Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lausanne III: An Exercise in Extreme Diversity

I am used to living in the midst of diversity. I have lived overseas almost as long as I have lived in my home countries (yes, two of them). For the last eight years I have led a team of missionaries from more than a dozen different countries. I feel at ease mixing and interacting with people from different backgrounds and different ways of seeing the world. So, I feel quite at home here, but I was struck this morning by just how diverse the Lausanne gathering really is.

It started with breakfast. I sat at a table of men who gave me a nod when I asked if I could eat with them. It took me about thirty seconds after that to realize I sat in the middle of a Russian speaking delegation. One man took the effort to greet me with a few words of English. It was a quiet pensive breakfast.

We have been singing in many of the congress’ seven official languages and even more. I sang (if my attempt qualifies) in Arabic for the first time in my life this morning. Last night we sang in Chinese, and Zulu has been a regular worship language. Last night I met someone from a country I have not even heard of before. I thought I had at least heard of every country in the world and could tell you to which continent it belonged. As I reflected on the numbers I realized that the only comparable gathering is perhaps the UN. A search on the UN web site shows they have 193 members. There are more than 200 countries represented here.

The extreme diversity changes the discussion. Yesterday’s focus of the day was Truth. The plenary speakers spent a lot of time talking about pluralism and the impact of postmodernism on the concept of truth. Mixed in between the plenary speakers were group discussions. We have all been placed in table groups of six for morning Bible study and group discussions. As we talked about the challenges to truth in our local contexts, it was interesting to note that the issue of pluralism and postmodern views of truth only related to about half of the group. A member of the group from Nigeria noted that the biggest challenge to truth in her context is Christians not living according to the Bible. Their lives discredit their words. Members of the group from Malaysia and Jodan talked about the competing truth of Christianity and the truth of Islam. Both groups feel that truth is discoverable, the question is which is the right one.

The diversity is also a lot of fun. Video has been used a lot in the congress. The clips have been short and from all over the world. Numerous times, even in my small group, I have heard, “Hey, I know that person.”

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