The five intense days of Urbana 79, sandwiched between Christmas and New Year’s Day, looked and felt much like Urbana 76 and eight previous Inter-Varsity Student Missions Conventions on the University of Illinois Urbana campus.
There were the flawlessly synchronized logistics: registering 16,500 participants in Huff Gym; housing and feeding them in 23 residence halls, 33 fraternity and sorority houses, and six inns and motels; transporting them with a fleet of 61 buses.
There was the enormity of it: the covered-bowl of the Assembly Hall filled to the brim, the 2,000-voice volunteer choir, the distribution of Communion by 450 servers reverently moving with the precision of a marching band at half time ceremonies, the nearly 2,000 small-group Bible studies, the 160 mission exhibits in the cavernous Armory, the offering and pledges in excess of a half million dollars for student movements overseas.
There was the program format, its elements tested over successive Urbana conventions and fine-tuned by David Howard, director of the last two conventions. John Stott presenting the biblical foundation for evangelization; Elisabeth Elliot dealing with witness; Isabelo Magalit of the Philippines gently telling North Americans how they must adjust for effectiveness in the Third World; Billy Graham calling for a commitment; the professional, contemporary, multi-media presentations.
But the surface similarity of this Urbana to its predecessors was deceptive. The missions department of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship is at the threshold of extensive change, and even Urbana will be affected.
Most staffers agree that the highly visible Urbana missions bash every third year masked the fact that on a sustained, year around basis, missions had become the weak leg of the IVCF tripod of evangelism, discipleship, and missions. Staffers were not equipped to sustain missions involvement between conventions. Deeply involved in evangelism and discipleship efforts, they felt defensive or even guilty about the missions sag.
Then, too, the ICVF movement in the United States is a generation old (and older in Canada). Although well administered, it was becoming set in its ways.
Thus, in 1977 when Reuben Brooks resigned as missions director and David Howard resigned as convention director (in order to direct the Lausanne Committee-sponsored Consultation on World Evangelization in Thailand this June), the IVCF leadership knew it wanted someone to shake up the missions department.
They found their man in John E. Kyle. A late bloomer for missions, Kyle left a position in Safeway Stores at age 30, attended Columbia Theological Seminary, and entered a Presbyterian pastorate. At 33, the big-boned, sandy-haired Scot and his wife, influenced by Bob Pierce, applied to his denomination (the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.) for missionary service. They were rejected as too old.
Kyle joined Wycliffe Bible Translators instead in 1964, establishing its headquarters for the Philippines. Through community service there he gained skills in diplomatic relations. President Ferdinand Marcos conferred upon Kyle the Presidential Merit Medal for outstanding service to Philippine minority groups.
When the Presbyterian Church in America formed in 1973 by the separation of conservatives from the PCUS, Kyle was approached to form and head its mission board, now known as Mission to the World. He accepted on condition that the fledgling denomination set up partnership arrangements with existing missions rather than organize along conventional denominational society lines. The PCA agreed to his terms, and in just four years (1973–1977) Kyle placed 100 missionaries from the denomination in 23 nations.
The restless Kyle had left the PCA in 1977 and returned to Wycliffe when he was approached by IVCF; he had spurned an earlier approach while serving in the PCA.
Once again Kyle spelled out his terms. Testing IVCF’s scope for change, he laid out some 100 innovative steps that might be taken. After receiving positive assurances of receptivity to most of them, he carried some 20 remaining items on his list to IVCF director John W. Alexander for advance top-level assurances. Then he accepted the job, beginning in September 1978.
Kyle says, “I insisted on facing up to the numbers.” He was referring to the numbers of students turned away because they exceeded the Urbana capacity: an Assembly Hall maximum seating capacity of 17,300.
Registrations for Urbana 76 were closed on December 10. This year registrations were closed October 26. Three thousand registrations were returned, and it is assumed that perhaps three times as many registrations would have been sent had word of the closing not become known.
A proposal to split the convention into two or more regional gatherings was considered and rejected. Instead, the decision was made to decrease the period between Urbana conventions from three years to two, with the next convention scheduled for 1981.
Kyle also moved immediately to prop up the between-Urbanas sag.
IVCF regional staffers had already initiated the process, calling for preparatory study materials to be used in campus chapters in advance of the convention. A mission reader, edited by James Berney and including studies in Romans (from which Stott would teach at Urbana), was sent to each registrant.
Kyle revamped the world evangelization decision card, used near the conclusion of each convention. He added to the two decision options 10 follow-through action commitments, from which each signer was to select no more than 3. The options:
• Pray daily for specific mission concerns.
• Read one or more books about world missions.
• Begin a systematic study about world missions.
• Join a missions study or action group.
• Subscribe to a missions periodical or bulletin.
• Develop a friendship with an international student.
• Begin to support financially and prayerfully a missionary or national worker.
• Make plans to participate in a summer mission program.
• Begin corresponding with one or more mission agencies about service opportunities.
• Seek further training for preparation to become a missionary.
The card also asks if the decision may be shared with the student’s pastor.
The most far-reaching innovations are in Urbana follow-up, coordinated with mission agencies and in some cases with local churches.
More than 100 “Urbana Onward” weekend mini conferences are scheduled near campuses across the United States next month. Urbana 79 attenders, plus those whose registrations were returned, are to participate. The activities include reviewing their decision cards. The goal is to have one missionary present for each 15 students, involving an estimated 500 missionaries.
“Urbana Onward” evolved bearing Kyle’s stamp. “My style,” he says, “is openness and cooperation.” He began by persuading evangelical missions executives to come to Chicago for two days of consultations last April. Kyle asked them how IVCF could help them better reach students. The boards asked for more access to the campus groups. The “Urbana Onward” concept was roughed out on the spot, with the missions agreeing to cover their own travel costs, and IVCF to care for missionary hospitality. Plans were finalized at a September 15 meeting.
Then, immediately following Urbana 79, some 100 missions personnel met for three days with the entire IVCF staff to preview the program, breaking up into regional clusters to plot coordination of the area mini conferences.
Kyle’s stance for linking Urbana decisions with sending agencies is winning plaudits from the agencies.
Kyle overflows with more ambitious plans. For starters he is challenging mission boards to lend expert personnel for two-year periods to coordinate the missionary presence on the campuses in each of the 10 IVCF regions. He envisions these leaders orchestrating the efforts of a corps of furloughing missionaries, who would be assigned to secular campuses as missionaries in residence.
Kyle says that the Urbana conventions have been honed and polished and that he has no intention of tampering with their basic format. “Why fool with success?” he asks.
But he also believes Christians are on the verge of seeing “another Student Volunteer Movement.” His prediction may be on target. In immediate Urbana 79 response, about 1,800 or 12 percent of the student participants indicated that they believed it was God’s will for them to serve abroad. Another 4,400 or 30 percent said that they would actively seek to increase their involvement in world missions. Mailed-in decision cards will up the tally.
But tapping such a surge will require establishing a broad range of programs besides the spectacular conventions. John Kyle looks like the man for the assignment.
The Iran Crisis
The Ayatollah and the Clerics
The Iranian crisis involved religion as much as politics last month as two groups of American clergymen visited Iran. Other clergy, like most Americans, voiced opinions regarding what to do about the American hostages in the U.S. embassy in Teheran.
Three clergymen held Christmas services for the hostages at the invitation of the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini: controversial activist William Sloane Coffin, senior pastor of Riverside Church in New York City; William Howard, president of the National Council of Churches; and Thomas Gumbleton, an auxiliary Catholic bishop from Detroit. Observers speculated these clergymen were selected as being more sympathetic to the Khomeini position. Coffin, for instance, had denounced the deposed Shah, criticized a hard-line U.S. stand, and said in remarks prior to his departure that the Iranian student captors were “not being all that unreasonable.”
A more conservative group had an hour-long audience with Khomeini late Christmas day. Jimmy Allen, past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, led a group of four clergymen and two Iranian scholars. They warned Khomeini that increased tensions had placed the two nations on a collision course threatening violence and war. The group also emphasized similarities between the Christian and Islamic faiths, including the worship of a God of mercy and freedom.
Allen is a close friend of President Jimmy Carter, a fellow Southern Baptist, but the White House denied any involvement in the trip. The group traveled at the invitation of the Iranian ambassador in Washington, D.C., who was perhaps not ignorant of Allen’s potential presidential influence.
Some clergymen recommended prayer—for Khomeini, the hostages, tolerance, and a peaceful solution. Others urged more of a hard-line approach. Nationally known pastor Jess Moody of the 8,400-member First Baptist Church of Van Nuys, California, blasted the Iranians in his church newsletter: “They [Iranians] know no more about decency than a pig does about Sunday. The Iranian mentality could drive St. Francis of Assissi to Valium.” (He mentioned later that “Jesus Christ makes men loving and considerate.”)
From Somoza to Sandinists
Church Also Is Transformed by Nicaragua’s Revolution
The following is based on reports by aCHRISTIANITY TODAYcorrespondent who visited Nicaragua.
A shift in the activities and theology of Nicaragua’s churches has been one surprising outcome of the bloody revolution in that country.
Before the revolution the Roman Catholic church was highly critical of the Anastasio Somoza dictatorship (some of its priests were involved in the insurrection). But the Catholic church has been slow to endorse wholeheartedly the new Sandinist government.
The Nicaraguan evangelicals, on the other hand, were split in their pre-revolution attitudes toward the Sandinistas. But now that Somoza has fallen, their commitment to the new government appears more enthusiastic than that of the Catholics.
Aware of the important roles the church would play in the future of Nicaragua, Jesuit priest Fernando Cardenal, who is assistant interior minister, commented last September, “If the church in Nicaragua takes the part of the poor and dispossessed as the revolution does, there will be no friction, as both are seeking the same goals. But if the church sides with the powerful, I believe there will be serious conflicts.”
The evangelical church has for several years been rethinking its posture toward the government—developing an appetite for sociopolitical matters in the process. CEPAD (Evangelical Committee for Development), a Nicaraguan agency founded after the 1972 earthquake, has filled the principal role in this process. CEPAD counts 36 denominations among its members, representing 96 percent of the nation’s 250,000 evangelicals.
In November 1976, CEPAD organized a meeting of 50 leading evangelicals, who drafted a document reflecting the state of the evangelical church as it emerged from “missionary colonialism” and made strides toward indigenization. The bulk of the document stressed the need for a united campaign to overcome the country’s sociopolitical problems.
Today, armed Sandinist troops patrol the streets. In an effort to collect evidence, the official Sandinist newspaper currently publishes entire pages of photos of former national guardsmen and supposed Somoza supporters, inviting people to formulate charges against them. More than 7,000 of these political prisoners will be tried soon in nine special tribunals. Judging from the published photos, many will be under 20 years of age.
Last September a local CEPAD committee sent a congratulatory letter to the government expressing the evangelical churches’ support for the regime. The committee suggested, however, that vengeance on the revolution’s enemies should be left in God’s hands.
Many pastors are uncertain about the future of their nation. It is estimated that 40 pastors have left Nicaragua, with others hoping to leave soon. Only a handful of foreign missionaries remains in the country. The government is limiting the presence of Americans, although Europeans and Latin Americans enjoy fairly easy access. Hundreds of Cubans have flown in for a literacy campaign scheduled to begin in March, and their number will swell to more than 2,000. Some of these Cubans are teaching atheism in the schools.
Meanwhile, it is risky to criticize the government or the Sandinistas. A Pentecostal pastor in Tipitapa, a city some miles east of Managua, was arrested in November during a church service and taken away by uniformed guards. Locals conjectured that he had spoken against the revolution.
In October, 500 pastors and evangelical leaders met at CEPAD’s invitation to consider the church’s role in a socialist society. Pastors at the conference reflected three attitudes toward the Sandinist revolution: some had been actively involved politically and militarily; some had a passive involvement through prayer, moral encouragement, and aid programs; while others had avoided becoming involved. Pastors’ noninvolvement today might lead to charges against them of being counterrevolutionary or pro-Somoza.
In a two-page declaration, these men congratulated and recognized the new Sandinist government as the legitimate authority of the nation. They promised to cooperate in the government’s plans as well as to encourage the churches to become actively involved in neighborhood Sandinist Defense Committees, in literacy programs, health programs, and “liberating educational processes” that will form a social and revolutionary conscience.
Pastors hope that by cooperating in government programs they can promote a moderate attitude in the nation, thereby preventing a sharp turn to the left similar to that occurring soon after Castro’s revolution in Cuba. CEPAD is sponsoring visits to Nicaragua by Cuban pastors.
Apprehensive that their liberties may be limited, many churches are engaged in or planning evangelistic crusades. No restrictions have been placed on public evangelistic activities to date, however.
Government literacy programs, pronouncements by mass media, and public teaching are aimed at producing a “new man” for the country, with a renovated conscience. Nicaraguan evangelicals have seized this opportunity to write tracts and preach that, while education can redirect men’s thinking, only Christ can change their desires.
The pair downed over Cuba with a planeload of Jesus to the Communist World literature last May (Sept. 7 issue, p. 75) are serving 24-year jail terms, according to a recently freed Cuban political prisoner, Emilio J. Rivero. A U.S. State Department spokesman confirmed that Tom White and Melvin Bailey each were given a 4-year term for violating Cuban airspace and a 20-year term for “crimes against the integrity and stability of the nation, distributing counter-revolutionary propaganda.”
French rebel Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre has once again defied the Vatican. Under suspension since 1976, Lefebvre ordained deacons on Christmas Eve at his unauthorized seminary in Econe, Switzerland, using traditionalist rites. It had been speculated that as a result of a meeting with Pope John Paul II earlier last year, he might refrain.
The All-Union Congress of the Union of Evangelical Christians and Baptists met last month in Moscow. Since their last congress five years ago, these registered churches have baptized 35,000 new members, opened 200 new churches, and distributed more than 120,000 published items. Each congress elects the union’s 25-member council, which in turn elects its own 10-member presidium. This congress also considered extensive changes in the union’s constitution.
The KGB has aimed a decisive blow at Russian Orthodox activists in the Soviet Union—while Western attention has been diverted to the Iranian crisis. All but a few leaders of the Christian Seminar on Problems of Religious Renaissance have been imprisoned. The seminar, begun five years ago by young Orthodox intellectuals, has been forced to suspend its activities, at least for now. The latest of its few remaining leaders, Lev Regelson, was arrested on December 24 after undergoing preliminary interrogation.
Ghana’s three major Protestant denominations have agreed to merge into a united church next year. The Presbyterians, Methodists, and Evangelical Presbyterians have been negotiating the union for the past 20 years. Membership of the new Church of Christ in Ghana will embrace a quarter of the country’s population of 10.5 million.
Israel’s Interior Ministry has extended the temporary residence visa of American Messianic Jew Eileen Dorflinger for another year, rather than face a wrenching court case over the disputed issue of who is a Jew. The Israeli Supreme Court last March rejected the Dorflinger application for automatic citizenship as a Jew because she had been baptized in a Christian church in Connecticut. (The 1950 Law of Return guarantees automatic citizenship to anyone “born to a Jewish mother or converted to Judaism, and who does not adhere to another religion.”) The extension will allow Miss Dorflinger enough residence time to qualify for Israeli citizenship by naturalization.
Pakistani Christians, apprehensive after a rash of violence to missionaries and churches that was connected with the burning of the United States embassy, have been reassured by their president. Speaking at a Christmas observance at Rawalpindi Medical College last month, General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq said that minorities in Pakistan enjoy equal rights and will share equal opportunity in every sphere.
Southeast Asians have sometimes been accused of indifference to tragic suffering in their own region. Not so in Singapore. There more than 2,000 high school students collected 103,600 cans of food in November for Vietnamese refugees, local orphans, handicapped, and the elderly. The Youth for Christ-sponsored “Agape Day” was conducted during a tropical downpour, soaking the labels off most of the canned goods.
Reports that Cambodian officials deliberately withheld distribution of relief supplies appear overdrawn, according to several relief agency officials. Much of the problem, they say, is an incredible lack of trucks plus poor roads with weak bridges. The result has been that supplies already provided have exceeded dock and distribution capacity. They say the pileup now is being eased; thousands of oxcarts are hauling grain and more trucks are becoming available. Enough relief supplies have reached the people to stave off widespread starvation in many areas.
China’s Catholic National Patriotic Association—regarded as official by the government but deviant by the Vatican—went ahead and consecrated the bishop for Peking whom parishioners elected last July. The post had remained vacant for 15 years. Last month’s consecration for Bishop Michael Fu Tieshan was delayed during months of fitful negotiation with the Vatican, which insists that bishops must be named through its hierarchy.
HERBERT BELL SHAW, 72, presiding bishop of the predominately black African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church; he held World Council of Churches and World Methodist Council leadership posts, and was instrumental in establishing AME Zion conferences in London and the Caribbean; January 3, of a heart attack in Indianapolis during his church’s national board of bishops meeting.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more