Lausanne: A Personal Narrative

I want to share my Lausanne story. I was born in Egypt, but as a teenager I escaped the country when the government nationalized all the big businesses. My grandfather was a very wealthy businessman, so we had to leave. We escaped to Canada to begin a new life away from socialist Egypt. After arriving in Canada, I was evangelized as an international student by a local church. I came to know the love of the Lord Jesus Christ through the love of Canadian Christians. I was then discipled through the InterVarsity group at McGill University, where I was a student. Later, I was taught and trained at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in America. So I am indebted to the Western world for reaching me with the gospel of Jesus, for training me, and for giving me a vision. In 1980 I returned to Egypt with my wife and children to serve my people there. And I’ve been in Egypt ever since. That’s my short summary of a lot of experience.
My involvement with Lausanne began with an invitation to lead a seminar at Lausanne ’74. I was twenty-seven years old at the time. I had written to the program chair to complain that there wasn’t a seminar on Roman Catholicism. The program chair wrote back and said, “We need someone to present on Catholicism; if you present it, we’ll pay half your way to the conference.” As a poor student worker, I needed the money to attend the conference. So in three weeks I became the evangelical expert on Roman Catholicism.
My paper was not well-accepted at Lausanne because I had a different perspective than that held by most evangelicals at the time. I was asking for much more dialogue with Roman Catholics who were open to studying the Scriptures. This was not considered appropriate back then. It wasn’t a very enjoyable workshop, but I did get to wear a speaker’s badge. Many great Christian leaders at the Lausanne Congress did not have speaker’s badges, so I felt very important.
The most moving thing that happened to me at Lausanne ‘74 was actually on the way home. It was a long flight back to Canada, and I had many papers to go through. I had taken a lot of business cards from all sorts of people that I had met. We all know we collect these cards, put them in our pockets, and often forget about them. As I looked through my cards from Lausanne, I noticed one that was not very well printed and I looked at it carefully. I still get emotional when I remember this story. It broke me.
At Lausanne we had small groups every night. About ten of us met in our dormitory rooms to pray and share together. The first night we introduced ourselves: president of a seminary, pastor of a church with 2,000 people, and so on. Everybody was showing how great they were. I said I led the InterVarsity movement in the province of Quebec. It was actually a very small ministry, but it sounded good. One African man who was with us said, “I’m a pastor in Kenya.” During the week we all listened to each other. I didn’t pay much attention to the pastor from Kenya; I wanted to get close to the important people. But I was moved by the Kenyan pastor’s stories of how God had touched him as a school teacher during the African revival and changed his life. I thought he was a deep man. I pictured him working in a humble little village in Africa.
But when I picked up that business card on the plane back to Canada I discovered that it said “Festo Olang, Archbishop of Kenya.” Olang was a man who could pull rank on anybody in our group. He was a bigwig. But we didn’t know it, and he didn’t tell us. He did not use his position to secure his identity. He was a simple pastor who loved Jesus. I am still moved to the core when I remember this incident thirty-two years later. I said to myself on the plane, that’s the kind of leader I want to be. That’s leadership, Jesus-style.
Brothers and sisters, the world we live in runs completely counter to the servant-leader model of Jesus. Sure, we want to be servant-leaders, but we want to be popular ones with big mega-churches and a lot of followers. We have difficulty leading with humility.
I was invited to join the Lausanne Committee when they were looking for a younger leader. It was easy for them to choose the person who was the youngest speaker at the Lausanne World Congress. So they chose me. I later joked that if, in addition to being Middle Eastern and young, I was also black and a woman, I would probably have been on every committee! I spent twenty years on the Lausanne Committee. Leighton Ford became the chairman and asked me to be his assistant. He took me along to every single meeting that Lausanne had in the 1970s and early 1980s. I was discipled and developed by men and women of God in those meetings. Some I yearned to emulate, and some I decided I definitely didn’t want to be like. I saw the good and the bad. There were times of difficulty, of tension, of struggle. But they were times that formed me as a person. I owe a lot to my years on the Lausanne Committee.

During the time that I served on the Committee I noticed three important distinctives of the Lausanne Movement, and I want to share those with you: integrity, vision, and cooperation.

Integrity

The Lausanne Movement has always talked with integrity about addressing the whole of life with the “whole gospel.” That term was very carefully chosen. During the Lausanne Congress some of the speakers said evangelicalism had a truncated gospel. A gospel that had been chopped up. A gospel that was lacking. A gospel that was not complete. We preached only part of the gospel. We didn’t preach the whole gospel.

The Lausanne Covenant makes statements that reflect the fact that a lot of younger evangelicals in the 1960s and 1970s had lost faith in the evangelical movement. Evangelicals seemed to be fundamentalists. They seemed to be right-wing. They did not seem interested in the real issues facing the world. And when you mentioned these real issues, evangelicals considered you a liberal, a World Council of Churches person.
One of the distinctives of Lausanne is that it takes Christian theology seriously. Lausanne says, “Yes, we want to evangelize, but we don’t want a simplistic, naïve, superficial evangelism. We want an evangelism rooted in the Bible and in evangelical theology; an evangelism that’s relevant to real people.” The statements we read in the Lausanne Covenant today are the result of a lot of discussion about holistic mission. Article 5 of the Covenant reads, “We affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty, for both are necessary expressions of our doctrines of God and man, our love for our neighbor, and our obedience to Jesus Christ.”
I’m trained as a social worker. When I started in the field of social work, if I talked about social concern with fellow evangelicals, I was considered a liberal Christian. Evangelicals didn’t talk about that. World Vision was not yet widely known. Holistic ministry was not yet an “in” term. That was forty years ago. But Lausanne came along and said in Article 5 of the Covenant, “The message of salvation implies also a message of judgment upon every form of alienation, oppression, and discrimination, and we should not be afraid to denounce evil and injustice wherever they exist.” Over 2,000 Christians affirmed this statement at Lausanne ’74. This was an about turn for evangelicals.
Article 9 of the Covenants reads, “All of us are shocked by the poverty of millions and disturbed by the injustices which cause it. Those of us who live in affluent circumstances accept our duty to develop a simple life-style in order to contribute more generously to both relief and evangelism.” Every word here is loaded. Every word had to be thought and fought out in argument and discussion because it was new.
Lausanne has also always promoted integrity in relating to culture. The Covenant’s tenth article confesses, “Missions have all too frequently exported with the gospel an alien culture and churches have sometimes been in bondage to culture rather than to Scripture. Christ’s evangelists must humbly seek to empty themselves of all but their personal authenticity in order to become the servants of others, and churches must seek to transform and enrich culture, all for the glory of God.

This statement in particular made so many of us excited about this document. For once we were proud to be evangelicals. We felt that we could finally say that evangelicalism worldwide, as represented by the Lausanne Committee, was something that had integrity with the whole gospel, not some small itsy bitsy salvation gospel that didn’t cover the total situation of man.

Vision

Lausanne gave me something I lacked: a vision of the whole world. The Committee says now that those of us from the Two-Thirds World can call ourselves “Majority World Christians.” We live in a new era. You folks from the West are now Minority World Christians. People like me from Egypt are Majority World Christians—no longer just naked natives!

Those of us from Majority World cultures do not intuitively think of a worldwide scene. When we think of global missions we tend to think of money we can raise in the West to support our local ministries. We don’t think of what we can do elsewhere. What Lausanne gave me as a Majority World Christian was a desire to really think of the whole world. And that changed my life.
Lausanne also gave us tools to help us think about and reach the world. The concept of “people groups” revolutionized the way we thought about evangelizing the “nations.” It was through Lausanne that I was introduced to the E1, E2, and E3 types of evangelism taken from the book of Acts. And I learned about the Engel Scale of how people get converted. We had never heard of it. So they not only told us to think of the world, but they also gave us tools to help us think. When these tools are grounded in good theology, you get evangelism that has integrity and a world vision.

My vision broadened at Lausanne. When I came back to Egypt to serve the Lord, I asked myself, “How can I better reach my country?” God has done great things in Egypt through many dedicated Christian workers. Many of them have been influenced through Lausanne ‘74, the 1987 younger leaders conference, and other events.

Cooperation

The Lausanne Committee has always strived to involve the whole church and foster cooperation. They tried at Lausanne ‘74 to bring together all the reflections of the evangelical movement that existed at that time. Baptists and charismatics had never gathered together in the same congress. We brought YWAM and OM together, an achievement that in those days was not common. InterVarsity and Campus Crusade and Navigators used to fight on some campuses. We got them together in Lausanne and they committed to partnership.

I still remember when YWAM raised money to buy a ship. Then they heard that Logos, the OM ship, had gone aground and was destroyed. In a prayer meeting, the YWAM leadership decided to give the money they had raised to OM. Now that’s cooperation. That’s sacrifice. That’s thinking of one another

At the Lausanne Congress in 1974 those of us from Canada began thinking about how we could reach out to the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Fifty organizations came together under one banner called “Aid Olympic.”  Then we all decided to use the same logo, so that every organization’s literature would say “Aid Olympic.” I was on the board and was representing Aid Olympic in the government of Quebec’s Olympic committee. At the end of the games a Jewish lady stood up (remember I am Egyptian) and she said, “We all have to give a hand to Mr. Atallah, because Aid Olympic did the most to help welcome people and serve people during the Olympic Games.” That was a Jewish lady on the social service committee in Montreal commending Christians for what they did. Fifty organizations all under one banner—it seemed to Montreal that there was one big group. The cooperation was all inspired by Lausanne. And that excited me about what Lausanne could do. If we work together we can accomplish much.

Conclusion

In closing, we need integrity today because our integrity is threatened by worldly pragmatism. We are told the end justifies the means. We cook up reports to raise funds. We tell foundations things that are a bit exaggerated. We inflate evangelistic results. We play around with budgets and overheads. We need integrity in the evangelical world as never before. We need theological integrity. We need moral integrity.

We need vision because the materialistic lifestyle of young people is making them choose the jobs that will pay more than the mission field. They can join some international aid organization, make more money than they could make at home, and still be considered a “missionary.” Is this the simple lifestyle? Nobody talks about the graduated tithe. As your income grows, you should give a larger percentage of your money to the Lord. I was taught that at Lausanne, but I don’t see too many people practicing it. Nobody talks about living below your means for the cause of the kingdom. These are things evangelicals don’t talk about as we have come of age.
We need cooperation because partnership is threatened by selfish individualism. How many evangelical mergers have you heard of? Very few. All sorts of banks and businesses merge for the common good, for win-win situations. Evangelical groups keep multiplying and everyone starts his own group.

We need Lausanne today more than ever.Ramez Atallah is general secretary of the Bible Society of Egypt, and programme chair for Cape Town 2010.

 
Living & Leading Like Jesus, a compilation of the plenary addresses from the 2006 Young Leaders Gathering, is available from the William Carey Library.
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