The Conference on World Mission and Evangelism in Arusha

On 8-13 March 2018 the 14th Conference on World Mission and Evangelism took place in Arusha, Tanzania. As traditionally, it was organized by the Commission for World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) of the World Council of Churches (WCC). The conference was attended by more than a thousand delegates, advisors, and other visitors from Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican, Evangelical, Catholic, and (Neo)Pentecostal/charismatic churches from around the world. As such, it properly illustrated the varied profile of contemporary world Christianity.

Organized by the International Missionary Council (IMC) until 1961 when this organization merged with the WCC, Conferences on World Mission and Evangelism take place approximately once in a decade. Many of them introduced themes and visions that have subsequently had a substantial impact on the direction and shape of not only Christian mission and evangelism but also on the life of the ecumenical movement at large. The Arusha conference programmatically focused on the theme of transforming discipleship. It is a notion that strives for a positive change on both personal and structural levels, i.e. in the lives of individuals, society, and the creation. The conference laid a central accent not only on the person of Jesus Christ but also on the role of the Holy Spirit in the transformative process.

Although it remains to be seen whether this Conference on World Mission and  Evangelism will be one of the historic ones, it can already now be argued that it brought certain specific emphases. As evident from lectures, panel discussions, prayer services, Bible studies, and cultural events, the Arusha conference concentrated on the issues related to the African context, gave voice to young people, and viewed spiritual formation as central to Christian identity. All of these dimensions were brought together in the introductory keynote of the whole conference, delivered by Dr Mukale Kaunda, a young Pentecostal theologian from Zambia who currently is a post-doctoral  research fellow at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. A certain counterpart to her paper could have been found in the address by Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II of the Syriac Orthodox Church. Nevertheless, the two papers were connected by the theme of mission and Christian life at the margins of society –another of the key accents of the conference.

It was somewhat surprising that the interfaith dimension was virtually absent from this mission conference. The issues of interreligious relations or theology of religions were not addressed at all, there were no speakers or panelists belonging to other faith than Christianity, nor were there any adherents of non-Christian religions among guests or observers. Such a concept of conference program seems stunning not only with respect to the multireligious reality in which most Christians live today, but also in the perspective of the Tanzanian context, characterized by notable religious plurality. One can therefore conclude that the 14th Conference on World Mission and Evangelism focused on the intra-Christian spiritual formation of the followers of Jesus Christ who are in turn called to participate in positive transformation of the world.

Pavol Bargár

Further information can be found at the official website of the conference.

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