Report from Brazil:
by Ralph D. Winter
Sao Paulo, Brazil
What is so unique about this meeting of well over 3000 people? And what does it have to do with completing the task of world evangelization by the year 2000?
THIS meeting represents the first time that the final geographic limits of the earth's surface have provided both representatives and the very initiators of a global level congress focused exclusively on the ¬missionary dimensions¬ of world evangelization.
You would have to actually be here to sense the pulse, the presence, the power, the phenomenal potential of these key, third-world leaders, running this immense meeting with almost no North American help and not a whole lot of U.S. money. (The delegates to this meeting paid their own way!)
As I look around, I don't see very many American missionaries at all. Rather, I see about 1,000 Christian leaders from Brazil, about 2000 from other Latin American countries, and about 500 other key people from Africa and Asia, including a few observers from Europe and America.
But take a second look: these are not the usually recognized Christian leaders. These are a rare breed. These leaders are enmeshed in specifically missionary effort, not merely the evangelization of their own people.
Furthermore, other meetings in the past have usually been staged by Westerners. Not this one! Other meetings in the past notably, those in the Lausanne series, or in the Billy Graham Amsterdam serieshave reflected valuable interest in the work of local pastors and evangelists. Not this one!
THIS meeting is focused cogently and exclusively on the particular, crucial, technical requirement for completing the Great Commission: namely, the far more complex and specialized task of deliberately crossing cultural barriers with the intention of establishing an internal witness to Jesus Christ within all of the remaining world's peoples. There has never been a world-level conference more specifically and effectively focused in this way.
Please be sure you understand what I mean. For years I have been attending world level meetings that have, supposedly, focused on the evangelization of the world. They were wonderful meetings, led by wonderful people, with a wonderful sense of God's blessing and presence. But very few of them have given any significant attention to the unique instrument of global evangelizationnamely, the missionary and the mission society.
But today, however, and from now on, that significant omission (recalling McQuilkin's book, The Great Omission) is going to be increasingly difficult. For many decades Third World Christians have watched missionaries come and go. But now, they're sending their own missionaries. Now there are over 300 third-world mission agencies born and bred and administrated and funded primarily in the third world. You can't keep these people "down on the farm" anymore, so to speak. It's their turn!
The great hew and cry here at COMIBAM '87 is to transform mission fields into mission forces. And I do not believe the world will ever be the same again. COMIBAM is one unmistakable, indelible evidence of a movement that is gaining strength around the world.
What does it look like, and how will it make it possible for the gospel to penetrate every last human community before the year 2000?
God is using and will use many different people and techniques. In the global mission force today there are specialists in the use of both palm-sized radios and cassette players powered by solar energy. There are specialists in the use of radio and signals born along by electromagnetic radiation. There are specialists in linguistics, awesomely well prepared to deal with the remaining unwritten languages of the world. There are jungle aviation specialists. There are urban strategists and sophisticated research workers churning out impressive surveys of the great world cities like Mexico City in a recent survey. There are highly sophisticated computer scientists who have drastically simplified high tech computer mapping software for the use of field missionaries in the remotest corners of the world.
Exhibit A: the hundred-page atlas of colored maps generated for the COMIBAM meeting and handed out to all 3000 delegates! I witnessed a dinner table conversation in which similar arrangements, even more sophisticated, were made for the great '89 conference in the Lausanne series. But it isn't just techniques that are now available and the many hands making that work light. It is the mature leaders you see in a meeting like thisleaders by the hundreds, who represent every major region of the globe and whose dedication, humility, and competence have often grown out of a background of poverty, illiteracy, and grotesque degradation that would stun the most hardened skeptic.
It's hard to realize that there are at least a MILLION pastoral leaders in the non-Western evangelical movement! Just think of the power unleashed when they realize that the evangelization of the world depends to a great extent on them.
These pastors here at COMIBAM are this kind. They have their eyes fixed on the world. They're discussing together just how to start, finance and administrate mission agencies. They're studying how and where to train their young people to go, and how to mobilize their churches to send.
They realize it won't all be easy. They know there is a price to pay. They already have their own missionary heroes to write about.
And they know theyve got a lot to learn. We talk about the mistakes missionaries have made, Luis Palau told the crowd. Now it's our turn to make mistakes. And he recounted a few of his own.
Meetings like COMIBAM are not the only important thing that can happen, nor perhaps even the most important thing that can clhappen. But for what a meeting is able to do, COMIBAM did magnificently. In a certain sense, no other meeting in this century could possibly have had such explosive meaning.
As I see it, COMIBAM represents a new era that is beginning. We've had Third World Mission agencies before this. But COMIBAM is the definitive, final public announcement of the coming of age of that movement.
The definitive sign for me is the kind of people I see around me here at this conference. Suddenly the world, it seems, is teaming with such people.
Take Thomas Wang, for example. His grandmother found the Lord as a servant girl in a North China missionarys home. She had been warned to accept nothing they would tell her, but was completely caught off guard by the kindliness and respect the missionary husband accorded his wife. Thats what got to her. Now, three generations later, the son of a Chinese pastor, Thomas Wang in his new Lausanne office in Singapore is coordinating the leadership of 300,000,000 evangelicals around the world (two-thirds of them outside of the Western mission sending countries) to focus on finishing the task of evangelizing the world by the year 2000.
Here is David Cho, pretty close to being the Mr. Missions of Asia, present not only to enjoy and participate in this congress but to meet with other Asians already planning a similar congress for Asia. For thirty years he has been at the cutting edge in the developments of Asian mission organizations, founder of the lAsia Mission Association, instigator of many national level associations of mission agencies, on and on.
Here also are two IndiansTheodore Williams, founder of both the India Evangelical Mission and the India Mission Association, and John Richard, the president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Asia.
And David Howard, former American missionary, now General Secretary of the World Evangelical Fellowship.
And Panya Baba, head of the Evangelical Mission Society of Nigeria, with over 600 missionaries.
Why is COMIBAM the meeting of the century in my eyes?
Because of the people who are here. Because of their focus on the year 2000. Because of their enthusiasm, their dedication, their vision.
But mainly because COMIBAM represents what is still to come.