Dayton, Ohio, April 27, 1996
As I flew into Dayton on Trans World Airways I thought of our world's indebtedness to Dayton as home of the Wright brothers for beginning a new thing--aircraft transportation, even if the newspaper editor in Dayton missed one of the main stories of the century. It is reported that when Orville and Wilbur Wright finally got their aircraft off the ground for 59 seconds on the 19th of December of 1903 they sent a telegram to their sister in Dayton, Ohio. The telegram read: "First successful flight today, 59 seconds, we hope to be home for Christmas"
After receiving the message the sister got so excited that she ran and called the newspaper and read the telegram to the editor. Next day, believe it or not, the large headlines of the newspaper read: "Popular bicycle designers will be at home for Christmas."
The news editor missed the news item of the century because he missed the key point. Sometimes this can happen to us as Christians; we can become so engrossed in routine and activity that we miss the entire point."
Was what occurred Saturday, April 27 (called "Servant Day") one of those dramatic moments in the light of eternity?
It has only been a short time since the Bosnia United Nations peace accord was formulated here in Dayton, Ohio, between the almost 1.8 million Muslims, the Serbs and the Croats. In February 1984, Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, was the world's playground where Katarina Witt of East Germany and Scott Hamilton of America skated to gold-medal perfection. Today the arena where Olympic athletes skated is in ruins from the many bomb blasts and gunshots of what is now known as Bosnia. It was a whole new thing for Dayton to host a peace meeting of this nature.
And now for the first time, church members of all ages and different churches, from different denominations and different ethnic and racial backgrounds in Dayton came together to cooperate in a servant project for the city. In Scripture we read God's word in Isa 43:19, "I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert." What took place here April 27 may well be one of those "new things" that God is doing in this city.
Hosted by the Afro Dayton downtown Omega Baptist church of some 2000 members, their Vision 2000 with specific goals regarding education, youth involvement, community service and outreach is growing at about 50 new members per month.
Almost a year ago in Korea, at the Global Consultation on World Evangelization (GCOWE '95), Pete Schwalm, senior pastor of the beautiful 1500 member Fairhaven church was listening as Graham Kendrick, was leading the pastor's track in a song about God's glory. Graham had asked pastors from different countries to come and sing a verse in their own languages. Many went forward to the platform. Pastor Pete remembers the pastor of the church in Baghdad singing and something began to stir in his spirit. He then heard Paul Cedar, Chairman of Mission America, talking of the need in the cities of America, followed by prayer in small groups of pastors from all over the world. The vision began to formulate in the heart and mind of Pastor Pete to return to his city of Dayton and invite pastors in Dayton to gather for a servant/compassionate outreach to the city as a coordinated "acts of kindness" by churches in the city. His first act was to invite the pastors of the other five largest churches and their wives to his home for dinner. As the idea was shared there was a sense of confirmation by each minister. Following the first meeting, city pastors from all backgournds were invited to bimonthly prayer sessions at which the vision took shape.
The vision called for the release of God's resource of His people in Dayton to serve the city of Dayton through reconciled relationships. With a high crime rate, drug related problems and racial tensions, the city desperately needed a touch of God. The servant day outreach was coordinated with the Neighborhood Association in the toughest district in the city.
During the morning worship hour multiethnic pastors from Dayton prayed over the outreach. The final words of challenge by pastor Pete to the 300 or so that gathered for the early morning worship and a challenge to be salt and light as people of compassion seeking to enhance the name of the Lord Jesus Christ in servant projects with random acts of kindness. As we drove by Dayton View Park in the heart of the city, I could see his wife Priscilla breaking ground at the sign of Dayton View Park where flowers were to be planted later that morning. Some of the 1000 estimated participants from churches around the area could be seen cleaning up the park, others scraping at a house that was to be painted. All the community was invited to join the lunch in the park, which was a festive occasion punctuated by young Christian dramatists.
Along with the vision for the city is coming a vision within the churches of the city for the unreached peoples in the world.
The Beavercreek Christian church, in conjunction with Joshua Project 2000, sent a team to begin the first phase of on-site research among the Yanadi of India in February 1996. They are scheduled for training by the Caleb Project in January 1997 to work among other least evangelized peoples. Other churches are being invited to receive the training for sending their own teams.
Fairhaven church has adopted two of the Joshua Project 2000 peoples; the Khumi-Chin of Myanmar (formerly called Burma) and the Yao of China. They have committed as an adoptive church to pray, research and facilitate church planting efforts and to become an advocate for them.
Representatives of churches are planning to get together to discuss what the churches of Dayton could take up as a challenge in terms of a number of Joshua project 2000 peoples by the year 2000. They have heard about Kansas City's monthly gathering of representatives of 12 churches, plus the challenge of adopting and seeking to establish a church planting movement among 40 different Joshua Project 2000 peoples by Kansas City churches by the year 2000.
On April 19-20, 110 church leaders representing some 36 congregations in 17 states came together in Dayton to celebrate what God is doing around the world and covenant together to completion of the task . A dozen trained facilitators worked together to help these church leaders pray strategically and plan intentionally to plant churches among groups mostly taken from the Joshua Project list of least evangelized peoples. These facilitators came from various parts of the world and from several different mission agency backgrounds, yet they worked together as one, often supporting the needs of the other organization more than their own!"Unforgettable!!!" "Enriching!" "Encouraging!" "Faith-building!" These were just some of the reactions. According to Doug Lucas, President of Envision '96, "This went far beyond our expectations."
Participating churches agree to trust God to empower them to
"This weekend, I've seen great potential for local churches to do this in concert with one another," reported Dr. Russ Summay, Missions Chairman at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.
The Dayton "pit stop" was en-route to Envision '96, a major meeting to be held in Lexington, Kentucky beginning Nov. 1st, when thousands of representatives from all across the world are expected to gather in Rupp Arena for what appears to be a record-setting event for the Christian churches and churches of Christ.
Indeed, it appears God is doing a new thing in Dayton, Ohio. The burden for the city and the lost peoples in the world are being taken up not just by individual churches or churches from the same denomination, but rather there is a new expression of unity and cooperation in an effort to minister to the city and plant the church among the unreached peoples of the world. God's resources are being released to rebuild the city and reach the world through reconciled relationships.
As Bishop Leslie Neubigen would have observed what took place from April 19 to 27, 1996 in Dayton, Ohio was testimony to the atoning work of Christ. "In so far as the church of Jesus Christ is unable or unwilling to agree together in fellowship and mission, she publicly proclaims the insufficiency of the atoning work of Christ."
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