Eve of the congress
Posted by Iwan Russell Jones on 17 October 2010, 22:09
SATURDAY 16 OCTOBER – So here I am in Cape Town, my first time on African soil. The drive from the airport into the city centre passes through a landscape dotted with distinctively shaped trees and bushes that I’ve only ever since in films and picture books.
This feels like proper Africa, I tell Anton, my South African host. He laughs and tells me that a lot of Africans don’t consider Cape Town to be truly African. It’s like nowhere else on the continent. But later on he points out some zebra on a nearby hill, and that’s proof enough for me! This is proper Africa.
And it’s absolutely stunning. Suspended between the shining Atlantic and the majestic Table Mountain, Cape Town takes my breath away. It’s gorgeous. There can’t be anywhere else like it on the planet, never mind the continent. I’m hooked already. But how much chance will there be to soak up the atmosphere of this place?
I’m here to attend the Third Lausanne Congress and the schedule for this eight-day event is absolutely packed. Well, it is a conference on world evangelization. There’s a lot to talk about. And a lot of people to meet.
Some 4,500 participants from close on 200 countries are converging on Cape Town for what will undoubtedly be the most racially and geographically diverse gathering of Christians in history. It’s an evangelical event, of course, but I’m pretty sure that the Congress will provide plenty of evidence to show what a diverse global phenomenon evangelicalism itself has become.
I got some idea of just how big a gig this is on my flight from Heathrow, which seemed to be full of delegates from all over the world. I sat next to a guy from Ridley College, Cambridge, who told me that he was acting as a host and facilitator for a large group of observers from the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Vatican and the World Council of Churches. I wonder what they’ll make of it? Come to think of it, I wonder what I’ll make of it!
I’m not a natural for large-scale Christian get-togethers – they often make me feel very on edge – and I do feel something of a fraud being here. After all, I’m not representing any kind of evangelistic organisation or mission agency, I’m not ordained and I don’t have any official role in a church.
But I am committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and I’ve tried to see my whole life and career – albeit in a ‘secular’ profession – in terms of Christian mission. And one of the really encouraging and appealing features of this Congress for me is its intention to discuss the impact of the Christian faith on every sphere of life: medicine, politics, business, education, the media and so on.
Witness to Jesus Christ and the task of the Church can’t be measured just in numerical or geographical terms. We confess Jesus Christ as the Lord of life itself. So what does that mean? I’m really looking forward to discussing that with fellow Christians from around the world and learning from their experience.
Tonight I was invited with a group of other delegates to the home of a white South African couple way up on the slopes of Table Mountain. It was a lovely event, and they were incredibly hospitable people. But as a complete outsider I couldn’t help noticing that we were served by black staff and there seemed to be security guards everywhere.
It made me wonder how much has changed in this country since the end of apartheid. I hope that while I’m here I get the chance to find out a bit more about ‘proper Africa’.
But what a fantastic evening it was, high up above Cape Town! Music, food and great conversation with an Egyptian bishop, a Presbyterian woman pastor from the USA, a former deputy prime minister of Australia and a theologian from Jamaica. What a privilege! And the Congress hasn’t even started yet. Bring it on.