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May 1988


Editorial Comment

Drugs and Missions
"Lose vision,
Sell Soul."
America, You're Doing IT!"

Around the World

Jim & Jean Cail-- Using Graphic Arts to Reach the Unreached

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Around the World

Gorbachev (and Castro) Changing Tune on Christians?
A number of people have asked me where I get my figures when I suggest that there may be more devout believing Christians in the Soviet Union than in the U.S.A.

Tears came to my eyes when I first read the meticulous Mennonite report Soviet Evangelicals Since World War II (Herald Press, 1976). Only a little later Billy Graham came back from the Soviet Union and was lambasted on all sides by both Christian and non-Christian journalists because he made some positive comments about the vitality and strength of the Christian community in the Soviet Union. People just couldn't believe that the church had survived and grown during almost 70 years of merciless opposition by the Communist government. People took him to be implying that there was a great deal of freedom of religion in the Soviet Union, which, of course, has never been true.

At that time we defended his observations in these pages. Our understanding was not only built on the book we have just referred to, but also upon the famous Oxford University Press' World Christian Encyclopedia, edited by an evangelical missionary, David Barrett.

David Barrett had personally tramped all over the Soviet Union in the company of Soviet officials, who were equally intent on finding out how many actual Christians there were. I remember Barrett telling me that they were surprisingly objective and scientific. Because the Soviet officials are embarrassed by the number of unrepentant Christians (after two generations of Communism), they are not inclined in the least to exaggerate the numbers. Nevertheless, the results stubbornly revealed that there were at that time (1970) 156 different discernible Christian groups. These are listed by name on p. 662 of the Encyclopedia. The date of their founding is given (many during the Communist period). The number of congregations is listed, as well as the number of communicant members and the total adherents. 

The Encyclopedia adds all these numbers up for you, indicating 97 million in the Christian sphere, a whopping 36% of the population at that date.

Gorbachev, curiously, is a man sandwiched between two influential women--- his wife, who is an icy Communist and his mother, a warm, devout believer. This recalls to mind Constantine, whose mother was a Christian and who was the first of the Roman emperors to work for toleration of the Christian movement (in the year 310 A.D.) 

On Friday, April 29th, Gorbachev met with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and stated, "(Christian) believers are Soviet people, workers, patriots, and they have the full right to express their conviction with dignity." Recently, Orthodox leaders have appeared in a positive light on Soviet television. Also, the Soviet press recently carried a number of accounts of acts of bigotry against believers. 

It is easy to suppose that after all these years of unsuccessful opposition, both Castro and Gorbachev independently realize, as do the Chinese and Nicaraguan officials, that there is really nothing they can do to stop the growth of vital Christianity. 

Yes, of course, the percentage of official Christians in the Soviet Union is now less than 40%, but the quality, the determination, the faith, the durability of the movement is almost infinitely superior to what it was back in 1917. 

We mustn't jump to conclusions, but we cannot close our eyes to amazing changes in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and Nicaragua. Gordon Johnson, as reported by the Christian Aid News Service, brings back from a personal visit to Cuba the begrudging evidence that evangelicals have not only endured the revolution but also gained leadership in the Cuban Council of Churches, permission to import 1500 Bible dictionaries, and also a certain respect from governmental officials. "A state cooperative farm director was said to have told a pastor, "I would rather have 15 pastors work for me than 300 non-believers who would fight, rob, and not do much work.' " 

--- Ralph D. Winter

Muslim Immigrants to Thailand Responding to the Gospel.
According to recent reports, missionaries in Thailand are having success in evangelizing Muslim refugees. When these people enter the country as illegal aliens they are detained in a central holding area until legal problems are resolved or they can be reclassified as refugees. While in custody, they are provided bare subsistence rations.

But missionaries, who bring them basic medicines, vitamins and special foods required by Islamic law, find that they become very receptive to the Gospel

No Muslims are helping the Muslim detainees, so when Christians help them, they are open to the Christian message.

As a result, Muslims from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Burma and India, as well as individuals from Singapore, China, Germany and the U.S., are responding to the Gospel.


Around the World

Astonishing Quechua Breakthrough Highlighted

by Roberta Winter

I must admit Ralph and I have a very warm spot in our hearts for American Indians. Our "overseas" assignment as missionaries was to an American Indian tribe, a modern sub-group of the ancient Mayas. Their language was extremely sophisticated, with required prefixes and suffixes to the verb indicating direction, type of motion, intent as to length of stay, position of subject (face up? face down?), etc. Anyone who might carelessly speak of "stupid" Indians just didn't know the facts. Centuries of malnutrition and mistreatment had left their mark, but signs of the ancient brilliance were still evident.

But we were there to evangelize them and to carry forward the church so ably begun by three missionaries who had preceded us by many years. At one time before we arrived, our valley in Western Guatemala had experienced a "people movement." Three thousand Indians had become believers as a result, and most of these remained faithful.

When we arrived, we found the believers unbelievably open to any suggestion we might make as missionaries. Unbelievers, however, were wedded to tradition, suspicious of anything new.

I guess that's why the news which has leaked out of Chimborazo, Ecuador in recent years has so excited us.

Not many years ago, only a handful of Quechuas, modern descendants of the noble Incas of the 1500s, had come to Christ through the work of the World Mission Prayer League. Today, in the Chimborazo valley in Ecuador alone, there are 50,000 believers. This incredible breakthrough is now seeing parallel successes all throughout the 12 million in the Quichua/Quechua sphere in Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia—representing over half of all the American Indians in the Western Hemisphere.

HCJB recently reported on the first joint evangelism conference of all Quechua Christians in Ecuador. Five hundred pastors and church leaders came. A thousand rededicated their lives or made first-time decisions for Christ. Between 5,000 and 10,000 Quechuas were in attendance every day! No doubt, most of them had to walk for days over icy mountain trails to get there. Their wives carried their babies on their backs, and the men walked on ahead, laden down with bundles of bedding and corn. I can just see them. How many times have I witnessed exactly the same scene!

This conference was organized and financed by Quichua believers. According to Eldon Yoder, Gospel Missionary Union field director, "there haven't been so many Quechua believers in one place since the revised New Testament was distributed in 1973." There is a real hunger for God's word. In the last 18 months, five distinct translations in different dialects of Quichua/Quechua have come off the press. The day one of these was made available for a Quechua dialect in Peru, 2500 people turned out, and the full run of 10,000 copies was sold on the spot.

The Bible has made a tremendous change in the lives of the Quechua believers. Years ago the cantinas (bars) were full, and the roads lined with drunks. Fights were common, and families were divided. Today, there is prosperity, drinking feasts are gone, and the people live in cement block (rather than adobe) homes.

But leftist political groups are not happy that the gospel has brought what they can only promise, and they have tortured and threatened the lives of a number of pastors and lay leaders. New believers face a struggle against the evangelism of false cults (always a danger to new Christians). The bar owners are furious at their own loss of income. And the newly prosperous Indians are tempted by materialism.

Yet this movement portrays dramatically what could happen by the year 2000 within many other major clusters of Unreached Peoples around the world.

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