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GCOWE ’97 – the Global Consultation on World Evangelization – held in Pretoria during the week June 30 – July 5 was one of the most exciting and momentous gatherings of Church leaders this century. Largely unnoticed by the world media, the decisions of this conference are set to powerfullyimpact our world and to change the course of history for many nations. George Verwer of Operation Mobilization believes that GCOWE ’97 was a “spiritual atomic bomb” and that the “fallout” will have far-reaching effects.

Unlike many conferences of the past, GCOWE ’97 was not just a gathering of Church leaders to “talk”. It was not even just a motivational session, inspiring believers to action and leaving that inspiration to find its own expression or be lost because of the “cares and worries of this world” back home.

This was a very serious conference as some 4 000 Church leaders from 135 nations of the world gathered with one purpose and one heart to work on strategy to finish the “unfinished task” of world evangelization. Mission groups, church groups and ministries dedicated themselves to working together, pooling resources, information, people, finance and whatever else it will take to reach the unreached nations of the world. One purpose and one goal permeated the Conference … a church for every people and the gospel for every person by the year 2000.

A Pastor and his family from a restricted country, the Queen Mother of Lesotho, popular gospel singer Pam Thum, evangelists and ministers and Christian leaders from all walks of life came to receive direction from the Lord for the task that lies ahead. Differences in culture, denominational backgrounds, viewpoints and traditions faded into insignificance as the delegates concentrated together on their stated goal and purpose. Nothing was allowed to detract from that focus and the Presence of the Lord was very powerfully in evidence.

“We have never had a conference like this on the continent of Africa before and, in all probability, never will again”, said Willie Crew of the World Mission Centre in Pretoria, the host organization for GCOWE ’97. “Many African churches have experienced a missions awakening and Africa stands poised to become a blessing to the nations. GCOWE ’97 is the first conference of its kind on African soil, bringing together people from 135 nations of the world to focus on world evangelization”.

Perhaps one of the outstanding features of this Conference was the quality of so many of the men and women of God in attendance. These were powerful Spirit-filled servants of God, dedicated to the extension of His Kingdom, many of them from countries that are hostile to the gospel. Far from the weak, ineffective, barely existing body painted by the world media, it was very evident at GCOWE ’97 that the Church of Jesus Christ is alive and well on Planet Earth.

Various groups had been working very hard to collate information for the strategic planning on the GCOWE agenda. The AD2000 & Beyond Movement, the Joshua Project 2000 and other groups dedicated to creating missions awareness and involvement in every nation by the year 2000, freely shared their research and information. Willie Crew, Lazarus Selahle from Mamelodi and Luis Bush from Argentina formed the overall consultation leadership.

Delegates were informed that there are at least 1 739 “least-reached” people groups in the world. Of these, 579 have no known church-planting team or Christian witness in their midst, and 297 of these unevangelized people groups live in Africa. The vast majority, comprising the poorest of the poor physically and spiritually live within an area know as the 10/40 window, stretching from West Africa to East Asia and comprising near two-thirds of the world’s population. These nearly 3,9 billion people represent an astonishing 97 percent of the world’s least evangelized nations. This is where the main focus of the conference fell.

An impossible task?

The GCOWE conference acknowledged the enormity of the task, but believed that God was more than equal to it and they set about planning their strategy very carefully in strong dependence on the Lord for direction and guidance.

One of the main features of this conference was the accent on prayer. It was recognised that only God could bring such a vast task to fulfilment and empower His people to do His Will. More than 200 000 Christians across South Africa prayed specifically for this Conference. Millions more prayed globally. During the Conference itself 500 intercessors prayed around the clock, 24 hours a day in three-hour time slots.

The Conference opened on Monday, June 30, at the Hatfield Christian Church in Pretoria and the ministry and fellowship were outstanding. For the next three days participants were divided into 10 parallel consultations, meeting in different church venues around Pretoria to strategize in specific areas of ministry. They worked hard from early morning until late evening. Friday, July 4, saw all the delegates together again in the Hatfield Church for the report-back as the various consultations shared what they were going to be doing and how they were going to accomplish their God-given goals under the direction of the Spirit of God.

By the end of this Conference, every unreached people group had been targeted. Pastors agreed to visit their adopted group, to raise up intercessors in their churches to pray earnestly, to visit on fact-finding tours and to send church-planting teams into these areas. Some have already begun to do this and their churches are coming alive as members get involved in this great task of world evangelization in practical ways. One Pastor wept openly in repentance before the Lord as he confessed to having shut his people off from involvement in missions and having robbed them of the greatest fulfilment of all … the winning of the unreached for Christ.

Few will forget the tremendous spirit of repentance and reconciliation among the delegates. Pastors confessed their reluctance to work with mission executives because they felt they were losing their best people and resources … and getting them back broken afterwards. Mission executives confessed their grief at often having tried to do the task without the local church’s involvement, while using their resources and people.

Business people asked the Lord for forgiveness for their attitudes of irritation when ministry leaders asked them for money. Leaders confessed to “using” business people at times, instead of involving them in the work of evangelization. Men and women of God agreed before the Lord to work together in an effort to complete the task by the year 2000. This was a very important conference for the Church of Jesus Christ and, although only a small percentage of Christian leaders were in attendance, its challenge will reach the entire body of Christ.

God is busy with something big in the world and it seemed evident to all that the Lord is doing a “quick” work in these last days. Jesus said that “this gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14) and it is happening in our generation!

This conference was not a deliberate attempt to fulfil that prophecy by any means, but in the Church fulfilling its calling from the Lord, this prophecy is being fulfilled. The Coming of the Lord is much closer that we can realize. Now is the time for every believer to become actively involved in what God is doing … and what He is calling His church to do.

The “March for the Nations” on Saturday, July 5, concluded the Conference as thousands of believers from 135 nations of the world, together with the church in South Africa, marched in the streets of Pretoria, joyfully declaring that our God is concerned with all the nations of the world and that we share His concern for those who do not know Him as Saviour.

It was a special moment of triumph for Pastor Ed Roebert of the Hatfield Christian Church. Pastor Ed stepped out of his car to join the March … and marched right into the Presence of His Lord. Christians around the world share the pain of his sudden departure, together with his family and church, but we also share the joy of Heaven as one of God’s choice servants transfers to Higher Service.

Since Jesus commissioned His followers almost 2 000 years ago to make disciples among all nations, Christians have succeeded in starting church planting movements in about 10 000 of the 12 000 identified ethno-linguistic groups of the world. GCOWE ’97 set goals to reach the 1 739 “priority” unreached people groups (which contain more than 10 000 people each). This may well be the largest co-operative global missions plan ever undertaken and only Eternity will reveal the results.

“A church for every people and the gospel for every person by AD2000”. Can it be done? It will take the whole Body of Christ to get the gospel to all people and to influence our Global Village for God is the message of GCOWE ’97. Every Christian can and must become involved.

The place – a large, white tent, erected outside the Dutch Reformed Church at Centurion, Pretoria.

The occasion – GCOWE ’97 (Global Consultation on World Evangelization). The weather – a cold, sunny, still winter’s day.

Inside the tent – 100 South African children enjoying a 5-day programme in support of the Children’s Ministry Consultation.

What happened? The Children’s Prayer Network team from Australia was asked to lead a one-hour session on prayer. The team, led by my daughter Ellen (17), took the children through basic steps in preparation for prayer and intercession. Towards the end of the hour some of the children were sharing at the microphone some of the things they had “received” whilst waiting on God. One young lady was sobbing, a few others were tearful – it seems that crime in South Africa was the “burden”. (I just happened to “drop in” to the tent at this time, with a group of adult intercessors).

When the sharing time ceased, Ellen suggested the children pray, on their knees, Korean-style (all at once) for their country. They began; Ellen egged them on. Only seconds had passed when the tent began to shake, a mighty gust of wind blew in the tent, dust flew! I had dreamt of this!!! … waiting to see it happen in my own prayer meetings back in Australia!! I took over, with excitement, and encouraged the children to pray harder and pray they did, and then weep they did – not just one or two now but many, many of them. The wind stopped – it didn’t last long, I don’t even know how long. The children now gathered in small, weeping clusters. What a wonderful work they were doing! Only God knows the true value of the weight of their tears, as He collected them and used them for His purposes. Praise God!!

P.S. Afterwards one little girl came to one of the team and said that when the wind was blowing, she looked outside the tent and not even the trees were moving!