It began with crisis, and it ended in worship.
The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, held October 17-25 in Cape Town, South Africa, was the first gathering of evangelical Christians to attempt to accurately represent the reality of today's church leadership. Though the West had a strong voice, its numbers were much smaller than the enthusiastic, unintimidated participants from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Consequently, the congress had an atmosphere of continual discovery, as participants looked around and saw the teeming diversity of global faith. Ugandan Anglican Archbishop Henry Orombi told a news conference, "It is a joy to see heaven begin here."
The Lausanne Movement used a highly decentralized process to select participants. A committee in each country chose delegates in numbers proportional to its nation's evangelical population, based on Operation World statistics. Out of a total of 4,000 delegates, the United States got to send 400, Canada 50, the UK 80, and China 230. Selection committees were to include the full spectrum of churches and ethnicities, to assure that at least 60 percent of their choices were under 50 years old, 10 percent under 30, and 10 percent from the "marketplace." Women were to compose at least 35 percent.
A point of contrast: At the Edinburgh World Missionary Conference exactly a century ago, there were 1,200 delegates: 500 from the U.S., 500 from Britain, 4 from Asia, and none from Africa. The world has changed, and Cape Town 2010 embodied the transformation.
The China Crisis
China's emergence as a robust participant in world evangelization is an astounding part of that transformation. Chinese took up Cape Town with enthusiasm, choosing their allotment of 230 participants and raising money not only to pay their way but also to enable Christians from neighboring countries to come. (The top four national groups providing financial support to the congress were the U.S., China, South Korea, and India.)
But as participants began to arrive in Cape Town, news came that Chinese authorities were stopping delegates at the airport. Only a handful made it to Cape Town, leaving a gaping hole in the second night's program, which was set aside to celebrate God's work in Asia. "It's like having the World Cup and not having Brazil," said Doug Birdsall, Lausanne's executive chair.
Then came the shocking news that the conference's website and links to 600 GlobaLink sites in 92 countries had been attacked and shut down by sophisticated hackers. In addition, a virus infected on-site computers and slowed computer operations and Internet access to a crawl. It took two days for officials to fully understand the situation. Providentially, two cousins from Bangalore, India, had come to do volunteer IT grunt work. They offered their expertise and were able to set up systems to defend against the attacks.
China was strongly suspected of being behind the attacks. But certainty is impossible, and Lausanne staff have been careful not to point fingers. They do not want to make life more difficult for Christians in China or create lasting antagonism toward the Lausanne Movement. "We want to be peacemakers," Birdsall said. "They may not understand the unstructured nature of evangelicalism, let alone the Lausanne Movement. It's hard for a highly structured society to comprehend that we do not have any strategy for any country in the world."
Philemon Choi, an influential Hong Kong leader, told me that delegate selection had been mishandled. "They chose all 230 delegates from the house church and then invited the [officially recognized] Three-Self Church. That's not how you do it. To repair the damage, we must meet face-to-face." Lausanne leaders hope to visit China soon.