Nearly two centuries ago, eleven Mexican families traveled north into present-day Southern California to establish a farming settlement, “El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula.” Since then, the name has been shortened to Los Angeles, but the city itself has grown immensely—in recent years, because of a second, much larger, migration of Hispanics.

Literally millions of Hispanics (mostly from Mexico) have moved to the Los Angeles area, as if following the smog like a cloud in the wilderness. They have looked for good jobs and enough to eat, but a majority apparently haven’t yet found a personal relationship with Christ.

Of the estimated 4 million Hispanics living in greater Los Angeles, only about 1 percent are evangelical Christians, according to researchers. The situation for years has called for an outreach to the non-Christian Hispanic and a strengthening of the tiny Hispanic evangelical community, but such leadership never emerged.

For that reason, Hispanic ministry specialists are encouraged by new stirrings within the city’s Hispanic evangelical community, stirrings that emerged last month during Argentine evangelist Luis Palau’s June 28 to July 6 Festival of the Family Crusade in the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

By evangelistic standards, the nine-day event seemed mediocre. There was an aggregate attendance of 52,000, for an average of about 5,800 per meeting, and approximately 1,950 persons talked with one of 300 trained counselors, to make either first-time or renewed Christian commitments.

But then, neither the Palau team nor local committee members had expected multitudes—especially in light of estimates of only about 20,000 Hispanic evangelical Christians in the metropolitan area.

The greatest optimism came from previously unknown cooperation between the city’s Hispanic evangelical pastors. About 125 of 250 known evangelical churches played an active role in the crusade. Of that number, roughly 50 were affiliated with the Assemblies of God or other Pentecostal groups. About 25 were Baptist.

Palau crusade director John McWilliam called the Los Angeles crusade “the most difficult” of any he has directed for the Portland, Oregon-based evangelist. McWilliam cited the lack of unity within the tiny, scattered Christian community, not necessarily because of theological or doctrinal disputes (although Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals have tended to remain aloof from each other), but because the pastors weren’t used to working together.

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For that reason, the Hispanic church leaders who conceived the crusade had to do an effective sales job, and spent months in preparation. About 25 of them met two years ago in pastor John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church in suburban Panorama City, where they took steps toward forming the organizational structure for Latinos para Cristo. They decided the group would have a limited life span, during which time members would promote evangelism, church growth, and Christian literature programs among the Hispanic churches. These efforts would terminate with an evangelistic crusade, and the group decided to invite Luis Palau as the evangelist.

In the months before the crusade, Latinos para Cristo held church growth seminars for pastors, a Christian businessman’s luncheon, and a Hispanic Sunday school convention. Palau team members McWilliam and Eric Ericsson spent most of the past 18 months in Los Angeles organizing crusade efforts alongside Latinos para Cristo leaders: crusade president Mike Protasovicki, a respected local businessman, and coordinator Juan Carlos Miranda, a Brethren Church (Ashland, Ohio) Hispanic ministry supervisor on loan to the Fuller Evangelistic Association in Pasadena.

During the crusade, organizers bought space on 20 billboards and 54 city buses. Usually the message was Los Latinos tenemos un buen futuro … si unificamos a la familia (We Latinos have a good future … if we unify the family). Palau’s messages reflected this family emphasis: divorce, premarital sex, teen-agers’ problems. (The Palau team was dismayed that the local Hispanic television station, Channel 34, refused its request to buy air time.)

Palau called the crusade an “experiment.” This was his first, full-scale, Spanish-language crusade in the U.S., and the 45-year-old evangelist noted that Los Angeles Hispanics were neither entirely Latin nor American, but something of a “third culture.” More than 20 Latin American nations were represented among them, and, he said, “There isn’t a unifying factor—there is a sense that every man is for himself.”

The crusade had been postponed from October to June, because of conflicts with college and professional football game schedules, and lack of sufficient support from the churches. Organizers had to answer several questions. They decided all meetings would be conducted in Spanish (to do otherwise would be “too confusing,” Palau said), and also agreed on the need for thorough follow-up. Local churches received the decision cards of inquirers from their geographic areas, and churches not following up on the individuals on the cards within 72 hours would be given no more. Ericsson of the Palau team would revisit the area at three-month and six-month intervals after the crusade to oversee follow-up.

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(As it turned out, well over half of the inquirers were Roman Catholics—even though the Archdiocese of Los Angeles had no official communication with crusade organizers. Hispanic Protestants remain distrustful because of past persecution by Catholics in Latin America, Palau said. While there is greater cooperation between Protestant and Roman Catholic Hispanics today, evangelicals still “perceive enough doctrinal differences that they can’t pull together.”)

Even after the crusade began, some kinks had to be worked out. Overzealous musicians at first took nearly two hours at the start of several meetings, thus causing them to run overtime. Organizers learned to accept such other Hispanic idiosyncrasies as people drifting in up to an hour late, and guest speakers waxing too lengthily at the microphone.

But for those involved, there were bright spots that erased any shadows. Several conservative pastors clapped along with the Pentecostals during joyful, rhythmic gospel music, and said for the first time they didn’t feel self-conscious doing so. Crusade organizers said Palau was ideal since he was accepted by the conservative as well as the more emotional and charismatic Hispanic Christians.

The crusade brought to light some interesting personalities. Participating Anglos had entered Hispanic ministries from several directions, such as church secretary Nina Faulkner of Bethel Independent Presbyterian in Houston, who volunteered her services during the crusade. A former public school Spanish teacher, her hobby is Spanish evangelism: “Every vacation I put my Spanish and the Bible together somehow.” Crusade director McWilliam had learned Spanish as a teen-ager while working summers with Mexican field hands on a California ranch.

Among local Hispanics, youth committee leader Dagoberto Ramos, 20, had gyrated as a professional disco dancer at an exclusive Los Angeles nightspot before making a Christian commitment two years ago. Pastor Alex Montoya of the bilingual First Fundamental Bible Church in Monterey Park is developing a graduate program for Hispanic pastors at Talbot Seminary. Montoya says the Hispanic church’s greatest problem is a lack of trained, full-time clergymen. Most Hispanic churches are too small to afford a full-time pastor’s salary, and many of their brightest minds enter business or the professions instead. Meanwhile, lay pastors must hold second jobs and have neither the time nor the money to get adequate Bible training.

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Crusade president Protasovicki, born in Argentina to Russian parents, came to America 17 years ago with neither money nor English, but with a large faith. He has since become president of his own furniture manufacturing company. Three years ago he became pastor of a Southern Baptist-affiliated Hispanic congregation and has opened the Alpha and Omega Christian bookstore in East Los Angeles—a booming business that often is an informal gathering point for local Hispanic pastors.

Palau kept a busy schedule during the crusade. He spoke at a luncheon for Hispanic business professionals, gave the opening address for a school of communications run by members of his team, and met with Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. (Assistant Los Angeles Police Chief Bob Vernon, an active layman, helped arrange the interview.)

After each evening meeting—even while the last inquirers moved to the counseling area—Palau dashed from the speaker’s platform and out the back exit to a waiting car, which took him to a Spanish radio station in Pasadena for an 11 P.M.-midnight open-line talk show.

Are Illegal And Immoral The Same Thing?

What is the church’s position regarding illegal aliens? Right now, there isn’t one, and there probably won’t be. Pastors with Hispanic ministries, who inevitably will have contact with illegals, have had to decide individually when, and if, obedience to the government takes precedence over equally strong scriptural charges to take in strangers and love one’s neighbor.

Illegal aliens, who form a big chunk of the U.S. Hispanic population, have entered the U.S. illegally or overstayed their visas. Generally, pastors have made every effort to reach out to non-Christian illegals. But when illegals become Christians and ask their pastor whether they should return home or turn themselves in out of conscience under the law—knowing they will face terrible poverty and joblessness if they return—well, that’s a stickier question.

Violations of federal immigration law can carry up to five years imprisonment and a $2,000 fine. Some immigrant advocacy groups are saying immigration laws are too broad in scope, applied too strictly, and need to be reformed. At the same time, federal prosecutors have said it is unlikely churches will be prosecuted for harboring illegal aliens—that authorities at present are more concerned about stopping the drug traffic than the flow of people from south of the border.

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Most called about family or marital troubles. One woman had been denying her husband sexual relations to make him stop smoking marijuana, and wondered if she was right in doing so. A widow wanted to remarry, but feared she was being haunted by the spirit of her dead husband. A 21-year-old man admitted mistreatment of his wife—causing her to take the children and live with her parents. Palau prayed with the man to receive Christ, and asked him to invite his wife to accompany him the next day to one of three counseling centers set up for the crusade. The pair was reunited the next night, and attended the crusade.

Palau was going through his own family crisis at the time of the crusade. Serious cancer had been discovered in his wife, Patricia, four weeks earlier during the evangelist’s meetings in Scotland. She underwent her first chemotherapy treatment after the start of the crusade. He confessed his wife’s illness was an emotional and creative drain, but said at least he could preach, using past materials since “the gospel is always the same.” The couple has four boys: 17-year-old twins, and a 10- and a 14-year-old.

The local crusade committee wants to hold a “truly major crusade,” lasting perhaps a month, in two years, organizer Protasovicki said. Both he and Palau indicated problems in raising enough funds for this year’s crusade.

The local committee’s goal from the start, however, was for Hispanic Christians to raise the funds, said Protasovicki. To do otherwise would be “defeating,” he believed. He was pleased that the Hispanics raised at least 80 percent of the $200,000 budget (revised downward from an earlier $350,000 goal). These funds came from Hispanic Christian businessmen, a walkathon, appeals to Hispanic churches, and offerings.

Protasovicki believed the Los Angeles crusade set a new level of communication and cooperation that would continue even after the sponsoring Latinos para Cristo disbands, according to plan, after about six months.

He hoped publicity of the Los Angeles crusade would spawn ideas for Hispanic ministry projects in other parts of the country. When Protasovicki moved to America, he first began a ministry to Russian speakers, while doing church planting in Mexico on the side. Later, seeing the exploding Hispanic population, he devoted all his time to Hispanic ministry in Los Angeles. There were few Hispanic ministry role models in the United States then, but Protasovicki plunged in anyway because of the need. He found himself asking, “Why should we be going to Mexico when we have millions of Hispanics here?”

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Evangelical Women’s Caucus
Feminists of a Feather Affirm Each Other

In the apropos setting of Saratoga Springs, New York, an area that spawned such notable feminists as Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Sojourner Truth, over 400 men and women from across the United States and Canada, representing a variety of denominations, convened for the fourth national conference of the Evangelical Women’s Caucus.

The organization focused this year’s convention on the theme, “Women and the Ministry of Reconciliation,” and keynote speaker Virginia Ramey Mollenkott wove an address critical of military spending into that context. Mollenkott, a Milton scholar and English professor at William Paterson College in Wayne, New Jersey, asked that attendees be “agents of change,” according to 2 Corinthians 5:14–21.

Believing that “security comes not by might,” she said: “Escalated military spending is done for the profit of the already rich at the expense of the poor, the hungry, the exploited peoples of this earth.” She said Jesus made “no division between love and doing justice” and told her audience to “recognize our enemies as enemies, but do loving justice anyway.”

In its brochures, the EWC is described as “evangelical Christians who believe the Bible, when properly understood, supports the fundamental equality of the sexes.” (The group, whose paid membership has doubled to 525 since 1979, might be characterized by some as “progressive” and by others as “radical,” depending upon their perspective. Mollenkott, the keynote speaker, and Letha Scanzoni, who chaired this year’s convention, have aroused controversy by supporting “covenanted” practicing homosexuality.)

The group attended a banquet and a historical “fashion show” of America’s leading nineteenth-century feminists; costumed abolitionists and suffragists paraded by as “living links with history” while their capsule biographies were narrated. Then Susan B. Anthony II, grandniece of her famous forebear whose likeness is engraved on the new dollar piece, and Victoria Booth Demarest, granddaughter of Salvation Army cofounder Catherine Booth, addressed the convention.

Anthony, one of the first Roman Catholic women to receive a doctorate in theology, had marched recently in Chicago with 85,000 supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment, which the EWC has officially endorsed. Like the Old Testament prophets, she said, the suffragist should turn private spiritual experience into public action. “Aunt Susan advocated both radical personal change and radical social change,” Anthony said, and “a revolutionary tenderness toward each oppressed person—black, female, or poor.”

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As white-haired, 90-year-old Victoria Demarest, formally ordained a minister in 1949 by the now United Church of Christ and often called the “grand dame of evangelists,” shuffled to the podium and began to speak, the years seemed to fall away from her.

She animatedly regaled the convention with reminiscences of her parents, who organized the Salvation Army in Europe, and of her own revival campaigns, often in churches that had never before allowed a woman to occupy the pulpit.

The speaker for the EWC’s plenary session was black South African Christian Motlalepula Chabaku, whose name means “one who comes with the rain.” Describing herself, Chabaku said that being a single, black woman from South Africa is “quadruple jeopardy.” She deplored apartheid and white domination in South Africa, a country that “is ancestrally mine.” She said, however, that she still believes in the possibility of peaceful change—“in the ballot rather than the bullet.” She reminded American women of the sacrifices made in winning the vote and urged them not to be apathetic in exercising their right to it.

In one of the more than 50 workshops, “Language, Sex, and Gender,” linguistics Ph.D. candidate Linda Coleman described how gender, as a way of classifying objects in the world, affects one’s perception of God and reality. Some languages, such as English, divide the world into masculine, feminine, and neuter, while others, such as Algonquin, may divide it into animate and inanimate, in which God will not fall into a category of either “he” or “she,” she said.

All attenders participated in a Communion service led entirely by women. Nancy Hardesty, who holds a Ph.D. in church history from the University of Chicago Divinity School (and who, with Letha Scanzoni, coauthored All We’re Meant to Be), acted as liturgist. She adapted the liturgy largely from the new Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church. Marchiene Vroon Reinstra, ordained by the United Presbyterian Church in 1979 and founding pastor of the new Port Sheldon Presbyterian Church in Western Michigan, delivered the sermon, using individual women in the Bible as paradigms.

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And perhaps paradigms, or live “role models,” was what the EWC convention was all about. Fran DeJong, a chaplain at Central College in Pella, Iowa, and a graduate of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago more than 20 years ago, counsels couples before marriage—but must bring in a minister to marry them. Although she leads her congregation in worship every Sunday, she must bring in a minister to serve Communion. But relief was in sight: two weeks after the convention she was to become the sixteenth woman ordained by the Reformed Church in America.



J. Raymond Knighton founded MAP International almost by accident. Philadelphia pastor Donald Barnhouse had telephoned Knighton—then the head of Christian Medical Society—about unusable drugs valued at $26,000 that were going to be destroyed. Could he use them? Knighton lugged the drugs into his office, and began phoning missionaries. The drugs were soon on their way to hospitals overseas. That was the beginning; now Knighton has announced his retirement as head of the 26-year-old agency, which provides about $12 million in medical supplies overseas each year. Executive vice-president Larry Dixon, 35, will succeed Knighton as MAP president and chief executive officer.

Pop gospel singer Andraé Crouch and his 11-member band, The Disciples, are disbanding after 14 years together. Crouch and the band, who have won three Grammy Awards and were the first black gospel group to play the Grand Ole Opry, have done plenty of traveling in recent years, and Crouch explained to a reporter: “We are all sad about breaking up, but we’re all tired.” A Word Records representative said Crouch is going solo because of the expenses of transporting such a large group.

Stanley B. Long in September becomes the first full-time president of the San Francisco-based Fellowship Bible Institute. For seven years Long has been executive vice-president of Tom Skinner Associates, and is vice-president of Evangelicals for Social Action.

Jack McAlister, founder of World Literature Crusade, has retired as president; his successor is Korean-born Johnny Lee, long-time overseas director for WLC.


C. N. Hostetter, Jr., 81, an active, well-known Brethren in Christ leader who served as: president of his denomination’s Messiah College (1934–1960), chairman of the Mennonite Central Committee (1953–1968), and the first chairman of the National Association of Evangelicals’ World Relief Commission (1961–1969); June 29, in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, after a long illness.

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Albert J. duBois, 73, long-time leader of “high church” Episcopalians in the American Church Union, and editor of the organization’s magazine American Church News during his years as executive director (1950–1974); he left the denomination in opposition to its 1976 approval of women’s ordination and revised prayer book, and since had worked to reunite conservative, Anglo-Catholic Episcopalians with the Roman Catholic church; June 6, in Long Beach, California after a long illness.

Kenneth George Grubb, 79, Church of England ecumenist and missions leader who was president for 24 years of the Church Missionary Society; he began with the Anglican society in 1923 as a missionary-explorer in Brazil’s Amazon basin; in Salisbury, England.

The Consultation World Evangelization
Lausanne’s Extended Shadow Gauges Evangelism Progress

In strongly Buddhist Thailand last month, 650 invited participants from 87 countries met for the long-awaited Consultation on World Evangelization (COWE). Organizers carefully spelled out their purpose at the opening press conference: their overriding concern was evangelization, for this was part of the Lausanne Covenant. The present gathering was to be a working consultation, evaluating “where we are” in the task of reaching the world’s 3 billion non-Christians with the gospel.

The 10-day meeting sponsored by the Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization (LCWE) earlier had come under fire because of its choice of site: a first-class hotel in the holiday resort of Pattaya, some 85 miles from Bangkok and a former R&R haunt for Americans from Vietnam. Explained COWE director David Howard: the hotel could house everyone (mostly triple-occupancy rooms) under one roof, provided the necessary meeting facilities, and offered remarkably favorable prices during this off-season period.

Even more decisive, said Howard, they had consulted the Thai church, whose leaders had encouraged them to come. It would do nothing but good for the Christian testimony to the nation (46 million population, about 320,000 Christians), whose refugee problem would not have been helped by staying away, he said.

The Thai government was extremely helpful. COWE was officially opened by Sanya Dharmasakti, president of the privy council and personal representative of King Bhumidol Adulyadej. He reminded his hearers that his country’s national constitution guaranteed complete freedom of worship and religious activities. Observers remarked that not every day does a distinguished Buddhist encourage a Christian gathering to “continue the search with unflagging diligence and firm conviction for ways in which to set all of us on the path to lasting peace and eternal salvation.”

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The assembly gathered into 17 “mini-consultations,” which dealt with outreach to groups as diverse as Muslims and Chinese, Marxists and city dwellers, nominal Christians and mystics/cultists. So that members of each group could speak freely, especially those dealing with more controversial or sensitive issues, even the consultation news staff was banned from attending (the consultation as a whole was closed to the press). This was understandable, but journalists attending in other capacities, after promising to respect confidentiality, were encouraged to “feel free to visit any of them [the miniconsultations] during the 10 days.” News staffers were bewildered and frustrated that a similar promise could not have been taken from them, and there were signs toward the end that the sponsors regretted the anomaly.

COWE agreed that the Lausanne Committee be given a fresh mandate to continue its ministry; that the theological units of LCWE and the World Evangelical Fellowship be merged, while rejecting for the present a union of the two parent bodies; and that while recognizing the value of “other Christian ministries which are not directly accountable to the churches” (or parachurch agencies), “it is the local church that must provide opportunities for fellowship, worship, teaching, and service.”

Also accepted was a “Thailand Statement,” which acknowledged the need for humility in evangelization and confessed that attitudes held by Christians have sometimes marred their testimony in areas such as imperialism, religious persecution, racial pride and prejudice of all kinds, cultural insensitivity, and indifference to the plight of the needy and the powerless. The need to strengthen evangelical cooperation in worldwide evangelization was also recognized; in LCWE (and COWE) chairman Leighton Ford’s words, “We are not the whole show.”

The document nonetheless stressed that such cooperation “must never be sought at the expense of basic biblical teaching.” Spokesmen made clear that the statement in no way superseded the Lausanne Covenant, which has had significant influence throughout the world since its adoption at the LCWE initial meeting in Switzerland in 1974.

At Pattaya, a group that included Bishop David Gitari of Kenya, Orlando Costas, and Ron Sider issued “A Statement of Concerns on the Future of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization.” Signed by about one-quarter of the 875 present (225 of whom were nonvoting participants or staff), it declared that the Lausanne Committee “does not seem to have been seriously concerned with the social, political, and economic issues in many parts of the world that are a great stumbling block to the proclamation of the gospel.”

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The statement further urged that LCWE should within three years convene a world congress on evangelical social responsibility and its implications for evangelism.

The fact that the group formulating the statement had met first only two days after the consultation began emerged at a press conference. (“You didn’t give them much of a chance, did you?” suggested one newsman.)

An active women’s group at COWE lamented that their sex had provided only 9 percent of COWE’s 650 participants, none of the plenary speakers, and only three of LCWE’s 50 members. Program director Saphir Athyal, denying discrimination, indicated that women were represented in the miniconsultations where the real work was done, and that every effort had been made to encourage the different regions to send women to Pattaya. The women’s group organized a meeting during COWE attended by 34 women, of whom 11 were from the Third World.

Also meeting separately during COWE was a group of Latin Americans concerned about a COWE news release revealing that 27 Latin Americans had formed an ad hoc committee to study the creation of an evangelical association in Latin America. The news release had quoted the committee’s members as saying that the present Latin American Council of Churches (LACC) supports liberation theology—a position denied by LACC members at Pattaya. In a special session at COWE, issues dividing Latin Americans were clarified. Those concerned expressed anxiety that the issue should not reflect negatively on LCWE, since all agreed with its aims.

Notable absentees from COWE included Billy Graham, Carl Henry, Luis Palau, Francis Schaeffer, Festo Kivengere, René Padilla, Samuel Escobar, and Michael Cassidy. On medical advice Graham had reluctantly agreed not to pay two visits to Asia this year, and decided that his prior commitment was to his Japan crusades scheduled in October.

Special interest was attached to reaching Chinese. Thomas Wang of Hong Kong said the church is on the threshold of history’s greatest ingathering of Chinese to Christ, as the Chinese church is transformed into a gospel missionary vehicle.

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COWE chairman Leighton Ford expressed a similar sense of expectancy. “I believe,” said the Canadian evangelist, “that the next 10 years may bring tremendous problems … political upheavals, revolutions and persecutions, economic displacement and hardship. But in the middle of this I believe we can expect that God will also be opening all over the world doors to the gospel.”


Separation of Church and Witch

Liberian newspapers are revealing the apparent hypocrisy of the nation’s deposed leaders. As a result, in the wake of the army-led revolution, missionary radio station ELWA has asserted that the population faces a spiritual vacuum.

The new regime’s newspaper, The Redeemer, published photographs of witchcraft paraphernalia discovered in the house of the former speaker of the Liberian House of Representatives, Richard A. Henries, and added, “Yet he was known publicly as a Christian.” At the time of his execution on charges of corruption, Henries was head deacon of Liberia’s prestigious Providence Baptist Church.

Assassinated President William R. Tolbert, who had been president of the Liberia Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention, was known to consult diviners of both Islam and traditional religions. People so feared his presidential cane for its reputed black magic that the soldiers who killed him first knocked the cane from his hand.

The Liberian Express Special headlines read that former Vice-president Bennie D. Warner “calls himself a liar.” Warner, a United Methodist bishop who was attending a UMC council of bishops in Nashville, Indiana, at the time of the coup, publicly admitted he had lied about not being in neighboring Ivory Coast to set up a government in exile.

Reginald Townsend, former chairman of the ruling True Whig party, and moderator of the Presbyterian Church, was among the 13 leaders executed at the time of the coup for “crimes against the people.” The Liberian National Student Union labeled as enemies of the state such secret societies as the Masons, of which most government officials were members. Thirteen people, including several prominent leaders, were recently acquitted of ritual murder charges, but according to Africa magazine, in February last year seven people were hanged for performing human sacrifice as a ritual aimed at winning higher government positions.

The army coup was essentially a revolt led by indigenous Liberians—who have an $80-a-month average income—against the dominant and more affluent “Americo-Liberians” who are descendants of returned slaves. Marxist ideology has not played a major part, although the young soldiers have had to call on people with a wide spectrum of political ideologies to fill cabinet posts. Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe, head of state, and several other leaders have had considerable contact with evangelical groups, and favor Liberia’s Christian traditions. They declared a week of prayer following the coup.

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“The revolution has shown up not only the hypocrisy of many nominal Christians,” said an SIM official, “it has also underlined the need for a strengthening among evangelicals, so they will bear the witness in [Liberia] that God intends.”


The Baptist World Alliance
20,000 Baptist Delegates—Registered and Otherwise

For the second time in its 75-year history, the Baptist World Alliance held its international congress in Toronto. In contrast to the 5,000 who came in 1928, however, 20,000 Baptists from 85 countries and every continent descended on the Canadian city for the five-day conclave that was held during the second week of July.

In spite of outside attempts to introduce confrontation and division, the congress had the appearance of a global Baptist love-in, involving people of many races, colors, and cultural backgrounds.

One issue that could have been contentious involved the presence of representatives from the All Union Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (registered Baptists in the Soviet Union). In the week prior to the congress, Carl McIntire’s tiny core of fundamentalist International Council of Christian Churches supporters alerted members of the news media to the coming of the Russian Baptists. The city’s daily tabloid, through its news pages, columns, and editorial page, spoke darkly of the Baptists and the KGB.

In spite of that free publicity, McIntire addressed a crowd of only 200 at an evening protest meeting in a school auditorium a few blocks from Maple Leaf Gardens where more than 15,000 Baptists gathered. The Gardens congress meeting that evening concluded with a benediction from one of the Russian delegates.

The ICCC protesters distributed literature outside the arena alleging that the Russian Baptists were agents or dupes of the Soviet government.

In response to McIntire’s charge of a “high level conspiracy,” retiring BWA general secretary Robert Denny told the press: “I have been with the Alliance for 25 years and I know of no conspiracy.”

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“We are dealing with a Communist country. We have a different set of laws regarding religion. We are commanded to preach the gospel in every country regardless of political ideology. We preach and let the gospel of Jesus Christ speak for itself.”

Denny added that BWA was aware of the problem. “Communism has not changed,” he said. “Its purpose is still to take the world. But, thank God, the Christian religion has not changed either. We are still commanded to go to all people regardless of the political ideology under which they live.”

The McIntire protest fizzled. More disturbing and heart-wrenching to BWA officials and delegates was a four-day conference, “Voice of the Persecuted Church,” led by Georgi Vins, the unregistered Baptist leader released from Soviet imprisonment last year. Now secretary in exile and international representative for the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (unregistered Baptists, sometimes designated “the underground church”), Vins held his rally in a downtown Toronto hotel during the BWA congress.

Vins refused to engage in demonstration and confrontation and avoided any alliance with McIntire, who had told the press that he supported the Baptist dissident. Visitors to Vins’s conference saw a portable, homemade press smuggled out of Russia where it had printed Bibles and literature. A scale model of a Soviet concentration camp and pictures of imprisoned and executed Baptist leaders told a chilling story.

Vins charged that he had been denied permission to address the BWA congress regarding the plight of the suffering church. On the next to last day, the congress granted him registration as an official delegate and gave him press credentials. At a press conference, incoming BWA president Duke McCall shook hands with Vins. “I reach out to my brother who calls on the name of Jesus,” said McCall, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. The USSR delegates protested Vins’s registration, contending that he was no longer a Soviet citizen.

The press seized on the tensions surrounding the Russian Baptists, but the alliance maintained its solidarity. The appearance of the Russian flag and delegation at the closing rally brought spontaneous applause from the 20,000 who packed Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens.

The tensions had grabbed headlines, but what delegates would remember would be the fraternal atmosphere, rousing singing, fervent preaching, and an expanded global vision. A gigantic global Baptist family reunion on Wednesday afternoon brought together more than 20,000 on the lakefront Canadian National Exhibition grounds. Garbed in colorful national costumes, they assembled under banners designating eight regions of the world.

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Evangelist Billy Graham, who has addressed the past five BWA congresses, spoke at the closing evangelistic rally. He issued a stirring call to evangelization, reminding his fellow Baptists that evangelism had characterized their history.

The congress elected McCall its president for the coming five years; he succeeds David Y. K. Wong, a Hong Kong architect.

Other administrative changes bring two German Baptists to the BWA Washington office. Gerhard Claas of Hamburg succeeds Robert Denny as general secretary. Denny, who retires after 24 years on the BWA staff, will head up the International Baptist Seminary in Switzerland. Reinhold Kersten, editor of the Baptist Herald, the North American Baptist Conference denominational publication, was named BWA director of communications, succeeding Cyril E. Bryant, who becomes administrative aide to the general secretary.

The alliance now has 119 member bodies in 85 nations and dependencies, including conventions from Angola, India, Indonesia, and Thailand, which were received at the 1980 congress. The BWA estimates that it represents about 87 percent of the world’s Baptists.


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