This week I had a group of graduate students doing research in our Billy Graham Center Archives. One student, Sean, an area director for Young Life in Arizona, wanted to look at the “roots” of his organization. He found some letters written by the founder of Young Life, Jim Rayburn. Sean nearly wept as he discovered in Rayburn’s script from the early 1940s the same passion that burns in Sean today to reach kids who don’t know Christ. He also discovered that in 1943 a young Jim Rayburn flew to Chicago from Texas to speak at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, USA. He was picked up at the airport by a student named Billy Graham. And so it goes.
We know that Jim Rayburn asked Dawson Trotman, founder of The Navigators, to help figure out a way to disciple teens coming to faith. We know that Graham asked Trotman for the same help in his early crusade days. Graham then heard of some great property in Colorado in which to build a conference center. After praying over the idea, he instead asked Trotman if his little organization couldn’t make better use of it. Thus you have the linking of Young Life, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Organization, and The Navigators.
But more, we have a thread of a story of young, trusting evangelism leaders who, through relationships, aided each other in doing more for God’s kingdom than any could’ve imagined. This is just one example. David Howard, one of that era’s finest leaders, has written about that time as a “golden age” of mission and evangelism. The participants were legion. To be sure, the younger ones had older mentors to guide them. There was Dr. V. Raymond Edman, president of Wheaton College; Torrey Johnson and Evan Hedley of Youth for Christ; Henrietta Mears of Hollywood Presbyterian and Forest Home; and many more. My point is that a group of young and not-so-young men and women, sold out for God, believed the Father wanted to do something significant in their era. And he did.
Seventy Years Later Evangelism Fire Stills Burns Deeply
Fast forward nearly seventy years. Recently, I was on a conference call with over twenty leaders of some of the finest Christ-honoring and serving organizations in America and the world. They represented churches, colleges, para-organizations, and the marketplace. Most of us were quite a bit older than Rayburn, Graham, and Trotman in the 1940s—although several did fit the younger leader category with wonderful gifts and godliness. Together, we were offering our counsel and the resources of our organizations to kingdom causes larger than any of our organizations.
Here’s what is happening. We are praying for God to do something grand in his world in the next decade of 2010-2020. We are praying and believing together for the evangelization of the world in our generation. In this regard, we follow in the footsteps of the “golden age of the 1940s” and further back to the turn of the twentieth century and the student volunteer movement with names like John Mott and Robert Spears.
But now, an added dimension is at hand. Geography is eliminated. Affordable and high-speed travel and digital communication mean that our group of twenty in the U.S. can join with Christian leaders around the world to pray and dream together for the evangelization of the world. New names join the calls now, names like Ramez from Egypt, Esme from South Africa, Bishop Yua from Malaysia, and Joy from the Philippines. There is Sunil from India and Roberto from Brazil, and on and on it goes. It is God’s global Church and it is beautiful. It is especially beautiful when it comes together to reach more than four billion souls who do not yet have the saving life of Jesus in them.
In 2010 much of the global evangelical Church will gather under the banner of Lausanne. The vision is to be “a worldwide movement that mobilizes evangelical leaders to collaborate for world evangelization.” National meetings will take place in many countries. In the U.S., five hundred or more will gather in Dallas in January 2010 to meet, pray, and seek collaboration. In October 2010, four thousand participants from nearly two hundred nations will gather in Cape Town, South Africa, for a Global Congress. Many thousands more will be meeting during the same days in classrooms, churches, living rooms, and in front of computer screens as content from Cape Town is broadcast throughout the world. And that is but the beginning. 2010 is the launch, but only the launch. We are praying and devoting ourselves to the world in this decade. Please pray, give, and devote yourself to reaching your neighborhood, village, and town. By faith, and with hope, we dare to believe that this could be the start of something big.