My thoughts lately have been on a country I have never visited that will soon be the most populous country in the world.
My thoughts turn to India because of the reports I receive of the work of Ajai and Indu Lall and others at Central India Christian Mission. These workers for the Lord have planted over 1000 churches; trained leaders at Central India Biblical Academy (CIBA), Darjeeling International Biblical Academy (DIBA) and the Delhi Center; served children through the CICM’s children’s ministry that provides for more than 600 orphans and at risk children and the sponsor program that cares for more than 4,500 children in need; provided medical care through the CICM Mission Hospital, Kansa Village Clinic and Dental Clinic and by holding medical camps in remote villages, treating 4,000 to 5,000 patients each month; and worked to provide economic self-sufficiency through serving local communities in India through their technical training centers. The Mission serves not only in India but in Bhutan, Tibet, Bangladesh, and Nepal. For more on their ministries see indiamission.org.
This is just one of the many ministries of the Christian Churches in India.
Churches of Christ are also growing in India. Ron and Karen Clayton have spent more than three decades in India, and their carefully compiled numbers list 48,880 Churches of Christ in India with a combined membership of 1,139,562. They actually believe this is an undercount and that there may be more than 2 million members in India.
Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is also active in service in India, partnering with over twenty churches and organizations to spread the gospel.
The Stone-Campbell Movement entered India in 1882. Missionaries from the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, Brazil and many other countries have served there. Today the churches are led by Indians, many of whom have become missionaries to other countries.
God is at work through our churches and other Christians in India, feeding, healing, teaching, and bringing many to faith. God is at work powerfully in every nation, among every tribe, in every heart.
We are in that season when we particularly remember the astonishing truth at the heart of the Christian faith, that the eternal, all powerful God became a human being. In the words of familiar hymns, we believe the fullness of God lived in a helpless babe, so that we could see the godhead veiled in flesh.
It is also (in much of the world’s calendar) a time at the end of the year when we reflect on the last twelve months. In the past year, we have seen God in flesh both near and far. For the babe born in Bethlehem later promised his disciples that he would not leave them as orphans, but along with the Father, the Savior would make his home with us through the Holy Spirit.
So we have seen God at work this year in bodies, in everybody that proclaims the good news by word and by deed. We have seen God care for those devastated in the Philippines. We have seen God protect and provide in the horrors of the Syrian war. We have seen God in every cup of cold water given to the thirsty. We have seen the babe of Bethlehem work through countless disciples, through his body, the church, and (for me) particularly in that part of his body that historians call the Stone-Campbell Movement. I have told some of those stories on our website, but you have your own stories of what Christ is doing through his people.
And so now at the time we remember the incarnate deity let us reflect on where we have seen God at work both near and far. And let us pledge anew our bodies and our churches to do God’s work, not our own.
God is at work among us!
What happens at a World Council of Churches Assembly? Here is a typical day.
It started early with some quiet time and a walk by the beach not far from the hotel (passing a good luck pig along the way). Then the bus ride to the convention center and an interesting conversation with George, an Assyrian Orthodox Christian from Chicago.
The theme of the day was Mission, so our morning was Bible study focused on Philip and the Eunuch. The plenary session, with thousands present, was “Together Towards Life, Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes,” with presentations by missionaries all over the world.
Lunch in the cafeteria with a variety of foods and fellowship with a variety of world Christians.
In the afternoon, I attended a workshop on the changing Christian world, sponsored by the Global Christian Forum. Then a session on ecumenism in changing settings.
A late dinner with my friends, the Secretaries of Christian World Communions (including three World Convention board members, David Thompson, Doug Foster, and Robert Welsh). I struck up a conversation with Danisa Ndlovu, the President of the Mennonite World Conference from Zimbabwe. I said, “Perhaps you know my friend in Bulawayo,” and before I could finish the question, he said, “Mpofu. Everyone in Zimbabwe knows Church of Christ and Mpofu.”
Then a taxi to the hotel and rest.
The days are long and fruitful. God blesses beyond measure.
Sunday was so far the highlight of the Assembly of The World Council, for today we visited local churches.
The procedure was to sign up to attend any church, so I was assigned church 29. I arrived early to the conference hall to find my number.
Church 29 turned out to be a Presbyterian church about an hour’s drive from Busan. They thought they were hosting four Americans, and they were, but three of them were much more interesting than the fourth:
Raafat Labib Zaki grew up in Sudan as a Coptic Christian. He is married to a Korean and they live near Atlanta, Georgia but he works for the Presbyterian Synod in Ohio.
Yena Lukac was born and raised in Korea, is married to a Slovakian, and works in New York for the World Evangelical Alliance.
Timothy Goropevsek is Director of Communications for the World Evangelical Alliance, works in New York, and is originally from Switzerland.
The church greeted us warmly on a special day (not just because we were there). It is Thanksgiving Sunday in Korea, so the pulpit of the church was decorated with the first fruits (literally) of the people. That also meant that we shared in communion (which that church observes only six times a year). I later gently told the pastor that our churches celebrate communion every Sunday.
I wish with all my heart that each of you in our Movement could have experienced the smiles, bows, communion, luncheon, and deep Christian fellowship of this church.
God is at work among his people and in his world.
A Postscript for the Aussies: Ian Smith from Australian Churches of Christ is representing the Victorian Council of Churches at the Assembly. It is always a great joy to be with Ian. I include this photo to show the folks back home what he looks like in a suit and tie (along with pictures of Doug Foster and Gary Holloway, just to prove we are here)!
Today there were no Assembly sessions so I was blessed to tour the city with board member Robert Welsh, Nathan Wilson from First Christian Church, Shelbyville, Indiana, and Paul Tche of White Oak Pond Christian Church in Richmond, Kentucky (and the next Moderator of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Since Paul was the only one of us who spoke Korean, he was our guide.
We travelled to the fish market, seeing not only every kind of fish, but every kind of store. The citizens were out in force on a shopping Saturday, with young people, families with children, and four tourists in the crowd. We ate a marvelous meal for 8000 Won ($8 US) and handled our chopsticks with dexterity.
Then to the other side of Busan to visit a Buddhist temple. On the way we marveled at the beauty of the city, set between between the hills and the sea, and at the numerous high-rise apartments where the four million inhabitants live.
The temple visit was interesting but not what we expected. Instead of being a contemplative place it was a crowded tourist attraction where very few were praying. The setting, on a hill beside the sea, however, was spectacular.
A great day to share fellowship and catch a glimpse of a vibrant city.
FYI: In addition to the four mentioned above, about twenty from the Stone Campbell Movement are at the Assembly, including board member David Thompson from England as well as others from Korea, Puerto Rico, Australia, and the United States.
That is the theme of the Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Busan, South Korea. Each day of the assembly we constantly unpack that theme. Here are my reflections.
GOD. All our efforts for justice and peace are rooted in the character and power of God. Justice and peace come from him as gracious gifts. Yet God in his mercy allows us to work with God and in God’s power to bring about justice and peace.
OF LIFE. God is Creator, the source of all life. Thus, whatever gives life comes from God. All that takes away life—war, poverty, oppression, discrimination, and violence—is not from God.
LEAD US. This is the important question, “Do we really want God to lead us?” For he often leads us where we do not want to go. He leads us to serve others, not ourselves. He leads us to sacrifice. He leads to the death and resurrection.
TO JUSTICE. We think we understand justice should be when we have been treated unfairly. But we are often blind to injustices suffered by others. We can make a long list of injustices in our societies, but are we willing to suffer with the victims of injustice so that God’s justice will reign.
AND PEACE. Peace is much more than the absence of war (although that would be a great blessing). It is Shalom, being right with God and others.
The theme, “God of life, lead us to justice and peace” is a prayer that I encourage us all to pray daily.
This morning at the World Council Assembly, I was blessed to be part of a Bible study with thirty Christians from Ghana, Australia, Indonesia, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Sierra Leone, and other countries. These Christians were from Coptic, Lutheran, Methodist, Disciple, Presbyterian, Orthodox, and United Churches.
In such a diverse group, our common faith and devotion to the Bible allowed us to experience a rich discussion on Genesis, chapter two, focusing on God as creator.
The Bible is truly for all!
There were two great highlights today at the World Council of Churches Assembly, the opening worship and the opening assembly.
In worship, we sang in Korean with a marvelous choir with members from throughout Korea. Representatives of each continent gave their cries and hopes to the Lord in their own language. The Scripture reading was from Luke 24 (the Emmaus story), chanted in Aramaic (the language of Jesus). It was followed by a marvelous sermon in Armenian, and then the Lord’s Prayer spoken by us all in our own languages. So Korean, English, Spanish, French, Aramaic, German, and Armenian.
The second highlight was a marvelous dramatic presentation of the history of the churches in Korea. Amazing voices, dancers, costumes, lighting, and set all went together seamlessly to tell the Korean story of war and peace, darkness and light, despair and revival. From missionaries planting the gospel in Korea over 100 years ago to Koreans sending out more missionaries to other countries today than any country except the United States.
Interesting facts on the Assembly: There are 761 delegates here from 345 member churches. 465 of us (including me) are invited guests as ecumenical partners. There are over 1000 young people helping with the assembly and over 1000 Korean volunteers.
Volunteers meeting us at Busan airport.
Planes, trains, automobiles, and a little running.
That’s what it takes to get from Nashville, Tennessee to Busan, South Korea.
And why make the journey? Because today is the opening assembly of the World Council of Churches Assembly, where thousands of Christians from every country in the world meet for prayer, Bible study, fellowship, conversation, and planning on how God is guiding us to serve him together. The world Council was gracious to extend an invitation to World Convention to send two delegated representatives to the Assembly, so Doug Foster (a Vice-President of World Convention) and I are here.
But getting here was not fun, although it taught me lessons of patience and receiving grace.
It started fairly early Monday morning with a drive to the Nashville airport. Then I was to catch a flight to Dallas and have a short forty-five minutes to catch my connecting flight to Tokyo. But my flight from Nashville was delayed for forty-five minutes (do the math!).
So I arrived in Dallas to meet an airline representative who literally ran with me to get on the train to the next concourse where the gate agent called me by name and quickly scanned my ticket. The airplane crew was in the jetway cheering me on as I raced onto the plane and they shut the door.
Of course, I was absolutely convinced my bag had not made the connection, so I was thinking though what I might but in Tokyo when the flight attendant assured me my checked bag was aboard. Although my delay was the airline’s fault, they graciously did all they could to get me on board, and for that I am thankful.
Then the fourteen hour flight to Tokyo, a three hour layover, and the two hour flight to Busan. Somewhere along the way Monday became Tuesday.
Upon arrival at Busan (a vibrant modern port city of four million), there were many volunteers for the World Council who registered us, loaded our luggage on a bus, and helped us check in the hotel. By that time it was past midnight locally and Wednesday had begun.
Was the journey worth it? It already has been worth it because of the Christian leaders I met at the airport, on the bus, and at the hotel. Christians from Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Rwanda, and Jamaica—many of whom had travelled longer than I had, but who greeted me and one another with genuine Christian affection.
So I anticipate the opening assembly today. More on that in this blog tomorrow.
In the last month, I have seen in our churches cause for praise and cause for lament.
First the praise. September 15-18 I was at Summit, the Abilene Christian University Bible lectures. In addition to hearing great presentations by Luke Timothy Johnson and others, Board member Doug Foster and I presented two classes on the Worldwide Stone-Campbell Movement and on our ecumenical work, including discussion of World Convention. I praise God for the way those in the classes responded to our presentation. Ten years ago, there would have been some opposition to our words. Five years ago, there likely would have been apathy. But in 2013, many in American Churches of Christ are enthusiastic about Christian unity and the efforts of churches to work together locally, nationally, and worldwide.
October 6-8 found me in Indianapolis for the Stone-Campbell Dialogue, along with World Convention board members, Bill McDonald, Mark Taylor, Robert Welsh, and Doug Foster. The Dialogue actually grew out of a discussion at a World Convention board meeting in 1998, so that this annual meeting of leaders from all three North American streams is in some sense a daughter of the ministry of World Convention. At Indianapolis we experienced a marvelous worship and meal, hosted by the Allisonville Christian Church. At the meal I sat by John Hinnant and discovered that he had personally known Jesse Bader, our World Convention founder! The Dialogue was blessed by a presentation by Rita Nakashima Brock on moral injury and soul repair. That led us to consider how we might together help those who have been morally injured by war. Such working together in ministry is certainly good news!
However, along with this good news for which we give God praise, there has also been bad news. Saleem Massey, one of our class teachers at the Goiania Global Gathering reported firsthand about the terrible bombing at the church in Peshawer, Pakistan on Sunday, September 22, 2013. In his words: “I traveled from Lahore to Peshawer (in the north of Pakistan near Afghanistan border) about seven hour’s journey, and reached the site where suicide bombs were exploded. As I entered into the church what I saw was shocking and horrible–the walls of the church were filled with blood and flesh. What is more, in front of church door there were tiny shoes of innocent children who were gone with the Lord but, their shoes give witness of their martyrdom!”
In addition to this terrible outrage, there have been many other reports of deaths, injuries, and property damage suffered by Christians in Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. We reported in April on our website the kidnapping of Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi and the Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, both of Aleppo, Syria. They are still being held.
So as we praise God for his work for Christian unity, we also pray and plead for peace among nations and peoples. And we pray for the strength to forgive those who persecute us and to love our enemies.