One body, many parts

We are at the midpoint of Cape Town 2010, the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, and I’m trying to think about how to summarize what has happened here in the past three and a half days. Here is the big picture: the church of Christ around the world is so big, so wide, and so diverse–and all of that is evident here at Cape Town with the 4,200 representatives from 198 countries–that it defies any simple summary. The massive convention center in which this nine day congress is being held is a continual river of human bodies, breaking off into currents and eddies, literally, as they go into dozens of side sessions and seminars, and spiritually as well.

First, there are many profound individual stories. The teenage girl from Asia whose father was taken away to prison for his faith, and who saw Jesus in a dream speaking to her about the darkness and spiritual need of her country. Nigerian archbishop Benjamin Kwashi who told about gangs of dozens of men coming to his house on two different occasions to kill him–but they did not. The widow of a medical missionary in Afghanistan who held the blood-stained sermon notes taken from the body of her husband who was killed with nine others in a remote wilderness where they were attending to the medical needs of villagers. A Palestinian woman and Jewish man who talked about finding in Jesus a life that raised them above their political and cultural tensions. A hidden video camera captures a man in India bragging about how he keeps people perpetually working on his land by holding them in escalating debt they can never repay. He laughs about it. There are more slaves in the world today than at the time of William Wilberforce.

Second, there are memorable quotes:

“Jesus is the only way to God, but there are as many ways to Jesus as there are people who come.” – Os Guinness

“Saying ‘Preach the Gospel daily: use words if necessary,’ is like saying ‘Feed the hungry, use food if necessary.'”

“More Iranians have come to Christ in the last 30 yrs than in the last 1300 years before.”

“The most unreached peoples in the world are more reachable in cities.” – Tim Keller

[In an earlier time] “people lived in a town, a village. Now we all live in the whole world.” – David Wells

Third, there are substantive presentations. Os Guinness gives a clarion call for us to value truth. Joseph D’souza from India tells the congress that only the concerted effort of the whole global church will be able to break the evils of the caste system which holds 25 million Dalits in sub-human conditions. Tim Keller speaking about the huge challenges of reaching people who are spiritually lost in our major cities. David Wells warns about the downside of globalization which is making us all shallower human beings if we are not careful. A Muslim-background believer tells the sobering truth that in his part of the world 60% of converts to Christ turn back within two years, and even greater numbers within five years. He says it is a myth that persecution always produces growth.

I’ve run out of space for now, but in the next couple of days I will note some of the controversies in the discussions, and talk about the significant work going on in the 700 small groups throughout the congress. It isn’t all about major speeches and presentations. God does most of his work in the person to person, small group setting.

Oh, and then there is this (for you missions mavens). It has been discovered that global warming is due in part to some short-termer leaving the 10-40 window open.

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