CT: What expectations did you have coming here and were they fulfilled?EA: I prayed I would have three really good contacts with people who would be important for my ministry. What goes on in the conference room is important but it’s the contacts and the people in the coffee queue that you accidentally meet that can be the most advantageous and strategic and God more than answered that prayer and I’m excited by that.
I did expect there would be more discussion because we were told it would be a working congress. And there’s been a lot more upfront presentation than I expected. A lot of the presentations have been challenging, encouraging and exciting but as a mission leader and mission thinker there wasn’t enough time to think ‘ok, what do we do with this?’. There was a little bit of tension between what one person said and what another person said and so for me it was ‘how do we work that out?’
CT: The UK delegates were spread out over many different tables. You had a meeting at the start and one at the end of the Congress. Did you find that useful?
EA: I found it really helpful to have these meetings – I could actually see who’s here! Because with 4,500 people, you don’t always see everyone and I’m short! It was good to hear some of the similar concerns that we share and although we didn’t spend long, we did pray together solidly because I do think that time in prayer is something that has been missing in the congress.
CT: How do you feel going back to the UK?
EA: One of the things that have come through the Congress is the way we have to work harder to involve people who are not like that. British churches are for the main part white middle class and that’s not what Britain is like. The British church needs to be much more reflective of British society. That was quite a strong pull. We all felt that here.
CT: Did Chris Wright’s call for integrity resonate with you?EA: Yes. As a mission leader who is responsible for fundraising and publicity. It is so easy and so tempting to make the stories always that little bit better so that they will tug at the heart strings. And something I’ve been working on is trying hard to make sure that absolutely everything is honest and straightforward and that we give God the glory and not ourselves. Chris Wright hammered that home again. We have to have integrity and if that means saying we failed or we tried something and it didn’t work then we’ve got to say that and we shouldn’t be ashamed.
Especially in the whole area of fundraising. You do want to tell a good story but we have to be honest and if we don’t get the donor we don’t get the donor.
CT: What’s your hope for evangelicalism now in the UK? We know about the challenges but where is the hope? EA: I don’t know if I have anything specific that comes out of here yet. I don’t think we will know the impact of this for perhaps a year or two years. But I think the fact that we did have a significant number of people who were younger than me is a good sign and I met some good thinkers, some people who are committed to a lifestyle and world evangelism and that is really encouraging.
CT: We hear earlier in the week that Scripture translation is the number one priority for the world today. EA: Yes if the British church could get hold of the idea that would be great. Because he’s wrong. Scripture translation isn’t the number one priority of the British church - but it should be. At Wycliffe we’re doing loads with the British church to get a vision of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. We’ve had the Bible for 400 years and there are still one billion people around the world who don’t have the Bible yet. We have the capacity within this generation to change that and there is no reason why any people groups shouldn’t have at least a large chunk of the Bible within the next few years.
CT: Doug Birdsall said the congress had given evangelicals a new confidence.
EA: There’s only four and a half thousand people here so I think we have be careful about what we say comes out of a conference like this. More people than that probably go to church in Watford on a Sunday. In world terms, we are not that many and for all of the global conversation there are still many people this is not touching. There’s billions of people who identify themselves as Christians in the world so before this can filter out and have an impact it will take time and there’s nothing wrong with that.
CT: What are your thoughts on the Cape Town Commitment? EA: I like it and I’m very encouraged by the section on the environment which is one issue that I think we didn’t talk enough about here. It is the people who live on the marginal lands who are the ones most threatened by climate change and so to see that highlighted, I was pleased about it.
It is part of the creation mandate and what Christ achieved on the cross. But the people we work with, the minority language groups, are the ones who are most threatened. They live on the flood plains, the lands most affected by desertification. Those are the people we most care for.
But generally I think the statement was a good piece of work. It’s a reflection of the fact that the Gospel is reconciling all things in heaven and earth - man to God and man to man and reconciling the environment.
Eddie Arthur on the outcomes of the Congress
Eddie Arthur is head of Wycliffe Bible Translations in the UK. We spoke to him at Cape Town 2010 to find out what he thought about the Congress and what it means for the world’s evangelicals.
Published 25 October 2010