PATTAYA, Thailand – More than 500 evangelical Christians from over 100 nations took part in a colorful and ethnically festive opening ceremony for the World Evangelical Alliance General Assembly in Thailand Saturday night.
National flags of delegates were paraded into the main conference hall and Thai dance and music were featured at the event that kicked off the weeklong gathering being held at the beach resort city of Pattaya.
The Rev. Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, WEA international director, set the tone of the Assembly – the first in seven years – by telling delegates that the gathering will be a time to refresh their vision for integral mission.
"We need a fresh vision for and commitment to the work of the body of Christ around the world that reflects our focus on integral mission, on holistic mission, on the transformation of the Gospel," he said. "We desperately need that new, fresh vision."
But the vision, Tunnicliffe maintains, must be faithfully based on the Scripture.
"We need a renewal of our historic commitment to the character of the Gospel and our biblical distinctive as evangelical Christians who are committed to the authority of Scripture," he said. "What drives us and undergirds us is our commitment to the Scriptures."
Tunnicliffe was joined on Saturday by the Deputy Permanent Secretary of Thailand, Kanda Vajrabhaiya, who pointed to areas of common interest between Evangelicals and the Thai Government, including poverty reduction, HIV and AIDS, human rights, child protection and women issues.
"The WEA is a meaningful network to us in implementing programs to assist, protect and empower those vulnerable groups and improve the life conditions of those considered as disadvantaged people in this country," said Vajrabhaiya. "It is also consistent with Christianity's principles of right living for the benefit and interests of other people."
The Thai official also lauded Christianity for playing a crucial role in the development of her country.
"This year marks 180 years since Christian missionaries came to Thailand," she pointed out. "Thus far Christians have not only brought knowledge such as education, technology and medicine, but also established infrastructure like schools, universities and hospitals to help Thai people."
Beyond Thailand, the Oct. 25-30 conference will discuss how Evangelicals worldwide can help address the issues of poverty, HIV and AIDS, and religious liberty, as well as church transformation and Evangelical engagement in the public square during "Living Room" plenaries – a new feature at the Assembly that allows for open conversations between experts and participants.
This year's Assembly boasts a diverse array of organizations and denominational church bodies that include representatives of Pentecostal World Fellowship, the Mennonite community, World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Charismatic stream, the China Christian Council, and historic mainline Churches.
"We want a greater appreciation, affirmation and assimilation of the various global evangelical movements," noted Tunnicliffe, whose organization represents some 420 million evangelical Christians across the world.
On Sunday, participants were scheduled to commit their first full conference day to fasting and praying for global issues of concern.
"We want this week to be an encouragement to evangelical leaders in their often discouraging and lonely work," Tunnicliffe said. "The work of being involved in an Evangelical Alliance is not easy. The work of encouraging Christian unity is not easy and it is easy to get discouraged."
The WEA international director has announced plans to publish a book based on the outcomes of the Assembly meetings, which conclude on Oct. 30.
"We are a community of grace. We are going to demonstrate our love to one another and live out what it means to be disciples of Jesus who love one another," Tunnicliffe said.
"We want to build a culture of Christ so that when we leave this place we will say 'these are sisters and brothers I can trust because I know them,' and we will move out together."