By Gary Holloway
“The experience changed my life.”
“I saw more of what God is doing in the world.”
“Our churches will never be the same.”
These are statements from people who have attended a Global Gathering of the World Convention.
The World Convention of Churches of Christ serves the Stone-Campbell churches (Christian, Churches of Christ, and Disciples of Christ) found in 199 countries and territories, with about 10 million total adherents worldwide. World Convention seeks to connect those churches everywhere, every day. One way it connects is through a Global Gathering every few years, with the next one scheduled January 12-15, 2017, in New Delhi, India.
What we can see in India beckons many of us to attend this Global Gathering and experience India firsthand.
A Church Faithful Under Persecution
We read about persecution in the Bible. What strikes me about persecution of Christians in the Bible is that they pray not for deliverance, but for boldness to proclaim the good news (see Acts 4:23-31).
But persecution of Christians is not just a thing from the distant past. You can read about it in the daily paper, online (at www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/India%202015.pdf, for example), and in books (see Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians). You will even hear stories of persecution firsthand at our Global Gathering in New Delhi. There you will witness personal testimony of brothers and sisters who were burned out of their homes, beaten, and whose loved ones were even killed for their faith. And you will hear their prayers, not for deliverance, but for courage.
As one example, consider just one story from the book Christian Extremism by World Convention President Ajai Lall and Josh Howard.
Many years ago, a young Hindu woman was teaching in a Christian day school. She made a decision to follow Christ. When her Hindu family heard of this, they cast her from their house, even threatening to kill her. She fled the house quickly with her infant son, not even taking the time to put on her shoes. After running for miles, she found a Christian orphanage for her son. Her feet were so cut up by the journey that a few weeks later she died of infection. The missionary in that orphanage raised the son, Samuel, as a Christian. And Samuel’s grandson is Ajai Lall.
Nothing compares to the testimony of these witnesses to Jesus from their own mouths. But even if you cannot come to the New Delhi gathering, you can go to God in prayer on behalf of the persecuted. You can pray each day for Christian unity so that the world may believe.
A Church that Multiplies
Teaching others who teach others—that is the plan God gave to the early Christians who turned the world upside down.
In India you will witness a young and vibrant church that is not ashamed of the good news of Jesus. It is a church that is intentional and strategic in planting new churches.
Just to give some numbers, Ron and Karen Clayton, missionaries in India for more than 30 years, have kept detailed records of congregations and baptisms; they list 48,880 churches of Christ in India with a combined membership of 1,139,562 as of 2014. In addition, there are at least 500,000 members of Christian churches in India, as well as Disciple churches.
Or to give one example, Central India Christian Mission, led by Ajai Lall, has planted 1,400 churches in 11 states of north India and central India, and three neighboring countries. More than 700,000 unreached people have heard the gospel because of CICM’s church planters (see indiamission.org). And this is one of dozens of church planting ministries of our Stone-Campbell churches in India.
Evangelism in India is a holistic outreach, not just “saving souls” or planting churches, but sharing the good news of abundant life in Jesus. At the Global Gathering, you will hear stories and witness for yourself the care Christians provide for children, women, and those who suffer because of persecution. You can visit hospitals, orphanages, and schools founded and led by Christians. You can see training in sustainable agriculture, home-based businesses, and technical skills, in addition to direct gifts of food and clothing.
The world is coming to India to encourage the church there, but also to learn how to be “church” in our own neighborhood by imitating the faith of these Indian Christians.
The greatest blessing of the New Delhi gathering will be experiencing fellowship with Christians from all over the world.
Fellowship—It’s a word we hear often as Christians. We likely even know the related Greek word, koinonia. For many of us, we can’t hear fellowship without thinking of food and church potlucks—eating together. There will be many opportunities for doing that in New Delhi!
But koinonia in the early church was more than eating together (although it included that). It was a sharing of one’s entire life with other Christians. It included sharing money (Acts 2:45), sharing time, and working together as partners. “All the believers were together and had everything in common” (Acts 2:44).
In New Delhi, you will have the opportunity to share in the lives of other Christians. More than that, the gathering will provide intentional opportunities for churches outside India to connect with Indian churches to reach those people groups who have never heard the good news of Jesus.
The International Conference on Missions (ICOM) is partnering with World Convention on the Global Gathering. ICOM, under the leadership of David Empson, is especially interested in connecting churches in the United States with partners in India who will work to plant churches among the unreached. Evangelism and fellowship go hand in hand. Our sister organization, Global Women Connecting, will give opportunities to hear great speakers, experience fellowship, and share in hands-on ministry. You shouldn’t miss this chance for genuine fellowship with Christians from dozens of countries. It’s hard to imagine a gift greater than this worldwide fellowship.
An Encouraging Program
The theme of the New Delhi gathering is “God Breaks Down Walls to Build Bridges.” Walls between nations, between male and female, between races and tribes, between rich and poor—God tears those walls down to make us one in Christ, the bridge to oneness with God.
Christian leaders from every continent are scheduled to speak on that theme. Denford Chizanga of Zimbabwe, founder of the African Development Mission (http://africadevelopmentmission.org), will share from his experience in leading transformative development projects (for a sample of his preaching, see https://vimeo.com/80332547). Esther de los Santos will tell her story of being a missionary from the Philippines to Thailand. Barry Cameron, senior pastor of Crossroads Christian Church in Texas, will gift us with his encouraging preaching.
In addition to Ajai Lall, president of this Global Gathering, we will be blessed by other preachers from India. Usha Rees will tell of her ministry in the villages of India. P.C. Singh, a bishop in the Church of North India, will share what it is like to tear down walls as a leader in a united church.
Jeff Fife of Brazil will testify about his experiences at our last Global Gathering in Goiania, as well as reporting on the mighty work of God through his multinational River of Life Ministries (http://brazilriveroflifeministries.blogspot.com). The leader of the churches in Poland, Andrej Bajenski, will proclaim what Jesus is doing in Europe. And we will be greatly blessed by the message of Oscar Muriu of Nairobi Chapel (http://nairobichapel.net), who speaks often of the persecuted church (see www.youtube.com/watch?v=6i3JTFaVXxw).
In addition to uplifting messages, we will hear testimonies, Scripture read in many languages, and share in prayer together for the world. And the singing! Praise to God will flow in many tongues!
So make your plans to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime experience! Mark your calendar for January 12-15, 2017. Register at www.worldconvention.org. At that website, you will also find hotel recommendations. Book your flight!
But above all, pray for our Global Gathering, for the ministry of World Convention, and for the unity of all who believe in Jesus, so that the world might believe in him.
Gary Holloway serves as executive director of World Convention, Nashville, Tennessee.