It was a morning Bible study on Ephesians, and half a dozen of us were gathered around a conference table, pondering the words of the Apostle Paul. In many ways the situation—a Bible study with fellow believers—was familiar to me. Even though my table was just one of hundreds, and the gathering was the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town, South Africa, much was familiar. But though much was familiar, much was also new.
Long before Lausanne I and II (held, respectively, in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1974; and Manila, the Philippines, in 1989), American and European missionaries met in Edinburgh, Scotland, to brainstorm and pray about the future of missions worldwide. It was a watershed moment in the history of Protestant missions, and is still known today by the watershed-sounding name of Edinburgh 1910.
“The Whole Church Taking the Whole Gospel to the Whole World” was Cape Town 2010’s theme 100 years later. And there were signs all around that we were at an “Ephesians moment”—a moment of breaking through old boundaries—in the life of the Church. A vintage photo of Edinburgh 1910 shows a large hall filled with American and European men. By contrast, my table companions in Cape Town, both men and women, were from the Philippines, Ghana, Japan, Belgium and Latvia, just a few of the 198 nations represented. This diversity—90 percent of participants came from Africa, Asia or Latin America—was evident in all facets of Cape Town 2010: its speakers, ministries, music and drama.
It’s one thing to understand that global Christianity’s center of gravity has shifted from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern—but it’s transforming to actually inhabit these vibrant demographics. The stories we heard of martyrdom and persecution were a shock to our systems, but it was a good kind of shock. Spiritual battles are so much closer to the surface in the two-thirds world than here. When you are living the reality of not knowing where your next meal is coming from, you have a much deeper reliance on the Holy Spirit.
I came away convinced that we can’t really understand the challenges of the 21st century—and thus be able to convincingly proclaim the gospel—unless we can hear, understand and speak this language of suffering. May God grant us North American evangelicals the courage to count the cost of discipleship, and the grace to join in this expansive moment in the life of the Church.
R. Judson Carlberg, Ph.D.