By: Scott Colburn
I recently attended the New Wineskins Missionary Network conference in North Carolina, along with a lot of Cafe and Church Army folks. It was a wonderful three days of worship, talks, workshops, and fellowship. Two impressions stood out to me.
Firstly, there is intense opposition to the faithful people who carry the Gospel around the world. I heard a missionary to Burundi tell harrowing stories of close scrapes in that very dangerous African nation. I saw author Dominic Sputo present on his book Heirloom Love. The book calls American Christians to pray and care for persecuted Christians around the world. I greeted my friend the Rev. John Chol Dauu, who is a priest and educator in South Sudan. In America, we mostly encounter indifference or sometimes the personal dislike or scorn of people who don't want to hear the Gospel, but we're a long way from being hunted down by our neighbors or the government just for our beliefs. It was important to hear these stories and see the people who are on the front lines of international mission.
Secondly, the American Church is increasingly becoming a minor player in missions. The Church in Africa, Asia, and South America is seeing explosive growth, often as a result of the persecution. They are starting to flex their authority and numbers, and this is a good thing. I saw a lot of African bishops, including my old friend Daniel. I saw my friend Jon from seminary, who is helping bring the Church to Vietnam. The U.S. Church still has the money and the seminaries, but more and more missionaries are coming from the countries that used to be the receivers, and they are even coming here with the Gospel.
I think my two impressions are related. Where exciting growth happens, there is more persecution. When the Church threatens the world, the flesh and the devil, Satan punches back. And where Christians have to struggle for their right to worship and preach, they establish a dynamic faith rooted in dependence on God that is attractive to lots of people. I don't pray for persecution in the U.S., but I do pray for a bolder witness and for fearlessness. The conference is a real charge-up experience, and gives a preview of what the Church could be like if we really were one global, unified body of Christ.