"After these things I looked and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, 'Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.'" - Revelation 7:9-10
We have just concluded the Sixth World Conference of Friends, held at Kabarak University in Nakuru, Kenya. Such gatherings of the world family of Friends are held only once in every 20 years so it was a great privilege for Duncan Malova and I to have a ring-side seat at this extraordinary event. It lasted about nine days but it seems a lifetime, or many lifetimes. This is because we met many people from all over the world who shared with us something of their lives, experiences and witness for the Lord. We look forward to sharing with you soon, in more detail and in person, many of the things we learned from this amazing sampling of people from many nations, tribes, peoples and tongues. This little article is just a small sample of what I experienced but I hope it will be of some encouragement to you.
As we met together day by day, in small or large gatherings I did feel as though I were having the experience of the Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos when he was given a sight of the great multitude that would be gathered from all nations to the Lord. Friends constitute but a very small part of those who profess Christ throughout the world and yet they are becoming more and more a fair representation of what is happening in the whole the body of Christ. In a word, the Church, Christ's body on earth, is growing! It is growing in numbers and in maturity. I attended the last world conference twenty years ago in Chavakali, Kenya, so it gave me the opportunity to compare over almost a generation of change. Friends, the change is most encouraging, the trend is upward, not downward.
I was amazed at all of the new places that now have functioning, even thriving, churches and ministries that were either not existent or barely begun twenty years ago. Back then, the Rwandan field, for Friends, was but five years old. Just three years later, in 1994, it went through its baptism by fire when the genocide took place in which some 900,000 men, women and children were mercilessly slaughtered over a nine month period. While Friends there were but a small group, it was noted that they did not participate in the carnage even though they had people who would have otherwise been engaged or complicit in it, due to their tribal identity. Afterward, many people began coming into their meetings and becoming Friends because of their witness, not only at the time of the disaster but afterward through efforts to help the victims and to bring about healing and reconciliation between people on both sides. The Rwandan delegation, despite the small size of their country, sent one of the larger delegations. They bore a wonderful testimony to God's saving, redeeming and reconciling power!
I was thrilled also to see three representatives of the Nepalese Friends yearly meeting, one of whom told me that he had met our son and daughter-in-law, Mark and Julie, while they were in Nepal. Again, twenty years ago, the outreach to Nepal was barely beginning. Now there is a large and growing body of believers who bear the name of Friends. This was the first world conference to which they sent representatives.
There were many others for whom this conference was their first to send representatives. One of these was from the country of Myanmar, what we used to call Burma. Lal represents but a single church that has only very recently come into the Friends family. He was a pastor who went to the Philippines to study in a theological school. One of his teachers was Jaime Tabingo, who has helped the Phillippines Friends Church grow by leaps and bounds over the last couple of decades. Lal was deeply impressed by Jaime as a person and his explanation of the distinctive witness of Friends. Lal went back to Myanmar and explained these things to his church which then was not affiliated with any other group. Lal's group belongs to the Ch'in people, a formerly animistic group that converted to Christianity several generations ago. Now they are laying plans to reach out to the majority Buddhist Burmese population, an historically resistant people group. Please hold them and these efforts in your prayers. Myanmar is currently undergoing an opening up of their country to the outside world after many years of isolation.
I must draw this article to a close now but I could share dozens of other examples of new peoples who are coming to Christ and coming into a greatly expanding and maturing Friends Church worldwide. On six continents we are moving forward under the leading and love of our Lord Jesus Christ! By the way, we learned what the Maori name for Friends is. The Maori are the native people of New Zealand. Translated into English, the word means: "The people who are shaking in the wind of the Spirit." I really like that! In the power of God's Spirit we are not only being shaken but are being used to shake the whole world out of its slumber of death into the life of God's glorious love!