Advancing the Kingdom of God includes establishing justice, love and good works, but is not limited to these things, according to speakers at a major conference of Anglican missionaries.
“We also need to ‘tell the story’: minister the power of the Gospel and disciple new believers,” declared Anglican Bishop of Singapore Rennis Ponniah. “It is a story that grips and transforms hearts.”
Ponniah spoke April 9 at the New Wineskins for Global Mission conference, a triennial gathering of more than 1,000 participants near Asheville, North Carolina. Formerly known as the Episcopal Church Missionary Community, the gathering attracts delegations from Episcopal and Anglican churches, seminaries, international missions groups and a sizeable contingent of overseas Christians.
The 2016 conference, themed “Facing a Task Unfinished” called for churches to commit resources and young adults to reach those who had never heard the Gospel. The gathering, which has occurred since 1994, also witnessed a transfer of leadership from longtime Director Sharon Stockdale Steinmiller to incoming Director Jenny Noyes.
“Giving an Unconditional Yes”
“’Kingdom Advance’ involves setting people free from the powers of darkness and the seductions of the world,” Ponniah charged in his address, citing the story of a woman who had been dedicated to a local goddess and was afflicted with physical contortions into “humanly impossible” positions. After hearing the Gospel, “She was set free from spiritual darkness.”
Ponniah, whose diocese includes the Southeast Asian nation of Singapore as well as deaneries in Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Nepal, was joined by others calling for Christian churches to dedicate an increasing amount of their resources – both financial and missionaries – towards evangelizing unreached people groups, populations where few people have heard the Gospel.
In contrast to missions targeting countries that already have large Christian populations, less than one percent of church resources go to unreached peoples, according to conference speaker Fred Markert of Youth With a Mission (YWAM). The total amount spent on unreached peoples is less than the amount annually embezzled from churches, Markert reported.
Ponniah cited the unexpected growth of Anglicanism in the Himalayan nation of Nepal as an example of fruitful missionary activity among mostly unreached people. On a recent trip to the majority-Hindu nation, Ponniah confirmed 700 people at two different services, with the church growing from 9,000 to 12,000 members last year alone.
“God is granting fruitfulness,” the Singapore Bishop reported of new Christians in Nepal. “This is because there is an utter desperate need for help beyond themselves.”
“We need help from above — and that is what has happened there,” Ponniah reported, describing great difficulty following a devastating earthquake in 2015. “It’s one thing to cry for help, but when help comes from God’s loving heart, with his full moral glory, it requires humility.”
Ponniah characterized the construction of 30 churches damaged in the earthquake and its subsequent aftershocks as “an arduous task”
The evangelization of Nepal was also highlighted by Anglican Frontier Missions, which at a New Wineskins luncheon featured Anglican clergyman Norman Beale, who served with his family as missionaries in the country for 15 years. Beale was part of a larger Christian missionary effort that has been credited with growing the Christian population in Nepal from zero in 1950 to more than 800,000 Nepalese Christians today. Unexpectedly, it also produced an Anglican church when the Synod of the Diocese of Singapore voted to accept a group of interested independent churches in Nepal to be part of the Diocese in 1999 and has since grown to 77 congregations.
“We are not in a numbers game, we are thinking of transforming lives,” Ponniah explained in his address, outlining recruitment, training of indigenous pastors and clergy in laying the foundation for future self-sustaining dioceses in Nepal and Indonesia.
“The Lord provides what his church needs for her life and mission,” Ponniah concluded, citing Luke Chapter 24. “You and I, because of his provision of scripture, sacrament and spirit, can give him our unconditional yes — there is amazing Kingdom advance when you least expect it.”
God at Work to Bless the World
Speakers at the New Wineskins conference reported that the growth of the Christian church outpaced overall population growth in vast majority of countries, with Markert of YWAM excitedly listing off examples of youth ministry producing new Christian believers even in the “10/40 window” of countries where most unreached people groups are located.
Markert highlighted the work of discipleship training schools, full-time, residential training courses that begin with a 12-week classroom phase, followed by a 10-12 week outreach time. The schools primarily train young people for evangelism. Markert reported that the Anglican Church in North America’s International Diocese is partnering with YWAM to launch a discipleship training school, the first Anglican school of its kind.
Markert’s message of empowering energetic young people to engage in global missions work was reinforced by Guy and Summer Benton, missionaries in Cambodia. Guy Benton explained that youth are looking for a place to belong, opportunity to gain mastery of something, find independence, and to be generous. Summer Benton spoke about the challenges of illegal land seizure and sex and labor trafficking in the majority-Buddhist nation.
“How can we believe that God exists when stories like this surround us every day?” Benton asked. “How can we introduce them to a God who is loving and good, and encourage them to be in relationship with him, when they’ve lost everything?”
Benton charged that those in developing nations are particularly vulnerable because they don’t have the same protections as those in developed nations. Benton declared that followers of Jesus need to push back from a response of fear, laziness, or feeling overwhelmed and ask what God’s response is.
“God’s heart is deeply moved towards situations of injustice,” Benton added.
Hope amid Suffering
Persecution of Christians also compounds the problems of poverty and powerlessness, according to Bishop Grant and Dr. Wendy LeMarquand who spoke of their work in the Horn of Africa.
“Poverty is pervasive,” the missionaries explained. “The Bible says that God loves the poor, so God’s people must also love the poor.” The couple stated that the poor know they are needy and that God is their only help. “This has clear implications: a faith that does not reach out to the poor and broken of humanity is a false faith.”
The Anglican Church in the Horn of Africa, which is a part of the Diocese of Egypt with North Africa, has grown from two congregations to 90 in recent years. Most are in the western Gambella region of Ethiopia, where people groups from Sudan have sought refuge. Gambella has an employment rate of only 11 percent.
“Some officials in refugee camps make life difficult for Christians,” the LeMarquands reported. “Because this is their context, they know that they need constant help. They have faith in God, but they live in a world that tests that faith every day.”
Of the 17 clergy in the Gambella area, only one has been to a residential seminary, leading to the establishment of an Anglican Center and Theological College.
Wendy LeMarquand, a medical doctor, shared the work of the local church mothers’ union using pictures to share teaching with villagers about disease prevention. The efforts have led to significant reductions in the number of people needing treatment for dehydration, burns and a variety of diseases.
“It seems as though our churches are divided between those who want to keep themselves unstained from the world and those who want to care for orphans and widows,” LeMarquand assessed. “That should not be.”
The Bishop stated that he and his wife have a new favorite verse: Hebrews 12:24: “The blood of Jesus speaks a stronger word than the blood of Abel.”
“The self-giving love of Jesus is, must be, stronger and more powerful than the blood which cries for vengeance and leads to more and more bloodshed,” the bishop concluded.
Most Muslims today have never seen a page of the New Testament, according to Fouad Masri, a pastor who focuses on sharing the Gospel with people from an Islamic background.
“Jesus is calling us his friends — the best you can do in Islam is be a slave of God, but Jesus is saying that we can be friends,” Masri shared. The Lebanese-born pastor explained how God in the Qur’an is described differently than God in the Bible, and that God is watching many people pray to a wrong understanding of him. Allah is named as the source of death (Al Mumeet), vengeance (Al Muntaqem), and as a schemer (Al Macker) that can change his mind. God in the Qur’an, Masri asserted, is not bound by his character and can change his mind.
Masri argued that, while most Muslims believe that the Old and New Testaments have been changed and are therefore not trustworthy; this teaching is not in the Qur’an. The Injeel (Book of Jesus or New Testament) is one of four books that Muslims should read.
The Crescent Project founder encouraged Christians to adopt four attitudes when speaking with Muslims: to be loving, friendly (remembering you may be one in a chain of people to represent Christ to this person), not to attack Islamic belief but instead talk about Jesus.
“When the sun rises what happens to the stars?” Masri asked. “They disappear.”
The evangelist also promoted “Bridging” (taking similar concepts of Islam and Christianity and building a bridge) and always using the Bible.
“Muslims will tell you that the Bible has been corrupted,” Masri reported. “Discuss whether the Injeel is from God. The Qur’an says that Muslims must read the Injeel.”
“It’s amazing how the Word of God changes things,” Masri shared.