Impressions of GCOWE 97

By Luis Bush
Sept 11, 1997

Introduction:

Four thousand delegates from 135 countries went to Pretoria, South Africa for the Global Consultation on World Evangelization called GCOWE 97. We met from June 30 to July 5 to further the work of "a church for every people and the gospel for every person by the year 2000." Why did someone with the vast experience in international conferences such as Patrick Johnstone report following the event that GCOWE-97 was the best international conference he had ever attended? It was for the quality of participants and the strategic nature of the 10 parallel consultations. Here are some of my own lasting impressions, why I believe that GCOWE 97 will make a major impact on world evangelization for the rest of the decade and into the new millennium.

1. The sacrificial spirit of the South African churches and the positioning of South African missions

Ed Roebert gave all He had. He gave his church (Hatfield) to be the main venue for the event. He gave generously financially form the funds of the church to host the 1100 African leaders that had come for the African National Initiatives Consultation, he gave encouragement to the congregation of the church who opened their homes to welcome in the participants from other countries in Africa, he gave the opening prayer the first evening, and following the climactic gathering with participants from the 135 countries on the Friday, the first thing the next morning as the March for the Nations to the heart of Pretoria was beginning--he gave his own life.

And as Ed Roebert gave, so the South African church gave over and over and over again. The ten consultations were hosted mainly by Pretoria churches. I have heard so many comments of the graciousness, generosity and warm hospitality received by the congregations and the churches in South Africa. Undoubtedly the love and hospitality of the South African church is one of the enduring impressions of GCOWE 97.

Certainly the World Mission Center, whose staff carried the brunt of the responsibility for GCOWE 97 paid an enormous price. Without their willingness to :give their all -- GCOWE 97 would never have happened.

Forsaking their own needs to serve the global church, the South African church is now positioned to make a major contribution to the unfinished task. Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields-and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life." (Mt 20:29-30)

With the additional fact that South Africa is one of the fastest, if not the fastest, growing mission sending countries in the world, there is the sense of spiritual vitality in so much of the South African churches today, new international friends from GCOWE 97, the mobilization of the churches in the various praying through the window efforts, and passports that are now welcomed throughout the countries of the world. Thus, the potential is for an enormous advance in the contribution of the South African churches to the unfinished task.

One of the participants observed following the conference "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. South Africa is pivotal in this movement. 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.>

2. Africa as a spiritual force

For the first time in modern history, the majority of participants at a global conference on world evangelisation came from Africa. We rejoice to hear about the growth of the church in the continent of Africa where it was reported that in 1900 there were about 8.8 million Christians in Africa composing less than 2 % of the world’s Christians, compared to an anticipated 338 million Christians in Africa representing nearly 17% of the total global Christian population by the year 2000.

Speaker Tokumboh Adeyemoh, General Secretary of the African Evangelical Association spoke of the spiritual force that Africa represents. "We... celebrate the birth, growth and development of the church in Africa today."

Without the involvement of the African Church, the 10/40 window will not be reached effectively. Africans with their inherent understanding of the spirit world, their deep commitment to the Lord and their ability to live on next to nothing would play an invaluable role in reaching the 1739 major unreached people groups in the world.

Africa has become a major spiritual force in the world today, contributing to the global churches understanding of evangelism, church planting, mobilisation of new missionaries, and racial reconciliation. For Brazilian participant Oswaldo Prado, the greatest lesson from GCOWE 97 was the strength of the burgeoning national initiatives all over Africa, as an encouragement to nurture and facilitate, at a national level, cooperative relationships among existing and developing denominations, congregations, networks, structures, ministries, organizations, and other entities that will result in coordinated efforts for completing the task.

3. A call to repentance and reconciliation

In the report from the 35 GCOWE 97 participants from the Salvation Army came the testimony of God working deeply with a spirit of repentance. "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 statement 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."

However, repentance and reconciliation was the hallmark of the entire conference that rose to a climax toward the end of the time together. I was at the Mission Executives Consultation. Despite a carefully prepared program for the last evening a spirit of confession, repentance and reconciliation took over, the microphones were opened, deep things were shared, tears were shed, and the spirit of reconciliation, Christ’s love and unity prevailed. As the leaders and intercessors for each of the ten consultations summed up on the last day the first several speakers set the tone speaking on what God had done in a spirit of brokenness and initiating confession to those from other tracks-then the to the business executives to the mission executives, the mission executives to the pastors and on and on to conclusion on that note!.

One participant noted: "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."

A participant observed later, "GCOWE ‘97 was under the anointed leadership of a white man and a black man. This was of great significance. The next major conference ‘Celebrate Messiah 2000’ will be in the Holy Land. 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 realized as never before that only in Christ can authentic reconciliation between people take place."

4. GCOWE 97 Advances A Church For Every People

As God’s servants among the peoples of the earth, the desire was expressed to see the gospel willingly embraced in every ethno-linguistic people in such a way that it met their diverse needs, healed their deepest wounds, redeemed their distinct culture, and restored their God-given dignity, destiny and joy.

During GCOWE 97 a list was unveiled of 579 ethno-linguistic peoples from the original Joshua Project 2000 list of 1739, who did not have a reported church planting effort underway. Of these almost one third are to be found in Africa. The original Joshua Project 2000 list represents a selected group of unreached peoples each with more than 10,000 individuals while at the same time have less than 2% evangelical and 5% Christian.

As of June 1997, AD2000 data reflected that, of the original Joshua Project 2000 list, 579 of the 1739 peoples were without a reported mission agency church planting effort in their midst, almost one-half of these in Africa. The data was based on the results of a survey conducted over the year ending June 1997, resulting in the submission of more than 25,000 pieces of information received from over 450 distinct mission organizations from over 80 countries.

As a result of GCOWE 97, of the 579, only 172 remain unclaimed for any kind of commitment to church planting by December 31, 2000. This came after pledges made at GCOWE 97 by: 1) the African national initiative leaders who committed to church planting and 2) the mission executives who committed to encourage their mission agencies to church planting.

This is an incomplete and an imperfect picture! However, it is a starting point toward ensuring that there is a church planting effort targeting the least reached peoples. This in no way implies that these peoples have been reached or that the task is even close to being done among these peoples. From the beginning the goal has been to see, at a minimum, a church planting team and a church planting effort resulting in a life-giving church of at least 100 believers in one or more reproducing fellowships among every people on the Joshua Project 2000 list. Praise God that we are nearer to reaching that objective than imagined less than two years ago. GCOWE 97 significantly advanced the effort to see that there can be a church for every ethno-linguistic people by the year 2000. As one participant reported later. "The scripture from Revelation seemed to be taking place before my very eyes of..." "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. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." (Revelation 7:9-10)

5. Envisioning New Wineskins

Many new things emerged during the GCOWE 97 process. A text that kept coming. To up in mind from the beginning to the end of the conference was Isaiah 43:19. "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland."

There were new streams, several of the ten parallel consultations representing new streams within the AD2000 movement such as the business executives, the mission executives, the African AD2000 national initiatives, the training for church planting movements, the presidents & academic deans of theological institutions, meeting the needs of the poor and needy, performing arts and missions, children.

For example, GCOWE 97 launched a new, a Business and Professional Network when more than 500 Christian businessmen gathered in one of the ten consultations. They agreed on the following the vision stated as follows: "The AD2000 Business Executive and Professional Network is a catalyst for the vision of a church for every people and the Gospel for every person by the year 2000 and beyond. Our role is to facilitate networking and to penetrate the 10/40 Window countries with the Gospel of Jesus Christ through showing God’s love in action."

Two hundred and fifty Presidents and Academic Deans (PAD) representing theological schools from 53 nations acknowledged that while theological educators have tremendous potential to bless, they also can damage the church. Out of the worship, plenary addresses, workshops, testimonies, prayer, discussion, and informal fellowship ten theses emerged calling for the recognition of the primacy of missiological concern for the world in the total curriculum of ministry training plus the establishment of a permanent PAD track incorporated into the AD 2000 movement to promote this concern and the ten theses developed.

Already this brought changes to a prestigious Seminary in an Arab country whose President wrote: "As a result of GCOWE 97, we have taken steps to refine the seminary's Mission Statement and to re-evaluate our curriculum so that there is much more emphasis on a walk with God and an active ministry while in training."

Another new "thing" at GCOWE 97 was the global consultation for musicians and artists. Singers, dancers, songwriters, dramatists, TV producers, ethnomusicologists and many others came together to explore the vision of a worshiping church among every people in a relevant way to the local culture.

These are but a few of the new things God has begun through GCOWE ’97.

Conclusion:

Perhaps my most profound impression was that each person who participated in GCOWE 97 would in some way be transformed. As co-laborers with God in the many fields of mission throughout the world, a little bit of GCOWE 97 was carried in the heart of every person returning to their place of service. Each having come away with their own impressions, perhaps very different from the impressions I have shared here but yet transformed to be a more aware, knowledgeable servant of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

The question mainly that was addressed through GCOWE 97 was how, not so much why or what or who or when but how! This was a very practical consultation and the long-term effects should be highly practical though not entirely measurable-perhaps till eternity.

Till then, the conviction of GCOWE 97 was clear--we shall continue to press the claims of the kingdom as we move towards the consummation of history and the coming of our Lord in the glory of God. HALLELUJAH, THE LORD GOD ALMIGHTY REIGNS!

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