The first one was in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1974. The second was in Manila in 1989. The third will be in Cape Town in 2010.
I’m talking about the massive worldwide conferences on evangelism that began as the brainchild of evangelist Billy Graham, along with British Anglican theologian John Stott and Australian Anglican Bishop Jack Dain. They have since taken on a life of their own. One year from this week, the Third Lausanne Conference on World Evangelization will take place from Oct. 16-25 in South Africa.
Its Web site, www.lausanne.org, says the event will draw 4,000 people from more than 200 countries, an intriguing goal as there are only 195 official independent countries in the world. The event will be translated into Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swahili.
The United States is providing 400 delegates and Canada is contributing 50.
I first heard of the conference when I got word this spring that U.S. organizers were looking for candidates. Some 1,322 applied to go. What made things a bit tricky is that organizers wanted 50 percent of the delegates to be under 50 years old. No doubt this is frustrating for top-tier American church leaders - most of whom are well past 50 - who weren’t invited to the Manila conference 20 years ago because they were considered too young.
Lausanne will be drawing the biggest names in the world of Christianity to its stage. Its advisory council members range from Ugandan Anglican Bishop Henry Orombi to Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren, deliverer of the opening prayer at President Obama’s inauguration.
However, Mr. Graham himself, now 90, is not expected to attend. Two of his more evangelistically minded children - Franklin Graham and Anne Graham Lotz - have schedule conflicts.
So the event clearly has moved beyond the Graham trademark. Although the African church is hosting this extravaganza, plenty of Americans are at the helm. Lausanne’s executive chairman, Douglas Birdsall, is a former missionary to Japan. He is based at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass. The congress director, Blair Carlson, is a Minneapolis-based clergyman with the Anglican Mission in America who worked 26 years with Mr. Graham.
Although the entire organizing committee is in Cape Town this week, I did glean some details of what’s on the table. Hot topics include preaching truth to a post-modern and pluralistic world, responding to Islam, putting together a theology of suffering and reconciliation, responding to the “new atheism” and operating as a global religion.
Seven sites were considered for the congress, including China, where Christianity has arguably spread the fastest in the past 50 years. But security concerns for Chinese Christian leaders, who are still being jailed, prevented cities such as Hong Kong and Beijing from being serious contenders, an organizer told me.
Cape Town was chosen because of its high-tech convention center, the enormous growth of Christianity on the African continent and because of the ease of obtaining entry visas for the many Africans and Asians who will take part.
Let’s hope they’ll welcome lots of journalists as well.
Julia Duin’s Stairway to Heaven column runs Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at email@example.com.
• Julia Duin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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