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GENERAL DOCUMENTATION.

KWAME A. LABI [*]

REPORT ON "AMSTERDAM 2000" 29 JULY - 6 AUGUST 2000

Amsterdam 2000 was a "Conference of Preaching Evangelists" which followed in a series of conferences convened and/or sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) on world evangelism: Berlin '66, World Congress on Evangelism; Lausanne '74, International Conference on World Evangelism; Amsterdam '83, International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists; Amsterdam '86, International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists.

Its purposes were set forth as follows:

CELEBRATE what God is doing through evangelism around the world so that evangelists will be encouraged and lifted in the Holy Spirit to preach Christ more widely than ever before.

EQUIP evangelists for better, accelerated outreach in a world of rapid technological change and increasing plurality, so that more people will hear, believe in and be changed by the wonderful story of God's love in Christ.

AFFIRM our evangelical distinctives with love and humility, as these distinctives are rooted in the truth of the Bible and in Jesus Christ, the unique and only way to God, and as they apply to every person in every culture.

STRATEGIZE to reach the multitudes, who stand on the shore of a new century and a new millennium, with the new life that springs from Christ's Gospel, and to bring them into the loving fellowship of local churches.

COMMUNICATE together on how to accomplish deeper, more effective evangelism as thousands of evangelists, church leaders, theologians and strategists create dynamic international networks for sharing information, methods, prayer requests and spiritual victories.

The programme

Themes and plenaries

It was made clear that this was a study conference for the purpose of equipping and enabling evangelists to get their job done in the best possible and most effective way. This was reflected in the content and organization of the programme. There was a theme for each day and two or three plenary presentations treated different aspects of this theme during the course of the day: These were The Need for Evangelism; Evangelist's Message; The Bible; Christ the Saviour; The Mission of the Gospel; The Holy Spirit and the Evangelist; Practical Life Matters for the Evangelist; The Church and the Evangelist; and The Evangelist and the World.

Seminars and workshops

The plenary presentations were reinforced, so to speak, by seminars and workshops (teaching style) on the theme of the day. The basic material for the seminars had been prepared (written) by "internationally experienced master teachers", and seminar presenters and facilitators had "adapted them to their cultures and regions". The workshops were to "further explore issues raised in the plenaries and seminars, and to look in greater depth at different styles of evangelism in the world today". In practice, at least in my experience, there was not much difference between the two.

Strategy sessions

Space was also provided for national strategy sessions during which participants from the same nation had "opportunity to meet, pray and to seek of the Lord how they can gather the most benefit from this conference in order to reach their fellow citizens".

Task groups

There were also three specialized task groups dealing with three different aspects of the theme of each day: The Theologians Task Group was to "discuss theological concerns that evangelists and churches face ... [in] the 21st century and ... make recommendations on how evangelists can faithfully present Christ in the pluralistic world ..." of today. The Strategy Task Group, bringing together leaders in mass communication, literature, Internet and electronic media..., was to "research the most effective ways that people are coming to Christ and...into the churches, and make recommendations on how evangelists can strategically meet the spiritual challenges of this new century". The Church Leaders Task Group was to "discuss and make recommendations on how churches can become more evangelistic, and how the relationship and work of the churches and evangelists can be strengthened".

Worship

All the plenary sessions were set in an atmosphere of worship, so that there were no separate worship sessions, although each day ended with special prayers for specific issues. These worship times were joyful moments of song and prayer in the typically evangelical and Pentecostal "liturgical" style, and in an atmosphere that even non-evangelicals and non-Pentecostals would agree was electrifying and charged with fervour and emotion.

Other services

Guidance services were also available to "provide participants the opportunity to gain advice in regard to...needs or problems in their personal lives,...ministries or organizations". These were made up of personal guidance and ministry guidance services.

There was a huge exhibition area, including a large bookstore, where all kinds of evangelism aids were being offered. Most of these were for sale, although there were some available free of charge. Generally it was to provide information on what kinds of help were available to enhance the ministry of evangelism.

The participants

Amsterdam 2000 is perhaps a good indication of what a complex mix, today, makes up what is referred to as the evangelical movement. There were over 10,200 participants from over 200 countries representing probably every denomination of Christianity. Participants ranged from persons with evangelical leanings in the mainline Protestant churches to "free churches" of every persuasion, to perhaps free-lance evangelists who are possibly not attached to any churches. The main speakers included such notable Anglican churchmen and theologians as the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd and Right Honourable Dr George Carey, and the Rev. Dr John Stott, as well as professional evangelists like Dr Ravi Zacharias (of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia and offices in Canada, India and the UK), and Mr Charles Colson (a former presidential aide to Richard Nixon and founder of the international ministry, Prison Fellowship). Perhaps the one thing that for sure united all the people assembled in Amsterdam for this conference would be a dedication to and love for the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In private discussions, the conference leadership confirmed this diversity, admitting that this often made it difficult to hold common or sometimes even similar theological opinions on or attitudes towards issues.

Observers

There was also a group of Orthodox and Roman Catholic observers who had come from different parts of the world. Many of these had been specially invited to participate in this category, and both delegations included some hierarchs, priests and lay persons, some of whom had been selected by their respective churches. The group of Orthodox observers included persons from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Greek Patriarchate of Alexandria, the Coptic Orthodox Church, The Church of Russia, The Church of Georgia, the Church of Romania, and the Orthodox Church in America. The Roman Catholic group was more of a delegation sent by the Vatican, though it included a hierarch and clergy from Africa, Europe, and the United States.

Evidently the BGEA had made considerable effort to ensure good participation by the Orthodox and Roman Catholics. Apparently Dr Graham himself felt strongly that there was much that the evangelical movement could learn from the rich history and tradition of Orthodox and Roman Catholic missions and evangelistic work, and felt the need for some cooperation between these traditions and the contemporary evangelical movement in today's evangelistic endeavour.

In Amsterdam this was further demonstrated by the pains the organizers took to make these groups feel welcome and included. During the conference, top level staff persons from the BGEA and the conference took time to meet with, listen to and share the concerns, impressions and input of members of these two ancient traditions. These meetings were very positive encounters during which there were frank sharing and exchanges about what was most appreciated as well as what was missed. These exchanges were appreciated on both sides as important learnings that could enrich both traditions for the advancement of the gospel in all the world.

OTHER OBSERVATIONS

Methodology

I have mentioned earlier that the programme of the conference reflected the intention of the organizers that this be a study or learning conference, as distinct from a conference of a deliberative nature. Therefore the style of work in the seminars and workshops, as I have described them, was very suited to this nature and style of the conference. However, one could only expect this methodology to achieve its desired result and maximum effect if indeed "master" presenters and facilitators had succeeded in complementing the work of the "internationally experienced master teachers". Unfortunately, in my experience at least, this was not always the case, and at times, one wished that more provision had been made for a more participatory approach to the learning process. Perhaps even the plenary presentations could have benefited from some form of discussion in the groups.

Content

As to content I will limit myself to two remarks, offered in the context and against a background of my personal appreciation for the quality of the content of presentations in general: The first has to do with the issues that were raised by presenters both in plenaries and in the group work. I could not help noticing an evident absence of any treatment of the question of injustice as an evangelical issue, or any linkages between issues of justice and evangelism. What is the role of the evangelist in addressing or even confronting the injustices of society? Is not a search for a new human community based on justice and inclusiveness for all of God's people an integral part of the very proclamation of the good news?

The second has to do with sensitivity to the realities of Eastern Christianity, especially, but perhaps also to other forms of Christianity earlier than the "evangelical" movement. For example, evangelicals at Amsterdam saw nothing wrong with the use of the term crusade, even though this brings very horrifying memories to Eastern Christians who cannot even imagine that there could be any "evangelical" association with the horrible historical events that are called by this name, or that other Christians could even make this association. [1] Secondly, frequently, in spite of their best efforts, evangelical Christians often fail to acknowledge and appreciate the full and invaluable contribution of Eastern Christianity towards world evangelism. Often in this conference presenters and participants talked as if it was the evangelical movement of today that had opened the former communist Europe to Christianity. For many, at best it was their prayers, their Bibles and their crusades rather than the blood of the coun tless martyrs of the church that had revived Christianity in these places.

Organization

It is almost impossible to underestimate the challenges posed by the organization of a conference of this size and scope. In this sense, Amsterdam 2000 was a great success. Conference organizers had taken pains to consider every little detail. Arrangements for reception and registration of participants, housing, meals, transportation, the movement of people from place to place, including shepherding over ten thousand participants out of the plenary hall, security (including identification and admission of participants into the conference centre), all these were taken care of with the most careful attention to detail. Copies of the main plenary and other presentations were not made available anytime during the conference, but this could well be understood, considering the huge number of participants. However, enough documentation had been provided in the conference folder to enable participants to follow the presentations as well as give clarity to the programme. Many participants commented favourably on these efforts and the success they achieved. One could probably say with a degree of certainty that if the atmosphere at the conference was generally joyful, warm and friendly this was as much due to how well things had been organized as to the evangelical passion and fervour that was so apparent among participants in this conference.

(*.)Fr Kwame A. Labi is a native of Ghana and a priest of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria. Currently, he is a staff member of the World Council of Churches' Mission and Evangelism Team as Executive Secretary for Community and Justice in Mission. In addition to participating in the Amsterdam Conference as one of the group of Orthodox Observers, Fr Kwame also represented the WCC at the conference.

NOTE

(1.) Since Amsterdam, some evangelicals have started questioning the use of "military" language, cf. the following item in this documentation section (ed.).

EVANGELICAL FELLOWSHIP OF INDIA: STATEMENT ON MISSION LANGUAGE [*]

We accept the need to be sensitive in our language to show consideration for others and how they may perceive our words. This applies to what we say or write for any medium at all, including letters, reports, songs, prayers, and material on the Internet, for the boundaries between in-house and public domain are disappearing.

Offensive Terms

We acknowledge that some churches and Christian missions have borrowed offensive secular terms, and over-extended military metaphors from the Bible. For example, the Bible uses "soldier" to illustrate how we should obey God, but not to encourage an aggressive attitude to other people. While we want to avoid inappropriate military language, we profit from Bible metaphors that call us to respect and obey God and those in authority.

However, warfare words, such as "army", "advance", "attack", "battle", "campaign", "crusade", "conquer", "commandos", "enemy", "foe", "forces", "marching orders", "mobilize", "soldier", "tactical plan", "target", "victory", "weapons", have been wrongly used as motivational tools for missions. Other offensive words include "pagan", "darkness" and "heathen". Emphasis on such vocabulary is unloving, inappropriate and counter-productive. Language that excludes women also offends. We must continuously examine both our attitudes and our language.

The Danger of Labeling

We believe evil in all its forms is in conflict with the rule of God. Evil is our enemy and not people. We object to language that can wrongly label people as enemies, or appear aggressive. Although the gospel call to follow Christ may cause offence and be opposed by some, we must take care to avoid vocabulary that can be distorted to justify that opposition.

Our Motivation

Warfare language is not our motivation for mission. We share Christ because we experience the love and grace of God, leading us to worship and proclamation. As God loves all people without discrimination, so should we. We respect and serve all in words, attitudes and actions, regardless of caste, race, class, creed and gender.

A Call to Christians

We call upon our brothers and sisters to take care not to offend with words.

We also ask the church outside India to be aware that inappropriate mission language not only offends people of other faiths but also brings harm to Christians there.

Words that Lead us Forward

Let us draw our mission terms from biblical concepts. Let us use words like family, relationship, love, welcome, embrace, reconcile, hope, serve, peace with God, promoting justice, offering gifts of life and blessing.

Signatories:

Rev. Richard Howell, General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India

Dr Augustine Pagolu, Honorary Secretary of the Theological Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India

(*.) This statement results from the national consultation of the Theological Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India on Mission Language and Biblical Metaphor, which took place at the South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies, Bangalore, 4-7 October 2000, with representatives from across India.

FINAL COMMUNIQUE OF THE FOUNDING MEETING OF THE ECUMENICAL ADVOCACY ALLIANCE

We, the participants of the Founding Meeting of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, coming from a variety of backgrounds, places and organizations across the globe, have gathered in Geneva, 7-9 December 2000. We hail from 37 countries, speak over twenty languages and represent the World Council of Churches, regional ecumenical organizations and fellowships, church agencies, specialized networks in the South, Christian world communions, international ecumenical organizations, and Roman Catholic organizations.

We come from diverse Christian communities which together number over one billion people... but here we speak out with one voice against injustice to confront structures of power, practices and attitudes which deprive human beings of their dignity and to offer alternative visions based on our understanding of the Gospel.

Through prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can, with one voice, announce the foundation of a new instrument for coordinated action on issues of global justice, peace, human rights and environment. This new Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance will be a flexible and open instrument enabling participating organizations from the broad ecumenical family to work strategically on priorities identified as common to our witness and work. For our work together in this Alliance, we understand ecumenical advocacy as a specific form of witness on political, economic, cultural and social issues by churches and their members, church-related agencies and other organizations which aims to influence policies and practices of governments, international institutions, corporations and our own communities in order to bring about a more just, peaceful and sustainable world.

Opening challenges and shaping the vision

As we began our meeting in worship, our preacher, Dr Musimbi Kanyoro, World Young Women's Christian Association, called us to our daunting task with the words of the Angel to Mary, "Do not be afraid."

During his opening address, Dr Konrad Raiser, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches challenged us to maintain our uniqueness as churches and ecumenical bodies in this new form of advocacy, recalling that the WCC is but the convenor of the Alliance. Its "owners" are those bodies and groups who share their energy, resources, and competencies in carrying out joint advocacy that becomes broader than any of the individual participants could provide on their own. Mr Bertrand Ramcharan, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, reminded us of the historic link between the Churches and the United Nations, saying that our role is to be the "transmitters of the aspirations of the people" to such international governing bodies. Sister Celine Monteiro, Franciscans International, called us to be in true solidarity in our witness. Mr Baffour Amoa, Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in West Africa, reminded us of "our collective desire and drive for a world in which the rights of chil dren, youth, women and men are protected and opportunities equitably distributed" and of the vast resources and experience we bring to this new beginning.

With these challenges in mind, we gave the Alliance further shape during our three days together, building on the results of a process of consultation and refinement over a year prior to this meeting. We know this endeavour is a challenge and a risk, both in form and content. Yet we are convinced that it is worth the risk to embark on this new venture together.

Selecting priorities for joint advocacy

More than 170 responses to the invitation to suggest issues for the work of the Alliance were received. For the form of advocacy called for by the Alliance, we have chosen as priorities for at least the next three years:

1. Global economic justice with a specific focus on global trade

Global trade is dominated by a few economic powers -- including transnational corporations, governments, and multilateral institutions -- whose control of capital, technology, political influence, cultural persuasion through media and military influence makes it extremely difficult for many countries to access world markets on an equitable basis. We feel that inequities in trade are a major cause of economic injustice and that a focus on advocacy for equitable trade which benefits the marginalized would be a significant contribution to a just world. Trade is only one aspect of globalization and change will be needed on many other fronts for economic justice to prevail. The advocacy work of the Alliance is particularly needed at the level of the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the European Union.

2. Ethics of Life with a specific focus on HIV/AIDS

HIV/AIDS is acknowledged to be one of the gravest health challenges facing the world at the moment. It is also, arguably, the gravest challenge to prospects of social and economic development and global security. The current impact of HIV/AIDS is a symptom of systemic economic problems, such as the under-investment in health and unequal access to effective treatment. The ethical issues around the HIV/AIDS pandemic make this issue particularly appropriate for church action. While governments, intergovernmental organizations and private companies all need to be targeted for advocacy on this issue, we also see churches as a primary audience. Churches need to speak Out on HIV/AIDS -- on its causes, prevention, treatment and consequences.

For each of these global advocacy issues, we will develop an educational approach as well as a specific advocacy strategy.

In addition to these two global issues for advocacy, peace and conflict resolution are urgent concerns for us all. Conflict and militarization go hand in hand with globalization and many examples of these inter-connections could be cited. In light of the forthcoming WCC Decade to Overcome Violence where there will be an opportunity for many of these issues to be addressed, we agreed that the Alliance will seek to address peace and conflict resolution through strategic partnerships among participants. We further agreed that the Alliance will stimulate and strengthen coalitions working on particular issues of peace, conflict resolution and reconciliation. We call on participants to use the Alliance network to address more effectively regional conflicts and other issues of common concern.

In submitting these priorities we want to underline the fact that all of the issues identified in this process are issues of life and death. As churches and Christian organizations, our advocacy to address all causes of human suffering must and will continue.

The way forward

This Alliance is initially established for four years. We have commissioned an Ecumenical Advocacy Committee and we support the establishment of a coordinating office hosted by the World Council of Churches. This coordinated action will be promoted through strategic groups on each of the two global advocacy issues and through strategic partnerships to address regional and national situations. The Alliance is comprised of participants who will sign a Covenant for Action. The emphasis and the energy of the Alliance will come from the issues on which people choose to work together.

As participants in the Alliance, we will commit ourselves to:

1. promoting approaches to these global issues based on a shared commitment to the Gospel and expressing concern for those people who suffer injustice;

2. confronting unjust structures and offering alternative visions based on the analysis and full engagement for the people affected;

3. raising awareness within our own constituencies and the public at large on the issues and to mobilize support for specific campaigns or collective actions as proposed by the strategy groups;

4. sharing information with each other, contributing resources and engaging actively and creatively in implementing common approaches at the local, national and international levels;

5. continuing to reflect theologically on this work.

We invite churches and their many related organizations who share our commitment to advocacy on issues of justice and peace to participate in this Alliance.

Our call

The Christ whom we seek to follow tells us that when we minister to the sick, the hungry, the stranger and the prisoner we are ministering to Christ himself (Matthew 25). His identification with the marginalized (John 4) his rage at the moneylenders in the temple (John 2:13-17) and his willingness to challenge established social boundaries in view of the Kingdom of God (Luke 7:36-50, Luke 13:10-17) lead us to a life of confronting unjust structures of power in solidarity with the excluded. With this conviction, and with trust in the grace of God, we launch this Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance.
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Author:LABI, KWAME A.
Publication:International Review of Mission
Geographic Code:4EUNE
Date:Jan 1, 2001
Words:3907
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