CAPE TOWN, South Africa – The mood was light Tuesday evening – thanks to leg-swinging praise music – when Lausanne III participants wrestled with the difficult topics of reconciliation in the Middle East, HIV/AIDS, and human trafficking.
Speakers gave hopeful messages of how God is moving and bringing hope despite addressing some of the darkest and seemingly most hopeless situations in the world today.
The Middle East, which has become almost synonymous with violence and Islam, is experiencing an unprecedented level of Muslims becoming followers of Jesus Christ, said Sam Yeghnazar, founder of Iran-focused Elam Ministries. There were only about 500 Iranian Christians from a Muslim background at the time of Lausanne I in 1974, he said. But over the past 30 years, more Muslims have come to Christ than in the past 1,300 years.
"Iran today is a closed land with countless open hearts," said Yeghnazar. "It is the most open nation to the Gospel in the entire world. Tens of thousands of Iranians are turning to Christ."
"Betrayed by the government, disillusioned with the religion, depressed by the prospects of the future, Iranians when they come to know the Lord Jesus Christ are completely transformed," he said. "They proclaim Christ in the marketplace. Entire families, men and women, are coming to Christ."
Two weeks ago, two of Yeghnazar's people were imprisoned and within a week they brought six people to Christ, he shared.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Christian Salim (last name withheld for security reasons), spoke about hope for true peace in the Middle East through Christ. By understanding Jesus' death on the cross, Palestinian Christians "shy away from the poison of hatred" and are compelled to explain to the world about peace and justice.
"Anchoring our identity in the messiah, we can open our hearts to angry Muslim neighbors and to fearful Jewish soldiers behind check points," said Salim. "[There is] a divine one who can change stone hearts to flesh."
The theme for Tuesday at the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town, South Africa, was reconciliation. Each day, the program focuses on a theme that determines what plenary speakers will present and what small dialogue groups will discuss. Themes for the conference include truth, world faiths, priorities, and integrity.
In addition to addressing reconciliation in the Middle East, Tuesday evening's plenary session also spotlighted the global issues of human trafficking and HIV/AIDS.
A moving video was shown of a young Cambodian woman (her face was not shown due to the sensitivity of the subject) who was rescued from a brothel in Thailand. At the young age of 16, she was tricked into working as a sex slave. She was drugged, beaten and raped for four-and-a-half years, at times forced to have sex with as many as ten men in one day. But she and other girls at her brothel were rescued and taken to a World Vision trauma recovery center for women and children who are victims of sexual abuse. There she has received counseling, vocational training, health care and has begun her spiritual journey to know Jesus Christ.
Tuesday's program concluded with the inspiring stories of two Christians living with HIV. Christo Greyling, a South African who now lives in the Netherlands, and Princess Kasune Zulu of Zambia, shared about their journey of finding out that they are HIV positive. Their inspiring yet challenging stories demonstrated how a disease meant to destroy a person can be used for God's glory.
"Many times when we hear of HIV or AIDS we think of people who are already dying, but in many cases there are people like me who are healthy, who have so much to offer," said Zulu. "We as a Church are called to be the hope for those who feel hopeless."
The HIV/AIDS advocates challenged the global church to be at the forefront of the HIV/AIDS battle and to show unconditional love and reconciliation to people with HIV/AIDS who are in desperate need of comfort and hope.
More than 4,000 Christian leaders representing over 190 nations have gathered for Lausanne III, also known as Cape Town 2010. The purpose of the Lausanne Congresses is to bring the global body of Christ together to discuss how to best evangelize the world. The Congress also will discuss global problems facing the Church, including secularization, Islam, HIV/AIDS, prosperity gospel, and environmental concerns, among other topics. The conference program will conclude Sunday.