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Reflections on the Lausanne Congress in Cape Town

In October of last year, I had the opportunity to participate in the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town. It truly was an historic event. Organizers tried to gather a proportionate representation of the global evangelical church. 4,000 participants from 198 nations participated in the Congress.

The focus of the Lausanne movement is: the Whole Church taking the Whole Gospel to the Whole World. Sadly, for much of those involved in the movement, the “whole church” has only meant “evangelical church,” the “whole gospel” has predominantly meant “personal salvation,” and the “whole world” has primarily meant “individuals.” This Congress in Cape Town seemed to address these issues and took steps in correcting the direction of the movement.

Although women were underrepresented as a proportion of the global church membership, the 30% present probably represents the ratio of those in formal leadership in evangelical churches. The organizers also did a good job in gathering participants from the Majority World. In 2004 I participated on a Lausanne forum in Pattaya, Thailand in which a disproportionate number of the “representatives” were white, western male. The diversity that was sought for this Congress in Cape Town was obvious.

But the Congress did not only seek gender and ethnic diversity. There was also a wide range of theological convictions. Although the differences sometimes seemed to clash as they competed for the dominant agenda (like “unreached peoples” or “children”), it is a testimony to the Lausanne movement as well as to the participants that they could come together to worship, to pray, and to discuss the church’s vocation in the world. I was also impressed that the organizers invited non-evangelical Christians to participate as “observers.” There was a delegation from the Vatican and representatives from the Orthodox and Coptic Churches. In my conversations with some of these observers, their feedback was predominantly positive.

Personally, I felt unworthy to be in a place with so many amazing people. I sat around the table with a woman leader from Egypt, a pastor from Sudan, a professor from Brazil, a township worker from South Africa, a pastor from Mozambique, and a youth leader from India. I was also able to meet authors that I had read and respected, like Ron Sider, Rene Padilla, Dewi Hughes and Peter Kuzmic. I felt unworthy to be in the same place as these.

The themes of the Congress that were presented each day were: Truth, Reconciliation, World Faiths, Priorities, Integrity and Partnership. I will post some of these presentations in future blog posts.

The theological focus group also presented the Cape Town Commitments. At the first Lausanne Congress in 1974, they produced the Lausanne Covenant. At the second Congress in 1989, they produced the Manila Manifesto. Both of these documents focused on the Great Commission: Go into all the world making disciples of all nations and baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. The Cape Town Commitments takes its starting point from the Great Commandment: Love the Lord your God will all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. It is a necessary compliment to the earlier statements of faith and a beautiful document.

One evening Rene Padilla was given a few minutes to address the Congress. He succinctly identified three points in which the evangelical church has been neglectful and that it must address: confronted by mass conversion and mega-church growth, Padilla called for radical discipleship; in the face of globalization and poverty, he called for a gospel that addressed the physical and psychological as well as spiritual needs; and in the face of ecological destruction, Padilla called on the church to care for creation. Although brief, Padilla’s astute vision gives necessary direction to the future of the Lausanne movement.

Let me tell you what some of the highlights were for me. Just being part of the global conversation was a gift. To be able to hear the perspectives, concerns and challenges of sisters and brothers from across the globe was something I don’t think I would have received had I not been there. In the middle of the week, participants had a day off. I was able to participate in a Peace Pilgrimage in which we were led through Cape Town by Peter Storey, a pastor who worked with Desmond Tutu in resisting Apartheid. It was inspiring to see the church’s resistance from within the oppression and to listen to Pastor Storey weep as he told of God’s protection and guidance through those years. Sadly, the Lausanne Congress in Cape Town failed to address the reality the church’s complicity with and resistance towards Apartheid, but a statement was eventually produced and circulated amongst the participants for their signatures. On the final evening of the Congress, there was no plenary speaker but simply a beautiful liturgy, which culminated with communion. I was fortunate to receive the blessing, the broken bread and the wine from Rene Padilla’s hand. This spoke more than anyone’s words could.

How Generous Are We Americans?

While we were in the States this past year, we had many opportunities to share about our community, our ministry, and our experiences outside the U.S. It was interesting to hear people talk proudly about how generous Americans are towards other nations. And in a way, we are.

Looking at the U.S. government’s foreign aid in 2009, you see that it approached 30 billion dollars, more than double the totals of the next closest nations. However, if you look at the sums as a percentage of Gross National Income, the graph tells a quite different story.

Not only is the U.S. giving far below their target of 0.7% of the Gross National Income, but we are amongst the least generous of the world’s wealthiest nations.

A message I gave at a Church of Scotland

A few months ago, I spoke at the Steeple Church in Dundee, Scotland. I spoke on Becoming a Church that Sees

I accidentally called Ishmael a “donkey-man.” Oops.

Delivering Happiness on the Backs of the Unhappy

I recently read Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness. Tony is the CEO of Zappos, an online shoe-seller. Hsieh seems to be a entrepreneurial genius. While a student at Harvard, he founded an internet company, which he later sold to Microsoft for millions. Then he invested in Zappos, which became the largest online shoe-seller and eventually merged with Amazon.

Hsieh’s book portrays a fantastic model of building a company by building its culture around its values, economic drivers and vision beyond the company. It seems that he has been able to engage cultural displacement and the lack of collective identity by developing a tribal identity for the corporation, its investors and its customers…without being corporate. The book also provides great examples for recruitment, interviewing, staff development and succession planning.

Hsieh primary presupposition is that you can create a work culture of happy people, and, as a corporation, you can value happiness more than profit, which in the long-term will mean higher profits. So, says Hsieh, if someone calls Zappos and wants to know where they can order a pizza in the middle of the night in their city, Zappos phone agents will try to help you out – even if you aren’t buying shoes.

While I find the idea of promoting happiness over profit refreshing, I ultimately don’t see how Hsieh or Zappos delivering what it promises. Sure, paying clients may sense happiness when they receive a surprise gift of flowers from Zappos, and Zappo employees may sense happiness as their company invests in their professional development and encourages a happy environment, and Zappo investors may sense happiness as they receive a return on their investment, all the while believing that they are bettering the world. But what about the shoe maker? Stories continue to come out about shoe corporations, like Nike or Adidas, exploiting their workers in countries likeHonduras,El Salvador andIndonesia. Does the happiness of these workers matter to Zappos? Is happiness reserved for the wealthy who can purchase via the internet and forgotten for the poor who suffer the brunt of corporate outsourcing?

“Delivering happiness” seems to be a clever sales ploy but, by failing to recognize the unhappiness of those who produce their goods, it is deceptive. Happiness, delivered on the backs of the unhappy, is no happiness at all.

Our Enemies: Why Do They Hate Us?

A few weeks back, we were in Serbia and visited the Monastery of the Great Martyr St. Demetrius in Velika Remeta. At the entrance, were greeted by a nun who talked to us about the various icons and saints as we looked through their books. Before we entered the monastery courtyard, she gave us a candle and told us to pray for our enemies. Lenuța said that we don’t have any enemies because when we love our enemies, they are no longer enemies. The nun responded without hesitation with a wisdom that is forged not in academia or in places of power or influence, but rather in prayer and in a secluded monastery – a setting which itself speaks as an act of faith that it is not humanity but God who redeems the world. The nun said, “You may not have enemies, but there may be others who see you as their enemy. Pray for them.” The monastery was beautiful and the monks hospitable, but it was through the words of this nun that God spoke to me and inspired me that day.

It is not easy to pray for our enemies as Jesus calls his followers to do. We are forced to uncomfortable introspection, asking, “Why do we hate another?” But the other side of this question, the one that this nun raised is even more disturbing and even subversive: “Why do they hate us?”

Remember, I was visiting a monastery in Serbia, a country recently wracked by the Balkan war and with a long history of violence. On our drive to the monastery, we passed a church that is crowned by a cross standing on top of a crescent – an image that even today evokes the slaughter of the Ottoman Muslims by the Serbian Christians. On the drive out of the monastery, we passed a communication tower that was devastated by NATO’s precision bombing. This was a place where enemies are real and where the scars of violence are deep and readily visible. This was a place where justifying the hating and killing of enemies is not difficult but even expected. Here, the nun’s words are all the more powerful: “Pray for those who see us as their enemy.”


Gaining Perspective

Romania celebrates May Day as their Labor Day, and most will go out to a lake, a park, or the Black Seato celebrate. Usually, we rent a big bus and take the kids from the “Valley” Community Center to a nearby forest. Although the drive only takes about 20 minutes, it’s always interesting to see the excitement of the kids and to hear their comments as we get out of the city.

For some of the children, it is their first time outside of the city. I sat next to a 12 year old boy, who has been coming to the Community Center since last September. He could barely stay seated as he fought with the bus curtain in order to see everything that passed by. He constantly said, “Look!” or asked “What’s that?” He saw his first wind turbine. He saw his first airport, although it is small and only used for crop-dusters. As he looked out over the vast field, he didn’t understand the differences in color and shades. I explained that the bright areas are where the sun is breaking through the clouds, the darker areas the shadows of the clouds, and the bluish area a large lake.

What was interesting for me was not only the sense of awe that this young boy had before a wide panorama of nature but also the fact that he was just noticing these things for the first time. I thought about how this simple and short excursion outside the norm of city life brought a different perspective on the world – one that is difficult to see from within the confines of tall apartment blocks and asphalt streets.

This young boy’s questions reminded me of another place marked by the sun and the clouds: Shadowlands. The movie includes one of C.S. Lewis’ famous statements: “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God- it changes me.” Of course, with numerous examples in Scripture of God being moved and changed by human prayer, Lewis’ words are only partially right. Still, his statement carries a particular weight in a culture that so often understands prayer as a means to changing God. Predominantly, we pray that God will answer our wishes, intervene in our circumstances and act on our behalf or the behalf of those we care for. And this is good and right, but not when we forget that when we pray, we are not primarily asking God to do our will but to reveal to us the will of the Father. We are placing ourselves before God and inviting God to change ourselves. When we spend time before God, we are changed – our desires, our values, our perspectives. It is like taking a trip out of the city and getting away from all we know and from all that has become normal, especially the normal that we fail to recognize as sin, dehumanization and all that is less than God’s desire for us.

In the Church, May Day is a celebration of Saint Philip and Saint James. In the midst of a culture, much like ours, that constantly competes to define our perspectives on life and promises to satisfy, Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and then we shall be satisfied” (John 14:8).  Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?” (14:9). Philip, like us, is so used to the world’s perspective that he, like my 12 year old friend, cannot differentiate the water and the fields from the shadows of the clouds. Gaining perspective comes from seeing Jesus. Jesus said to Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…” (14:9). When we see the Father, we have the perspective to identify the lights and shadows and a world that shimmers and sparkles in the springtime sun. As if seeing the world for the first time, we too sit with a sense of awe.

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