Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, CEO/Secretary General of the World Evangelical Alliance, recently spoke to The Christian Post after he celebrated the Dec. 9 dedication of Evangelical Center, a newly opened facility in upstate New York that will serve the global evangelical Christian body as a conference, research, study and work center.
In the interview, Tunnicliffe spoke about the vision of Evangelical Center, the benefits of moving WEA's headquarters from Vancouver to New York City, and his most memorable moments in 2010, including Edinburgh 2010 and the Lausanne Congress on Global Evangelization in Cape Town, South Africa. He also shared highlights from his recent trip to China to meet the China Christian Council and a visit to India for the Gospel Centenary.
The WEA head reported tremendous growth in the global evangelical body, with the organization no longer serving 420 million but 600 million evangelical Christians worldwide.
The following are excerpts from the interview:
CP: What did you feel about coming here today?
I think it was a great encouragement and it's allowing us to think about the future together and the vision of what a place like this might become for global evangelicals.
CP: What is the vision for Evangelical Center?
I think it will be for a number of things: again, I think it's going to be a place of reflection, study, a place where we can do international research, a place where we can gather leaders from all over the world to come together for interaction. I hope it will be a place of renewal, personal and corporate, a place of prayer, a place where we can bring together leaders from different parts of the world where we can think strategic for the cause of global evangelicals.
CP: WEA represents over 420 million evangelicals worldwide and WEA's long history as an organization, established in the 1800s, what has taken so long to establish an evangelical center?
The reality is that we are a very diverse group of people. We've tended to build on existing structures in different parts of the world. And in some ways shy away from establishing a large center.
I don't fully understand all the reasons why it's taken this amount of time but I believe it's the right time for it today. It gives us a place to work from and being here in New York, with our offices in New York City, having strategic connections for the globe. I think it's very helpful.
CP: Do you see the center as a place that would help WEA to help unite the global Christian body?
Our goal is to serve the global evangelical family. Through our various operations from different parts of the world, we wanted to provide a place for uniting Christians.
We hope the services and what we provide out of here, in terms of ministries, that it will have a lot more worldwide impact. We seek to serve the church through providing accurate research or through the information that we share, there are ways in which we seek to serve the body of Christ.
CP: What kind of work or services that WEA can do now with an evangelical center that it wasn't able to do before?
Part of the role of WEA is to gather leaders together to think strategically. We can do that in a whole variety of ways but I think having a place like this allows us to do that in a context of a place where people can have personal renewal but also corporate renewal.
Assuming still life in the city but also being close to the city where we can connect people.
We've never really had a facility like this that allows to bring together people when we need to, want to and require to. So this allows us to do that.
But this also allows us, over time, to build a place where we can conduct research out of here, electronically, have people spend some time here, build a research library so that evangelicals can be studied as well.
CP: In your organization, you often talk about how varied evangelicals are but that often times they are typecast. Would the research you'd be doing fall along these lines? Could you provide us an example of the research?
I think it's a combination of things. Your example is who evangelicals are and the impact they are making on society.
It's interesting. I was just in China and one of the things that they've been doing through their academic institutes is study the impact of Christianity on the Chinese culture and discovering that it's having some very positive impact.
As we study the work of evangelical Christians around the world, we understand breadth of their engagement. There is casting of who evangelicals are and what they are doing. Part of what I hope we can do in research in the coming years is to reflect on the breadth of the work that's being done but also reflect on some of the opportunities out there that are not being touched and finding new ways of engaging in those kind of issues.
It's a place of seeking an understanding but also gathering research around the broad issues of society and the nations so that we know the best way we can engage.
This information is not just meant for us but this is something we wish to communicate to our constituency, to our family around the world, to better serve our membership.
CP: You've also been involved in Sudan and advocated a lot of projects involving Sudan, will you continue to do those works here?
Yes, I think we'll continue doing those works internationally.
I think this place as we build it over time could also be a place that can provide information to the church worldwide as we build our information technology centers, in terms of how we communicate to different places of world and in communities.
Again, this can be an information hub given the nature of how we communicate today electronically, but we need a place where we can gather that information and disseminate it. I hope it can be serving to that purpose.
CP: Would you say that communication is one of your biggest challenges thus far in serving in your role in directing WEA?
Yes. I certainly think it's one of the big challenges.
We're such a large family, culturally diverse, multiple languages. Certainly how we can continue to effectively broaden and deepen our communication to this family. So it is a challenge.
How do we get our message out there. We are engaging with the secular media as well as the Christian media. But the reality in dealing with the secular media is that often times if we provide a raw, articulated perspective on any particular issue then it doesn't necessarily become news. Because often times, secular news looks for the strident, they look for the edgy story. So again, If you provide a well thoughtful argument then sometimes it's not news. So how do we break through some of that so that we can ensure as evangelicals people understand who we are and the breadth of who are we are.
CP: Can you tell us a little about the collaboration that will take place between WEA and two evangelical organizations World Olivet Assembly and Olivet University that will also work at Evangelical Center?
The education institution is coming out of Olivet. We think that we provide the opportunity for graduates or students who want to engage in practical hands-on research or other areas of our ministry. We think there's great opportunity for shared ministry opportunities between Olivet and WOA.
CP: When I look at Evangelical Center, it reminds me of the World Council of Churches' Ecumenical Center in Geneva. Would you say that Evangelical Center is the evangelical counterpart to that center or how would you describe it?
Well, I think it would be for others to draw those conclusions. I think we simply wanted a place where we could connect evangelicals around the world and seek to resource our evangelical community. Just as the World Council seeks to do it out of Geneva, I think we are seeking to do it out of this place here.
CP: Speaking of location, earlier this year, WEA moved its headquarter office from Vancouver to New York City and now you're opening up offices in Binghamton. Can you tell us some of the fruits of that transition and journey that you've been on this year?
When we consider moving our international office to a location, we polled our leaders from around the world and we discussed some of the options. There was a very strong affirmation to New York City. New York City connects us to our work at the United Nations. It connects us to the international media. We have people traveling from around the world to different places; New York City is a good hub for that.
For me, what we have discovered is that the opportunities are greater than we even anticipated. Certainly as we've been developing our work here out of New York City, the opportunities to engage with the media and the U.N. have both been very much strengthened. New opportunities have come along there where we can engage in some very critical issues at the right moment.
And then we've had international people traveling through New York City and then discovering that we have moved our offices here so being able to interact with us. So if the word gets out there around the world then a lot of people who do come to New York will be able to engage with us. We are already being able to see the real value of being in New York City.
And having some place just outside of New York City in which we can hold retreats, conferences, strategic events, and taking a little out of the hustle and bustle of New York. This is a great place to work but there's a level of intensity there obviously. This place gives us a more relaxed context to work in and a large center where we can gather people for training and interaction.
I'm really looking forward to how we're going to be using it in the coming months and years. We've probably only dreamed of a small portion of how it can be used at this point. But we are very grateful for what's been provided to us.
CP: Looking back at the year 2010, what are the more memorable moments for WEA during your travels and in terms of the partnerships that you've made?
Well, this has been a big year for us. 2010. It seems like it's been year of more international congresses and conferences than ever I can remember.
Of course for us, we were involved in two major congresses this year. Edinburgh 2010 which was held in Edinburgh, which was specifically remembering the 100 year celebration of the 1910 World Missionary Conference. We were very intimately involved in that. That drew Christians from the broad spectrum of the Christian church and family. I think that was very significant.
Of course, we've just completed the Congress in Cape Town, the Lausanne Congress. We partnered with Lausanne and collaborated with them on the Congress there which brought 4,700 leaders from almost 200 countries together.
Certainly, those are large memorable events.
I have other memories this year too from other parts of the world I've traveled where I had the opportunity to interact with Christians and see the transformative work of the Church.
I was in Manipur, India, for the 100th anniversary of the Centenary this year. A hundred years ago, Northeast India, this area, this state, it was a tribal area, it was a tribal state, there were headhunters. The Gospel is coming to Manipur. There's been that transformative work of the Gospel. Lives have been transformed and changed.
I remember coming to speak at the main event - I was there for several days - and the opening event when tens of thousands of people came from every direction, holding bamboo torches to remind them that the light of the Gospel had come. And they came from all the different denominations. You didn't know which denomination they were from and they came walking down the streets to this main conference center that was built. So 40,000 or 50,000 Christians gathered there to remember what God has done in those hundred years. And then hearing a choir singing the Hallelujah chorus in seven different languages, it was a reminder of the power of the Gospel of Christ to transform lives in society.
There are many situations that I've come across in the world. Certainly, being in Sudan this year, meeting with the Christians and government leaders, thinking through the concerns of the people of Sudan. For 50 years, they've suffered nothing but war and hardship. They've had a period of five years of peace but entering a very important time for Sudan as the South decides whether to separate from the North. Realizing that the church has been there providing the social services, the care for the people in a very difficult time - they've been really the backbone of society.
Being China and seeing the growth of the church in China. The Impact there, of what's happening, was a phenomenal thing.
I have great memories of this year of hearing stories, of seeing stories, of the power of the Gospel at work in order to change lives.
CP: What are the highlights from your recent trip to China?
Just to meet with key leaders and pastors of churches, to hear the growth. One of the areas we went to was called Kunming, which is sort of the southwest area where there were many different tribal groups. To be driven up into the mountains outside of Kunming to visit a church packed full of the Miao people, worshipping the Lord but also reading scriptures, having a Bible of their own language. To see the sacrifice they've made in terms of building the church and sharing their faith. Again, it was a wonderful experience for me with the brothers and sisters who are seeking to live out the Gospel.
CP: Have you witnessed more religious freedom there during your recent trip to China?
China is a very large country, obviously. You travel to one place and there are different issues in different places. Certainly on this trip, in the meetings we had, privately with both government and the China Christian Council, I would say were very cordial but very frank and honest. I think that's how I would characterize it. I think there was great openness in our conversation.
Also I had the opportunity to speak at Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, the largest seminary in the country and the only national seminary. I was given two hours to speak about global evangelicalism. I was not told what I could say or not say. There were no restrictions on what I could say. So (inaudible)…the faculty, the interaction was a very deep level. So I certainly felt opportunity of great freedom and no controls were really placed on me in that regards.
It doesn't mean there aren't issues that are happening in China. There are. We're obviously concerned for some of those issues. But from my perspective, our involvement there gave us great opportunities, both privately and publicly, for the Gospel.
CP: Going into the year 2011, what are some of the key highlights that you are looking forward to? And what are the challenges presented to evangelicals worldwide in the new year?
As we look in the future in this coming year, I think we will consolidate our work. I think we've seen great encouragement this past year. Through our Leadership Institute, we've identified key opportunities for engagement. For our alliance around the world, we want to continue strengthening our Leadership Institute so that it serve our community much more effectively.
We are continuing to expand our membership. We think there are many organizations around the world that would find great affinity to the World Evangelical Alliance and we want to draw them into our membership.
But also looking forward to how do we continue to help the church to engage the culture more effectively. I think we've had some great opportunities. This past year, we worked with Walden Media and 20th Century Fox on their new film, Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. One of the reasons we engaged with them was that we felt that this film, in some ways, is a gift to the church. The work of C.S. Lewis is loved within the church but it is also a mechanism for engaging the culture. So for us to provide resources for churches in six different languages, for children, youth, and adults. We felt it was a mechanism for impacting society. We want that area of work to grow so that we can find mechanisms for serving our alliances to back to the church so that they can be helped in engaging culture.
We are also looking forward to developing a new fraternity of Christian parliamentarians around the world, building that network so that we can help those involved in public life as followers of Christ to be more encouraged but also to be more equipped in the work that they are doing. We are looking to expand those kinds of areas as well.
I think, again, it's continuing to respond to the expressed concerns of our evangelical family.
One of the concerns we have is the ongoing concern is how Sunday can connect Monday. In other words. What we teach on Sunday, how does that impact the lives of everyday Christians as they engage in the marketplace and everyday communities, how can we help Christians be more involved in the transformative nature of the Gospel, where the Gospel becomes much more integrated in to their lives.
We're seeing tremendous growth. Actually, we'll probably announce early this next year, because the research has been finalized, that the constituency that we now serve is over 600 million evangelical Christians around the world.
So there's been tremendous growth in the church. If we say that numerically, are we really truly seeing the Church impact society? We think there is a lot more work to be done there. So it's not just about growing numbers but how do we see the church growing the impact in the society in which we live.
CP: What kind of impact are you looking to make? Would it the form of initiatives like Sudan or fighting the culture way through media projects like that on C.S. Lewis?
There are a whole variety of ways in which we will do it. Certainly, we are in conversation around some other media projects and film projects which we think have great potential for cultural impact. We want to help work with these companies and connecting them with the churches worldwide and in particular nations.
Certainly, we will be actively involved in Sudan. We are going to have monitors there. Actually, that is going to be first time that WEA has ever sent monitors or observers to a referendum or a vote, an election. Whether we will do that again in the future? We don't' know. But that came as a direct request of the church in Sudan, that we will stand with them in this way. Even after the referendum takes place there will be opportunities for nation-building and how do we rally the global church in partnering with the Sudanese church. That's an ongoing concern.
We think about issues around the Middle East. There's complex issues there. We think we're going to try to target more issues there. There's Pakistan, Afghanistan. Those are tough areas of the world that we think we need to engage in more as evangelicals. So we're thinking of ways in which we can do that.