I am thrilled to share with you the powerful outpouring of God's Holy Spirit during my recent visit to South Africa while representing The Salvation Army at the Global Consultation On World Evangelization (GCOWE '97). Over 4000 delegates from 130 countries gathered for 6 days in Pretoria.
In preparation and prayer during the weeks leading up to this event I had sensed a deep and unusual moving of God in my spirit that this would be a time of richness. The final confirmation of this was the laying on of hands and commissioning by my own congregation in Manchester on the Sunday afternoon before I left.
From the first morning in my consultation it was evident that this was conference of deep significance.
The pervading theme was the remaining mission of the church to reach the unreached people groups of the world with the good news of the gospel. Out of the approx. 12,000 distinctive people groups - language, ethnic make up, culture - in the world (as opposed to the 250+ countries) it is estimated that just over 1,700 have yet to have any presence or proclamation of the gospel. These are people completely removed from the news of Christ.
The references in scripture that are particularly poignant are Genesis 12 (the first great commission); Matthew 24.14 ".. this gospel of the kingdom preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come." ; Matthew 28 (the great commission); Acts 1:8 (Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth) and Revelation 7:9 (all nations - ethnic groups - around the throne).
Of particular focus was the 10/40 window - the area between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator - stretching from west of the Sahara to East Asia. It is in this window that a large percentage of the unreached peoples of the world reside. General Rader has called on salvationists around the world to join in the prayer focus breaking into this window.
The zeal and Holy Spirit power with which this was communicated, exhorted, taught and preached was overwhelming.
From the beginning I was mesmerized by the enormity of the task, the essential nature of the task, the utter conviction by the leaders that the task will be completed and my certainty that God Almighty desires this task completed more than we can ever understand. DL Moody was quoted every day: "It can be done! It must be done! It shall be done!" The simple mission of the AD2000 and Beyond Movement is this: "A church for every people; the gospel for every person."
I participated in the Pastors Consultation. I met for three days with pastors from over 120 countries around the world. It is the conviction of the World Mission Center that the local church around the world holds the key to the future of missions. For many years it has been Mission Agencies who have been the dominant missionary sending force. It would appear that is changing. It is also evident that mission sending groups are co-ordinating efforts as never before in reaching the unreached people of the world. This spirit of unity is breathing fresh air into missions.
I spent 5 days on sensory and inspirational overload! There were moments of ecstatic worship and exuberance at an intensity and vibrancy I had never experienced. The African pastors in particular had a profound depth and energy to their faith that was contagious and inspirational. It was a privilege to pray with them and worship with them.
There were times of anguish and calls of repentance. There was recognition of our own sinfulness, pride and prejudices. On the last day as all the consultations gathered for the finale a leading representative from the South African Dutch Reformed Church calmly and somberly read a statemnt of denominational repentance for the decades of racism tolerated by that church. At the conclusion of the statement - as he received forgiveness from a black pastor - the overwhelming sense of the presence of God was almost unbearable. One sensed that this was so deep, that centuries of injustice and sin were beginning to be healed, that it was too awe inspiring to watch. The white pastors around me from South Africa were heaving enormous tears of sorrow and pain.
On another occasion the leader from the Poor and Needy consultation gave his report on the staggering poverty of so much of the world. As he concluded in prayer he asked the delegates to remove their shoes as a gesture of respect for the poor of the world. As he prayed a mighty moving of the presence of God descended on the congregation. The sense of God was so immense I was trembling.
Earlier a South African gospel choir had performed an rendition of Pslam 23 that was unlike anything I had ever seen or heard. It was the most uplifting music I had ever witnessed. By the time they concluded I think I was levitating.
There were 35 salvationists from around the world. I had special times of friendship with Corps Officers and Divisional Commanders from South Africa, New Guinea, England and Pakistan. On the last evening we all met for a kindred session kindly hosted by Commissioner Watson. The commissioner remarked what we all felt - it was right for the Army to be here.
There is a new day ahead for missions. One senses that the spirit of God for world missions is moving from Europe and America to Africa. Africa is no longer the dark continent. South Africa is pivotal in this movemnt. The healing in the land and people is of such power and has given such freedom that the church there is bursting out across the world. The white, black and asian christians in South Africa are in a perfect position to reach much of the world with the gospel. God has taken a broken land, has begun a healing process and is now using it to bless his world.
As I looked across the auditorium on the last day I saw the beauty of the body of Christ. I dared to believe that the church - the bride of Christ - would one day be spotless. For a moment I felt I could see it.
GCOWE '97 was under the annointed leadership of a white man and a black man. This was of great significance. GCOWE 2000 will be in Jerusalem. One of the last events was to introduce the leaders for that conference - a messianic jew and a christian arab. As they embraced and knelt for prayer I realised as never before that only in Christ can authentic reconciliation between people take place.
The scripture from Revelation seemed to be taking place before my very eyes: "I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb."
I thank God for the enormous privilege of participating in this conference. I am grateful to The Salvation Army for sending me. I am convinced that the bold vision of our founders - 'The world for God' - is also the vision of God. I am convinced that our commitment to the poor also reflects the heart of God. With the blessing of God we shall participate with fellow believers from every culture in reconciling the world to Christ.
"It can be done! It must be done! It shall be done!"
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