EVANGELICAL Christian leaders from all over the world were inspired in October, 1966, with the results of the World Congress on Evangelism held in Berlin. It was a time of renewing evangelical commitments, but the principles for accomplishing the task were necessarily quite general.
Thus it was felt by many of the church leaders there that more enduring good could be accomplished if regional followups were held at which local leaders could unite to handle local problems. And this was the atmosphere for the birth, eighteen months ago, of the Asia-South Pacific Congress on Evangelism held in Singapore, November 5 to 13. About 1,100 delegates and observers, 90 percent of whom were Asians and 10 per cent of whom were from Western countries (and about half lay men), met to pray, study, and learn from one another.
What methods of evangelism work best in a resistant culture? How can we reach the one billion youth, age twenty-five and below, who people a third of our planet (which is more than the total populations of the United States, Europe, and Russia)? What are the most effective tools for a humanly impossible task? What is working best now in similar situations and cultures? These and similar questions figured prominently in the eight intensive days of the Asia congress.
Although the organizational framework was provided by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (coordinator was Dr. Stanley Mooneyham, who also coordinated the Berlin congress), yet the speakers were primarily from the twenty-four Asian countries represented. The day began with prayer groups and a Bible study period on the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3.
However, the backbone of the congress was the "Strategy Paper," presented each day. This was a presentation of a tool or a philosophy of evangelism which was relevant to the Christian churches of Asia. Following the Strategy Paper, the entire congress broke up into Encounter Groups for the purpose of discussing local implementation of the ideas of the paper. This was the feed-back session in which generalities were brought into focus and details formulated for putting into effect the techniques and methodologies suggested.
The delegates did not come with naive delusions of easy solutions. Neither did they come as omniscient professionals. Each came with some ideas, some questions, and an earnest desire to reach a segment of the world population that is less than 1 percent Christian.
Some Suggested Solutions
Seventh-day Adventists, in Asia as well as elsewhere, can learn from what happened in Singapore. First, the delegates came with a great sense of expectancy. They fully believed that while they were closeted here God would speak to them and reveal new, more efficient, avenues of approach to non-Christians.
Second, there was little theory. The question was constantly asked, Now how can I make that work in my country? Or, But how would you suggest we get this started where I come from?
Among the projects or emphases that stimulated the greatest interest were the people-to-people-type evangelistic programs. One such is the "cell group," where a group of from four to six gather for prayer and Bible study. After the group is well on its way, non-Christian visitors are invited. As the attendance stabilizes, one or two of the original members pull away and begin groups of their own. In this way satellite "cell groups" keep developing and then in turn reproduce themselves. Because of varying conditions in some areas of the world, the "cell group" has not only augmented but is necessarily filling the role of public evangelism.
A rather uncomfortable paper was presented on the subject of the relation between the Christian church and the youth of Asia, by Mr. Chua Wee Hian, of Hong Kong. Meaningful, however, are some of the suggestions he had to offer:
1. The church should create situations and atmosphere where it can have creative dialog with the youth, churches, and unchurched of the community.
2. Challenge Christian young people to total dedication, not just a "sign-your-name-here-please" kind of Christianity.
3. Encourage Christian young people to give some time each week in tutoring slower students (this kind of help is given more here than in other places).
4. Encourage and train gifted young writers.
5. Urge all Christian institutions to give priority to soul winning as a full-time concern, not just occasional weeks of spiritual emphasis.
6. Evangelistic camps. These are youth camps held successfully in several places in Asia where the only requirement for attendance is that you be a non-Christian.
7. A creative plan for young adults. Vocational counseling. Nursery provision at church services. Counseling and discussion groups conducted by those who are sensitive to the local cultural atmosphere.
A Modern Touch
It is essential that the church keep pace with the electronic age in which it exists. With this in mind Project East was introduced. This is an anachronism, standing for Electronic Answering Search Technology, and represents the concern of those in the scholarly world who see the faith of today's youth being eroded by non-Christian answers to academic questions. Project East has begun to contact conservative scholars around the world so that the logical evidences of the Christian faith might be prepared for storage in the memory files of a giant computer for instant retrieval.
Typewriter consoles with TV screen above them will soon be in seminary and college libraries around the world. By 1972 more than a hundred such terminals will be in operation. Students will be able to request information on virtually any area relating to the Christian faith, and after relevant abstracts on the specific subject desired have been researched, the actual pages will be displayed on the screen. "Optimistically," says Walter R. Martin, director of the project, "given transistorized weaponry, the church may yet win its age-old battle against skepticism, agnosticism, and atheism."
Also coming into increasing prominence as an evangelistic tool is the motion picture. During the Seattle World's Fair in 1962, nearly half a million of the 10 million people visiting the fair watched one of the Moody "Sermons From Science" films. Of those, some 22,000 stayed after the film to talk to a spiritual counselor. There have been about 1,950 premiers of the Billy Graham film, The Restless Ones, during which 293,000 have come forward to record some kind of decision. While admittedly many of these who view the films are already Christians, it is also true that some are not, and many are reached in this way who would never attend a public evangelistic service.
Just now some of the evangelism emphasis films are beginning to find their way into the countries of Asia with translated sound tracks dubbed in in the local language. This poses a problem in production, and in some cases dilutes the impact. Yet, even with these disadvantages, the film ministry in Asia is doing a work that cannot be done in any other way.
Of special interest to Seventh-day Adventists as we face the end of time is the interest of the congress in union. Or perhaps "unity" would be a better word. Admittedly there is much inefficiency in the Christian church's evangelism because of its duplication. In one Encounter Group after another the subject of shelving diferences and uniting in a common evangelistic outreach was the theme of discussion; but the end of the discussion was always the same, "To whose church would the converts be won?" The desire and the incentive for unity are present, but as yet there are unresolvable differences that perpetuate Protestantism's divisions.
No man returned to his home unchanged by the congress. Having studied and prayed with others whose burden is the same as yours; having brought to mind the sacrifices of those who have paid the supreme price in their desire to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ; having listened to the tear-choked voice of a man pleading with God for power to bring Asia to the foot of the cross, a man can never be the same again.
And perhaps Asia will never be the same again. Perhaps the prayer of one delegate may yet be answered that the time may not be far away when Asia seeks Christ.