I sat eagerly, waiting for the promised "fire hose of information." John and I had joined other charitably-minded, missions-focused business owners for a special conference on missions and giving. Our missiologist speaker for the event was Lindsay Brown, the International Director of the Lausanne Movement.
Brown started with a bold statement: In the last 23 years—from 1989 to 2012—the global evangelical church has grown exponentially.
A woman hears the Gospel through a radio broadcast.
Image courtesy of Far East Broadcasting Company.
Let's take a quick tour of the countries he mentioned as I share some highlights with you. May you be encouraged as I was!
Brown reported that in 1989 there were about 80,000 Evangelical Christians in Russia. Today there are 800,000. That's a remarkable growth rate.
One obvious explanation for the growth is the fall of Communism. In 1991, the USSR collapsed and freedom to evangelize opened up throughout Russia.
But consider another factor as well. Stalin—the head of the Soviet Union from 1941-1953 and one of the most evil leaders of all time—picked up many Ukrainian Christians and "banished" them to Siberia. I assume he hoped to quell their spirits and keep them from spreading their faith. But perhaps God used those Christians to soften the ground that then exploded when Communism fell years later. At the time, those Christians probably couldn't begin to understand why God would let such a thing happen to them. Of course, we don't know why these things happen as they do, but we make our best guess. And on this side of history, it certainly seems like God used those Christians mightily.
In 1989, there were six Christians in Mongolia. Just six. Today, there are 150 churches. Brown suggests the reason for the growth here is quite different than in Russia. He says that radio broadcasts have shared the Gospel throughout the land and have had an enormous impact.
When Albania came under Soviet control after WWII, the government decided to make it the first atheistic country in the world. They wrote atheism into the Albanian constitution. In 1989 there were two believers in Albania. Two women.
Brown told a story that happened in 1992. A short-term missions group from the US set out to share Jesus in Yugoslavia. But on a layover in London, they learned that fighting had erupted on the streets of Yugoslavia.
So they ended up going "next door" to Albania instead. They did the exact same thing they were planning to do in Yugoslavia: they taught English using the Bible as their teaching tool. When they left Albania, there were 10 believers in the country. Two of the new believers were linguists. They took the archaic Albanian-language Bible and developed a modern, easy-to-read translation. Today, the Albanian church is the fastest growing group of Christians in all of Europe.
Consider that in 1989, there were no nominal Christians in the country. There was no religious base of any sort. The people lived in a spiritual vacuum. So when the Good News came in, they were ready for it! Brown estimated that the number of Albanian believers has already soared to 10,000.
China has the largest number of Evangelicals in the world. It is also home to the most dramatic growth of the Evangelical church anywhere. What has contributed?
Brown shared an interesting suggestion. The Communist government has long allowed Christians to enter the country and teach English. It's a popular way for foreign Christians to enter the country; these teachers come in and use the Bible and Pilgrim's Progress as their literature.
Then came the Tiananmen Square Crackdown in 1989. The government basically crushed citizens who were protesting for a little more liberty. At that point, Brown believes, many people became disillusioned with the government and turned to the Church for answers. The Chinese church and foreign missionaries were ready.
Of the many reasons for exponential church growth in India, one factor Brown cited was the martyrdom of an Australian missionary and his two sons. In 1999, militant Hindus burned Graham Staines and his two sons alive in their car. The leader of the extremists was lauded as a local hero. Amazingly, Graham's wife went on the radio and gave a gracious speech saying she forgave the perpetrators. She acknowledged that wrong had been done, but declared she held no bitterness toward them. Brown believes this was a great inroad to the Hindu world.
The first foreign missionaries entered Nepal in 1954. It's estimated there were only 20,000-30,000 believers at the time. In 1990, there were 900,000 to one million.
Around 200,000 new believers are baptized in Ethiopia each year. Wow.
God is on the move
Why do I share all this? It's easy to forget that God is on the move. Sometimes I only consider my own country and focus on declining church numbers. But God has a purpose to save some from every tribe, nation, people and tongue. He is moving to accomplish that even now.
Just look at the ways He has worked recently: through a government's collapse, radio broadcasts, short-term trips, martyrdom … through whatever means He chooses.
Let's join the movement
Brown's invitation is the same as mine. Let's keep an open mind to see and support God's surprising work around the world!
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