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Seminarians encounter persecuted Christians

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Seminary student Ronny Raines has seen the face of true persecution.

An Indonesian man poured his heart out to Raines, a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, one evening during Amsterdam 2000, the July 29-Aug. 6 Billy Graham-sponsored evangelism conference in The Netherlands.

The man, who was in his 60s, told Raines he had seen two fellow Indonesian believers die just days before his coming to the conference because they would not renounce Christ. Raines’ new friend said he could very well be next upon returning home from the conference.

“He told me, ‘If it [would] be for the good of God to lay my life down today, I’d be willing to do it,'” Raines recounted. “His life had been threatened by a couple of individuals and he would probably still be in danger. That is real persecution. We don’t see anything like that here in the United States.”

Such were the stories that came from those who attended Amsterdam 2000.

Raines, a master of divinity student from Glasgow, Ky., was among more than two dozen students and professors from Southern Seminary who attended the event. More than 10,000 evangelists, students, theologians and evangelical leaders from around the world participated.

“It was like Revelation 7:9 brought to life on earth,” said Timothy Beougher, professor of evangelism and church growth at the Louisville, Ky., seminary. “There were persons gathered there from every tribe, tongue and nation. It was a strong reminder that the kingdom of God is global and that God is working in the whole world.”

Beougher led one of the 330 evangelism-related workshops. His was titled “Lessons from Past Evangelists” and examined the methods and messages of noted evangelists throughout history such as George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards. In addition to workshops, the conference included two dozen plenary speakers, J.I. Packer, Charles Colson and Anne Graham Lotz among them.

In addition to the vastness of the assemblage, the stories of Christian life in countries hostile to the faith — such as the one shared with Raines — were the clear highlights for Southern participants.

“One of the highlights for me was when Steve Saint told of becoming friends of the Indians in Ecuador who had killed his father, Jim Elliott,” said Don Cox, assistant professor of church growth at Southern Seminary. “He told about how his children now call the man who killed his dad grandfather. That was a powerful statement to the grace of God.”

About 75 percent of those invited to Amsterdam hailed from developing nations. For many, the conference was their sole exposure to evangelism and theological training.

“Many people there had not had any training theologically or methodologically,” Cox said. “It makes you much more thankful for all that we have available to us in the western world.”

Beougher was among 150 theologians who served on a theological task force that helped assemble the Amsterdam Declaration — a “statement of tasks, goals and ideals for evangelism in the 21st century.”

The declaration deals biblically with a broad scope of issues as they relate to evangelism, including inclusivism, culture, Scripture, suffering and Christian unity.

“The group at my table was discussing postmodernism,” Beougher said. “Four theologians from Africa said, ‘What is that?’ So, the issues differ from country to country. The declaration is calling for a partnership between theologians and evangelists. As one who works in both fields, I applaud that.”

For many of the students, the deepest impact was felt in the fellowship.

“That is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities,” said Raines, who also pastors a church in Elizabethtown, Ky. “To be able to worship with believers from all over the world and to hear them talk about how the Christian life is in their area — it’s often very difficult — was a big thing for me.

“For many of them it was the first time they’d ever been outside their villages. It’s encouraging to be able to embrace someone from Russia or the Philippines and know you have a common bond in the Lord Jesus. It was really a glimpse of heaven.”

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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