Apologetics: Evangelism & Missions
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Now facing its third millennium, the Christian church faces a moment of great historical importance and opportunity. The modern missionary movement is now over two centuries old. Looking back over those years, it is clear that God mobilized His people to make great strides in taking the gospel to many parts of the world.
This missionary movement has seen the evangelization of millions of persons representing thousands of ethnic and cultural groups. The Bible has been translated into hundreds of languages and dialects. Over the last several decades, new areas of the world have shown a remarkable response to the gospel, and the continent of Africa may now be the center of the world missionary enterprise. In fact, the last half of the twentieth century saw an enormous evangelistic response throughout the Pacific Rim and the African continent.
Today, the Christian church faces new challenges. Without exaggeration, we can point to the twenty-first century as a new era in Christian missions, and recognize it as a vast new opportunity.
Looking at Christian missions today, we may be seeing the birth of a new missiological movement. This new era in missions will build upon the accomplishments of the last 200 years, but it must also be adapted to the new realities of our world context.
The most important dimension of any vision for world missions is a passion to glorify God. From beginning to end, the Bible declares that God is glorifying Himself in the salvation of sinners, and that He desires to be worshipped among all the peoples of the earth. The impulse of the missionary conviction is drawn from the assurance that God saves sinners, and that He is glorifying Himself by creating a new people through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, we have the glad opportunity to glorify God by declaring the Gospel to all the peoples of the earth.
As John Piper has stated, “The deepest reason why our passion for God should fuel missions is that God’s passion for God fuels missions. Missions is the overflow of our delight in God because missions is the overflow of God’s delight in being God.” In missions, we share God’s delight.
Pioneers such as William Carey gave birth to the modern missionary movement. It was Carey’s sense of evangelistic passion, set upon a clear foundation of biblical truth and confidence in the gospel, that compelled him to leave the safe confines of England and go to India. The full harvest of William Carey’s ministry will be known only in eternity. Most Christians are aware that he served for many years without a single convert. When many missionaries would have returned home or moved to greener pastures, Carey stayed and invested himself in India. He translated the New Testament and built bridges to the people of that great nation.
Since Carey’s time, thousands of missionaries have left homes and families to take the gospel to the remotest parts of the earth. Reviewing the history of the missionary movement, it is clear that great gains were made for the gospel. At the same time, every generation has left its own imprint on the missionary task, and each generation is blind to some of the cultural baggage it takes along with the gospel. At the height of the missions movement in the Victorian era, it often seemed that missionaries were just as intent on Westernizing native peoples as in evangelizing them. A new awareness of the global context and respect for native cultures should lead us to be careful to preach the gospel rather than Western culture.
The new vision for world missions is directed toward the reaching of people groups rather than nations. Missiological focus upon the nation-state is a remnant of the nineteenth century, when nations were conceived as singular units and national identity was paramount. This paradigm was long out of date by the end of the twentieth century. Christians now recognize that there are thousands of distinct people groups, each identifiable by culture, language, and social structure—and they are not always divided neatly by political boundaries. Each of these people groups represents a distinct missiological challenge, and each must be considered in its own right.
While it is likely that churches and denominational gatherings will continue to celebrate a parade of the flags of the nations, the reality is that each of those nations includes a collective of various people groups desperately in need of the gospel—people groups often dispersed throughout the globe.
This should bring a new humility as well as growing urgency to the church. So long as we were able to count nation-states in terms of missionary saturation, we could see a tremendous advance and what seemed to be a constant march of progress. When people groups are taken into consideration, however, we can clearly see that the greater challenge still lies before us. This means that the Christian church must develop cultural understanding and sensitivity, as well as linguistic and cultural dexterity, in the task of preaching the gospel to unreached persons.
This new vision for world missions is also remarkable in the fact that much, if not most, of the energy is coming from grassroots Christians rather than from institutional structures. Perhaps the greatest missionary advance among American churches is seen in the widespread participation of Christian laypersons in missionary trips and short-term mission projects. Churches that encourage and support this hands-on approach to missions will bear testimony to the powerful impact it has upon the participants and upon the missionary commitment of the entire congregation.
Today’s Christians are looking for an experiential participation in the missionary challenge. They draw great excitement in hearing from missionaries, but even greater commitment by being participants in the missionary movement themselves. Because of this, this new vision is also congregational in its focus. Individual congregations are taking up the missionary challenge, and measuring their own faithfulness by the number of missionaries sent around the world from among their own members.
Much of this new vision is flowing out of reports from the 10/40 window—that portion of the world between latitudes 10 and 40 degrees, where most of the world’s unreached peoples live. This focus on the Great Commission has led to a mobilization mentality that holds great promise for the future of the Christian church.
One missionary leader has defined this mobilization as “all of God’s people reaching all the peoples of the earth.” That motto sets the issue clearly. This generation must be committed to see all of God’s people together reaching all the peoples of the earth without regard to race, culture, economic reality, or geographical or political obstacles.
Over the past half-century, America has seen several generational transitions. As the new millennium dawns, the Baby Boom generation is now in mid-adulthood, and some are heading toward retirement. The GI generation that built so many of the great institutions and provided leadership in our denomination and churches is now reaching advanced years, though many in this generation continue to be active participants and well-known leaders. Behind the Baby Boomers are coming “Generation X,” the “Busters,” and the “Millennials.” How will these generations mold the missionary movement of the future?
This generation demonstrates a readiness to take on new challenges and to go where no previous generation has yet taken the gospel. They have been born into a culturally diverse world, and they are gifted with skills in intercultural communication. They are impatient with the cultural isolationism of previous generations. They see no political boundaries to the Gospel. They are ready to cross political borders and see no limitations on the Great Commission. Where previous generations wanted to support missions, this generation is determined to do missions. Incubated in an experience-driven culture, these young Christians are not interested in missions by proxy.
This new generation holds great promise, but it also demands urgent attention. The church needs to mobilize the energy of these younger Christians and deploy their gifts in cultural translation and adaptation. Nevertheless, this generation has inherited a dwindling deposit of doctrinal and theological understanding. Our churches and seminaries must quickly be about the business of grounding this generation in biblical truth, even as they are mobilizing for world missions.
In all likelihood, these new generations will establish a missiological pattern of long duration. We may well see a tidal wave of participatory missions unlike anything seen by the Christian church since the first century. Finally, it is up to the church both to release their energy and to ground their convictions.
Our vision for world evangelization is an important barometer of spiritual and theological health. A vibrant commitment to Christ leads to a passion for the Gospel. A grand embrace of God’s truth produces an enthusiasm to see God glorified as His name is proclaimed to the nations. It is time for a new generation to lead—and to point the way.
By Marvin Olasky
BEIJING — Americans are used to thinking of Chinese Christians as people imprisoned and beaten for their faith, and that is still true in some areas. In some cities, though, a nuanced struggle has emerged, with harassment replacing outright persecution and leaders negotiating with secret police at the local Starbucks.
Now, evangelism opportunities are great. I mentioned last month in this column that I interviewed CEOs who are openly talking about Christ with their employees and setting up Bible studies. I worshipped and talked with house churches made up of urban professionals that grow, split to avoid too much official attention, grow some more, and split once again.
Now, Chinese Christians do a tricky minuet with Communist Party authorities: They have freedom as long as they allow officials to save face. Wise Christians act like smart baseball players who know that hot-dogging it around the bases after hitting a homerun merely prods the pitcher to give them a fastball bruise the next time up.
For example, a leading conductor whom I’ll call Chang (name changed to avoid waving a red flag in front of Chinese officials who scan the Internet) is one of numerous cultural leaders willing to say openly that their artistic excellence did not alleviate their misery. Chang searched in Taoism and Buddhism but eventually encountered Christians who displayed love and humility: “This touched me. I wanted to be one of them. Reading the Bible, I realized why I was so miserable — because I am a sinner.”
Chang is now running a thriving school that trains music directors for house churches. Contributions have allowed him to move into a new facility with 18 pianos in soundproof practice rooms and a 200-seat concert hall. The government has cancelled Chang’s public concerts but otherwise leaves him alone, and he fills his hall once per month with a concert publicized only by word-of-mouth.
Chang is one of many Christians who refrain from flaunting their independence or directly criticizing the government and instead piggyback on what government officials themselves are saying about the need for stronger moral values. For example, a divorce rate estimated at 30-60 percent (there are no reliable official figures) is creating havoc in Chinese families, so church-sponsored Marriage Encounter weekends and “water buffalo camps” — teaching men not to be so hard on wives — have won favor even from high-ranking officials who themselves have troubled marriages.
China is also facing an enormous migrant problem as China’s population quickly moves from 80-20 percent rural to 80-20 percent urban. Most newcomers to cities live in poverty: Often embittered, can’t crawl home, but their pent-up grievances could lead to a violent explosion unless Christians, like the British Methodists of the 18th century, pave the way to a peaceful transition to a fully industrialized society.
Maybe some officials even realize that Christians like Pastor Gao (also not his real name), whom they used to jail, are also helpful, even though he operates an illegal seminary dedicated to teaching migrants. Gao and others teach theology, English, computers and music to 26 students, some of them still teenagers, who squeeze into five small bedrooms of two run-down apartments with old bicycles and part of a kitchen sink outside.
Gao’s grandfather when young was a disciple of famed missionary Hudson Taylor, who died in China in 1905. Mr. Gao became a Communist Party member but he listened to radio broadcasts from other countries, began to read the Bible seriously, and prayed to “the God of my grandfather.”
Those like Gao who believe in a Savior may turn out to be the salvation of China and of the world. As China becomes an economic and military superpower over the next several decades, the ascendancy of aggressive and xenophobic leaders will be a recipe for war — but the impact of hundreds of millions of Chinese Christians will be immense.
America’s evangelical Christians are facing a critical testing-time in the twenty-first century. Among the most important of the tests we now face is the future of missions, and our faithfulness to the Great Commission. At a time of unprecedented opportunity, will our zeal for world missions slacken?
Just as doors of opportunity are opening around the world, the Church seems to be losing its voice. A virtual re-paganization of Western culture is occurring, indicating that the failure of the American Church is evident at home as well as abroad. What is the root issue?
At base, the issue is a failure of theological nerve—a devastating loss of biblical and doctrinal conviction. The result is retreat on the mission fields of the world and regression on the home front. Since the middle of the last century, the mainline Protestant denominations have been withdrawing from the missionary enterprise, some even declaring a “moratorium” on the sending of missionaries charged to preach the Gospel. Among these denominations, the total missionary force is now a fraction of that during the 1950s, and many of those who remain on the fields have been assigned duties far removed from conversionist witness.
This loss of theological nerve is a fundamental failure of conviction. Put bluntly, many who claim to be Christians simply do not believe that anyone is actually lost.
The essence of this belief is universalism, the belief that all persons will be saved, whether or not they have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Universalism presents itself in many forms, including modern inclusivism, pluralism, and relativism. In its boldest and most honest form, it is the absolute declaration that all persons will be saved (if indeed there is anything from which to be saved). By this account, all religions have an equal claim to truth which underlies the “religious” character of humanity.
In its more romanticized forms, universalism is the belief that God would not actually sentence rebellious human beings to eternal punishment, in spite of what He reveals in Holy Scripture. These persons believe in a God of their own devising, and not the God of the Bible.
Universalism also presents itself in a naive form, in which Christians refuse to deal with the issue and simply declare no position or conviction on the issue. Their stance betrays their lack of conviction and even compassion. Their conscience is uncluttered by concern for the lost.
The believing Church down through the ages has steadfastly resisted the universalist temptation, because universalism is so directly opposed to the clear teaching of Scripture. The Bible presents Jesus Christ and His atoning work as the only means of salvation, His gospel as the only “good news” for a lost world, and the gospel as the global mandate of the Church.
There is no room for universalism—whatever its form—in evangelical churches. By rejecting the finality of Jesus Christ and the integrity of His gospel, those who promote universalism are witnesses to another gospel—demonstrating a perversion of the Gospel as the Apostle Paul had warned.
Given their commitment to the gospel, could evangelical Christians allow universalism to make inroads into their ranks? There are signs that this is now well underway. In the evangelical academy, some are advocating views well in line with the liberal Protestant arguments of the mid-century. The challenge of pluralism has found many evangelicals with weak knees. The pattern of evangelical compromise is also evident in those who seek to reduce the unique claim Christianity makes to truth, and also among those who promote the idea of a second opportunity for saving faith after death.
The pattern is not restricted to the academics, however. The most dangerous trend may be found in the pews of evangelical churches, where more and more Christians are willing to reject or compromise the uniqueness of Christ and His atonement, citing the apparent “sincerity” of those who worship other gods, or no god at all. Many American Christians seem increasingly reluctant to believe that their unsaved neighbors will go to hell. The urgency of world missions is a strange concept to a generation seemingly preoccupied with feel-good religion and self-help courses.
Where will the Church stand? A report released just a few years ago indicated that only a third of the participants at an Urbana missions conference (bringing together thousands of college-aged evangelicals) indicated a belief that “a person who does not hear the gospel is eternally lost.” As one missionary veteran responded: “If two-thirds of the most missions-minded young people in America do not affirm the lostness of mankind, the Great Commission is in serious trouble!” Should these trends remain unchecked and uncorrected, the missions cause—and the Church itself—will be in serious trouble indeed.
This is, as the late Carl F. H. Henry advised, a time for evangelical demonstration. Our words of support for the missionary cause are meaningless if we do not produce a new generation of bold, courageous, and committed Christian missionaries. Let us make our convictions clear. Evangelical Christians must take our stand for the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone has made atonement for our sins. In a day of pluralism, we must point to the only Gospel that offers salvation. We must learn again to define the true gospel in terms of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. This is the sum and substance of the genuine gospel—and the true gospel is always a missionary gospel.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
The Holy Spirit has placed an anointing on the church to go and finish the Great Commission, according to the head a ministry part of Campus Crusade for Christ International.
“There is a paradigm shift,” said Dr. Robert Varney, executive director of CCCI’s Christian Embassy and a director for the “Finishing the Task” conference to be held this November in North Carolina.
“It’s not about the [missions] agencies doing this any more. God ordained the church. Over the course of time, mission agencies have grown up and somehow, we send money to the mission agencies and said, ‘You go do it.’ But God has never worked like that.”
According to Dan Grether of Mission Spokane, “Finishing the Task” was inspired by a Billy Graham conference held at Amsterdam in 2000. During the conference, the Rev. Graham challenged 500 people gathered from 120 nations to complete the Great Commission and to charge forward at a rate quicker than in the last decade.
After nearly 2000 years of missionary work, there remain in the world 639 people groups with populations of 100,000 or more that do not have anyone communicating the Gospel to them.
At the Amsterdam conference, a group of seven mission organizations that were seated at Table 71 – by which the group is now known – were challenged by the large number of people groups as of yet unreached by the Gospel.
“It became apparent to us – especially to Steve Douglass – that two thousand years after he gave us the Great Commission, we still haven’t gotten the Gospel to every people group,” Grether said.
The seven missions organizations - Campus Crusade for Christ Intl., Youth With A Mission, Wycliffe Bible Translators, the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, Mission Spokane, Walk Thru The Bible, and Dawn Ministries – have since then come up with the idea of inviting larger churches (congregations of 2,000 or more) to a conference to encourage church planting movements among the last frontier of people groups.
“Part of our thinking is that there are churches part of the United States of America that are already mission-minded and have a lot of resources. Through this conference, our group wants to invite the pastors across the U.S. to come and be challenged to adopt one of those large last frontier people groups,” said Grether.
The organizations will offer their well-known and much-used resources, including special oral biblical teaching resources, Nov. 14-17, 2005 at The Cove in Asheville, N.C., to a select group of mission-minded pastors.
The controversy over the casting of actor Chad Allen in the lead role of the movie The End of the Spear continues to grow — and rightfully so. The End of the Spear is a retelling of the story of the martyrdom of missionaries Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Peter Fleming, Roger Youderian, and Ed McCully by Waodani tribesmen in Ecuador in 1956 — and many Christians have been eagerly awaiting the film’s release.
This is one of the classic narratives of Christian missions. Eventually, the widows of these five missionaries led the majority of the Waodani to faith in Christ, ending decades of tribal killings. Steve Saint, the son of Nate Saint, maintains a ministry among the Waodani even now, after having been “adopted” by Mincaye, the very tribesman who killed his father.
The story of the five missionary martyrs and their families has been recounted in several books and films — most famously Elisabeth Elliot’s two books, Shadow of the Almighty and Through Gates of Splendor. Generations of young evangelicals have drawn courage and inspiration from these testimonies, and the larger story of the evangelization of the Waodani people.
This account is a precious stewardship, as are the lives of all involved. I had the honor of sharing dinner with Steve Saint and Mincaye a few years ago during a Shepherd’s Conference at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. Their testimony is one of the most powerful affirmations of the power of the Gospel I have ever heard. I was greatly moved by meeting with them and I had looked to the release of the film with great hope.
Thus, the release of The End of the Spear on January 20 has been met with much enthusiasm. The movie was produced by Every Tribe Entertainment and has been received well by critics. So, what is the controversy all about?
The actor chosen to play both Nate and Steve Saint in the movie is Chad Allen, an actor well known to American television viewers for his roles in St. Elsewhere, Our House, and Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman. But Chad Allen is also known for something else — his very public homosexual activism. As a matter of fact, he has been on the cover of The Advocate, the leading homosexual news magazine, at least three times. He also staged Terence McNally’s play, Corpus Christi, which portrays Christ as a homosexual involved in a homoerotic dynamic with his disciples.
What were they thinking? Beyond this, Allen (whose real name is Chad Allen Lazzari) also speaks straightforwardly about his syncretistic faith, freely mixing elements of Christianity, Native American spirituality, Buddhism, etc. When I appeared with him on Larry King Live Tuesday night, I found him to be personally friendly and engaging, but I was not surprised to hear him speak of his own personal religion — a religion that excludes God’s commandments concerning sexuality. “I have a deep relationship with God of my understanding. It’s very powerful, and it’s taken its own shape and form. And I am very much at peace in the knowledge that in my heart God created this beautiful expression of my love,” he told the CNN audience.
Here’s how Mr. Allen described his process of moral decision-making: “These days I judge all of my actions by my relationship with God of my understanding. It is a deep-founded, faith-based belief in God based upon the work that I’ve done growing up as a Catholic boy and then reaching out to Buddhism philosophy, to Hindu philosophy, to Native American beliefs and finally as I got through my course with addiction and alcoholism and finding a higher power that worked for me.” That’s not a convenient disclosure on national television just days before the film is released, and Mr. Allen’s appearance offered yet another opportunity to witness his advocacy for homosexuality. He went so far as to suggest that his opportunity in this film represents a form of “bridge-building” between Christians and homosexuals: “You know, I made this movie with a group of conservative Christians who do not agree with my expression of sexuality. But we said to each other, I will walk with you accepting your differences, and we can create together. I will give you your space to respect you fully. They don’t need to take away from my freedom, I don’t need to take away from theirs. And I am so proud to have done that. That’s the kind of bridge-building I think we can get to.” What should we make of all this? Should Christians see the film, boycott the film, or what? Some thoughts:
First, Christians must have the cultural maturity to know that many of the most famous and influential producers of cultural materials, whether in literature, art, or entertainment, have been homosexuals. This does not mean that we cannot enjoy their music, art, or performances. Christians start from the presupposition that all humans are sinners, and that every artistic endeavor is marred by sin in both its conception and its demonstration.
Second, Christians must learn the discipline of cultural discernment based upon Christian truth. We must learn to engage the culture in a way that is both honest and missiological — and we must work hard to develop a mind that brings all things under subjection to Christ, including our entertainment preferences and choices.
Third, we must avoid hypocrisy. We should not pick and choose recklessly as we condemn or praise without any obvious tie to biblical truth. We must not condemn publicly what we enjoy privately. We must not assert matters of taste as matters of principle.
Fourth, we must understand the nature of the art form and learn how to discriminate on the basis of an informed cultural understanding, not a knee-jerk reaction. Accordingly, we must understand that the very nature of acting, whether on stage or on screen, is based upon the ability of the actor to make the audience see the character portrayed, not the actor, in the performance.
That said, this last point is the real problem when it comes to Chad Allen. Every Tribe Entertainment has chosen an actor — perhaps even the actor — least likely to be able to make us forget him and see Nate Saint. Chad Allen’s activism is what many audience members will see, not Nate and Steve Saint.
Christians loved the film Chariots of Fire, but the lead role of Eric Liddell was played by Ian Charleston, a gay man. Another great performance in that film was given by Sir John Gielgud, a homosexual man who was probably the greatest Shakespearean actor of the last century. Similarly, the role of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings trilogy was played by Sir Ian McKellen, who has also been known as a homosexual activist. Yet, I was not aware of these identifications as I viewed these movies. Thus, the associations never crossed my mind.
Careful thinking is required here. We do not know what sexual sins or sins of other sorts may characterize so many of the actors, actresses, singers, music writers, authors, musicians, painters, sculptors, or directors we enjoy and appreciate. Christians are not called to conduct investigative hearings on such matters, and we begin with the assumption that all these, like ourselves, are sinners.
Furthermore, we are not required to enjoy or appreciate as artists only those who are Christians. Yet, we should learn to look for the connections between worldview and art that always underlie a work or performance.
So, what of The End of the Spear? Put bluntly, I believe that the makers of this movie made a very reckless decision in casting Chad Allen as Nate and Steve Saint. Given the publicity of Chad Allen’s activism and the intensity of his mission to normalize homosexuality — a mission clearly articulated on his Web site — it is hard, if not impossible, to suspend belief and see him as a missionary martyr for the Gospel. The distance between Nate Saint and Chad Allen is just too great. This mistake is compounded by the fact that this activism is so well known and well documented — it’s what Chad Allen makes central to his own identity.
In learning cultural discernment, Christians must learn to make decisions about a movie like The End of the Spear. In this case, the problem was unnecessary. This controversy is over a member of the cast, not the foundational story or the larger shape of the project. It could — and should — have been so easily avoided.
There is an even bigger and more important issue, of course. How will this film deal with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the message that took the missionaries to Ecuador and transformed the Waodani?
“In the twentieth century, for the first time, there was in the world a universal religion—the Christian religion. Christianity acclimated itself in every continent and in almost every country. In many areas that hold might be precarious, and its numbers small, yet in country after country the Christians evinced the power to be a dynamic minority. It took root, not as a foreign import, but as the Church of the countries in which it dwells.” With those words, historian Owen Chadwick updated Bishop Stephen Neill’s classic history of Christian missions. By the end of the twentieth century, the Christian missionary movement had reached around the globe. Still, the missionary challenge looms larger than ever before. This comes immediately to mind in light of the remarkable cover story published in the January 29, 2006 edition of The New York Times Magazine. “The Call,” written by Daniel Bergner, offers fascinating and insightful coverage of the work of missionaries Rick and Carrie Maples, who along with their two children have moved to a rural outpost in northern Kenya, in order to bring the gospel to the Samburu people.
Bergner begins his account by describing the primitive church building in which he shares a conversation with Rick Maples. “I want this to be the last church,” Maples tells Bergner. “This should be the last church built in this section of the valley.”
As the article makes clear, Maples is speaking of the church building—not of congregations. His statement concerning the inappropriateness of the church buildings relates to the words on the cover of the magazine, describing Maples as an example of “the post-colonial missionary.”
Bergner’s article offers incredible insights into the transformation of Christian missions that has taken place over the last generation or so. Through the lens of his report, readers will come to understand not only why Rick and Carrie Maples would take their daughters into a desolate region of Kenya, but why they would also want to see the Samburu people develop their own indigenous manifestation of biblical Christianity. Put simply—evidence of indigenous Christianity among the Samburu would be seen in worship held out of doors, not in Western-style church buildings, however primitive.
Rick and Carrie Maples once knew a comfortable and prosperous life in Danville, California, an affluent community just outside San Francisco. Rick refers to his comfortable suburban life as “my other life,” even as Carrie remembers their jacuzzi and the ornamentation of their suburban home in California.
“We were really happy with our life,” Rick told the reporter. “We saw about 25 years ahead, and we were happy with what we saw.”
All that changed when Carrie and Rick experienced missions firsthand. As teenagers, they had been involved in various mission trips, and when they had married, they talked about serving as missionaries post-retirement. Then, in 1996, Carrie went with a nursing colleague on a three-week mission to a hospital run by Africa Inland Mission [AIM]. Upon her return, Carrie actually filled out an application to AIM but kept it secret from her husband, showing it to him only when he shared of his own sense of call to missions. As Bergner reports, “He recognized his desire one day at work, when he and his colleagues were chatting about what they would do if they ever won the lottery. His own answer, he said, had stunned him: he would quit his job and go as a missionary to Africa.”
Before long, Rick and Carrie, along with daughters Meghan (twelve) and Stephanie (four) moved to Kenya, first spending two years in Bonjoge, then moving to Kurungu, where they now serve with the Samburu people.
Instead of their suburban comfort in California, the Maples now live in a small cinder-block house that is served by a refrigerator that operates on kerosene. They live a day’s journey from Nairobi, and face daily challenges that could not have been imagined in San Francisco. As Bergner reports: “The family’s dog, Cooper, an irrepressible mutt, had been attacked and nearly blinded by a spitting cobra on the Mapleses’ back porch.” Beyond this, lions had recently killed several donkeys and a camel very close to the home. “The pair of Samburu guards that keep watch over the house recently chased the lions from the low fence of the family’s yard,” he reports.
Berger cites Todd Johnson, director for the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, and reports that American Christian missionaries around the world now number around 120,000. The liberal and mainline Protestant denominations have been reducing their missionary rosters for years, while missionaries from evangelical Protestant denominations and missions agencies continue to grow. Beyond the 120,000 missionaries cited by Johnson, the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College estimates that some 346,000 Christians are serving for periods between two weeks and one year.
In Kenya, approximately seventy percent of the people now claim some Christian identity. Nevertheless, the Samburu, numbering about 150,000, have been staunchly resistant to the gospel. Instead, they continue to worship “Ngai,” whom they believe to be identified with the steep mountains that border their Kenyan valley.
Bergner is clear in pointing to the evangelistic motivation that drives the Maples and their ministry. “For us, this is home,” Rick confided. As Carrie explained, they were here by virtue of their call to bring the gospel to the Samburu. “How do they know the truth, unless they are told the truth?” she asks.
The Samburu people are a proud tribe, who have embraced the Maples family as friends. They appreciate the fact that the missionaries have assisted with practical needs and medical care. As the report in The New York Times Magazine makes clear, modernity has made few inroads among the Samburu people. “Their wooden bells clacking softly in the still air, the herds graze, tended by the Samburu, whose bodies are draped in wraps of brilliant cloth, whose necks and foreheads are resplendent in beads and burnished metal, whose hair is dyed with red ocher.”
Evangelicals should view this article with respect and appreciation. Daniel Bergner writes of both the missionaries and the Samburu people with genuine respect—treating them as authentic human beings driven by understandable motivations. When so many impressions of Christian missionaries have been fueled by notions of Christian imperialism and worse, Bergner points to the deep Christian commitment and love that has brought the Maples family to Kurungu, and keeps them there under difficult and lonely circumstances.
Bergner’s reportage is touching and deeply moving. He writes of the loneliness experienced by Meghan, who at age twelve isn’t quite sure that she shares the same missionary calling. Nevertheless, she speaks of being “really blessed” through her experience with her parents on the mission field. “Sometimes I think I can live without friends, I just don’t know,” she told the reporter. “Sometimes I have these breakdowns.” There are almost no girls her age among the Samburu in Kurungu.
Bergner also writes of the “strategic” patience demonstrated by these missionaries. “It seemed to blend with the expanses of arid land and the timelessness of Samburu life,” he observed. “It seemed almost like a cover. And all the while the Mapleses were gaining trust and gathering knowledge so that they would prevail in an area where other missionaries had made little headway.”
Devastating criticisms of Christian missionary efforts as projections of cultural imperialism were often well deserved. In too many cases, Christian missionary efforts appeared to be motivated by something more like Rudyard Kipling’s infamous “white man’s burden,” rather than by the Christian gospel and the Great Commission.
Daniel Bergner’s article is a respectful and accurate demonstration that the age of colonial missions is now past—certainly among the most respected and established missionary organizations. Rick and Carrie Maples want to see an indigenous form of Christianity emerge among the Samburu, with indigenous churches and with appropriate cultural manifestations of transformational Christian truth.
As an example of the difficult issues often encountered in the collision of cultures and the presentation of the Christian gospel, Bergner points to the practice of female circumcision which is commonly practiced among the Samburu. “It’s a spiritual issue, it’s a public-health issue, it’s a human rights issue,” Rick Maples declared. As he explained, the body is God’s temple and the mutilation of the human body is a sin. “Once people have accepted the Lord, we’ll talk about how God created sex and ordained sex, that sex is to be enjoyed,” Rick explained. “It is a gift to a man and a woman who are married, and to take away God’s gift of pleasure is not right.”
The forthrightness with which Rick and Carrie Maples discussed sex appeared to shock Daniel Bergner, but the fact that Christianity would transform a culture and contradict certain cultural practices is part and parcel of the Christian missionary experience. After all, missionary pioneer William Carey, who went to India two centuries before the Mapleses went to Kenya, understood that the embrace of the Christian gospel must mean the end of the Indian practice of suttee (or sati), the ritual burning of a dead man’s widow.
What this important article makes clear is that Christian missionaries have been struggling with these questions for at least a generation now, realizing that the Christian gospel will transform every culture, but that the goal of Christian missions is not to replicate Western civilization, but to show the glory of God through the transformation of peoples in accordance with their own cultural diversity.
Writing almost twenty years ago, missions strategists Dale W. Kietzman and William A. Smalley observed: “There cannot be preaching except in cultural terms, and no human being can or should try to escape value judgments. The missionary cannot legitimately force or enforce any culture change. Nor does he have an adequate basis for advocating specific changes in a culture unless he has a profound knowledge of the culture.”
They continued: “The missionary does, however, have an extremely important function in the tactful, thoughtful, serious presentation of alternate forms of cultural behavior to the Christians in a society. On the basis of his knowledge of history, his understanding of the church elsewhere, and above all, his knowledge of the tremendously varied ways in which God dealt with men, as recorded in the Scriptures, he can make it clear to them that there are alternative ways of behavior to their own, and help them in prayer and study and experiment to select those cultural forms which would be the best expression for their relationship to God in their culture.”
The New York Times Magazine and Daniel Bergner deserve the respect and appreciation of American evangelicals for the careful and objective analysis this article represents. Non-Christians reading the article are likely to gain a new understanding of why evangelical Christians would abandon comfort in order to follow the missionary call. Readers will be assisted in understanding how modern missions has moved into a post-colonial shape, understanding and appreciating the diversity of human cultures.
Christians, on the other hand, should receive this article as an impetus and a reminder of what is at stake in Christian missions and of the challenge that yet remains—reaching hundreds of people groups around the globe who have never heard the Gospel. Beyond this, we now know of a people, the Samburu, for whom we should be praying—praying that they would be open and receptive to the Gospel. Beyond this, this article allows us to meet Rick and Carrie Maples, who along with their daughters are serving the cause of Christ at great sacrifice.
If nothing else, we should also remember the commitment to the Gospel of Christ that is represented by a twelve-year-old girl in Kenya who feels desperately lonely. The Kingdom is visible in such as these.
NEW YORK – When the Rev. Billy Graham announced that his final evangelistic crusade would take place in New York City in the summer of 2005, it may have signaled an end to the massive, far-reaching gatherings that he had led for over five decades, but it was hardly a pause for the ministry.
This year, Franklin Graham, the eldest son of world-renown evangelist, continues to deliver the same message of hope by holding eight evangelistic “festivals” in five countries.
“We aren’t slowing down,” said Franklin, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. “In fact, 2006 will be one of our most active years of ministry.”
Over the past five years, the BGEA has restructured the international organization into a more efficient operation and, just last year, relocated its headquarters from Minneapolis to Charlotte, N.C.
Their new global television project has already reached millions on multiple continents and used new designs and technology to recreate its U.S. TV broadcasts and publications.
There are an increasing number of events each year, and a record number of converts.
Franklin Graham, 55, is current in Manila, Philippines, and will end the year in Okinawa, Japan in November. In addition, the evangelist will hold a Celebration of Hope this March at the invitation of New Orleans parishes. His international relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse, has raised more than $36 million in aid for the Gulf Coast.
Since Franklin Graham’s first evangelistic event in 1989, he has conducted more than 100 evangelistic festivals around the world, speaking to over four million people. In 2005, Franklin Graham held seven evangelistic events.
This year, Graham will tour eight cities:
Tens of thousands of Filipinos poured into Manila’s Rizal Park as evangelist Franklin Graham spoke on the love and forgiveness found in Christ Thursday evening – the first day of the Metro Manila Festival.
From Feb. 2-5, the four-day festival will proclaim to Manila’s millions that “There is Hope,” according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Festival, the organization for which Graham serves as president and CEO.
Graham, 53, took the platform in Rizal Park, well aware of the unrest Filipinos had recently faced, having met with national leaders in the days leading up to the Festival, according to the BGEA. In those meetings he had expressed a desire to share “God’s message of hope, especially in light of the challenges facing the Philippines today.”
Metro Manila, Philippines, has been one of the fastest-growing regions in the world the last 30 years, and it now stands as a major cosmopolitan center of Southeast Asia with more than 11 million people living in the 17 municipalities that make up the metropolitan area. The nation is struggling against poverty, crime, unemployment, drugs, and the spread of HIV-AIDS.
According to Bishop Reuben Abante, general secretary for the Festival, “The Philippines is simply crying out for preaching of the Gospel and the spiritual regeneration it brings.”
Local churches have been affected, and their growth stagnated.
Preparations for the Metro Manila Festival have helped to join Christians across denominational lines in unprecedented numbers.
Graham told the crowd about Nicodemus, the Pharisee from the Jewish ruling council who went to Jesus one night with a question. He said that this troubled man was someone with “very high intellectual qualities… a religious man.”
“Many people trusted him,” yet that was not enough to give him hope. “He came to Jesus Christ,” he said.
More than 1,490 committed their lives to Jesus Christ out of the 33,700 who attended.
The final pair of missionaries from New Tribes Mission pulled out of their outposts Thursday, days ahead of their deadline, after being accused of espionage by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who ordered the expulsion of the tribal-focused missions group.
With some having done mission work for 59 years in the remote tribes of Venezuela, the nearly 40 missionaries, mostly from America, left the indigenous areas saddened as they returned to their base in Puerto Ordaz.
The deadline set by Chavez in November for the Sanford, Fla.-based missions organization to leave was set for this Sunday, 90 days after the Ministry of Justice and Interior published a decree declaring the revocation of NTM’s permission to work in tribal areas. NTM has had permission to work in indigenous territories since 1953.
Despite the order to halt years of evangelical work with the jungle tribes, the missions group is currently deciding whether to leave or push a legal battle to overturn the government’s decision.
“It’s not a complete disaster,” said Marco Brito, spokesman for the missionaries, according to the Associated Press. “We’ll see what happens.”
The group’s request to annul the government’s order has been taken to the Supreme Court for consideration. Although the Court determined earlier not to suspend the effects of the Nov. 14 resolution which gave missionaries 90 days to leave tribal areas, it accepted the request for a hearing on the constitutionality of the resolution.
According to NTM, the process to overturn the resolution is still ongoing, but the final decision on that count could take up to a year.
On Oct. 12, President Chavez made the unexpected order for the group to leave the tribal areas of Amazonas, Bolivar, Apure and Delta Amacuro, accusing them of spying for foreign mining and pharmaceutical interests and collaborating with the CIA. Although NTM was not expelled from the country altogether, it is not yet clear whether the government may insist that the mission group take such a leave.
Thousands of tribal people in Venezuela had rallied early November in support of the mission group, opposing the government’s decision as many believed it was made on false pretenses.
NTM had said it believes the Venezuelan government has misunderstood their mission, purpose and relationship with the United States. It offered to open its missions to government inspectors.
As a Protestant evangelical organization, New Tribes Mission specializes in working among 3,000 indigenous groups in the world’s most remote areas.
More american adults are “born again christians” than ever before, according to a recent barna study that has tracked the measure since 1983.
The barna group found in a sample of 1,003 adults that 45 percent are classified as “born again” based upon their beliefs which are measured by the research institute’s criteria. Up from 31 percent in 1983 and the 36 to 43 percent range that was measured in the past quarter century, the current figure is the largest single-year increase since 1991-1992.
The research study attributed the increase to a 16-point rise among baby boomers since the beginning of the 1990s. While 48 percent from the preceding pair of generations and slightly more than one-third of the younger generations met the born again criteria, 53 percent of baby boomers met it.
Among people groups, women are 16 percent more likely than men to be born again, african americans are the most likely among other ethnic groups to be born again with 59 percent, and residents in the south were most likely than residents in other regions to be born again with a measured 57 percent.
Meanwhile, notional christians, which are people who describe themselves as christian but do not meet the born again criteria, have declined from 46 percent in 1991 to 36 percent today.
Researcher george barna concluded that this is a positive first step toward a deeper, more mature christian faith.
“the same tracking survey shows us that people’s faith is not at all deep, but at least more people are becoming attuned to the importance of the life, death, resurrection and message of jesus christ,” said barna. “the worst thing would be for millions of people to accept christ as their savior and then live the remainder of their life as if nothing had changed other than their eternal destiny.
“the challenge to faith communities, at this point, is to help people realize that you cannot be a follower of christ by taking the free gift of salvation and then continuing to pursue the same life trajectory as before making that decision,” he continued. “embracing christ as your savior is not the end of the story. It’s the very beginning point of a transformed life that centers on constant worship of god, serving other people, investing personal resources in the values of god, deepening their relationship with god every day, and creating families that place god at the center of their shared experience.
“faith is a progressive journey,” barna added, “so we are hopeful that the recent surge in the number of adults who say they have committed themselves to following jesus christ is the first in a series of steps toward maturity in their faith and relationship with christ.”
According to the barna group, “born again christians” are defined as people who said they have made a personal commitment to jesus christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted jesus christ as their savior.
Pastor, you’re surrounded by dirt.
To be more precise, you’re surrounded by soil – all kinds of soil. In your community, you have people who are ready to respond to the Gospel and people who aren’t. Your job is to isolate the good soil and plant your seed there.
Jesus clearly taught this notion of spiritual receptivity in the Parable of the Sower and the Soils (Matt. 13:3-23). Like different kinds of soil, people respond differently to the Good News. Everyone is not equally ready to receive Christ. Some people are very open to hearing the Gospel and others are very closed. In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus explained that there are hard hearts, shallow hearts, distracted hearts, and receptive hearts.
If you want your ministry to maximize its evangelism effectiveness, you need to focus your energy on the right soil. That’s the soil that will produce a hundred-fold harvest. Take a cue from those who work with actual dirt. No farmer in his right mind would waste seed, a precious commodity, on infertile ground that won’t produce a crop. In the same way, I believe careless, unplanned broadcasting of the Gospel is poor stewardship. The message of Christ is too important to waste time, money, and energy on non-productive methods and soil. We need to be strategic in reaching the world. We should focus our efforts where they will make the greatest difference.
If you look closely, you’ll see that even within your church’s target group there are various pockets of receptivity. Spiritual receptivity comes and goes in people’s lives like an ocean tide. People are more open to spiritual truth at certain times than at others. Many factors determine spiritual receptivity. God uses a variety of tools to soften hearts and prepare people to be saved.
So who are the most receptive people? I believe there are two broad categories: people in transition and people under tension. That’s because God uses both change and pain to get people’s attention and make them receptive to the Gospel.
People in transition: Any time people experience major change, whether positive or negative, they develop a hunger for spiritual stability. This has occurred in America during the last several years. The massive changes in our world have left us frightened and unsettled and has produced an enormous interest in spiritual matters. Alvin Toffler says that people look for “islands of stability” when change becomes overwhelming. This is a wave the Church needs to ride.
People are also more receptive to the Gospel when they face changes like a new marriage, a new baby, a new home, a new job, or a new school. That’s why churches can generally grow faster in newer communities where new residents are continually moving in than in stable, older communities where people have lived for 40 years.
People under tension: God uses all kinds of emotional pain to get people’s attention: the pain of divorce, death of a loved one, unemployment, financial problems, marriage and family difficulties, loneliness, resentment, guilt, and other stresses. When people are fearful or anxious, they often look for something greater than themselves to ease the pain and fill the void they feel. I claim no immaculate perception on the list I want to share with you. This is not a scientific study. But based on my many years of pastoring, I offer the following list of what I believe have been the 10 most receptive groups of people that we’ve reached out to at Saddleback:
• Second-time visitors to your church (unbelievers who come, regardless of the reason)
• Close friends and relatives of new converts
• People going through a divorce
• Those who feel their need for a recovery program (any type: alcohol, drugs, sexual, etc.)
• First-time parents
• Terminal illness of self or family member
• Couples with major marriage problems
• Parents with problem children
• Recently unemployed/major financial problem
• New residents in the community
A great benefit of focusing on receptive people is that you don’t have to pressure them to receive Christ. I tell my staff: “If the fruit is ripe, you don’t have to yank it!”
Your church might make a goal of developing a specific program or outreach to each of the most receptive people groups in your community. Of course if you begin to do this someone is likely to say, “Pastor, I think that before we try to reach all these new people we should try to reactivate all the old members that have stopped coming.” This is a guaranteed strategy for church decline! It doesn’t work. It usually takes about five times more energy to reactivate a disgruntled or carnal member than it does to win a receptive unbeliever.
I believe God has called pastors to catch fish and feed sheep – not corral goats! The truth is that some of your inactive members probably need to join somewhere else for a number of reasons. Growing churches focus on reaching receptive people. Non-growing churches focus on re-enlisting inactive people.
Once you know who your target is, who you are most likely to reach, and who are the most receptive people in your target group, then you’re ready to establish an evangelism strategy for your church. So my suggestion to you is this: start checking the soil.
HANNIBAL, Mo. (AP) – They could be called “God’s Squad.” They’re not Hell’s Angels, but Heaven’s Angels on wheels, riding into a world situated at two crossroads, motorcycle gangs and spirit-filled Christianity.
Roaring down the highway, members of the Christian Motorcyclists Association reach out in fellowship to Christians who have a desire to do more than just own and ride a motorcycle, but be involved in every aspect of the biking world while spreading the word of Jesus.
“The Mississippi Valley Spoke-In-Word was formed two years ago,” said Noah Clatt, president of the group. “One of our purposes is to give motorcyclists a better image and change people’s views. Not all motorcyclists are bad. A lot of bikers go to church and to rallies.”
The group shares fellowship from all backgrounds. Members are involved in many kinds of ministries, taking the Gospel to different people, which may include prison ministry and youth work, but the main aim is to reach motorcyclists.
“We have approximately 40 members,” said Connie Clatt, newsletter editor and events coordinator for the local group. “It doesn’t matter what church, just that you want to believe. It’s a service ministry where we serve in a lot of different ways.”
The group’s mission is to encourage and conduct, among motorcyclists, public worship, ministry and Christian Evangelist Crusades. They also want to encourage Christian fellowship and improving the stereotypical bad-boy behavior and image of people who ride motorcycles.
“At the bigger rallies we will baby-sit the kids to keep them out of that environment,” Noah Clatt said. “We clean up after the bikers, picking up trash and cleaning restrooms. The reason we go to rallies is we want to show bikers that they can have a good time without doing alcohol and drugs.”
Other community projects include speaking at church and Bible youth groups, working on Athletes Day for the mentally disabled, visiting the elderly at nursing homes, youth camps and ministering to inmates in prisons.
Herb Shreve founded the ministry in 1975, when he sensed the need for someone to go to motorcycle events and share his faith. Little did he realize that this step was the beginning of an organization that now has over 117,000 members in more than 400 chapters across the United States.
The Clatts are former foster parents and have ridden motorcycles for 30 years.
“After being in foster care for 16 years, we wanted to do something different,” Connie Clatt said. “CMA has really changed my life personally. I’m having a wonderful time.”
Retired Iraqi Gen. Georges Sada, a former fighter pilot-turned-Christian evangelist, says Kurds are converting to Christianity “by the hundreds” in northern Iraq.
Gen. Sada earlier reported that he had been told that Iraqi pilots, flying private planes, took weapons of mass destruction to undisclosed locations in Syria in 2002.
The “good news” from Iraq’s turbulent religious scene, consisting mainly of Sunni and Shi’ite Muslim militias battling each other, is from the Kurds, he said. Kurds are creating a constitution that does away with Shariah, or Islamic law, a move counter to trends in other Muslim countries such as Afghanistan and Iran, where leaving Islam is a capital offense and Christian converts are often killed.
“No Christians in the Kurdish territory are persecuted,” he said yesterday in an interview.
Gen. Sada, 66, who lives in Baghdad, cited growing numbers of evangelical Christians in the Kurdish city of Irbil and a recent church conference of 854 Christians at the city’s Salahaddin University as demonstrations of the Kurds’ willingness to protect religious freedom.
He added that Nechervan Idris Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdish regional government in Irbil and nephew of former Iraqi Governing Council President Massoud Barzani, was extremely positive about evangelical Christians’ efforts among Iraq’s 4 million Kurds.
“He told me he’d rather see a Muslim become a Christian rather than a radical Muslim,” the general said.
He spoke last night at McLean Bible Church, Northern Virginia’s largest congregation, about his new vocation as director of the Iraqi Institute for Peace and president of the National Presbyterian Church in Baghdad.
“My foundation for peace is Christianity,” said Gen. Sada, who was born an Assyrian Christian. “We must learn to love. Muslims will say they’ve got love and forgiveness, but I want to emphasize what Jesus Christ has said.”
Gen. Sada has his work cut out for him. Outside the Kurdish areas, “Christians are in a very tough situation,” he said. “Their children are kidnapped, and their money is taken by terrorists.”
A fighter pilot like his father, Hormis Sada, Gen. Sada rose quickly in the Iraqi military in the 1960s and 1970s and was made a general in 1980. During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, he was responsible for interrogating U.S. and allied pilots shot down over Iraq.
The foreword to his recent book, “Saddam’s Secrets,” is written by retired Air Force Col. David Eberly, whose plane was shot down Jan. 19, 1991. Col. Eberly evaded capture for three days before he was found and taken to Baghdad.
“Suddenly I found myself in the presence of a man who, despite the power he had over me, still seemed to respect my human dignity,” Col. Eberly wrote of Gen. Sada.
When Saddam Hussein’s younger son, Qusay, demanded that the 24 pilots in Gen. Sada’s custody be killed, the general refused. He was imprisoned for a week, released, then discharged from the military on Feb. 5, 1991. But he kept his extensive military contacts, who told him of Saddam using private planes to fly weapons of mass destruction to Syria in 2002.
But it was not until April 2004, when Jordanian intelligence reported foiling an al Qaeda plot to unleash 17.5 tons of explosives, including sarin nerve gas, in downtown Amman, that he decided to go public with what he knew.
“I thought, ‘Wait a minute,’?” he recalls. “The weapons must have fallen into the hands of terrorists.” About the same time, he encountered Terry Law, the Tulsa, Okla., founder of World Compassion, a Christian aid group, who put him in touch with a book publisher.
“God had brought this together,” the general said, “and I prayed about this and decided to go ahead. But this decision was not easy, as there’s a vacuum of security in Iraq.”
A week after the general’s book came out in January, he was summoned by Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, to talk about weapons of mass destruction under Saddam. No one knows where they are in Syria, the general said, because the men who flew the lethal weapons into Syria aren’t talking.
“It’s not easy for pilots to say, ‘Yes, I transported weapons of mass destruction,’?” he said.
Could evangelical Christianity bring to an end years of rule by the Communist regime in China?
“Yes” would be the reply of one activist encouraged by a recent report that claims Chinese people are turning to religion in increasing numbers after years of state-imposed atheism.
D.J. McGuire, president of the China Support Network and the China E-Lobby, remains hopeful following an article that was recently published in the Chinese newspaper, the Epoch Times.
The article found that years of Communist rule has not brought the Chinese people satisfaction or spiritual transcendence, reports Agape Press, but has only prompted them to search elsewhere to find the “missing something” in their lives.
“The Chinese people are suffering a crisis of faith,” McGuire contends. “As one would expect, Maoism has not brought them fulfillment of any kind. They’re now relying on radical nationalism the CCP is in order to survive, and that’s exactly the sort of thing that only works temporarily.”
Instead of putting people off religion, McGuire maintains that the national-pride strategy of the Communist regime has only made the people turn to the very thing the Chinese government fears the most.
“What we now see is a people – the Chinese people – crying out for faith, crying out for fulfillment,” he explained to Agape Press. “And they’re finding it, increasingly, in Christianity.”
According to McGuire, “the farther and deeper [Christianity] spreads, the more treacherous it is for the Chinese Communist Party,” because there is something fundamentally different about the Christian.
“What makes Christianity different, in particular evangelical Christianity – and I say this as someone who was born and raised Catholic – [is that] evangelical Christianity is connected but it’s decentralized, which makes it much harder for the communists to stamp out and remove,” said the head of the China Support Network.
Contrasting with the more centralized structures of other religious communities in China such as Falun Gong and Roman Catholics, he said, “that is why I think the rise of evangelical Christianity is one of the things that will lead to the end of the Chinese Communist regime.”
The few but effective visits made by Luis Palau to China have gradually led to more opportunities for the influential American evangelist to preach openly in the religiously restricted country.
Since 2000, Palau has been allowed to speak at various events in China – some evangelistic and others to promote charitable activities in China. Palau was invited to Shanghai to work on a book titled “A Friendly Dialogue Between A Christian and An Atheist” – an idea proposed by atheist and former spokesman for Communist China’s Cabinet Zhao Qizheng – in November 2005. The two-day Shanghai meetings lasted three hours each day and were videotaped by Palau’s team. The highly publicized trip had also drawn much controversy.
Currently, Palau is in Beijing for the release of the long-awaited co-authored book at the Beijing International Book Fair (BIBF), which began on Wednesday. This is Palau’s fourth visit.
According to a press statement released Wednesday by the Luis Palau Association, Palau spoke of the benefits of the somewhat “aggressive” meetings he has had.
“On each visit to China I have made new friends at all levels of society and influence,” the evangelist said. “I have witnessed continued change. I continue to pray these friendships and changes will lead to greater religious freedom.”
Palau said he believes each trip to China is getting him closer to his life-long dream of one day holding an open-air festival in Mainland China with the government’s approval.
According to Palau, “Exciting changes are coming to China as millions of Chinese come to faith in Jesus Christ. These followers of Jesus love China and believe the love of God will bring nothing but positive social and economic change to their great country.”
Palau’s passion for China has moved the heart of even U.S. President George W. Bush. During his last visit to Beijing in November 2005, Palau received a phone call from the White House requesting that he join President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush for a private breakfast and Christian church service in Beijing.
Bush, a devout Christian himself, has expressed the same dream as Palau. “It wasn’t that long ago that people were not allowed to worship openly in this society. My hope is that the government of China will not fear Christians who gather to worship openly,” the president said. “A healthy society is a society that welcomes all faiths and gives people a chance to express themselves through worship with the Almighty.”
In his new book, “A Friendly Dialogue Between A Christian and An Atheist,” Palau states: “My dream would be that every Chinese person would find peace with God through Jesus. That’s my dream. Because we all know we’re going to die and the interesting thing is that Jesus offers the absolute assurance of eternal life to every sinner who repents and believes in Him.”
Zhao, in response, said: “I, too, have a dream. My dream is that the exchanges between religious believers and non-believers will become an important part of contemporary culture. The United States and China are both great nations. The United States is the largest developed country in the world and China is the largest developing country in the world. We should make a more active effort to promote the exchanges between the Chinese and American peoples…It should include religious dialogue and dialogue between religious and non-religious people.”
According to sources from the Luis Palau Association, Palau also met with Cai Wu, the new Minister of Information, during this week’s visit to China. Cai said the success of the Riverside Talks book reflects the changing attitude of the government toward religion. He also showed his interest in writing a book together with Palau and said he believes that the newly released book will promote more harmonious and friendly exchanges between leaders from the United States and China.
In a special newsletter from the Luis Palau Association on Wednesday, Luis Palau’s son Kevin reported that Luis would “use this time in China to build relationships, look for more opportunities to share the Gospel, and speak at several churches.”
Kevin requested prayers for Luis and the Riverside Talks so that “the clear Gospel message will help to have a powerful impact on China and the world for Christ.”
Prosperity theology is “booming,” Time magazine reported in this week’s issue, with some of the biggest megachurches in the country preaching the Health and Wealth message that many other evangelical leaders criticize.
The cover of this week’s Time was dominated by a silver Rolls Royce car topped with a gold cross emblem shining on the front. The headline: “Does God want you to be rich?”
According to a new Time poll, 61 percent of adult Christians in America agree that “God wants people to be financially prosperous” and 49 percent disagree that “poverty can be a blessing from God.”
The reportedly fastest-growing U.S. church – Lakewood Church in Houston – preaches emphatically about the “goodness of the Lord.” Lead pastor Joel Osteen wrote a best-selling book, Your Best Life Now, which Time said helped spread prosperity theology “beyond its Pentecostal base” and “into more buttoned-down evangelical churches, and even into congregations in the more liberal Mainline.”
Osteen, who preaches each weekend in a renovated Compaq Center sports arena to over 30,000 worshippers, told Time, “I don’t think I’ve ever preached a sermon about money.”
The megachurch pastor said in the interview that he “preach[es] that anybody can improve their lives.”
“I think God wants us to be prosperous,” he stated. “I think He wants us to be happy. To me, you need to have money to pay your bills. I think God wants us to send our kids to college. I think He wants us to be a blessing to other people. But I don’t think I’d say God wants us to be rich.”
Other influential megachurch pastors including Bishop T.D. Jakes of the Potter’s House in Dallas and Creflo Dollar of World Changers in Atlanta embrace the message of prosperity.
However, prominent pastors such as the Rev. Dr. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., call it “baloney.”
“This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy?” Time reported Warren as saying. “There is a word for that: baloney. It’s creating a false idol. You don’t measure your self-worth by your net worth. I can show you millions of faithful followers of Christ who live in poverty. Why isn’t everyone in the church a millionaire?”
Both sides go to the Bible to support what they preach.
“‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house, and try Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it’” (Malachi 3:10). The report placed this verse among others against several other passages that say wealth is not a gift of God.
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:24-26).
Among the people in the pews, 73 percent disagreed that “material wealth is a sign of God’s blessing.” The Time poll noted that 21 percent agreed with that. The majority of Christians (63 percent) also didn’t agree that giving away money to God would necessarily mean that God would bless the person with more money.
Evangelical leaders are concerned over what prosperity messages de-emphasize. Southern Baptist Alan Branch of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., said prosperity theology “wants the positive but not the negative.”
“Problem is, we live on this side of Eden. We’re fallen,” he added, according to Time.
The Time poll was conducted on June 27-29 among 770 self-reported adult Christians throughout the U.S.
The cover photograph for this week’s issue of TIME magazine just about says it all — a picture of a Rolls Royce grille with a chrome cross as hood ornament. In the event anyone missed the point, the cover asks: “Does God Want You to Be Rich?.”
Theological confusion takes many forms, but with this cover story, TIME directs us to one of the most pervasive perversions of the Christian Gospel in our times — prosperity theology. The article, written by David Van Biema and Jeff Chu, is fair, balanced, and devastating.
As they explain:
For several decades, a philosophy has been percolating in the 10 million—strong Pentecostal wing of Christianity that seems to turn the Gospels’ passage on its head: certainly, it allows, Christians should keep one eye on heaven. But the new good news is that God doesn’t want us to wait. Known (or vilified) under a variety of names—Word of Faith, Health and Wealth, Name It and Claim It, Prosperity Theology—its emphasis is on God’s promised generosity in this life and the ability of believers to claim it for themselves. In a nutshell, it suggests that a God who loves you does not want you to be broke. Its signature verse could be John 10:10: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” In a TIME poll, 17% of Christians surveyed said they considered themselves part of such a movement, while a full 61% believed that God wants people to be prosperous. And 31%—a far higher percentage than there are Pentecostals in America—agreed that if you give your money to God, God will bless you with more money.
“Prosperity” first blazed to public attention as the driveshaft in the moneymaking machine that was 1980s televangelism and faded from mainstream view with the Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart scandals. But now, after some key modifications (which have inspired some to redub it Prosperity Lite), it has not only recovered but is booming. Of the four biggest megachurches in the country, three—Osteen’s Lakewood in Houston; T.D. Jakes’ Potter’s House in south Dallas; and Creflo Dollar’s World Changers near Atlanta—are Prosperity or Prosperity Lite pulpits (although Jakes’ ministry has many more facets). While they don’t exclusively teach that God’s riches want to be in believers’ wallets, it is a key part of their doctrine. And propelled by Osteen’s 4 million—selling book, Your Best Life Now, the belief has swept beyond its Pentecostal base into more buttoned-down evangelical churches, and even into congregations in the more liberal Mainline. It is taught in hundreds of non-Pentecostal Bible studies. One Pennsylvania Lutheran pastor even made it the basis for a sermon series for Lent, when Christians usually meditate on why Jesus was having His Worst Life Then. Says the Rev. Chappell Temple, a Methodist minister with the dubious distinction of pastoring Houston’s other Lakewood Church (Lakewood United Methodist), an hour north of Osteen’s: “Prosperity Lite is everywhere in Christian culture. Go into any Christian bookstore, and see what they’re offering.”
Yes, go into those bookstores if you dare. The consistent message you will find is that God wants you to be wealthy. Interestingly, health seems to have taken a back seat to wealth. Those described by Van Biema and Chu as “Prosperity Lite” preachers are unlikely to offer old-style healing services like those of Oral Roberts. It is material prosperity that takes center stage in their message.
The reporters lay out the basic theological and biblical issues, pointing to the anomaly of Christ’s Gospel repackaged as material prosperity. They also try to place the prosperity preachers in a cultural and historical context:
If the rest of Protestantism ignored finances, Prosperity placed them center stage, marrying Pentecostalism’s ebullient notion of God’s gifts with an older tradition that stressed the power of positive thinking. Practically, it emphasized hard work and good home economics. But the real heat was in its spiritual premise: that if a believer could establish, through word and deed (usually donation), that he or she was “in Jesus Christ,” then Jesus’ father would respond with paternal gifts of health and wealth in this life.
The prosperity preachers find their roots in the Pentecostal tradition. The most famous among them — like Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar — spread their messages through television and publishing. Osteen now dominates the field like no other, and he is front and center in the TIME article.
Prosperity theology is fueled by the combination of Pentecostal teaching and American consumerism. Our culture of material abundance (and consumerist appetites) is fertile ground for the emergence of this distorted and corrupted teaching. Jesus never promised His disciples material security, much less material prosperity. The benefits of the Gospel of Christ are redefined in terms of material and financial blessings.
The reporters quote one man who acknowledged the influence of Joel Osteen and his teaching:
“I’m dreaming big—because all of heaven is dreaming big,” [George] Adams continues. “Jesus died for our sins. That was the best gift God could give us,” he says. “But we have something else. Because I want to follow Jesus and do what he ordained, God wants to support us. It’s Joel Osteen’s ministry that told me. Why would an awesome and mighty God want anything less for his children?”
Well . . . why would an awesome and mighty God want anything less for his children? The saddest aspect of that question is its focus on material prosperity at the expense of the limitless spiritual riches we are given in Christ. The problem with prosperity theology is not that it promises too much, but that it promises so little — and promises that so falsely.
Of even greater significance is the eclipse of the authentic Gospel of Christ. The justification of sinners is ignored as material prosperity and wealth dominate the message.
TIME’s cover story is a wake-up call. The fact that prosperity theology has TIME’s attention should demand our attention.
The Rev. Will Graham, the 31-year-old grandson of evangelist Billy Graham, took the stage in Gastonia, N.C., last night to lead his first U.S. crusade.
With an estimated 5,000 people nightly expected to attend the Greater Gaston Celebration, turnout for Will Graham’s U.S. debut will be modest, compared to the crusades of his 87-year-old grandfather, the world’s best-known evangelist, and his father, Franklin Graham, also an international evangelist.
“Franklin just did a crusade last week in South America, which drew 150,000 people in two days,” said the Rev. Austin Rammell, who attended Liberty University with Will Graham and invited him to speak at the Gastonia event, being held through tomorrow in a minor league baseball stadium.
“But this is a significant event for Christians, since it is Will Graham’s first-ever crusade in this country, and the name, Graham, is to crusades what Microsoft is to finance,” Mr. Rammell said yesterday. Will Graham previously has led crusades in Canada and one in India.
“Whether I am speaking to 10 or 10,000 people, I’m just excited to tell them about Jesus,” Will Graham said yesterday. “We’ve all sinned, but sins can be forgiven. I want to give that message of hope to people.”
Mr. Rammell said one of his colleagues on the board planning the Greater Gaston Celebration suggested Will Graham lead the crusade after hearing him speak last year at a Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Nashville, where the young evangelist gave what he described as a “powerful” address.
Mr. Rammell, pastor of Hardin Baptist Church in Gaston County, told the board that Will Graham was a “college buddy” of his. Asked by others organizing the event whether he considered Will Graham a good speaker, Mr. Rammell replied, “I promise you that neither Will nor I would want anyone to judge our speaking ability, based on speeches we gave in college.”
Mr. Rammell describes Will Graham, 31, as a “low-key, down-to-earth, normal blue-collar kind of guy.” During their college days, he said, Will Graham’s main aspirations were to “get a new hunting rifle and go to Alaska every summer, where he was a hunting and fishing guide.”
“He has been a Christian all his life and at age 15, really felt the call to give his life to God and become a full-time minister,” said Erik Ogren, a spokesman for Will Graham and for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
After earning degrees at Liberty and Southeast Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., he joined the staff of a Baptist church in Raleigh, N.C., and subsequently helped start a new church in Wake Forest, where he served as a pastor before becoming assistant director of the Billy Graham Training Center in Asheville, N.C.
Mr. Rammell said he thinks it’s tougher for an evangelist starting out today than it was when Billy Graham first made headlines with his crusades in the 1940s and ‘50s.
“It’s harder. The culture has changed,” Mr. Rammell said, noting that fewer than half of Americans attend church regularly. “And there have been so many quacks out there whose motives were money and ego, that people have become a lot more skeptical.”
As for Will Graham’s skills as an orator, Mr. Ogren said, “Will will tell you he’s a fairly mellow speaker, who is more laid back like Billy is today in his advanced years than Billy was when he started out.”
Will Graham and his wife, Kendra, are the parents of three children, ages 5, 3 and 1.
Frequently told he sounds like his father and grandfather, Will Graham typically responds: “We’re from western North Carolina. We all talk like this.”
In his statement yesterday, Will Graham said those who attend his crusades will hear “the same message” that Billy Graham delivered in his more than 400 crusades and that Franklin Graham delivers in his in this country and abroad.
“That’s the great thing about the Bible,” he said. “It never changes.”
A large turnout at Franklin Graham’s first evangelistic festival in Japan astonished local pastors who had invited the evangelist.
Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, returned to the states Tuesday from the three-day weekend festival that drew 30,792 people to the Chatan Sports Complex in Okinawa - the southernmost prefecture where much of the United States military bases in Japan are concentrated.
Okinawa is reported to have 13 U.S. military bases with 150,000 American citizens living on the island. Leading up to the festival, hundreds of Christians opposed the evangelistic event on account of Graham’s support for the war in Iraq, according to Ecumenical News International. U.S. troops were dispatched to Iraq from Okinawa Island.
“We think that joining the festival and saying ‘Amen’ to his message as ‘the word of God’ would constitute an act that supports the American war on Iraq,” the opponents of Graham’s festival said in an Oct. 31 statement addressed to the chairperson of the festival’s executive committee, the Rev. Mamoru Kuniyoshi.
Nevertheless, the Graham festival surprised local organizers when tens of thousands showed up over the weekend and more than 1,942 people responded to the invitation to put their faith in Jesus Christ. The surprise also came in the context of the country being only 1 percent Christian and the average church having only about 40 members. Most are either Shinto or Buddhist
With more than 130 participating churches from various denominations, the festival marked the first time that local Okinawa churches and international and English speaking churches joined together for such an event.
Although this was Graham’s first time holding a festival in Japan, the event was tailored specifically for the Japanese community through such children’s programs as Kids Quest and a family festival and local music artists. Graham’s message of Jesus Christ was also impressed upon the Japanese over the three nights.
Upon visiting the Peace Memorial at the site of the Battle of Okinawa - one of World War II’s bloodiest battles - Graham commented, “Seeing more than 200,000 civilian and military names written in stone at the Peace Memorial here is an overwhelming experience.”
“Peace has since come to Okinawa, but I’m here to talk about an eternal peace that we all can have in our hearts through Jesus Christ,” said Graham with hopes of bringing the gospel message to both the Japanese and U.S. military personnel on the island.
The Japan Festival was Graham’s final evangelistic event of the year. Next year’s festivals are already being planned for in Hong Kong, Korea, Ecuador, Panama, Ukraine, Binghamton, N.Y., Tacoma, Wash., and Norfolk, Va.
The Franklin Graham Festival in Central Canada filled to overflow crowds totaling more than 44,000 over the weekend. Each successive night saw a larger turnout with the MTS Center in Winnipeg, Manitoba, maxed to capacity all three nights.
Sunday’s attendance was at 15,570 with 1,700 in the overflow area and Casting Crowns, Michael W. Smith, and Graham on stage. Graham’s gospel message came to Winnipeg nearly four decades after Billy Graham preached in the same city.
Three generations of Grahams are now taking the gospel around the world. The youngest Graham, Will, who recently held his first U.S. evangelistic event, insists he is not carrying on a family legacy, but all three have continuously packed stadiums and arenas with the message of sin and forgiveness.
Billy Graham launched his global evangelism career in 1949 when large crowds kept him preaching for eight weeks in Los Angeles. Billy Graham crusades came to an end in New York last year, but Graham events continue through both his son and grandson.
The Franklin Graham Festival heads to Okinawa, Japan, on Nov. 3 and returns to the states in May.
ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Christian missionaries travel across the world to preach Jesus Christ as the way, the truth and the life. Indigenous people of foreign lands, however, question the bold Christian approach with some calling it “insensitive.”
“People asked ‘Are you really going all the way across the world to ask people to change from their Buddhist way and become Christian?’” Steve Bailey, associate professor at Alliance Theological Seminary in metro New York, recalled during a seminar last week at Urbana 2006.
Bailey, who served as a missionary in Southeast Asia for 17 years, had asked a native what they thought about Christians.
The Southeast Asian responded, “They’re very nice people who never stop talking. Christians know too much.”
Missionaries are typically told to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth, but many times, that Christian mandate impedes on the other people group’s culture and religion.
Hussam Fakhoury of International Fellowship of Evangelical Students is an Arab Christian from Jordan. When Christians preach that Jesus died on the cross or about the triune God to the Muslim world, he says that’s being “insensitive.” [KH: ??? Does it then mean that Jesus’ death on the cross is not to be preached???]
“Many times we don’t model Christ,” Fakhoury told a room full of mainly North American students aspiring to serve as missionaries.
Bailey described the way Jesus communicated to the gentile world.
“When we are speaking to brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ … there is every reason to be bold and loud with each other,” he said. “But when Jesus and Paul turned to the gentile world you will see that their communication style shifts.
“We need to be concerned about being sensitive because the means by which we proclaim the gospel tells people a lot about the kind of gospel that we want to share with them.”
The way to be sensitive to other religions is to follow the way Apostle Paul handled the gentiles.
“Where Paul is very argumentative with the Jews, when he gets to Athens, he stops, he reads, he looks around, he listens, and he tries to reason with them,” Bailey explained.
Fakhoury gave four points of advice on being sensitive and tolerant at the same time.
1. Love people
2. Respect the other
3. Learn about the culture and history that one will minister to
4. Be teachable. Don’t be Mr. and Mrs. Know Everything
“Being tolerant and sensitive doesn’t mean to compromise the truth,” Fakhoury clarified.
Bailey left students with words from St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times. And if necessary, use words.”
“The power of a Christian life,” said Bailey, “is always a sensitive way to communicate the gospel.”
Worship services are being broken up by baton-wielding police officers, participants arrested, Bibles confiscated and Christian church buildings demolished. But still, an estimated 3,000 people every day come to a knowledge of Jesus Christ in China.
The report comes from Voice of the Martyrs, a U.S.-based Christian group that works specifically to help those members of the persecuted Christian church worldwide.
The most recent arrests happened just a few days ago, when a house church meeting in Henan province was broken up and 11 people arrested, the organization said.
“Police from Yongfeng township police station in Xiuwu county, Henan province, raided a Christian meeting in a home in Chencun village. Eleven Christians were arrested, two were released the next day and nine remain in jail,” the report said.
“Police broke in and proclaimed the gathering a cultic and illegal activity,” the report said.
Legal and financial help is being provided to those people during their detention.
However, VOM said that a more than 50-year campaign to eradicate Christianity from China has left that nation with the equivalent of a new mega-church being added each day.
“Chairman Mao Zedong declared the Peoples Republic of China in 1949 and quickly sought to purge society of anything religious, causing China’s people to endure great hardship ever since,” a VOM analysis of the nation said. “Mao’s Great Leap Forward in the late ‘50s and the Cultural Revolution in the ‘60s and ‘70s left millions of his countrymen dead or victimized.
“Today, with its policies of forced abortion and sterilization, China’s human rights record is one of the worst in the world. Authorities reportedly sell the organs of executed prisoners to meet the demand for transplants. Its system of ‘re-education through labor’ detains hundreds of thousands each year in work camps without even a court hearing. China’s ‘strike-hard’ policy, presented as a crackdown on criminals, is hardest on Christians, putting more believers in prison or under detention than in any other country. The confiscation of church property and Bibles continues – even Bibles officially printed by the government,” the report said.
“Yet the church grows: an estimated 3,000 Chinese come to Christ each day. China’s house church movement, which comprises approximately 90 percent of China’s Christians, endures unimaginable persecution, yet stands on its commitment to preach the gospel no matter the cost.”
Two of the people in the latest raid by police were released a day later, but nine remained in jail, according to VOM and China Aid Association, which also reported on the arrests.
Among those still being held in detention for worshiping in the home were Ju Xiang, 48; Liu Xiaoduo, 42; Wang Shegin, 40; Fu Juyi, 36; Hong Xia, 37; Xue Xianghuo, 49; and Xue Xiaona, 34, officials said.
VOM said the persecution is having little effect on the desire to know more about Christ. “In the past year, we received more requests for Bibles and Christian books from Chinese believers because they wanted to share the gospel with others,” a VOM source within the restrictive nation said. “The Communist government of China does not see Christ as the most important person in an individual’s life. Christians count it a privilege to believe in and suffer for Jesus Christ.”
The contact said Christians simply adjust to the persecution at hand – including arrests, demolished buildings and confiscated materials.
VOM currently is supplying Bibles and copies of other Christian books, including “Tortured for Christ” by VOM founder Richard Wurmbrand, to Christians in China.
“American Christians have also mailed more than 107,310 New Testaments to China through Bibles Unbound (www.BiblesUnbound.com),” VOM said. “Pray God will protect believers in China and give them strength and courage to continue their faith in him.”
VOM is a non-profit, interdenominational ministry working worldwide to help Christians who are persecuted for their faith, and to educate the world about that persecution. Its headquarters are in Bartlesville, Okla., and it has 30 affiliated international offices.
It was launched by the late Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand, who started smuggling Russian Gospels into Russia in 1947, just months before Richard was abducted and imprisoned in Romania where he was tortured for his refusal to recant Christianity.
He eventually was released in 1964 and the next year he testified about the persecution of Christians before the U.S. Senate’s Internal Security Subcommittee, stripping to the waist to show the deep torture wound scars on his body.
The group that later was renamed The Voice of the Martyrs was organized in 1967, when his book, “Tortured for Christ,” was released.
A video program documenting Muslims who have come to know Christ through supernatural means is being used as an evangelism tool.
The More than Dreams programs, which records the stories of five Christian converts, shares what some say is a well-documented phenomenon spanning decades of Muslim men and women experiencing dreams and visions of Jesus Christ, reported to the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization in an article released on Monday.
Reports of Muslims who experience these spiritual revelations usually come from “closed countries” where preaching of the Gospel and converting to Christianity is condemned by death.
Many of the Muslims who have the experience are without prior knowledge of the Gospel or contact with Christians, according to LCWE. One common factor, however, appears to be that the revelation comes to those who are seeking to know and please God.
The project began in 2002 when a group of people interested in the phenomenon recorded on-site interviews with former Muslims who had converted to Christianity after experiencing dreams or visions of Jesus. The producers interviewed people from all over the Arabic-speaking world including Muslim areas in Africa and Asia.
Producers wanted to work with ministry partners around the world to distribute the videos both to evangelize unbelievers and encourage those who have already experienced the revelation that they are not alone.
Included among the stories is Khalil, a former radical Egyptian terrorist who persecuted Christians like “Saul” in the Bible, but came to accept Christ through a life-changing dream of the savior.
Another story is about Mohammed of Nigeria, who said Jesus Christ appeared seven times to him in dreams. Mohammed had studied the Quran in depth at several Muslim schools and was about to leave for advanced studies in Saudi Arabia when he experienced the dreams. His father and others tried to kill him after his conversion. Since then, however, he has led his father to faith in Christ.
The video stories have been dubbed into five languages: Arabic, Farsi, Bahasa Indonesia, Hausa and Turkish. Plans are underway for several other languages commonly spoken by Muslims: French, English, Urdu, Bengali, Kyble Berber and Russian.
The producers of More Than Dreams has set the goal to distribute 10 million copies of the film directly and through partners in the next three to five years. The first major distribution took place mid-2006 in Europe. Thousands of copies were handed out to Arabs attending the Germany 2006 World Cup match between Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.
Christians are feeling more “alien” to American culture, but a group of Christian “culture war” veterans are planning to reclaim America for what is was founded on.
The Reclaiming America for Christ conference comes to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in March and replacing key speaker Dr. D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries is newly added Dr. Richard Land, who heads the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Kennedy, 76, remains hospitalized after suffering a heart attack that led to cardiac arrest late December. His condition is improving, according to Coral Ridge’s executive vice president, Brian E. Fisher.
The ministry announced over the weekend that Land will take the place of Kennedy as the prominent evangelical leader recuperates in the hospital.
“Dr. Land is a powerful and outspoken voice in America on behalf of biblical standards in public life,” said Dr. Gary Cass, executive director of the Center for Reclaiming America for Christ. “We very much look forward to hearing from him when he speaks at our gathering.”
“Why reclaiming America?” Kennedy had asked at a previous Reclaiming America conference.
“This nation started out as a Christian nation and was the work of Christ in the beginning, and therefore, we have every right to reclaim it,” said Kennedy.
Although America was established with the Christian faith, there are people today who seem to think that Christians just arrived from Mars, Kennedy had said, “that we’re some sort of aliens that have come here to obtrude ourselves into their lovely secular culture.”
But the origins of America say it all.
“America simply began as a church relocation project,” Kennedy told conference participants. Leaving the persecution in England, Pilgrims arrived in America to establish “a new home for their church.”
“Yes, the church had a great deal to do with the founding of America and they said that they came here for the glory of God and the establishment of the Christian faith.”
Thus given the Christian founding of America, the annual conference calls Christians to simply “reclaim” America for Christ, as Kennedy had noted.
U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black recently withdrew his engagement to speak at the conference, saying that his “non-partisan role as chaplain conflicts with the conference agenda.”
Speakers scheduled to speak include best-selling author Ann Coulter; Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council; Father Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life; Dr. Frank Wright, President of the National Religious Broadcasters; and Walid Phares, author of Future Jihad.
Evangelism doesn’t work anymore. Maybe the culture is too sophisticated for it, especially teenagers. Perhaps it’s that this technologically connected generation of young people is totally disconnected from an ancient message that, at first glance, seems absolutely irrelevant to their lifestyles.
How can such a seemingly dated message compete with instant messaging? How can amazing grace compete with The Amazing Race? The old rugged cross pales in comparison to a shiny new Xbox. In a world of MySpace, Plasma TVs and iTunes how can a 2,000 year old message from a Middle Eastern carpenter be expected to compete?
Maybe we should just keep our mouths shut and forget about the whole evangelism thing. Perhaps we should just incarnate the gospel and hope in quiet desperation that somebody sees a difference in us and takes time out of their meeting-packed day to ask us about Jesus. Maybe St. Francis was right, “Preach the gospel, if necessary use words.”
Or maybe, just maybe, evangelism doesn’t work anymore because we have lost our faith in the power of the gospel message.
As I travel the nation I see Christians, especially adults, who have lost their faith in the simple gospel message to truly transform lives. Most sing about its power on Sunday morning but don’t carry that melodic confidence into the workplace on Monday.
What’s the result of our failure to proclaim Jesus with our lives and our lips? America is falling apart morally. That’s right, I place the blame for America’s demise at our feet. We are keeping the cure to the cultural cancer of sin locked away in our hearts.
If we somehow discovered the cure to the real disease of cancer we’d share it with everyone wouldn’t we? We’d “force our beliefs” on cancer victims out of love. We’d do our darndest to get them to accept the cure. We wouldn’t just say, “I’ll just live out the cure and hope that cancer victims see the cure in me.”
Well guess what? Those around us who don’t know Jesus have something infinitely worse than cancer and are headed somewhere infinitely worse than death. And we have the cure. Yet the average Christian has never shared the cure with their closest friends, coworkers and neighbors.
But I refuse to be discouraged. Let me tell you why. Because I have the privilege of traveling the nation to train tens of thousands of Christian teenagers to share the cure, the ultimate antidote to the poison and cancer of sin. At our Dare 2 Share conferences I get to equip teens to spread the message of Jesus. A few weekends ago I had the privilege of equipping 5,000 young people in Columbus, Ohio. Last weekend it was 9,000 teenagers in St. Louis. Next weekend it will be 6,000 teenagers in Lincoln, Nebraska.
What I see in the eyes of these teenagers is a hunger. These teens believe in the power of the gospel of Jesus. They don’t quite know why it works, they just know that it works, so much so that they are willing to break out into groups all across their city to collect canned food, take prayer requests and share the cure. When they come back from collecting canned food I challenge them to take the next step of faith, to call their friends on their cell phone and share Jesus right there in the arena.
What’s amazing is that they do it without blinking.
It is awesome to watch thousands of teenagers call up their friends on the phone and share with them the good news of Jesus, begging their friends to hear them out and think about the claims of Christ. What are the results? Thousands of teenagers are being led to Christ by thousands of teenagers.
The following message is a real, raw (and not edited for spelling) note I got from Jessica on my blog after she experienced the cell phone challenge at our conference in Nashville last fall:
**how i saved my best friend: i was blessed & able 2 go 2 the dare2share in nashville this past weekend–IT WAS A BLAST!!...Greg told us 2 get out our phones & 2 call the person that is on our mind..so i called beccah; however, i got her voice message…of course i left what i was going 2 say if i did get her on the phone. i told her that i love her & that jesus loves her & that is why he died on the cross for her & for me. at this point i am crying my eyes out cause i realy want 2 c that she gets what i am telling her & becasue i love her SO MUCH & could not stand 2 think that my BEST FRIEND was going 2 hell & that i could help her find God! after i left the message i felt like i had realy done something in my life that was positive i had done something good….then the nexy day i call her back 2 see if she had gotten the message & she had! then she began 2 say a day or 2 ago her boyfriend chris & her were caught drinking & driving…chris is now haveing 2 go 2 jail becasue he was driving & beccah is in a lot of trouble as while! after this had happened 2 them they both knew that they needed 2 change something in there lives, but realy did not know what 2 do about it….the next day beccah got the message i had left her on her phone..she said it gave her a sinse that the holy spirit was dealing with her & that this was a sign from God! i could hardly believe my ears! i was so HAPPY!! so i talked with her about the “GOSPEL” …-i used everything i learned from DARE2SHARE 2 help lead my best friend 2 jesus christ…& it is the BEST feeling in the whole world 2 lead someone 2 God…thank you God & all the people from dare2share 4 helping me learn & have the words 2 say 2 help lead someone 2 God!!!! i am VERY blessed…thank you all! xoxo, jess
No, evangelism doesn’t work anymore. But maybe the reason is that we refuse to engage in it like Jessica was willing to. Maybe, just maybe, that gospel message is more relevant now than ever. Maybe St. Paul (not St. Francis) was right, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes….” Romans 1:16.
So I’ve got to ask you something. Are you sharing it? Think of that one person you know who doesn’t know Jesus. Pray for them and swallow hard. Now pick up your cell phone and give them a call. Let them know you have something important to talk to them about (make sure they know it’s not a “business opportunity”) and set up a time to get together to chat.
In the meantime go to www.dare2share.org/gospeljourney and download a simple guide to sharing your faith. As a matter of fact you may want to peruse the website a little bit to get even more tools to share your faith, especially the “How to reach…” section. There you will learn how to reach fourteen different spiritual belief systems (“Mormons, Muslims and Atheists oh my!”) one of which I’m sure your friend has bought into.
When you’ve had your conversation, log onto my blog www.gregstier.org and tell me what happened. I really want to hear from you.
Okay, okay, maybe evangelism does still work. But we must be willing to take the initiative and bring it up with our friends.
Sorry, St. Francis.
Greg Stier is the President and Founder of Dare 2 Share Ministries in Arvada, Colo., where he works with youth leaders and students, equipping them to be effective in sharing the gospel.
Debates over the effectiveness of short-term mission (STM) brought a team of youth pastors to one conclusion: we need to do a better job helping students interpret and apply their STM experiences to life back home.
As youth groups pump out tens of thousands of students across the nation and overseas each year for missions that last anywhere from a weeklong Spring Break to a three-month summer vacation, more researchers and mission experts are finding that STM trips may not be producing expected results.
Fuller Theological Seminary’s Center for Youth and Family Ministry cited recent research that found the explosive growth in the number of STM trips has not been accompanied by similar explosive growth in the number of career missionaries. Also, it’s not clear whether or not participation in STM trips causes participants to give more money to alleviate poverty once life returns to “normal.” And participating in a STM trip does not seem to reduce participants’ tendencies toward materialism.
Senior mission thinker Dr. Ralph D. Winter of the U.S. Center for World Mission called short-term missions a “dubious matter” in a 2005 interview. Although participants learn, you can’t save the world with short-term missions, says Winter.
Conclusions from a November 2006 Think Tank on short-term missions were released in the March/April 2007 issue of Journal of Student Ministries, giving youth pastors a way to get the most out of STM trips for greater transformation of students.
Drawing from a the Joplin model - a framework for youth STM trips - a key start to a successful short-term learning experience is to help students focus on the experience and the challenging actions they will go through, the report stated. Beyond raising the financial support, leaders are encouraged to help prepare students emotionally, mentally, spiritually and relationally for what lies ahead.
The “action-reflection” process is the main component in students’ learning during STM. Students are constantly placed in a situation during the trip in which they are purposefully stretched by using a new set of skills in an unfamiliar environment. Many STM trips lack the reflection part of the process, where they make meaning out of their actions, the report stated.
Support and feedback from friends, fellow STM students and adult leaders can help facilitate the action-reflection process, as Laura Joplin lays out in “On Defining Experiential Education.” Youth leaders at the Think Tank said most youth workers overlook the importance of high quality, ongoing feedback. Adult leaders must help students talk about the meanings they are creating from their experiences.
At the end of a STM trip comes debriefing. Rather than a typical slide show and shared testimonies, the mission model suggests ongoing evaluation and discussion of what happened during the trip, which is most effective in a community setting, according to the report.
Transferring what students learned during the trips to their own lives is also one of the most difficult processes. And most student ministries don’t have programmatic structures that assist in this transfer process. One recommendation is to have students engage in a post-trip learning experience through service opportunities in their local community.
The five components suggest that although the mission trip may be short-term, youth leaders and participants must view it as a longer journey and a year-round reality in the life of the church and the youth rather than just a distant memory.
A ministry working to bring the message of Jesus Christ to millions across the Arab world raised concern recently about the lack of resources given to mission work in the most unchristian region in the world.
At a Middle East consultation held last week in the outskirts of Washington, D.C., Terry Ascott, the founder and CEO of the Christian satellite ministry SAT-7, said that despite talks since the early ‘90s about the 10/40 window, there hasn’t been deployment of many resources into the western part of the window consisting of north Africa and the Middle East.
He cited a statistic from a few years back which indicated that 24,000 mission agencies around the world received $120 billion that year with only 0.07 percent going to the western end of the 10/40 window that includes the Middle East.
The 10/40 window is where the core of the unreached people live in the world extending from West Africa to East Asia, from ten degrees north to forty degrees north of the equator. The region encompasses the majority of the world’s Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists numbering in the billions.
Some question how mission money can be spent in countries where they ban missionary activities. Ascott responded that through satellite television the Gospel message can enter not only into the country but into people’s living room.
Furthermore, the SAT-7 founder highlighted another advantage of using satellite television as a mission tool. Ascott said there is a net increase of 1 million people every month in the Arab world or 12 million people a year.
“Are we reaching 12 million people a year? If we are not then we are going backwards in terms of Christian witness and mission and sharing the Gospel in that part of the world,” noted Ascott. “I don’t know if we are [reaching that number] even with mass media but certainly mass media has a role in the witnessing in the Arab world.”
SAT-7 is said to be viewed by 8-10 million people.
“So Christian broadcasting does represent perhaps the only form of Christian witness for millions in those countries today,” said Ascott. “A country that is hurting and in pain is perhaps more open to a message of love and forgiveness and peace with God than any other countries or regions.”
It is estimated that some 200 million people from Morocco to Iran have satellite television and half of the 300 million in the Arab world are functionally illiterate and depend on their TV as their only source of entertainment and information.
The Rev. Dr. Habib Badr, chairman of SAT-7 international board and senior pastor of the National Evangelical Church of Beirut, shared about the crisis of Middle Eastern Christians fleeing their country and resettling in the United States and other countries to find a better life. Badr, who has some siblings who have resettled in the United States, said that if one were to ask any normal Lebanese Christian living in Lebanon, they could name at least half of their families who have left the country.
“I can’t blame them, but that is not what Christ called us to do,” said Badr. “He didn’t call us to be Middle Eastern and [for us to] then leave.”
He spoke about the importance of SAT-7 which provides an alternative message of hope and love for parents in the Middle East to raise their children on. Badr urged Middle East Christians to remain in the region despite the danger and teach, tell and live the Christian life.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Iraqi Christians, who compose only three percent of Iraq’s 26 million people, are leaving Iraq in alarming numbers making up nearly half of the refugees fleeing Iraq.
“One cannot ignore the Middle East,” concluded Ascott. If there is ever a time to support Christian ministries and churches in the Middle East it is now because actually the future of the world depends on how things play out in the Middle East in the next decade.”
SAT-7 began broadcasting in 1996 to audiences in the Middle East and North Africa with the goal of supporting Middle Eastern Christians who many times did not have a church or local pastor to help them in their faith. The ministry, which started out with only 2 hours of programming a week, now transmits 24 hours a day and is viewed by 8-10 million people.
Over the past decade, the unchurched population has remained stable at one third of the American population, the latest Barna Group survey showed.
The Barna study found that 33 percent of adults are classified as unchurched – people who have not attended a religious service of any type during the past six months. The statistic has remained relatively the same since 1994 when 36 percent were reported to be unchurched.
Still, the unchurched population in numbers is staggering. An estimated 73 million adults are presently unchurched. The number nears 100 million when teens and children are added to the population segment. That also includes an estimated 13 to 15 million born-again adults and children. On its own, the unchurched population of the United States would be the eleventh most-populated nation on earth, the Barna Group noted.
Some people groups are notorious church avoiders, the study found.
Political liberals were more than twice as likely to be unchurched (47 percent) than political conservatives (19 percent). Single adults were also more likely to avoid religious services (37 percent) than married adults (29 percent).
Those least likely to be unchurched are residents in the South (26 percent) while residents in the West (42 percent) and Northeast (39 percent) remain the most church resistant.
The study also found sexual orientation is closely related to church status with 31 percent of heterosexuals classified as unchurched compared to 49 percent of homosexuals.
Ethnically, African Americans were less likely to be unchurched (25 percent) than were whites (32 percent); 34 percent of Hispanics are unchurched and 63 percent of Asians.
While Christians are the most likely faith group to consistently attend church services, the Barna study revealed that 61 percent of adults who are associated with a faith other than Christianity had not attended any type of religious service over the past half-year. The unchurched Christian population was measured at 24 percent.
Among Christians, only 1 percent of evangelical Christians, 16 percent of non-evangelical born-again Christians, and 32 percent of self-claimed Christians who are not born again were found to be unchurched.
Catholics were more likely to be unchurched (25 percent) than Protestants (20 percent). People who attend a mainline church were more likely to avoid services (26 percent) than those who attend non-mainline Protestant congregations.
Correlation was also made with church size. According to the study, 24 percent of people who attend small churches were unchurched compared to 15 percent who attend mid-sized churches and 5 percent of those who affiliate with a large church of 500 or more adults on average.
The Barna report is based on a nationwide survey of 2,006 adults, age 18 and older, conducted in January 2007.
Thousands of cult members who use to worship a mythical messiah figure they believed to dwell inside a nearby volcano are giving their hearts to Christ after viewing the Jesus film.
The people on the isolated South Pacific island of Tanna, in the country of Vanuatu, have long put their faith in John Frum, a figure they insist is a former American GI during World War II who will someday emerge from the volcano and shower his believers with wealth and knowledge.
Frum has been described as a combination of John the Baptist, Uncle Sam and Santa Claus.
Yet members of the cult quickly forego their volcano “god” after viewing the Jesus film.
“As they see the film, as they see the picture it became more real to them. It is like Jesus coming alive and being in their presence,” said Pastor Phil Wiwirau, part of the Scripture Union team in Vanuatu, in a recently released Jesus Film video.
“The Jesus film also touched a lot of lives …[at] the crucifixion part… People came forward with tears and repentant heart because they could realize why Jesus had to die on the cross…”
Among the 10,000 islanders who formerly adhered to the volcano cult, more than 4,666 people from Tanna have converted to Christianity, according to Wes Brenneman, director of Campus Crusade for Christ in the Pacific Islands.
In September 2004, missionaries had come to Tanna to show the Jesus film and to bring evangelistic materials and lessons to help new believers. Since the missionaries’ custom permit would expire within days of their arrival, the leaders of the island asked the mission group to leave behind the projector and film on the island so more people could watch the film and know Jesus Christ.
Now a total of more than 300 villages and 7,000 islanders on Vanautu have accepted Christ, according to the Campus Crusade for Christ Worldwide Challenge magazine’s March/April 2007 issue.
“When I received my baptism…spirit filled me, opened my head and my heart and I see Christ,” testified Isaac Wan, Jr., son of the village Chief Wan, in the video. “And I bring Christ in my heart… I really want for my father and family to come to Christ…. I pray every night and day, I think about my family.”
Vanuatu is a group of over 80 islands in the South Pacific Ocean set between Fiji and New Guinea. In total there is an estimated population of about 212,000 according to the CIA World Factbook.
“I believe there are people out here on Vanuatu…that are dying without Christ and we need to reach them,” said Pastor Wiwirau. “That is the main focus of us going to them with the film. Showing them the film and inviting them to the Lord, because without Him they are lost and they are going to hell. I believe this is what the Lord wants us to do.”
The Jesus film, a two-hour docudrama about the life of Jesus Christ, is based on the Gospel of Luke and is shown by the Jesus Film Project. The film is seen in every country in the world and is translated into hundreds of language since it was first released in 1979. More than 1,500 Christian agencies use the film, which has had more than 6 billion viewings worldwide. As a result, more than 200 million people have decided to accept Christ. Currently, there are 2,409 Jesus film teams worldwide.
One of the most respected and significant world mission conferences in history recently announced that it will hold its third international gathering in 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa.
The Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (LCWE) announced plans for the Third International Congress on World Evangelization to be held Oct. 16-25, 2010, according to an announcement Friday. “Lausanne III: Cape Town 2010” will convene mission and church leaders worldwide to discuss challenges and opportunities for the church in terms of world evangelism.
“There is no doubt we have entered a new era in global Christianity,” said the Rev. S. Douglas Birdsall, LCWE executive chairman, in a statement. “We need to strategize about how we can advance the spread of the Gospel around the world.
“This is especially important as our world continues to shrink through new technologies, and as the evangelical population has shifted to the Southern hemisphere,” he added.
The year 2010 was chosen for the event to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the historic World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1910, which is regarded as the starting point of the modern ecumenical movement.
In addition, Cape Town was chosen in honor of William Carey, considered the father of modern missions, who first proposed an international missionary conference to be held there in 1810.
“We believe the 200th anniversary of William Carey’s vision and the centennial of its fulfillment is an appropriate time to, once again, encourage international leaders to come together to chart the course for the work of world evangelization in the 21st century,” Birdsall said.
Host city Cape Town is said to have “opened its arm” to the Lausanne III Congress, according to LCWE. Christians throughout the region are offering their homes to host as many as one thousand of the 4,000 church and mission leaders from 200 countries expected to attend.
“We have been overwhelmed by the welcome we have received from Cape Town,” said Robyn Claydon, LCWE Deputy Chair. “We look forward with great excitement to what God is going to accomplish through this event and the city of Cape Town.”
The first International Congress on World Evangelization (Lausanne I) was held in 1974 in Lausanne, Switzerland. The gathering of more than 2,700 evangelical leaders from 150 countries led by the Rev. Billy Graham resulted in The Lausanne Covenant – a document defining the theological ground works for collaborative world evangelization. It also provided a framework for unity and serves as the statement of faith for hundreds of Christian organizations worldwide.
Over a decade later, Lausanne II took place in Manila, Philippines, which produced the Manila Manifesto which reaffirmed and expanded upon The Lausanne Covenant and the call to “Proclaim Christ Until He Comes.” The 1989 gathering attracted 3,600 leaders from 190 nations.
“The pressing issues before us today, such as engaging worldviews increasingly hostile to Christianity, the threat of terrorism, and HIV/AIDS, coupled with new opportunities and new technologies, are very different from those issues faced in 1974,” Birdsall explained. “New global challenges require thoughtful and prayerful global responses.”
Lausanne III will be directed by leaders from a wide-range of countries and denominations. Anglican Archbishop Henry Orombi of Uganda will serve as chairman of the Africa Host Committee. The Lausanne III Advisory Council is chaired by Dr. Samuel Escobar from Latin America, while Bishop Hwa Yung, of the Methodist Church in Malaysia, is chairman of the Participant Selection Committee.
“We pray that Lausanne III: Cape Town 2010 will serve to unite and energize the Church with a new vision and a new commitment to partnership for the work of world evangelization for a new time,” said Birdsall.
In a country described as a spiritual vacuum surrounded by the watchful eyes of a totalitarian regime and oppressed by a quasi religious cult centered on its leader’s family, North Koreans desperate to keep the Gospel alive have found innovative methods to smuggle in the Word of God.
Whether it is through human transport of Bibles or North Koreans risking their lives to testify to their families upon return or balloons filled with Christian tracts, the Word of God is penetrating the country where being openly Christian can result in execution.
From within the country, evangelism is taking place through disguised missionaries and North Korean Christians repatriated by China or returning on their own free will, according to North Korean defectors at the Open Doors USA panel discussion this past week on religious persecution in North Korea.
One North Korean defector, Ms. Eom Myong-Heui, said that she was evangelized through a Chinese-Korean missionary disguised as a businessman while still living in North Korea.
Eom – who is now an assistant pastor of a church in South Korea for North Korean defectors – said that she was desperate for food during the North Korea famine in the 1990s and had resorted to partnering with the disguised missionary businessman to earn money.
The Korean-Chinese missionary would teach her the Bible whenever they met and eventually Eom became a Christian.
Yet she and the other North Korean defector on the panel agreed that the best method to spread the Gospel in the closed society is through training North Korean refugees.
“The best and most effective way is using the North Korean refugees,” stated Eom, who said defectors can call their family and relatives in North Korea and share the Gospel.
Eom explained that she speaks to her two daughters still in North Korea through a cell phone from China that cannot be monitored by the North Korean government.
“We can train those North Koreans as strong believers and connect to relatives in North Korea … and conversations can spread [the] Gospel,” she said.
“Philip Lee,” a North Korean defector now living in South Korea. added that some North Koreans are even willing to return to the North and spread the Gospel. Lee, whose real name is withheld for security reasons, said that one of the main ministries in his church composed of North Korean defectors is to train strong Christian leaders who are willing to return to North Korea and witness.
But he noted that even refugees forcefully returned to North Korea can become powerful witnesses.
Lee recalled a repatriated North Korean Christian named Brother Luke who would daily urge his prison guards and officers, “You should believe in Jesus! You should accept Jesus!” Luke reportedly continued his exclamations even during torture and before a judge in court, according to Lee. Before his martyrdom one year later, one prison guard had accepted Christ.
Meanwhile, other North Korean defectors have found innovative ways to spread the Gospel in the North while still remaining in South Korea.
Lee Minbok, founder of North Korea Christian Association, began sending large balloons filled with thousands of Christian tracts across the North-South border about three years ago. Lee, previously a scientist in North Korea, is mostly joined by a small group of defectors or those who have worked with North Korean refugees. The balloons are said to land in North Korea within 20 minutes to 1 hour from its departure in the South.
“I’m proud that North Korea is angry,” said a grinning Choi Yong-Hun, a volunteer at NKCA and a South Korean who spent nearly four years in prison in China for helping North Korean refugees, to The Christian Post. “They ask, ‘Who sent it?’ We say that God sent it. It is a very effective way to send the Gospel.”
Other ways given to evangelize North Koreans include smuggling in Bibles, as Open Doors has done over the past ten years; Christian radio broadcast; and through organizations working with North Korean refugees along the border in China.
Last week’s panel discussion in Washington was part of North Korea Freedom Week, Apr. 22-29, which seeks to raise awareness of the brutal North Korean regime and to urge stronger actions by the U.S. government and international community to press North Korea on its human rights abuse.
The week mainly ended on Saturday with international protests against China’s violent treatment or North Korean refugees at Chinese embassies around the world.
They worked the crowds at Olympic games in Athens, Sydney and Atlanta. And, even though China outlaws what they do, they will be on the ground next summer in Beijing as well.
Christian mission groups from around the world plan to quietly defy the Chinese ban on foreign missionaries and send thousands of volunteer evangelists to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Many mission workers are traveling through China now as tourists to learn their way around and conduct prayerwalks meant to spiritually prepare the region for the Gospel. Next summer, just before the games begin, several Christian groups plan to rally in an Asian nation that they will not name, then head out in small teams to Olympic sites and beyond.
“They are going to have many thousands of people planning to travel around in different parts of China,” said the Rev. Johnny Li, minister-at-large for Open Doors, an advocacy group for Christians worldwide who are persecuted because of their faith.
In anticipation of a crush of volunteers, Li said a Thailand missions group has produced a DVD encouraging collaboration among all the Christian outreach efforts expected at the games.
Christians regularly evangelize at major sporting events, but the Beijing Olympics offer an opening like no other.
Citing safety concerns, religious organizers are revealing few specifics of their plans or aren’t commenting at all. But many are expected to put on cultural and sports events — which China allows — with the goal of talking about faith one-on-one with the people they meet.
“This is going to be a time when visas are pretty easy to get,” said Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs, which also helps Christians who are persecuted abroad. “So if you want to go, this is the time to do it.”
The Southern Baptists are mobilizing thousands of volunteers for what it terms “a spiritual harvest unlike any other,” through humanitarian work, sports clinics, first aid sites and other projects. The denomination is bringing volunteers to China now for orientation trips.
Youth With A Mission, or YWAM, an international Christian ministry prominent in Olympic outreach, is planning a “2008 Olympics Discipleship Training School” in Brazil next year, according to its Web site, then will send volunteers to the games.
A spokeswoman for Athletes in Action, the sports ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, a globally known evangelical group, said she could not comment because of security concerns. But Athletes in Action has offices in Asia and has organized sport demonstrations at previous Olympics, including sending its Korean “Halleluiah” martial arts team to the Athens Games in 2004, according to the ministry’s Web site.
“With a draw like the Olympics, we just pray our ‘forces’ will be so large that we will be able to form many relationships,” said Mark Taylor of Awaken Generation, a ministry for college-age Christians based in northwest Florida. The group plans to send evangelism teams of eight to 12 people around China during the competition.
Advocates for Chinese Christians say the danger for these foreign volunteers is minimal. Christians who live in China are often able to evangelize privately while working as English teachers, humanitarian workers or in the business world. At worst, Olympic missionaries could be expelled from the country; Chinese officials likely wouldn’t risk anything harsher with the whole world watching. But the peril for Chinese Christians who work with the foreign groups or evangelize on their own is considerable, analysts say.
The only Chinese Christian groups allowed to operate legally in the country are the Catholic Patriotic Association, the China Christian Council and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. Millions more Chinese Christians have risked imprisonment and worse by joining the underground “house church” network that is independent of the three groups.
No one knows the exact number of Christians in China today, although analysts say the faith is spreading dramatically and estimate that the figure could exceed 100 million. The Chinese government says that count is inflated.
Asked by The Associated Press for comment, the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee noted that it plans to follow Olympic tradition and build a religious service center in the Olympic village. It also will advise athletes in other Olympic cities about the available worship services. However, the committee referred questions about evangelization to the Bureau of Religious Affairs, which did not respond to a request for comment.
David Aikman, former Beijing bureau chief for Time magazine and author of “Jesus in Beijing,” said Chinese Christians believe the Olympics will bring them badly needed recognition at home and abroad — and they plan to evangelize despite the dangers.
On a trip to China four years ago, Aikman said he saw a “hilarious” T-shirt for sale that symbolized Christian hopes for the 2008 Olympic games: it had a photo of Tiananmen Square filled with sheep.
“No communist apparatchik,” Aikman said, “would have a clue about what it meant.”
The bi-annual Lausanne International Leadership Meeting got underway Monday in Budapest, Hungary, bringing together nearly 400 delegates from across 60 nations to explore new ways of bringing about world evangelization as well as the many challenges for mission.
The new Executive Chair of Lausanne, Douglas Birdsall, set the tone for the week as he outlined the vision of Lausanne for the future in an address on Monday evening.
“We are here to think of ways in which we can … powerfully, compellingly articulate the changeless truth about God in a radically, rapidly changing world,” he said. “Global challenges require global conversations to find global solutions.”
A post-Christian, post-modern, pluralistic world was one such challenge, he said, and was compelling the church to re-think the way it presents Jesus Christ as the way the truth and the life in a “new time”.
“It will take the whole church to take the whole Gospel to the whole world,” he said, adding that it was time to find a new equilibrium no longer based on power, wealth, prestige or position but rather on shared calling, vision, resources and mutual respect. “I trust we will become a community of grace more and more,” he said.
In response to the challenge of an increasingly secularized world, Birdsall said, “We must re-discover and re-establish Judeo-Christian moral foundations for our societies.”
He said Lausanne III in 2010 would be defined by a sense of home, hope and spirit of Christianity, as he challenged Christians to unite and move away from ambivalence to confidence in the message of the Gospel.
“We can look to the future with confidence that God who began a good work in us will bring it to completion,” he said. “Let us commit ourselves afresh to taking the whole Gospel to the whole world as people who represent the whole church.”
He also welcomed the head of the World Evangelical Alliance, Geoff Tunnicliffe, to the conference. Later this week, the two leaders will officially launch their partnership ahead of the next major conference, Lausanne III, which takes place in Cape Town in 2010.
Delegates also heard a message from John Stott, one of the founders of Lausanne, in which he told of the new challenges facing Christians and worldwide mission, including global warming, HIV and AIDS, and a “growing hostility” to the Gospel in parts of the world.
Despite these challenges, there were still “new reasons for confidence,” he said, including the “extraordinary growth” of churches in the Global South, new technology and a new generation of young leaders rising up ahead of Lausanne III.
Conference delegates also received copies of a letter from world evangelist Billy Graham. In it, he commented on the developments since the historic Lausanne Congress in 1974 – which he led. It was at this event that Christian leaders from around the world joined in signing the Lausanne Covenant.
“The world has changed, the church has changed, younger leaders have been raised up, but the Gospel has not changed, and the need for evangelism is more urgent than ever before,” he said in his letter.
Also among the delegates present at this week’s conference is Leighton Ford, also one of the first generation of Lausanne leaders.
Ford will convene a group of 25 Lausanne “First Generation” leaders during the conference who served on the committee between Lausanne I and Lausanne II.
Televangelist Paula White has partnered with the mission group Master’s Touch Ministries Global to reach out to the impoverished people living in the 10/40 window.
The two ministries, both founded and headed by Christian women, announced on Tuesday they will teach practical survival skills, personal hygiene in addition to the primary focus of ministering the Gospel in the region. The ministries said they decided to work together because of mutual interest in bringing the Gospel into the 10/40 window.
The 10/40 window is an area of the world that contains the largest population of non-Christians in the world. The area stretches from 10 degrees to 40 degrees north of the equator, and stretches from North Africa across to China and covers the Middle East.
“With Paula White Ministries’ support we can provide clean water to villages, educate our Palestinian children in the Jordan refugee camps, [and] provide humanitarian relief for the refugees of Western Sahara who have been stranded in the scorching desert for several years,” said MTM Global founder Dr. Patricia D. Bailey, in a statement.
MTM is a global outreach ministry focused on evangelism and also serves as a consultant to churches in the development of global mission strategies. The ministry focuses particular attention the difficult regions and countries of North Africa, the Middle East, Oman, U.A.E., Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan, Morocco and Algeria.
The Paula White Ministry will support MTM financially but will not participate directly in the outreach in the 10/40 window. The financial support will help MTM continue to train Christian leaders worldwide through its Global Impact Leadership Training Center, which offers a six-month onsite intensive training program designed to equip leaders to conduct missions by using a “hands-on” and “how-to” training method.
Paula White is senior pastor of the megachurch Without Walls International Church in Tampa, Fla., along with her husband Bishop Randy White. White is host of her television show, “Paula Today,” seen in national and international markets including TBN, the Fox Network, Daystar Television Network and is seen in 66 countries.
SAN FRANCISCO – The head of the World Evangelical Alliance recently shared with graduating students some key principles on how to make a difference in the world.
First, impacting the world is first a “matter of the heart,” said Geoff Tunnicliffe, international director of WEA, during the commencement ceremony on Friday for Olivet University in San Francisco.
To illustrate his point, the evangelical leader used the story of the Good Samaritan who helped a man different than him. Tunnicliffe emphasized that the Samaritan came near to the man when others seeing the man’s broken image distanced themselves from him.
“The Samaritan comes near to the man that lays on the ground. He is in contact with the other man. This man comes close to the different,” Tunnicliffe said, before noting that all mankind is the creation of God.
“Who is not precious in the eyes of God? Who is the son He doesn’t love?” the WEA head asked.
Although individuals may be overwhelmed by reports of the more than 6.5 million children who die each year because of poverty and the over 33 million people who are currently living with AIDS, Tunnicliffe dispelled the idea that one individual is too small to make a difference in the world.
“When you think about those facts, you can just think they are facts,” said Tunnicliffe. “But we have got to open up our hearts.”
“If you want to make a difference in the world, then you need to come near. You must open up your heart,” he said. “You must have compassion. You don’t need to do everything, but there are specific things that you must help and you can do.”
Turning back to the story of the Samaritan, Tunnicliffe pointed out that the man who helped did only what he could do at the moment to assist the sick man.
“This Samaritan man … performed a few acts of love…. He didn’t perform brain surgery, he just bandaged him up; he didn’t even cancel his business trip, but he did what he could,” the WEA director explained.
He concluded by challenging the graduating students to make a decision.
“Which one do you want to be? The one who crosses the road or the one who stops and comes near?” asked Tunnicliffe. “Friends, this life is the one life you have. Which is it going to be? Are you going to make a difference for Jesus Christ? Then you need to come close, you need to have compassion and you have got to open your heart.
“I can’t do everything. I can’t fix everything, but when God helps then you can do something,” he concluded. “I encourage you to be men and women whom God can call good Samaritans.”
After giving the keynote speech at Olivet University’s 2007 commencement ceremony, Tunnicliffe was presented with an honorary doctorate degree from the college.
Olivet University, located in San Francisco, is a Presbyterian Christian college known for its distance-learning programs and its mission-oriented educational system. Founded by the Rev. Dr. David J. Jang, a member of the WEA’s North American Council, the school is also networked with several Christian ministries that encourage students to apply their theological knowledge and practical skills learned in the classroom to the Christian workplace.
We are witnessing a global surge in Christianity. While there was a day when it looked like Christianity might disappear in Western Europe, we are in the midst of an earthshaking transformation of the Christian faith there. And surprisingly enough, its origins are in what is now known as the “global south.”
I was in Europe in 1999 and saw a copy of the European edition of Time magazine that actually asked the question, “Is Christianity becoming extinct in Western Europe?” The writer specified Western Europe because Christianity seemed to be flourishing in parts of Eastern Europe. It was only in Western Europe—France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries—where it appeared Christianity might be literally disappearing.
Yet a May 16 Washington Post story (Missionaries in Northern Virginia) indicates things are changing. We’ve heard the news about the impact of Muslim immigrants on Western Europe, but Christians also are immigrating to Europe from Africa, Asia and Latin America.
“The intense, irrepressible Christianity of the global south is becoming—along with Coca-Cola, radical Islam and Shakira—one of the most potent forms of globalization,” writes former Bush administration official Michael Gerson in the Post article, noting there are now more Presbyterians in Ghana than in Scotland. Latin America, South America, Africa and Southeast Asia comprise what is now referred to as the “global south.”
In Denmark, of all places, Christian immigrants have started more than 150 churches, according to a June 11 Washington Post story (Foreign missionaries find fertile ground in Europe). The members of these churches are not just ministering and evangelizing in the local immigrant communities; they are going out and seeking to evangelize everyone, including native-born Danes.
There was a day when Europe was the “global center of Christianity” and missionaries traveled out to share their faith, the article says. But what has been more recently a moribund Christian faith in Western Europe is being reinvigorated by Christian immigrants—the Post calls them “reverse missionaries”—coming from other countries around the world.
Chuck Colson, in a recent BreakPoint commentary, observed that the church in Europe needs these immigrant churches because they are bringing a message believers in Europe have forgotten. A Lutheran bishop in Denmark called the immigrant Christian churches “a gift to our Danish Lutheran church” because the churches are helping Danes understand how Christians should live.
Churches in Nigeria, Guyana, South Korea and the Philippines have sent thousands of missionaries to Europe to set up churches in homes, office buildings and storefronts. African-Anglican bishops are reaching out to conservative congregations in the United States who are breaking away from the apostate Episcopal Church in the United States, Colson noted.
It is the orthodox conservative churches in the Anglican Communion in the second and the third worlds that are holding the liberals’ feet to the fire in Great Britain, Canada and the United States. Episcopal churches in America that cling to traditional, conservative beliefs are finding a haven in the Anglican churches led by African bishops.
The Post reports a convert to the revived faith in Denmark said the “state church,” as the Lutheran church is called, placed a “higher value on order and ancient traditions than on tending to the concerns of parishioners.”
Colson pointed out that Phillip Jenkins, a professor of history at Penn State University, chronicles the rise of what he calls “the next Christendom” in his book, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South.
He points out that for the first time since the Christian faith went to Europe and Europe supplanted the Near East as the locus of the vast majority of Christians, 60 percent of the two billion Christians in the world live in Africa, Asia or Latin America. By 2050 there will be an estimated three billion Christians in the world. That means the Christian faith will grow by a billion persons in the next forty-three years, if current trends continue. This is a faster rate than the projected increase in the global population.
Of those three billion estimated Christians that will be alive in 2050, 75 percent will live in the “global south.” One of the results will be that for the first time in the history of the Christian faith, the majority of the Christians in the world will not be Caucasian, but people of color.
But these numbers are only part of the story. These southern Christians, if you will allow me to use that term, have a much stronger belief in the authority of Scripture than their Western European and North American counterparts. As a Kenyan bishop said, “Our understanding of the Bible is different from them, we are two different churches.”
While their detractors call them simple Biblicists, I view them as traditional, orthodox Christians intent on reshaping the world.
There is a wonderful story of a British Anglican bishop remonstrating with a Nigerian Anglican bishop a couple of years ago at a worldwide Anglican conference. The British bishop was saying, “But you can’t just take the Bible simply like that. You have to employ higher criticism and scholarship, etc.” To which the African bishop responded, “If you didn’t believe the Bible, then why did you bring it to us in the first place?”
The global surge of Christianity has washed over America’s shores as well. The United States has spiritual needs of its own, with large sections of the country desperately needing a vibrant biblical witness. South Korean Christians are sending hundreds of missionaries to the U.S., as well as to Europe.
A wonderful byproduct of the sacrifices made by those who fought for the freedom of the South Koreans in the Korean War is that South Korea has quietly become the most Christian nation in the world in terms of the percentage of its population who profess the Christian faith. Their missionaries are not just seeking to evangelize in Korean communities in the U.S.; they are seeking to bring the Good News to all Americans.
Dr. Richard Land is president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention’s official entity assigned to address social, moral, and ethical concerns, with particular attention to their impact on American families and their faith.
A Christian satellite TV network has reported “spectacular church growth” in Iran and noted the importance of media in strengthening the churches there as well as in reaching out to Muslims.
SAT-7 is “receiving a lot of reports on people watching this channel more than almost any other channel in Iran,” Debbie Brink, the network’s executive director, reported recently to Mission Network News (MNN).
She said SAT-7 had deliberately chosen not to tackle political issues and focuses instead on the message of hope and peace.
“I think we attract viewers in these times, because they’re looking for an alternative message. They’re tired of all the conflict and the war, and they do see opportunities for learning more about God’s love, His forgiveness, reconciliation and peace,” she stated.
In recent years, an increasing number of Muslims throughout the Middle East have converted to Christianity through watching Christian satellite television programming.
Satellite TV has emerged as an important and effective evangelism tool to share the Gospel with Muslims in closed Islamic states.
Muslims watching the shows have confessed that the message of hope and love is a stark contrast to the oppressive Islamic message conveyed by their government and on Islamic TV programs.
“The house church movement has seen spectacular growth,” reported Stefan De Groot, Open Doors Middle East field worker, in a recent report on the growth of Christianity in Iran.
“This is not happening just because of dreams and miracles,” he said, as is common among Muslims. “The majority of people now come to faith through the multimedia, and especially satellite-TV. Nobody can control which programs Iranians watch.”
SAT-7 is the first Arabic language Christian satellite channel to broadcast successfully in the Middle East and claims a viewership of 8-10 million in the Middle East and North Africa.
It also broadcasts 24-hours-a-day in Farsi and Turkish through SAT-7 Pars, which takes its name from the Farsi word that embodies the Persian culture.
The Fulton Street Revival is one of the great unreported revivals of all time, some say. And 150 years later, Christians across New York are joining to rekindle a spiritual awakening throughout the nation.
Sunday marks the 150th anniversary of one of the most unique revivals that led the nation toward its Third Great Awakening in the midst of economic devastation and a nation divided over slavery.
The revival began with a middle-aged tradesman, Jeremiah Lanphier, who was left behind by a Dutch Reformed Church congregation that relocated from the corner of Fulton and William Streets to the north. With families moving out of the city, leaving a population of poor immigrants and laborers, the church wanted to keep a witness in the area. Lanphier was appointed to lead the mission in lower Manhattan.
At that time in 1857, 30,000 men were idle in the streets and unemployment and drunkenness were rampant, the Rev. Dr. Mac Pier, president of Concerts of Prayer of Greater New York, explained in a special video presentation marking the anniversary.
Lanphier walked the streets around his church and noticed businessmen he passed who had anxious appearances and worried expressions as the nation was standing on the brink of economic disaster, Fulton Street Revival historian Roy Fish described.
Months of knocking on doors and sharing the Gospel message didn’t change much and left Lanphier worn out.
Realizing the need for prayer, Lanphier then began handing out thousands of flyers advertising the first noonday prayer meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 23. He sat alone for the first half hour but was soon joined by five other men. The following weeks, the Wednesday prayer meetings saw larger crowds and within three months there were prayer meetings all over the city and more than 50,000 people in New York City alone who paused at noon to pray.
The prayer revival soon spread across the nation and in about 18 months, a million people were converted to Jesus Christ, said Fish.
“If we had a revival like that today, it would mean the conversion of 10 million people,” Fish pointed out.
The Fulton Street Revival is also dubbed “the Layman’s Revival” by some as it was uniquely lay driven and had no leading preacher or other prominent leader.
“When we look back we really see that this was not a movement of great men or great women,” said Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research. “This was a movement of a simple layman who was left behind by a relocating church.”
A Citywide Prayer Meeting was scheduled to take place at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn on Saturday involving churches across the state. The prayer meeting came in the middle of a three-day conference (Sept. 21-23) at the Hilton New York Hotel celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Fulton Street Revival. The conference features such speakers as Dr. Jack Hayford of The Church on the Way in California and Dr. Henry Blackaby of Blackaby Ministries International, and a historic tour visiting the site where the first prayer meeting began.
Hoping for revival, Blackaby said, “He (God) has done it before. My prayer is that we would be the kind of people through whom He could do it again.”
Young Americans today are more skeptical and resistant to Christianity than were people of the same age just a decade ago, says a new study.
Negative perceptions toward the Christian faith have outweighed the positive as a growing percentage of younger Americans associate with a faith outside Christianity.
Only 16 percent of non-Christians aged 16 to 29 years old said they have a “good impression” of Christianity, according to a report released Monday by The Barna Group. A decade ago, the vast majority of Americans outside the Christian faith, including young people, felt favorably toward Christianity’s role in society,
Young people have an even lesser positive impression of evangelicals. Only 3 percent of 16- to 29-year-olds who are not of the Christian faith express favorable views of evangelicals. In the previous generation, 25 percent of young people had positive associations toward evangelicals.
“[Evangelicals] have always been viewed with skepticism in the broader culture,” said the Barna report. “However, those negative views are crystallizing and intensifying among young non-Christians.”
Common negative perceptions among non-Christians is that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87 percent), hypocritical (85 percent), old-fashioned (78 percent), and too involved in politics (75 percent).
For the most part, Christians are aware of the greater degree of criticism toward Christianity. According to the study, 91 percent of the nation’s evangelicals believe that “Americans are becoming more hostile and negative toward Christianity.”
Half of senior pastors say that “ministry is more difficult than ever before because people are increasingly hostile and negative toward Christianity.”
There were also some widely held favorable perceptions toward Christianity including beliefs that Christianity teaches the same basic ideas as other religions (82 percent), has good values and principles (76 percent), is friendly (71 percent), and is a faith they respect (55 percent).
Criticism, however, was not limited to young people outside the Christian faith. Half of young churchgoers said they perceive Christianity to be judgmental, hypocritical and too political. Also, one-third said it was old-fashioned and out of touch with reality.
Moreover, the study showed a new image attached to the Christian faith that is growing in prominence over the last decade. Overall, 91 percent of young non-Christians and 80 percent of young churchgoers say present-day Christianity is “anti-homosexual.”
“As the research probed this perception, non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians,” the Barna report stated.
Young Christians largely criticize the church, saying it has made homosexuality a “bigger sin” than anything else and that the church has not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians.
Among other common impressions, 23 percent of young non-Christians said “Christianity is changed from what it used to be” and “Christianity in today’s society no longer looks like Jesus.” Young born-again Christians were just as likely to say the same (22 percent).
“That’s where the term ‘unChristian’ came from,” said David Kinnaman, president of The Barna Group who presents the findings in his new book unChristian. “Young people are very candid. In our interviews, we kept encountering young people – both those inside the church and outside of it - who said that something was broken in the present-day expression of Christianity. Their perceptions about Christianity were not always accurate, but what surprised me was not only the severity of their frustration with Christians, but also how frequently young born again Christians expressed some of the very same comments as young non-Christians.”
Research further revealed that those outside of Christian faith have had significant experience with Christians and Christian churches. On average, young non-Christians said they have five friends who are Christians; more than four out of five have attended a Christian church for a period of at least six months in the past; and half have previously considered becoming a Christian.
“Older generations more easily dismiss the criticism of those who are outsiders,” Kinnaman said. “But we discovered that young leaders and young Christians are more aware of and concerned about the views of outsiders, because they are more likely to interact closely with such people. Their life is more deeply affected by the negative image of Christianity. For them, what Christianity looks like from an outsider’s perspective has greater relevance, because outsiders are more likely to be schoolmates, colleagues, and friends.”
The declining reputation of Christianity correlates with shifting faith allegiances of Americans, the study pointed out.
Each new generation has a larger share of people who are not Christians, which includes atheists, agnostics, people with no faith orientation or people associated with another faith). Among adults over the age of 40, only about one-quarter associate with a non-Christian faith compared to 40 percent of 16- to 29-year-olds.
“This is not a passing fad wherein young people will become ‘more Christian’ as they grow up,” according to the report. “While Christianity remains the typical experience and most common faith in America, a fundamental recalibration is occurring within the spiritual allegiance of America’s upcoming generations.”
Churches in Busan, South Korea, have invited evangelist Franklin Graham to their metropolitan city in hopes of reviving a country that had once witnessed one of the greatest Christian movements in East Asia.
It’s the centennial year of the great Pyongyang Revival, which had sparked a wave of audible prayers of repentance and rapidly grew Christianity from what is now the capital of North Korea to across the Korean peninsula. Pyongyang had earned the title “Jerusalem of the East” as it became the center of Christian activity up until the Korean War.
A century later, the Korean population is fervently praying for another revival today and Graham is in the country aiming to unite the citizens of Busan to God, he said at a press conference before kicking off a large-scale evangelistic festival on Thursday at Busan Asiad Stadium.
Busan is the second largest city in Korea and Christians make up less than 10 percent of its population, according to Sang Gyoo Lee, professor of church history at Kosin University in Busan. The entire South Korean population is nearly 30 percent Christian.
“Buddhist influence and coastal superstitions may have slowed the spread of the Gospel in Busan,” Lee explained, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. “And because Busan is geographically close to Japan, Japanese indigenous religions have also penetrated the minds of many people.”
When the Rev. Pildo Joung, senior pastor of Soo Young Ro Presbyterian Church in Busan, began ministering in Busan over three decades ago, he said the city was filled with Buddhism and superstition.
“I thought if Busan becomes gospelized, then the entire country can be gospelized,” said Joung (by translation), who hopes Korea’s 10 million Christians become ignited and spread revival across the country through the Busan Franklin Graham Festival this week.
Around 1,500 churches in Busan have united in an attempt to revive congregations and strengthen the Christian community. Their goal is to draw 500,000 people to the Franklin Graham Festival and lead 50,000 to Christ.
The first time Graham crusades hit South Korea was in 1973 when renowned evangelist Billy Graham, Franklin’s father, preached to millions in the country. It was reportedly the largest evangelistic crusade Graham experienced in over 50 years of his ministry. The final day alone drew over a million Koreans to the Yoido Plaza in Seoul and over 100,000 decisions for Christ were recorded.
According to Lee, who attended the past Graham crusade as a university student, the impact of the event was visible in the church.
“Faction-torn churches set aside their differences to work together to reach their nation. At the time of the crusade, the Korean Protestant population was 3 million. By 1975, the membership of the Korean church increased to 4 million and then to 7.6 million by 1980. In the late 1970s, six new churches were planted every day, and 600,000 new church members were reported every year,” he stated.
Today, South Korea has the world’s second largest missionary movement after the United States with over 16,000 missionaries deployed around the world to countries such as China and to their brethren in North Korea with whom they hope to reunify the peninsula.
Just as revival was sparked 100 years ago in Pyongyang through the confession of sins, Franklin Graham said people must repent and return to God.
“I believe God will bless the Korean people,” he said.
And Korean churches are anticipating a great work of God.
“We are full of expectation and hope about how God will do His work in this generation in Busan and in Korea,” said Lee.
The Busan Franklin Graham Festival is being held on Oct. 18-21. In August, Graham broke records in Ecuador, attracting a crowd of over 185,000 people to the Festival of Hope.
The prayer movement in Korea is unlike prayers that Americans are used to. It’s something Chad Hammond has never seen before and it’s what led up to hundreds of thousands of people to hear the gospel message at the Busan Franklin Graham Festival.
“They pray at a level Americans would not believe,” said festival director Hammod, who witnessed more than 325,000 Koreans fill Busan Asiad Stadium during the Oct. 18-21 evangelistic event.
Two years in the making, the latest Franklin Graham Festival took place in Korea’s second largest city, Busan, where Christians make up less than 10 percent of its population. Throughout the weeks ahead of the much anticipated event, more than 1,000 people gathered at sunrise every day praying that God would bring revival to the Korean peninsula like He did a century ago and even a few decades ago when Franklin’s father, world renowned evangelist Billy Graham, held his largest evangelistic crusade ever.
“Do it again, Lord. Do it again,” the Koreans would pray each morning.
The first night of the Franklin Graham Festival drew some 60,000 people to a stadium that had previously held audiences for the 2002 Asian Games and soccer matches for the World Cup. It has a capacity of 56,000 persons but the four stories of stadium decks were filled to overflow throughout the past weekend.
The final night saw more than double the initial crowd with more than 158,000 people packed in the stadium on Sunday.
Preaching in the East, Graham still proclaimed the same gospel message of sin and salvation to bring thousands to Jesus Christ.
“What are the obstacles preventing you from coming to Christ?” Graham asked. “Sin is that barrier. All of us have sinned. I am a sinner. You ask, ‘What do you mean by sin? This is Korea. In America it may be different. We are an Asian country, things are not the same.’ But sin is sin, regardless of what country, regardless of what race or the color of our skin. Sin is the disobedience of God’s standards.”
Offering the forgiveness of God, Graham invited the massive crowd to accept Jesus Christ.
Thousands responded each night, streaming forward from the stands to bow their heads in prayer and to commit their lives to Christ.
Festival organizers have emphasized that this is not a one-time large-scale festival but an evangelistic gathering that has had a lot of united prayer going into it. And it wasn’t just a moment in which a renowned speaker was invited to draw large crowds, but a movement to unite and strengthen churches across Busan and to grow new believers in faith. They say the success of the festival relies on the counselors who were trained to guide new believers and follow-ups in the local churches.
Graham returns to the United States next month for the Pacific Northwest Franklin Graham Festival in Tacoma, Wash.
World renowned missiologist Dr. Ralph D. Winter shared 12 past mistakes made by Western mission agencies that Asian missiologists should avoid when he spoke Friday at the Asian Society of Missiology conference in Bangkok.
Winter, the founder of the U.S. Center for World Mission and named by Time magazine as one of America’s top 25 evangelicals, was giving the closing speech at the first-ever ASM international conference.
In his address, the American missiologist acknowledged that the list of 12 mistakes is “merely” to his “best understanding” and Asian missiologists would have the final say on their validity. Winter hopes, however, that Asian mission leaders learn from what Western agencies did wrong and avoid the same pitfalls.
Winter’s first criticism was that Western missions are starting Bible schools rather than universities. Winter gave examples of successful past mission leaders and movements which were notable for the number of universities they established. Yet later when evangelicals who never went to college did missions they built Bible schools, Bible Institutes or theological schools that “replaced” or “ignored” the university tradition.
“In the last 50 years, the majority of American mission agencies have not founded a single university,” Winter emphasized.
The mission expert pointed out that in the last 100 years in the United States 157 Bible Institutes eventually converted to colleges and universities after 60-70 years. He also pointed out national leaders who are the product of Western mission agencies recognized the “great influence of the university pattern” and have themselves founded over 40 universities in the last 40 years.
“Why is it that missionaries have not realized that Bible Schools, no matter how high the quality of instruction and curricula, simply do not represent the global mainstream of the university pattern?” questioned Winter.
Furthermore, 90% of the money spent on maintaining about 4,000 Bible institutes and seminaries around the world is focused on “untried youth” looking for a place to stay, food, and perhaps English, rather than the “real leaders” in the churches.
“Often their students have already failed to get into several other schools. Meanwhile, the gifted leaders of many growing church movements cannot get help from these schools,” Winter noted.
The U.S. missiologist said he disapproves of church movements that restrict their choice of pastors to people selected by schools not congregations and noted the movements are not growing or in decline.
Another mistake is that some congregations are bypassing mission agencies when sending church members as missionaries. Winter criticizes this practice because churches lack the insights of missiology and the vast experience of mission agencies.
“It may be true that some mission agencies are more experienced and wiser than others, but to my knowledge there is no example of a local congregation bypassing mission agencies with any great success,” he stated.
Other similar criticisms fell upon congregations which send every family in its church overseas for a two-week project. Winter called it a “marvelous idea” to educate people about foreign lands, but “incredibly expensive” and “very questionable” in its contribution to the cause of missions.
The phenomenon of short-term mission was also another mistake that Winter said Asian missions should avoid. Nearly 2 million short-termers leave the United States each year compared to 35,000 long-term missionaries. It costs at least five time more overall to send a short-timer than a long-term missionary – financial support that Winter suggested would be better invested in a long-term missionary.
He resisted, however, from calling short-term mission a bad thing, but rather urged balance.
Missiologists are also confronted with the thorny issue of science. Winter argues that science is not an enemy but helps Christians recognize God more fully.
“Every missionary must take with him to the mission field both a microscope and a telescope if we are to properly glorify God,” Winter advised. “Even more important is the need to take to the field a true reverence for the glory of God in Creation.”
In order to help bring educated people to Christ, the church should be aware and integrate discovery in nature into its worship and not lead young people “astray” by “superficial” theories that the world is only 6,000 years old.
“That is an improper reading of Genesis 1:1, as well as a reckless ignoring of thousands of honest Evangelicals who are outstanding scientists,” Winter argued.
He also called on missionaries to go beyond healing the sick but work on the forefront of eradicating diseases. Malaria – a disease that forces 45 million Africans out of the workplace every day of the year – is curable. Humans know how to eradicate malaria but there is no Christian mission agency involved in the eradication of malaria, Winter pointed out.
“It is very embarrassing to have to admit that the Church of Jesus Christ is expecting billionaires like Bill Gates to do that job for them,” said arguably the most accomplished missiologist of the 21st century. “Worst still, Christians are misrepresenting the love of God in Christ if they do not become noted for their relentless efforts in such a cause.”
Winter also called it a mistake to believe that the Bible seeks only to reconcile man with God, but “more precisely” it should be understood as a calling into a battle of “God-plus-man” versus Satan and his evil works.
“People are asking ‘what kind of God would sponsor a world like this?’” Winter said. “They say this because they are unaware of the existence of Satan and his intelligent opposition to God. Thus, instead of God being glorified, He is being blamed for the work of Satan.”
Satan, not God, is to be blamed for diseases, poverty, injustice and corruption and it is the responsibility of Christians to co-work with God to fight the works of Satan.
“We are lulled into inaction by the widespread belief that Satan was ‘defeated’ at the Cross,” Winter said. “In fact, the Cross was the turning point beyond which there have been centuries of ongoing conflict with a Satan yet to be completely defeated.”
The renowned missiologist, who helped found ASM and its journal, concluded by stating the 12 mistakes are based on his own opinion.
“I hope it is clear that I have not wanted to do more than point out what, [according to] my estimation[s], are the failings and shortcomings in the history of Western mission thinkers,” Winter said. “My perspectives may be faulty. At least I have raised certain issues that Asian missiologists may also confront in their work.”
He hopes it can be a two-way street and the West can learn from members of the ASM.
The Asian Society of Missiology Bangkok 2007 Conference, Oct. 30-Nov.2, brought together 55 people from 15 countries with the purpose of helping Asian churches more effectively engage in mission as it emerges as a new force in world mission. The theme of the conference was “Asian Mission: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.”
Speakers addressed Asian mission from historical, theological, leadership development, and strategic perspectives.
Other prominent speakers included Dr. David J. Cho of DavidCho Missiological Institute and Dr. Hidalgo Garcia of Overseas Missionary Fellowship.
An annual ASM international conference is expected to be held each year to help the Society continue its role as a “think tank” for Asian mission.
12 Mistakes Western Mission Agencies Make:
1. The Mistake of Starting Bible Schools, Not Universities
2. The Mistake of Only “Salvation in Heaven,” not “Kingdom on Earth”
3. The Mistake of Congregations Sending Missionaries, Not Using Mission Agencies
4. The Mistake of Whole Congregations in Direct Involvement, Not Professional Missions.
5. The Mistake of Insisting that Devout Followers of Jesus Call Themselves “Christians” and Identify with the Western Church
6. The Mistake of Sending Only Money, Not Missionaries
7. The Mistake of Sending Short-Termers, Not Long-Termers
8. The Mistake of Not Understanding Business in Mission and Mission in Business
9. The Mistake of Healing the Sick, Not Eradicating Disease Germs
10. The Mistake of Thinking “Peace” Not “War”
11. The Mistake of Assuming Science Is a Foe Not a Friend
12. The Mistake of An Evangelism That is Not Validated and Empowered by Social Transformation
Christianity in Iran is growing as the country becomes increasingly disillusioned by the “authoritarian and economically incompetent” Islamic government, says a Christian author who urges the international community to allow this hope to develop before considering any attack on the country.
“Any attack on Iran over her nuclear program would be a cruel disaster for all Iranians,” states Mark Bradley in his new book, “Iran: Open Hearts In A Closed Land.”
“As well as causing untold misery for hundreds of thousands of innocent Iranians, it could also end the church growth Iran has been experiencing,” explains Bradley, whose real name is not being used in order to protect his real identity.
The author suggests the current presence of a deep dissatisfaction with the Islamic regime in Iran that has paved the way for a growing interest in Jesus Christ and Christianity in the country.
“At the moment, there is deep disillusionment among Iranians with their Islamic government, which is seen as offensively authoritarian and economically incompetent. This has created an unprecedented interest in Jesus Christ,” he claims.
“Today, Iranians will pay what is for them a lot of money on the black market to get a New Testament, thousands are watching Christian programs on satellite TV, and some are joining the growing underground church.”
The author warns against any foreign policy that may hinder this growth, saying, “This could all end if the bombs began to fall.
“America is seen by Iranians as being a Christian power, so any attack on Iran would inevitably turn people against the Christian faith,” he explains.
“It would also strengthen the extreme hard liners who might accuse Christians of following the faith of Iran’s enemies, and they would step up their efforts to eliminate the church.
“If there is no attack, the Iranian church looks set to grow,” he adds.
Bradley’s book details the disillusionment that has built up in Iran since 1979, and shows why Iranians, with their strong non-Islamic identity, find Jesus Christ the natural person to turn to.
“Christ reminds them of their Shia heroes: Ali who campaigned for the poor; Hussein who died for a righteous cause; and Mehdi who is to return to restore justice,” he says. “Iran is also soaked in Sufism, mysticism, so when told to expect Jesus to touch them in a supernatural way, this is not unfamiliar for Iranians.”
According to July 2007 estimates by the CIA World Factbook, less than 2% of Iran’s 65 million population follow a faith other than Islam.
The number of new Christians in the world each year surpasses that of new Muslims, with the major growth for Protestants coming through conversion.
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And the experience that most influenced Muslims was the lifestyle of Christians, according to a recently released survey that offers a glimpse into why Muslims are opening their hearts to the Gospel and Jesus Christ.
The survey, conducted by Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of Intercultural Studies between 1991 to 2007 among 750 Muslims that had decided to follow Christ, was able to track some influences that helped the converts make their decision. The respondents were from 30 countries and 50 ethnic groups – representing every major region of the Muslim world.
According to the survey, some participants said that they saw no discrepancy between what Christians preached and what they practiced in their lives.
An Egyptian said he recognized the contrast between the love of a Christian group at an American university and the unloving ways of Muslim students and faculty at a university in Medina, according to an article on the survey featured in Christianity Today magazine.
Others noted that Christians treat women as equals and Christians have loving marriages.
“Many Muslims who faced violence at the hands of other Muslims did not see it in the Christians they knew…,” wrote the survey’s authors – Dr. J. Dudley Woodberry, Russell G. Shubin, and G. Marks – in Christianity Today. “Muslim-on-Muslim violence has led to considerable disillusionment for many Muslims….”
The next most important influence was the power of God to answer prayers as well as healing. These revelations of God include supernatural intervention such as Christian prayers healing disabled people when Muslims could not and deliverance from demonic powers.
The third most popular influence listed by respondents was dissatisfaction with the Islam they have followed. The former Muslims said they were unhappy with the Qur’an, which they said emphasized God’s punishment more than His love and the use of violence to impose Islamic laws.
“This disillusionment is broad in the Muslim world. Many Iranians became interested in the gospel after the Khomeini revolution of 1979 brought in rule by clergy. Pakistanis became more receptive after President Zia ul-Haq (1977-1988) tried to implement Islamic law. And Afghans became more open after Islamist Taliban conquest and rule (1994-2001),” the authors noted.
It is also noteworthy that more than one in four respondents (27 percent) said dreams and visions were a factor in their decision to commit themselves to follow Christ. For 40 percent of respondents, visions or dreams occurred at the time of conversion, and for 45 percent they occurred after they committed to following Christ.
Moreover many converts were attracted to the assurance of salvation and forgiveness. In Islam, God forgives and punishes whoever He will so Muslims have no certainty of salvation. But in Christianity, a person can be sure of their salvation if they place their faith in Jesus Christ.
Muslims who read the Bible were also convinced that the Bible is the truth and were attracted to the unconditional love of God.
The survey noted that although the number of new Christians each year is greater than the number of new Muslims, the annual growth rate of Muslims (1.81 percent), however, is higher than for Christians (1.23 percent), according to the article.
The Islamic studies expert said the higher Muslim growth rate is “hardly surprising” because there is a larger Christian population so more people need to become Christians for the growth rate to increase.
Editor’s Note: J. Dudley Woodberry is a professor of Islamic studies at the School of Intercultural Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, Calif., and served in the Muslim world for many years. Russell G. Shubin is the deputy director of national news and publications for Salem Communications in Camarillo, Calif. G. Marks has ministered in Malawi.
American evangelist Franklin Graham held his largest evangelistic event to date this past weekend with 423,335 people overflowing seven separate venues in Hong Kong and in neighboring Macau.
The massive four-day event, which ended Sunday, involved more than 800 churches and was also broadcasted live to the island of Macau and also to Yuen Long Stadium in the New Territories.
Graham preached the simple message that “God loves Hong Kong” to the crowd, saying China – to which the United Kingdom transferred sovereignty of Hong Kong to in 1997 – had “a special place” in his heart.
“I have a common history with China,” said Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) and the international Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse. “My mother was born in China, my grandparents were medical missionaries here, and I’ve been traveling here for more than 30 years, so this country has a special place in my heart.
“I love the people of China. I love this great city,” said Graham, “But most importantly God loves you, and you can know the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.”
Local pastors, leaders and churches across denominational lines in Hong Kong had invited Graham to visit and share the Gospel with the Chinese people.
With the help of translator Youngman Chan, the ministry head spoke about the Gospel message of hope and forgiveness through Jesus during the festival alongside local and international musical guest appearances.
Franklin Graham’s eldest son, Will Graham, also took part in the Festival, speaking to 40,650 youths at a special event geared towards teens. Although Will has held his own evangelistic events, the Hong Kong Fest marked the first time Will joined one of his father’s events.
An event for children was held on Saturday afternoon that drew 38,000 kids.
By the final night, 33,464 people had responded to the invitation to accept Jesus Christ as their savior.
During Franklin Graham’s visit to Hong Kong, he met with the highest ranking government official in the city, Chief Executive Donald Tsang. He also received an official invitation from the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, China Christian Counsel and the China Association for International Friendly Contact to go to the People’s Republic of China in 2008 to meet with local church leaders.
Meanwhile, teams from Samaritan’s Purse and BGEA provided 12,000 book bags filled with school supplies for underprivileged children in the New Territories part of Hong Kong where many immigrants from the mainland settle looking for work.
The Hong Kong Festival was the last of eight Franklin Graham events this year. The location line-up for the 2008 Festivals include: Ireland; Taiwan; Mexico; Romania; Las Vegas; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Charleston, S.C.
A quiet Christian house-church movement in Iran is steadily growing even in the face of tremendous opposition, confirmed the head of a global faith-based ministry.
“That is exactly what I’ve discovered the last couple of days,” reported Partners International President Jon Lewis after recently visiting Iran and hearing first-hand accounts from believers about their experience in the country.
Partners International, in partnership with Persian Ministry, had hosted a Bible training conference for 30 Iranians outside of their country last month as they have been doing quietly for more than six years.
“Partners has been assisting the Persian Ministry and its leader, Tony, since 2001. Through a radio broadcast ministry, Tony has been connecting with hundreds of new and existing believers all over the country,” Partners International reported.
“From the Internet and through special relay phone calls, he (Tony) has discipled a number of Iranian Christians to become leaders of house-church clusters. Each year, he invites those leaders to choose several new believers or keen (and trusted) seekers from their fellowships and bring them to a week-long training event such as this one.”
Christianity in Iran is reportedly growing and thriving well in Iran despite the harsh reality of living under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government, which strictly imposes Shariah (Islamic law) on its people. And although missionaries are not allowed to enter Iran, a growing number of Muslims have converted to Christianity and the number of Christians is increasing day by day.
According to a survey conducted by Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of Intercultural Studies, the new number of new Christians in the world each year surpasses that of new Muslims with the major growth for Protestants coming through conversion. And the most influential factor attributed to such conversions is the lifestyle of Christians.
In 2000, Christians made up about 0.2 percent of Iran’s total 70 million population.