Moving Across The Tracks In Small Groups, GCOWE '95 Participants Digest The Issues

"The church today, by and large, is no longer the prophet. We are no longer the optimal form of society. Society today is following secular prophets. So we need to change the situation."

With this sobering observation, Dr. Thomas Wang -- International Chairman of the AD 2000 & Beyond Movement -- challenged a blue ribbon gathering of lay men and women professionals, clergy, business people, educationists and royalty to think through how the laity could alter the often poor image of the Christian church in many countries of the world. Dr. Wang was speaking at the Distinguished Leaders Track in the Choong Hyun Presbyterian Church, one of four sites to which participants fanned out for small group discussion all day Friday.

His audience, ranging from Queen Tabiihata Seeiso of Lesotho to former Korean Prime Minister Yung-Dug Lee, listened intently, then contributed an invigorating variety of suggestions, anecdotes and insights into the tension that has always existed between individuals in their Christian walk and the stress of daily secular life.

The Distinguished Leaders Commission has proved to be one of the most stimulating of the many special track groupings within GCOWE '95, not least because its members seem to share so little in common. British and Australian parliamentarians, Kenyan educationists, Indian government professionals, a Bolivian politician, a Nigerian international agency official, a Swedish industrialist -- and the Queen of Lesotho -- were just a handful of the three dozen or so foreign and Korean thinkers exchanging views on each other's experiences and insights.

The tone for the meeting was set by a dignified speech by Queen Tabiihata Seeiso, who described the way her life had changed when she started praying and fasting three times a week for her country, her family, and for thanksgiving. "Through prayer and witnessing," she said, "the Gospel will be shared with different countries. My dream is to promote sharing the Gospel with national leaders."

In a less intimate, but well-prepared speech to follow the Queen, former Korean Prime Minister Yung, decried the deteriorating condition of safety for ordinary people around the world. "No place on earth is truly a safe haven for peace," he noted in a pointed reference to the Tokyo gas attacks and the Oklahoma City bombing. "Poisonous gas and car bombs have taken innocent lives and have cast terror among those who survived the violence." He added: "Before any of us can be light and salt in our society, we must first become real Christians.... We must make every effort to apply Christian principles to bring change in the social structures of the world. Christians must be willing to pay the economic, political and personal price to establish laws and cultural practices that are pleasing to God."

Fine. But just how do we do this? Dr. Wang eagerly used the image of Christian lay people as a bridge between the church and secular society. But not everyone appreciated this image. Bernie Kuiper, a Dutch-born pastor living in Colorado Springs, U.S.A., commented: "I have a little trouble with the word bridge. Our example was Jesus, who was not a bridge-builder. Our job is to impact the world."

There followed a series of wide-ranging, and at times deeply earnest, comments on how various participants had experienced the process of impacting their respective countries. Kenyan school supervisor Leah Ngini, for example, produced knowing nods from participants when she explained how much more comfortable her unsaved husband was with her own Bible reading and explanations of the scriptures than what he sometimes heard from different pastors in church.

Another African, Nigerian Kola O. Adeniji, provoked expressions of delight when he recounted how his soccer supporters' club sang Christian songs whenever their team scored a goal. Dr. D.V.K. Samuel, an Indian government scientist, quietly explained how rewarding it had been to invite Hindu friends and neighbors for Christmas and Easter meals in his home and reverse the stereotypes of Christian holidays as occasions of drunkenness and excess. Turbaned Nachhattar Singh, a Sikh, was exultant over the response of a prominent Hindu philosopher to whom he had sent a copy of the Gospel after being given a handbill of the philosopher's lecture. "He sent back a letter saying, 'Thank you, it is glorious.'"

But a serious note was re-introduced when Dr. Tokunboh Adeyemo, General Secretary of the Association of Evangelicals in Africa, said he thought there should be more attention to the word "justice." "When Christians stand up for what is right it has a powerful effect," he said. "A contemporary evangelical weakness is protection of self and personal security. If there is one language that the world is waiting for, it is the language of justice. This comes out of a Kingdom mentality."

The other tracks introduced no less a variety of proposals for carrying out the tasks implied by the entire concept of "A Church for Every People and the Gospel for Every Person by AD2000." Patience Ahmen, a research secretary from Nigeria, had a stimulating report of how they conduct research among unreached people groups. "In Africa," she said, "we visit the people group and ask them to tell the story behind their name, ask them stories about past visits from missionaries, and find out what older people remember. When we are all done, we show them our report to see if we got it right."

In the Cities Resource Network, Sam Chapman, an ethnic Maori from New Zealand, humorously narrated the various ethnic strains in his background, noting that he was part-Scottish by consumption. "My ancestors ate some," he said to guffaws of laughter. "Therefore I am very multicultural." He explained the Maori custom of rubbing noses together, or "hoening." "God longs to be hoening with us," he said. The meaning, he added, is "Your breath is my breath, your tears are my tears, your burden is my burden, your pain is my pain, your joy is my joy."

hoening

Not content with the hilarity of his cannibal ancestry confession and his description of Maori affection, he urged his listeners to stand up and trying out hoening. There was more laughter and a scraping of chairs as his listeners tried it out.

Not all of the track sessions were so lively, and there was the inevitable dozing off, what with jet-lag and information overload taking its toll. But even so, the tracks sometimes provided antidotes. Dr. Raju Abraham noted how he had begun to fall asleep as his particular track meeting droned on into its second and third hour. Before slumberland overtook him, though, a thought came to mind -- the notion that he was attending probably the largest interdenominational meeting ever, he said, "I suddenly woke up!"


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