Despite these crises, Cape Town 2010's complex operations came off superbly. Occupying a gleaming convention center near Cape Town's beautiful waterfront, the tightly scheduled, fast-paced conference fully integrated drama, dance, video, and art. "The triumph of the conference," said Calcutta Assemblies of God pastor Ivan Satyavrata, "was how it engaged all the senses."
For many, the table groups were the most significant innovation. The main hall was an almost endless carpet of tables for six. Each participant was assigned a group for the week, carefully managed for diversity. One hundred and fifty table groups were set by languages other than English so that participants could talk freely. Global diversity was an experiential reality as table groups responded to Scripture together and shared their reactions to key issues. Many participants told me that table groups were the innovation they appreciated most; they only wished they had been given more time to converse.
The high-tech program kept speakers on a tight leash, provided a hailstorm of facts and perspectives, and sometimes overwhelmed participants with information they had little time to reflect on. Never boring, it had the downside of not allowing time and space for some non-Western cultures to be themselves. All congress presentations were in English, the one language shared by all who were providing simultaneous translation into seven other languages. But some Latin American and African speakers struggled to read English scripts. Running translation would have taken twice as long for the same content, but would have let in more humanity.
I asked Femi Adeleye, a Ghanaian plenary speaker, if the planning process had been representative of the global participation. "'No' would be my honest answer," he said. "Planning has been mostly Western. They sent us the plan, but the template was already established. We could only influence the margins."
Ruth Padilla DeBorst, a Latin American who gave one of the morning Bible expositions, felt similarly. "This was their program, and we attended. It should be ours, if this is the global church. Technology became the driving force."
Nevertheless, speakers from five continents gave wonderful daily expositions of Ephesians. Others shared amazing testimonies. Eighteen-year-old Sung Kyung Ju told of her determination to witness for Christ in her native North Korea, even though her father, a former high-ranking official, evidently gave his life doing the same. Libby Little read notes for a devotional talk from the bloodstained notebook of her husband, Tom, who was murdered August 5 alongside nine other aid workers in Afghanistan.
Naturally there were grumblings. While John Piper was a favorite expositor for many, others resented his importing controversy over eternal suffering into an Ephesians text that had nothing to do with it. Some regretted that N. T. Wright was not invited to speak, sensing an underlying attempt to steer the evangelical movement toward a particular kind of theology. Arnold Van Heusden, until recently head of the Evangelical Alliance in the Netherlands, thought he detected a defensive note in the program.
Others saw just the opposite. Cape Town 2010 included several strong pleas for women's equal participation in ministry, and featuring Padilla DeBorst as a Bible expositor was a seminal event. Strikingly, evangelicalism's past debates over evangelism taking priority over service seemed finished. Speaker after speaker emphasized how integrally the two are related in witness.