during their retirement years. Some are couples and others are singles, but all staying young by entering exciting new careers and making good use of their acquired expertise instead of allowing their lives and creative energy to stagnate as sometimes happens when people arrive at retirement age.
Retired people aren't the only ones who are volunteering for short-term ministries. In recent years more and more young people have been making less than life-time commitments to missionsâ€”though many of them end up in career mission service. One of the many missions that appeals to youth is YWAM (Youth With A Mission), founded 25 years ago. In an article entitled "YWAM Steps Out," (World Christian, January/February, 1986), Bryan Bishop traces the organization's amazing growth and outreach. "Last Year, the organization sent out a whopping 15,000 short-term missionaries, more than any other mission. They gave new clothes to 30,000 refugees. They also started, on the average, one church every other day" (p. 19). The organization is very unlike most mission boards in its decentralized structure and its lack of publicity, ant though it is thoroughly orthodox it has been accused of being a cult because its methods are sometimes misunderstood.
Loren Cunningham launched this ministry when he was barely out of his teens, prompted by "a vision of waves rolling out to cover every continent. They were waves of young people, preaching as they went." In the years since there have been many blunders made by "greenhorns" that weren't adequately prepared to face the complexities of cross-cultural ministry, but the humanitarian ministries and the preaching of the gospel continue unabated. George Otis, head of Issachar, a mission research organization, gives high marks to the movement: "YWAM has popularized short-term missions more than any other organization. They are probably, from a spiritual standpoint, one of the finest, most committed groups I know of" (p. 19).
LESSONS FROM MISSIONS HISTORY
Missions history, when featured in publications of mission societies, is sometimes little more than a glowing account of the "saints" who have gone on before. Not so with Paul King's "Alliance History in China," in The Alliance Witness (January 15, 1986, published by the Christian and Missionary Alliance). Dr. King sees that history as a "record of heroism and martyrdom in a cataclysmic clash between cultures"â€”a clash caused to a large extent by missionaries. "Missionaries were emissaries of Christ but also products of a colonial age as they confronted a declining dynasty in a century of revolution." We should "recognize their heroism, their vision and their dedication, while deploring the imperialistic connection and the paternalism which many of them had toward the Chinese" (p. 10).
That heroism involved amazing sacrifice, perhaps most poignantly illustrated during the Boxer Rebellion when more than 20 Swedish Alliance missionaries and their children were brutally killed by the rebel forces. "The North China Mission was never reestablished, but out of the remnants of that group The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM) was founded."
Dr. William Cassidy from Canada was the first Alliance missionary to sail for China, but he died in Japan before arriving at his chosen field. Less than a year later, despite this tragedy, his widow and some other women missionaries sailed for China and began working in the interior. Like the missionaries of the China Inland Mission, the early Alliance missionaries went to the interior, but unlike CIM missionaries, they were more stationary and involved in church planting. It was perhaps in reference to this, that Martin Ekvall, an Alliance missionary serving on the Tibetan border wrote in 1900, "The results of missions in China were brought about more effectually by the Christian life exhibited by the missionary living among the natives rather than by merely traveling and preaching in the towns once or twice and passing on" (p. 9). This strategy was effective in building a national church strong enough to endure the turmoil of the 1930s and 1940s, and the Communist regime that has since been in power.
A historical piece touching an even more recent era in missions history appeared in the April, 1986, issue of Christian Life. Here Elizabeth Elliot offers personal reflections in an article entitled, "30 Years Later: The Auca Massacre." She has written on this subject on many occasions over the years, but not with such a frank, critical approach. Speaking of the tragedy, she writes, "For those who saw it as a great Christian martyr story, the outcome was beautifully predictable. All puzzles would be solved. God would vindicate himself. Aucas would be converted, and we could all 'feel good' about our faith." She goes on to make some surprising admissions: "But there is a danger in seizing upon the immediate and hoped-for, and glossing over other consequences, some of them inevitable, some the result of a botched job. The truth is that not by any means did all subsequent events work out as hoped. There were negative effects of the missionaries' entrance into Auca territory…. In short, in the Auca story as in other stories, we prefer to leave the unpalatable data aside, skip over the deep imponderables of permitted evil, and mouth flat platitudes" (p. 28).
The article includes reflections of the other Auca widows as well, among them Olive Fleming Liefeld who also expresses concerns about how the Auca story has been perceived over the years. "I constantly heard that it was God's will and that God makes no mistakes. But perhaps we need to acknowledge more fully the elements of evil and even satanic influence in the attack and, on our part, perhaps some undue haste, even though that seemed best at the time. Man is fallible as well as mortal. Asking the right questions may prevent repetition" (p. 29). Indeed, one of the most valuable aspects of history is the lessons it offers us. We must learn from the mistakes of the past, even as we are inspired by the courage and sacrifice of such men as Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, Nate Saint, and Roger Youderian.
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