What American Evangelicals Miss: Reflections on the Lausanne YLG2016 Conference
From August 3-11, 2016 in Jakarta, Indonesia, over 1000 experienced younger leaders from 150 countries came together for the Lausanne Younger Leaders Gathering. The last one was in Malaysia in 2006. The Younger Leaders Gathering happens once a generation, and the theme for this one was “United in the Great Story.”
Along with the younger leaders, 180 seasoned leaders joined them to serve as their mentors. Connect groups of 5-6 diverse participants with a mentor shared reflections on the Bible studies, told their stories with Life Maps, and prayed for each other. I helped train the mentors and also served as a mentor. Besides my group I met one on one with 36 participants during the 8 day gathering.
It was an extraordinary event highlighted by the final worship service where most wore their national dress, and danced and sang in the aisles at the end of the service. I was keenly aware that this was the church, and God’s mission was in motion. Throughout the week’s presentations, worship services, and conversations, I bore witness to the vitality of God’s movement throughout the world despite massive persecution and social and cultural resistance.
I was privileged and humbled to see what we American Evangelicals sometimes miss.
Four Realities American Christians Miss
God’s Leaders in Evangelism and Mission are diverse
Women, uneducated, marginalized tribes, persecuted peoples, the poor, the differently-abled, and persons of ethnic diversity of wondrous proportions are being called by God to lead and serve God’s mission in the world. An Iranian woman came to faith and started six house churches despite persecution and imprisonment. She said, “I’m a very ordinary believer, not very brave or bold. But I stand before you to say God gave me the strength to suffer for his name, and he will give you the strength.”
The Gospel is creatively and uniquely contextualized
The Gospel is contextualized by local leaders preserving the values and traditions of their ethnic groups. A Nepali pastor came to faith at 14 from a devout Buddhist family and in a remote village where the persecution of Christians was common. A few weeks later in a vision at night God told him to flee. He got up out of bed and left without telling his own family.
Today, as a shepherd-pastor of 150 remote church planters, he is creating discipleship materials that puts Christ at the center but respects their tribal cultures. He has them build a common house of worship in the center of each village, so all people who worship God, despite caste or religious background, can come together in peace.
Miracles and Signs of the Spirit are normal occurrences
Many western Christians don’t expect miracles, yet they happen frequently around the world. A Chinese man paralyzed by polio cried out to the “Christian God” and immediately, he could walk again. Because of his healing many came to faith. He planted churches and established a seminary for pastors of the Underground Church. A young Cambodian girl accepted Christ when a Christian woman healer walked into her village one day. The healer took the hand of a man dying from tuberculosis, and she simply said, “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are healed.” She left, and he got up completely healed. The girl today is a young woman who serves Christ in Cambodia by bringing young athletes to faith. These stories are not uncommon.
The Gospel is their heart-beat
Though these younger leaders represent many different types of ministries, including non-profits for social justice, the environment, students, trafficking, women, children, etc., their primary focus is the Good News of the Gospel. Michael Panther, who witnessed the slaughter of his village in South Sudan fled into the wilderness with his two brothers. Alone for days, he survived, but not his brothers. He contacted spinal tuberculosis and is in a wheel chair today. However, his mission and life work is to advocate for the differently-abled so that they know Christ loves them, and they are not alone. Christ is not just an occasional concern. Christ is their life.
How Americans Should Respond
Of course, there is an underbelly to all these good things. Everywhere, we are still a broken and self-serving people. Character and power issues are areas of common struggle. However, as a North American Christian, I am convicted of two things. One is a challenge and one is a call:
The Challenge: Return to ‘evangelism’ as a primary tenet of our Evangelicalism
Many shudder at the idea of the ‘evangelist’ and ‘evangelism.’ We have allowed the distortions of the past to cloud our imagination for God’s work in the present. The evangelists I’ve met worldwide are deeply spiritual leaders who are bringing their own people to faith in France, Norway, North Korea, the Muslim dominated areas of Northern India, the Underground church in China, Libya and Liberia, Cambodia and places all over this planet. We have strayed from our primary calling that the gospel of Jesus Christ really is Good News for the here and now, and it is to be shared. The indwelling Spirit and incarnated presence of Jesus Christ doesn’t just make us more human, it compels us to be the Gospel to a suffering and broken world.
The Call: Extend Friendship
Loneliness is one of the biggest issues many front-line leaders and evangelists face, especially those who are not privileged. This includes women, the differently-abled, pioneers in mission or justice, and marginalized peoples. Wouldn’t it be an amazing gift for us to extend friendship to a younger ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ in isolated places of front-line ministries? An hour a month of prayer and friendship can easily happen via Skype, Facetime, or WhatsApp. God’s frontier missioners are hungry for safe companions with whom they can share their experiences, be listened to, and prayed for. Just as there were Connect groups at YLG2016, perhaps God is calling us to Connect Globally as friends to our brothers and sisters worldwide. I know I am called.
“At one point I hated Christ and I hated who I had become. But God reached out into the darkness, and I felt a love so purifying that I was set free. I am trying this Jesus, and I think it is working.”
Pranitha Timothy, disabled from a brain tumor, has set free 4000 slaves in India
To learn more about Lausanne https://www.lausanne.org/about-lausanne
To watch a summary video of YLG2016 https://www.facebook.com/lausannemovement/videos/10157211949695043/
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