Doctor Avery Willis nodded his head and the audience broke into applause. He had just apologized on behalf of the Southern Baptist denomination. He had discovered that the best efforts of his denomination, even if all the goals were attained, were not good enough to reach the world by the year 2000.
"We want to ask forgiveness from you," he said meekly, "for thinking we could do that kind of job without you. We recognize that it's going to take the whole body of Christ to reach the people of this world."
As a sign of his change of heart, he offered to any delegate who requested it, seven diskettes of the databases of the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board.
"Business as usual will not get the job done," he concluded.
Willis's remarks were made in the large sanctuary of Seoul's Choong Hyun Presbyterian Church, whose attached buildings had been the venue of several of the tracks the previous week. Choong Hyun Church provided a change of scenery for the GCOWE '95 delegates. The large, gray, neo-Gothic building is the home church of Korea's president, Kim Young-Sam. This move to Choong Hyun reinforced the connection between GCOWE '95's efforts and the newly developed missionary enthusiasm of the Korean church. With ample space among the various buildings, Monday's plenary was notable for the amount of networking that was accomplished outside of the main sessions.
As has been the case since GCOWE '95 began last week, there was plenty of drama throughout the day. Jackie Pullinger, one of the most compelling speakers on behalf of the world's poor urban dwellers, issued an emotional appeal to the audience to cry out on behalf of the silent and the down- trodden of the world's cities, which by the year 2000 will contain approximately half the world's population.
"I come to you on behalf of the drug addicts and refugees from other parts of the world," she said. "Women who are locked in homes, beat by their fathers, raped by brothers and yet forbidden to cry. Will GCOWE '95 delegates hear their unspoken cry of pain and weep with them?"
"If you will go to the worst places," she said, "you must see they are the easiest, not the hardest. For where sin doth much abound, there does grace abound so stark! Don't let them know you are after their souls. They can smell that. If they catch from any of us the fact that we're tracking numbers, why should they listen? They don't want to be a number on a chart.They want to be loved. They want to be cared for."
Pullinger appealed to delegates not to regard those working among the poorest of the poor, like her, as undertaking "specialty ministries." Her point: the poorest of the poor are likely to be the main focus of city ministries as the millennium approaches.
Others concurred with this view. Viv Grigg, who heads the Cities Resource Network in Pasadena, in the U.S., said that 95 percent of the cities in the 10/40 window have problems of squalid slums, squatters, drug addicts and general social breakdown.
"The task before us will require death," he said. "There will be no taking of these cities without suffering and death."
Samuel Kamaleson, an India delegate and the chairman of the Cities Track, provided a Biblical basis for focusing on the cities. "God listens to the cry of the city," he said, referring to Genesis 18. "We need to weep over the cities, feel the heart of God for the cities, intercede in a way that enables us to hear both the heart of God and the heart of the city," he added. "We need to enter on a donkey."
Canon Cyril Okorocha, Director for Missions and Evangelism of the Anglican Church, made it clear that outreach to places like the world's cities was not one option among many for the church. He said, "The church exists for missions. Any church, any denomination, any group of Christians who at any time in history are not involved in missions, in the business of evangelizing, will soon lose their identity as the people of God. Suddenly, to their surprise, they will become a mission field for other religions."
Though Okorocha did not mention it, he may have had in mind the surge of Islamic evangelistic activity in England. This is the home of Anglicanism, where large numbers of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent and the Caribbean have settled in recent years.
The sobering comments on the state of the world's cities was not at all the last thought of the day on the issue of reaching the unreached. Roger Forster, International Director of the March for Jesus, reminded delegates of just what an extraordinarily ecumenical -- in the broadest sense of the word -- gathering GCOWE '95 was turning out to be.
"The world is hungry for hope," he said. "God's people showing that we can get together brings hope to this hopeless and dying world. You pastors must be out in front," he added, "not driving the flock from behind. That's what the butcher does to the sheep." Resounding applause broke out at this comment.
"God's people." Forster, of course, had in mind the Church, an entity that ought never to be confused with a building. "They didn't have any buildings during the first 25 years of Christianity," he said. "We build buildings and the walls shut us in. We want to look at the face of the pastor. [But] the pastor's got to be out in front and you've got to see the back of the pastor."
While Forster was speaking, there were, in fact, many delegates who had turned their back on church buildings even in Seoul, and were eagerly networking with each other outside the sanctuary of the Choong Hyun Church. Almost every courtyard, nook and small room within the church compound seemed to echo with prayers, conversation and the excitement of newly discovered friendship and shared spiritual burdens.
One Indian delegate said that it was precisely this kind of networking which set GCOWE '95 apart from other conferences he had attended. "The style of the plenaries encourages enthusiasm to know each other better," he said, "an attitude of giving myself to the other person."
If there was a better way to express both what the Gospel is all about and what is at the heart of the new sense of cooperation and mutual support that has emerged from the AD2000 & Beyond Movement, it was hard to find yesterday.
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