Brazil, August 1998
Minutes after arriving in Fortaleza, I was driven to the stadium for the evening mission's rally. Unexpectedly, the numbers swelled to more than 20,000 according to the event media director. Five hundred people came forward andmade commitments to go to the mission field. Praise God! This was only one of three streams of events taking place in Fortaleza during the last week of August 1998. For the first time, 300 local churches had come together in a united front to provide the local support for what could be the "Fortaleza window" of great spiritual blessings. Already teams had visited over 300 schools, three universities, the hospital and the prisons, bringing the life-transforming message of Christ as part of "Impact WorldTour," one of the key parts of what was called Operacao Janela Fortaleza (Operation Window Fortaleza).
It was Tony Lima, the Brazilian YWAM leader in Fortaleza, who is in his 20's, who in prayer with his team received the faith and vision for the Operation Window Fortaleza. He was the visionary behind the event. Eight hundred pastors and church leaders had gathered from every state in Brazil to participate along with 400 from Fortaleza and the state of Ceara, in the five-day World Mission's Conference. Participants had come from some 100 countries in support of these ground initiatives for the Global Leadership Consultation of YWAM.
When YWAM founder Loren Cunningham first invited me to address the YWAM leadership consultation I asked myself: "Why go to one more conference? .... One more event?" Then my wife Doris and I began to reflect upon the impact that the ministry of YWAM had on our own family. We counted that our children Jeannine, Stephanie, Naomi and Daniel had been on no less than fourteen short-term mission outreaches with YWAM. We remembered what happened in Jeannine's life. After Jeannine told her story, ten-year-old Daniel asked, "At what age could I go on my first missionary trip?" It turned out to be two years later. We thought of how much they had learned at the "Smokey Mountain" Manila garbage dump where the three youngest ministered for nine weeks. Then there were their other projects, building a health clinic and working with orphans in Romania, three short-term projects in Egypt, Morocco, eight cities for two children in Scotland, the refugees in various cities of Germany. As one outside the YWAM family, I had come to see the many lessons I learned from the experiences of my own children. As Doris and I have traveled, we have learned too. In so many pioneerfields around the world - it seemed like YWAM was there. Operation Window Fortaleza was a chance to bring a perspective from outside the YWAM family. Then I heard about the outreach to the young people of Fortaleza - a fortress city of more than 200 gangs. Reflecting upon my early adolescence-running barefoot in the streets of Sao Paulo, another city in Brazil, I recalled misleading a small gang into petty mischief and how Christ had ultimately transformed my life. "I need to be at the Fortaleza event, at least to join the spirit of reaching out to these young people." After 24 hours in Fortaleza, as I was answering questions posed by the anchorwoman of the evening news on August 27th, I began to grasp the significance of what was going on for Fortaleza, Brazil and even the Great Commission worldwide. The impact, interest and spirit far surpassed anything planners had originally anticipated. If the YWAM leadership consultation participants were to take seriously the admonition of President Jim Stier to "go and do likewise in their parts of the world," it is hard to imagine what could happen! As I left the city, I thought that it was as if the Apostle Peter's words in Acts 2 were taking place in Fortaleza in this very window of time, when he said: 17 "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions; your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below."
The TV news anchor lady posed her first question: "Why Fortaleza?" Good question! Fortaleza is a modern port city of two million people and the capital of the state of Cear in northeastern Brazil. The city lies on a crescent-shaped indentation of the coastline at the extreme eastern tip of the continent of Latin America. It originated as a small village adjoining a Portuguese fortress built as a defense against Indian attacks from which it got it's name. As the location of the next YWAM global leadership consultation was considered, Loren Cunningham included this city as a candidate location. The current president and long-time leader for Brazil, Jim Stier, affirmed the site. From many standpoints Fortaleza was not an ideal place to gather. It is not exactly a crossroads for world travelers. The city had never hosted this type of event before. The churches in the city had not demonstrated that much unity. The city was known to be idolatrous and a resistant soil to the sowing of the gospel message. Missionaries coming to Brazil from France in 1557 and Holland in 1624 set up a national beachhead for the gospel in Fortaleza. However, they were kicked out and the fledgling Christian community did not survive. It was only 230 years later that evangelical Christians made their way to Brazil - this time to Rio. Robert Kalley, a medical doctor, established a church among the foreigners and later missionary Ashbel Simonton established an evangelical community that developed roots within the Brazilian culture. Popular Brazilian secular magazine Veja had reported on the gang-ridden, crime-infested nature of the city in an article titled: "Juvenile Fury." In fact, they counted more than 200 gangs operating throughout the city with more than 8000 gang members engaged in beating for the sake of beating, funk festivals, drug consumption and crime. Brazilians know Fortaleza as a national center for child prostitution. Just two months prior to the event, the major stadium was condemned and arrangements had to be made for the second-largest stadium, with seating in the stands for 40,000 people. In deciding on the location for the gatherings, God overruled all obstacles in the hearts of the YWAM leadership team. It was to be Fortaleza, Brazil. Through it all, a fortress for Satan became a fortress for God!
With the tremendous needs among the one million youth in this city of two million, creative approaches were called for. The Island Breeze team participants from the Pacific Islands used their music and popular dances to demonstrate true joy: to celebrate life and hope for a new world, inviting the youth to say no to drugs and violence. Team Extreme world athlete's performances demonstrated the need to face the toughest situations in life. They showed through their skill in sports the need to reconstruct their own lives and face head-on the debilitating realities of drugs and alcohol and learn to value life and social justice. GX Jam (Generation X) young skateboard champions called upon the young people of Fortaleza to take their place in a constructive way in today's world. Many of Fortaleza's public institutions opened their doors wide to these teen-attracting teams and their message, including 317 schools. The local government offices responded positively, with hope that the impact would reduce crime, the young people would be motivated to live a more wholesome life-style, dysfunctional families would have relationships restored and street children and gang members would radically change to become more productive members of society. The mass media reported extensively. Hundreds of thousands participated from August 29-31st in the stadium. More than 50,000 made decisions for Christ.
It has become apparent to many that Brazil is no longer a mission field but rather a mission force for God. However, for many churches in Brazil, missions is not a priority. Thus the need for the conference and the theme "the evangelization of the world, priority of the church." The rallying cry was taking the whole gospel, with all power, by all means, to all peoples. The conference lasted five days with three nights mission's mobilization in the stadium. More than five hundred committed to go out as missionaries on the second night alone. The purpose of the World Missions Conference was to challenge and stimulate the church to fulfill its global mission to take the gospel of Christ to all peoples. Topics included missionary strategies for the new millennium. The backdrop of the conference was a drastically falling Brazilian stock market with the somber news from the Russian economy and worsening signs in the Asian economies. Over the past six weeks, the Brazilian stock market dropped 40% of its value. In one session, representatives of each region (among the 600 people attending a workshop) reported on what God was doing in their own regions, especially in relation to mission mobilization, training and sending. This was followed by prayer for the obstacles to be overcome by region. Many reported on the increase of awareness, mobilization, recruitment, training and sending of missionaries- both short and long term. By the time they left, world missions conference participants had no doubt why they had come. God was calling them to a deeper commitment to world missions and to make it a priority in their local churches.
The thematic backdrop of the quadrennial YWAM global leadership consultation was "Multiplying the Kingdom" in the new millennium. With the new millennium official launch only two-and-a-half years away, it makes sense that a global mission such as YWAM considers its role beyond the breathtaking year 2000 barrier. Mission statesman, Don Richardson, suggested to me over a Brazilian cafezinho that YWAM is the world's largest mission. There are now more than 12,000 full-time staff. YWAM staff and volunteers serve from more than 650 centers throughout the world. Each year, approximately 250,000 trained participants are involved in ministry through YWAM. Another 12,000 serve as career missionaries, plus more than 30,000 short-term students and volunteers who work for periods up to eighteen months. Director Loren Cunningham has been increasingly convinced of the importance of recruitment. "We can certainly rejoice at what God has already done in the earth through missions. But if we are to reach and teach until every person on earth is evangelized, and has the opportunity for discipleship-and do this by the year 2020--then we must gather a much larger work force. How can we possibly find and recruit enough workers? Good news! Jesus has already given us the key through the 'miracle of multiplication.' We need to look at the HOW of multiplication as we get ready to turn the millennial page. What is it that needs to ultimately multiply? It's the kingdom of God. It's God's Kingdom principles. It's the Kingdom paradigm, expanding in every community of every kind of people in every place where you find people...multiplying the Kingdom in the new millennium."
In coming to provide a perspective from someone outside of the YWAM family, I thought to myself, "Why has YWAM had such a major world impact?" I had just read a recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal titled a "Lifetime of Progress" by Mr. Stein who chaired the President's Council of Economic Advisors in the 70's. He wrote on lessons from history and pointed out that over the last fifty years, individual freedom has proved to be a powerful, beneficiary force; human conscience and sense of justice exist and influence history; and that life in the large and the small is full of surprises. Likewise, there are many history lessons to learn from YWAM's existence. While recognizing YWAM's contributions and strengths, people both inside and out continue to have concerns. In fact, as in all missions, the areas of greatest strengths are the areas of greatest weakness.
YWAM tends to be decentralized, with many bases, many full time workers, and much newness. The leadership style invites initiative, entrepreneurial risk, spontaneous responsiveness. But encouraging people's dreams and youthful expression sometimes leads to failed efforts and initiatives. "YWAM is such a blessing and has achieved so much by equipping and releasing so many youthful visionaries. But it is hard to have youthful enthusiasm without youthful inexperience. The nature of a relational and Spirit centred approach is that things can appear 'messy' rather than structured. Strong backup cannot always be in place for the youthful pioneers. However, usually God has brought people through the challenges strengthened by them and going on to be world-changers. YWAM's willingness to take 'anyone', starting with short term placements has also meant that many thousands, including myself, have experienced the adventure of faith service and been permanently transformed by the experience. But yes, some of the 'anyones' have found the challenges overwhelming." Erica Youngman of March for Jesus YWAM also experiences the strengths and weaknesses of voluntarism. There is the enthusiasm and commitment of those who are making sacrifices just to serve. There is also the insecurity and staff turnover that this can bring. YWAM is going through a mid-life crisis! "Who are we? Where are we? Where are we going and who is going to help us get from here to there?" are just some of the questions that are still being worked through. "I consider them to be the most effective mission organization. They are doing most things right. They also have had their share of organizational messes, mostly caused by their loose confederation style of leadership in which virtually "anything goes." But I will accept this any day in comparison with the tightly-held organized mediocrity I see in missions."-Dr. Jim Engel, Center for Organizational Excellence.
"Someone in the management literature talks about the 'chaordic' organization of the future. This is the structure that is 'messy,' and functions amid chaos, yet gives enough structure to avoid anarchy and accomplish meaningful outcomes. 'Chaordic' describes YWAM. One of the things that is a downside in this type of structure (or the lack thereof) is the ability to really control it or to bring about the necessary efficiencies needed to ensure any kind of perpetuity. It is sort of 'every base or ministry on it's own' survival of the fittest, environment."-Paul McKaughan of EFMA.
"It is probably the most significant seed bed for leadership in the Christian movement today and indeed is the largest long term mission agency in the world. So many people of vision now in pastorates and other leadership positions have been impacted by and have come out of that ministry. It is this that makes YWAM one of, if not the most influential movement in our Christian world today. The question becomes can they sustain it as they mature in the 21st?"-Paul McKaughan
Operation Window Fortaleza has made an enormous impact on the city. More than 50,000 people have made decisions for Christ; more than 250 public institutions received visits from Impact Tour teams. The 1200-strong World Mission Conference strengthened a mission force for the new millennium. The majority of participants came from all parts of Brazil with more than 500 committing to become missionaries. Operation Window Fortaleza provided a strategic assessment window for the leadership of YWAM as they enter a new millennium. Perhaps Operation Window Fortaleza will encourage each mission and church and every Christian in considering his/her/their ministry as they move into a new millennium, considering what happened in a city, a country and perhaps the largest mission organization in the world today. It has been said that an organization is a success to the degree that it exhibits authenticity, functionality and flexibility across generations. Authenticity requires an organization to embody its ideas. Functionality requires an organization to work. Flexibility requires an organization to be receptive to the inputs and suggestions of its members.
The book "Leading Without Power; Finding Hope in Serving Community" by Max de Pree, 1997 talks about the role of non-profits in society, as places where potential can be realized most fully. Non-profits require leadership that enables and holds the organization accountable and then lets go. They demonstrate competence in relationships as well as in technical matters. There is a commitment to substance over bureaucracy. Then there emerges a collective state of mind, a common understanding that the future can be created, not simply experienced or endured ...There is harmony, innovation, and renewal. They tell stories as a way of teaching, of giants and failures, relationships and surprises. My natural tendency is to prefer comfort to ambiguity, to look for control rather than challenge, to trust job assignments, rather than respecting individual gifts-to serve as a transactional leader rather than a transformational leader. Operation Window Fortaleza has caused me to seek God and wait upon Him in a new way to await His leading for the new millennium. What about you?
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