The first International Researchers' Conference (1987) was held in Holland, the second (1996) in the U.K., the third (2001) in Thailand, the fourth (2005) in Cyprus, the fifth (2008) in Australia, and now the sixth (2011) has been held in Brazil. We are already making plans for the seventh in 2014!
The conference was held in Atibaia, a town just outside São Paulo, the fifth largest city in the world (with nineteen million people) in the fifth largest country. More than fifty participants were registered. Twenty different nationalities were present. Eighteen papers were presented and two keynote addresses were given.
Bertil Ekstrom, general secretary of the Missions Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance, gave a majestic opening keynote address on “Mission in the Second Decade in the Third Millennium,” noting that missions is changing with a fast-changing world, taking his definition of missions from Chris Wright’s work on the primacy of redemption. He focussed on two key elements—contextualisation and risk-taking—which he rephrased as incarnation and obedience. “What this sorry world needs today is life, welfare, and non-violence,” he said, focussing on the prophet Jonah who would not take a risk. “Mission is not just one aspect of the management of the Kingdom of God,” he insisted. “It is the Kingdom of God.”
Todd Johnson gave the second keynote address, outlining some of the major features and findings of the Atlas of Global Christianity and the implications for church and mission. Some of his statements were particularly challenging: “Eighty percent of Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus in the world have never met a Christian person,” he said. Additionally, the global South has sixty percent of all the Christians, but only seventeen percent of Christian resources. He also illustrated that while the global South is growing in numbers of Christians, it is often growing with many of the characteristics of northern culture. He indicated there were now forty-five thousand denominations in the world, most of them Protestant.
Papers covered a variety of subjects, including:
- A Kazakhstan church survey
- Brazilian disabled people groups
- Global religious trends
- The best ways of church planting in Muslim communities
- The importance of narrative to explain research findings
- The current beliefs of U.K. evangelicals
- Diaspora missions
- Using Sinus Milieus in church development
- Bible engagement
- Trends in Australian family life
- Natural disasters
- Muslim discipleship
- Consumerism in the Christian faith
- Young people’s attitudes to the Bible
Many of these papers can be found at www.lrin.org.au. While the basic language used was English, all proceedings were also translated into Portuguese. Everything was also filmed, and all presentations are on DVD; purchase details are available by emailing [email protected].
It was a worthwhile time, with many of us anxious to repeat the experience in 2014. These kinds of international gatherings facilitate fellowship, give new thoughts on methodology, focus on key findings which are relevant in a much wider context, and challenge us to continue to seek to understand more of the ways in which the Lord is building his Church.