CAPE TOWN, South Africa - Thousands of Christians from around the world are in Cape Town, South Africa, this week to learn new and innovative ways to spread the gospel.
The Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization has taken place only three times in the past 36 years. But the historic gathering could impact the future of world evangelism for decades to come.
Different Ideas, One Common Goal
Some 4,200 evangelical Christians from 198 countries are meeting at the Cape Town International Convention Center for this year's event, held Oct. 16-25.
"Being in a conference with people from all over the world, it is a thrilling experience for me," said Remon Shohdy, who traveled from Egypt.
"[This is] the opportunity to be able to rub shoulders with people who are on the cutting edge of sharing their faith and dealing with global issues," added Veda Ram, a Lausanne attendee from Guyana.
"This is a wonderful opportunity to be involved in a movement that's greater than myself," Rene Palacio from South Africa said.
Some also came to encourage fellow Christians who are suffering and facing persecution because of their faith.
"Trust God," Rev. Padang Yamsat from Nigeria said. "Live as a Christian in spite of the restrictions."
Others, like 23-year-old Karuna Sharma from Nepal, want to help those trapped in sexual slavery.
"Because in Nepal, most of the girls are being sold in prostitution work," Sharma said. "So I really want to work among them and bring them out of darkness."
The 'Whole Gospel' to the 'Whole World'
Participants have many other reasons for attending, but Lausanne executive chair Doug Birdsall said there is one unifying goal.
"We come together for the sole purpose of world evangelization," he explained.
Evangelist Billy Graham assembled the first congress in 1974 in Lausanne, Switzerland. The second was held in Manila, Philippines, in 1989.
"The whole church must be mobilized to bring the whole gospel to the whole world," Graham proclaimed. "This is our calling. These are our orders."
Birdsall believes the gathering will be a global event unlike any other in the history of the church.
This year's congress will also feature 700 "GlobalLink" sites in 98 countries, so those who couldn't make it to Cape Town can participate remotely. Victor Nakah from Zimbabwe is one of leaders overseeing the GlobaLink project.
"I have the opportunity to bring Christians together not physically, but using technology, and when Christians come together to talk about Kingdom stuff -- that is exciting," he said.
A Diverse Group
This year's congress is one of the most diverse groups ever assembled.
- Forty percent of participants are between the ages of 20 and 40.
- One-third are women.
- Twelve hundred are missionaries.
- Twelve hundred are pastors.
- Another 1,200 are Christian scholars.
- Six hundred come from the fields of business, government and media.
However, one country not represented at this year's Lausanne Congress is China. The Chinese government prevented 200 invited Christians in the country from traveling to South Africa for the event.
In a message of solidarity Monday night, Lausanne attendees stood across the auditorium with hands folded, and prayed for the church in China.
More than Meetings
The Lausanne Congress will include daily prayer, worship, Bible study and extensive discussions on issues facing the global church such as persecution, poverty, AIDS and the challenges of sharing God's truth in an increasingly secular world.
"The program... has been developed as a result of consensus of hundreds of leaders around the world," Birdsall said.
Still, Birdsall and other attendees know it's going to take more than programs and meetings to win the world for Jesus Christ. They say it's going to take men and women who understand the times they are living in and have a deep love and commitment to fulfilling the task of worldwide evangelism.
"I think what people are doing today, those who are at this Congress, they are not saying, 'How can I expand my organization,' they are saying, 'What does the global church need me to do?'" explained Paul Eshleman, founder of the JESUS Film Project. "And they'll say, 'Let me contribute. Let me work together with you to see this done for the Kingdom.'"