We’re Running Out of Time
A Community Night Address
The stragglers rush up the steps to Franson Hall just as the auditorium bursts into "To God Be The Glory." Visiting missionaries, students taking English As A Foreign Language, mission classes from nearby colleges, USCWM staff members and their kids, neighbors from down the block and mission committees from over the hill gather for one of the most exciting highlights of the week at the US Center. It's Thursday's Community Night. It's almost startling how much information is shared, praise reports given and challenges issued in this breathless hour and a half.
August 23, 1990 was such an ocassion. In addition to "open mike" breakthrough reports from the floor, Bob Williamson of Frontiers briefed the group on events in the Muslim world. The audience viewed an Institute of Chinese Studies video of China's Naxi people. Larry Allmon of Gospel Recordings stirred the audience with the progress and challenges of reaching the world's tribal peoples. Steve Parlato gave an overview of Buddhism in the USA. As the "state of the world briefing" closed, Dr. Ralph Winter presented an overview of the task.
The following is an excerpt from that message:
Some of you might suppose that in this title I am referring to my own life, in saying that time is running out. And that therefore what I have to say is totally irrelevant to the younger generation. They have plenty of time and ought not to be bothered by old folks like me. As a matter of fact, I'm not referring to my own life.
I'm afraid that my time IS running out in some ways, but no differently than any other mission activist. The possibility of most of us living to the year 2000 means that for all of us: time is running out if anything really significant is to happen in the year 2000!
Now, I don't think that we ought to suppose that any particular year is something we can assign to God like homework, for Him to get things done by then. It may be the other way around. It may be that God is expecting us to do what is in our power to do, enabled by His grace. Anything that is possible for us to do is required. It isn't an option; we do not serve the living God because we've chosen to. He has chosen us. What is in our ability to do is never an option. It's a privilege. It's an opportunity. But it is also an obligation. Because God is not playing games. This is not the millenium. This is no time to relax and take it easy.
This is the time to realize that at no point in human history has there ever been a date coming up that has attracted more attention. What about the year 1000, you say? Well, only a few people noticed that it was the year 1000. Only a few Christians counted years that way. It took another 500 years for most of the Christians to fall in line and to talk about the dating of their calendar going back to Christ. But in these last few years of history, virtually everybody in the world has adopted the Christian calendar which says that a few years from now, there will be a year 2000. By far the majority of all the people on the face of the earth are thinking in these terms.
In 1951 the age-old ritual of all the new dynasties in the history of China unfolded as Mao Tse-tung gained power. His followers gathered round in a time-honored ceremony and asked, "Your Honor, what year is it?" The expected response was--solemnly and of course very modestly, "The year is One." Then the Chinese calendar would start over again. But Mao Tse-tung said, "The year is 1951!" Now this is not to make him out a closet Christian! He, despite his limitations, recognized that the whole world was on the Christian wavelength of numbering years.
The world is on the AD 2000 wavelength and therefore, whatever your theology, there will be a pronounced and prominent recogniton of what could happen by then. It is almost incumbent upon everybody, whatever business they're in, to recognize this date and wonder, what do you suppose we could do by that date?
Admittedly, there are all kinds of different interpretations as to what could be done by that date. But there is a large school of thought within the mission world that believes that it is possible for every remaining human population, even the uncounted ones, to be penetrated with a viable, indigenous, evangelizing church movement by the year 2000!
Let me say that I have never predicted that will happen. I don't know of anybody who has predicted that that will happen. What am I talking about? Let's make a very important distinction. There is in the lives of all evangelicals on the face of the earth a major distinction between what we could do and what we are going to do! Every day when you get out of bed there are potentials and possibilities in your life. If we were just a little closer to the Lord maybe we could do them all. But we don't do them--we fall short. So I'm not saying we're going to make it by the year 2000. I'm not predicting; I'm simply, along with many others, projecting that it could be done.
There are extensive plans being made. Beginning in a few hours there will be the largest convention ever to take place in all of Asia on the subject of what could be done in missions with Asian initiative. This is an Asian congress which is mimicking--the Bible talks about "provoking to jealousy"--the famous COMIBAM meeting. That was the largest meeting of evangelicals from all of Latin America that was ever held. And it was distinctly and exclusively focused, like no other meeting before it of any comparable size, on the mission of the Church--that is, going where Christ is not named.
Let's forget about the year 2000 for a moment. There's no use even talking about the year 2000 unless we're willing to take the steps that are immediately ahead of us. Now I have the amazing opportunity to present in a few days some kind of trial run of what are the essential links we need to go through between now and the year 2000: to the International Society of Frontier Missiology in Denver. This is the largest meeting of missiologists focusing on what could be done by the year 2000, anywhere in the world. Immediately after this there will be the largest meeting (held every three years) of the two largest associations of mission agencies in the world--the IFMA and the EFMA. The question we face is not what we are going to do by the year 2000, but what we're going to do by, let us say, December of 1993. And that is only a few months away.
Time is running out, not just for the year 2000 but for this intermediate objective. We will not reach what we ought to or could reach by the year 2000 if we do not make sure that all over the world-- in Latin America, in Asia, in Europe, in the United States--those Christian populations that can reach out with their funds, their energies and their prayers--do what by the end of '93? Adopt all the remaining unreached peoples!
Now there is a technical difficulty there. But it is not insurmountable. The fact is we do not know, we never will know until the last moment, just how many groups there are. We've heard Larry Allmon of Gospel Recordings this evening. Now if anybody knows the realities of the tribal situation all over the world, it is he. There's no organization that has ever penetrated more groups--4,435 so far--than Gospel Recordings. Their precise focus is upon finding these new groups. And Gospel Recordings will tell you that it is futile to wait for a list of the number of groups that are remaining. If we wait until there is a complete, perfect list, we'll wait forever. Isn't that obvious?
You say, then how do we know what we're going to do? Well, what we do know is the names and locations of all the clusters of groups. That's been known for a long time. It is details we do not know.
There is no reason to wonder, to say, "Well, we are going to wait until the Adopt-a-People Clearinghouse or the US Center or David Barrett or MARC or somebody comes up with a definitive number of the groups we have to reach. And then we'll get going!"
Listen, we've got to get going after these clusters now. There are a number of groups that are now doing that. Don't be mad at them if they name off clusters, when that is all they know. Because we are not going to know all the detailed groups until we get there. But we can at least adopt all the clusters, then be prepared for the subdivisions as they surface.
Can we get out there and get going without knowing all the details that we will ultimately know? Can we really believe that North America will do its share? Latin America already has their published chart for every single country--how many unreached groups each country is going to have to take as their proportionate share. A similar chart is being done in the next few days at this large Asian congress. In North America it seems only reasonable that we take perhaps 6,000 of the 12,000 groups. We can apportion that 6,000 out to every state, to every locality, to denominations and to cities. It is perfectly possible by the end of '93 for us to take on our share of that load, in prayer and support, in sending and in going.
I think that we ought to forget about the year 2000 unless we are willing to be serious about the year 1993!
What Doesn't Need to Be Done?
Time is running out! Not just for the year 2000--though, in a sense, maybe that is also. If we don't do what we are supposed to do now, it's like waiting to the end of the term to cram for the finals. It doesn't really work. It will be too late. We're not supposed to dilly- dally and twiddle our thumbs and fritter our time away, chasing lesser goals and trivial things until it really is too late.
Now I'm not saying that 1993 is absolutely critical. You can give or take six months. Or twelve months. But 100 years ago, North American believers were gearing up for the century conclusion--which was only the end of a century and not a millenium. And they missed it! By 1895 it became clear that they would never make it. They were like the Israelites at Kadesh Barnea--God wasn't joking when He told the people to go into the Land. They thought, "Wow! It's impossible!"
When 40 years later they attempted it (and they were far better prepared then), they still wondered if maybe God hadn't made a mistake. Are we bumbling into the same unbelief today?
It doesn't matter, as long as God is with us and God is going to enable us to do the job, just what we think might be true. But the facts are that it is roughly 20 times easier to complete the Task this century than it was last century.
Do you agree with me that time is running out? What are you doing in your life that doesn't have to be done? Are you busy at something that you will truly regret someday when you look back and realize the cruciality of these days? Do you believe God has given you free license to do whatever you want to do, so long as you can keep up a good enough front so that people in church don't become suspicious? Is it good enough to be able to give some kind of an alibi--"Well, I'm studying this, or I'm looking, or I'm praying about Tibet," when actually you're not really that serious? You know, I'm not the one asking these questions; God is asking these questions. We're simply the ones who have to answer.
Time is running out!