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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

A Taste of Heaven

By Ken Horn
May 29, 2011

With some 2,600 delegates from 75 countries around the globe converging on one location, one might suspect this to be a meeting of the United Nations or some other major international political event. But look more closely and you realize it resembles something else far more clearly — a glimpse into our future.

When these delegates were joined by several thousand Indian nationals, more than 100 languages were represented, and for four days a part of Chennai, India, became like a little piece of heaven on earth.

The event was the sixth triennial World Congress of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship. And it was one of the largest international representations ever for a World AG Congress.

The host church, New Life Assembly of God, is a thriving community of 40,000 believers pioneered in 1973 by David Mohan. Today, New Life also has 4,000 small groups, 5,500 leaders and 120 pastors — as well as a great vision for the future, which made it the ideal setting for this Congress.

Most of the international delegates arrived early enough to attend one or more of the 11 services on Sunday (18 total for the weekend) with some 50,000 in attendance.

Chennai (formerly Madras), India, is a city teeming with 4.5 million residents and more than 7 million in the metro area. The number of people near the church is staggering. Motor scooters, pedestrians, rickshaws — and sometimes cattle — jockey for space in crowded streets. The mission field is fertile. But Chennai’s population is a drop in the bucket compared to the subcontinent’s more than 1.1 billion people, most of whom still need Jesus. Nationals from urban and rural locales all over India attended to represent that larger need.

Mohan, raised in a nominal Christian home in a land dominated by Hinduism, is the spiritual leader behind the success story that is New Life Assembly of God. His home village was not typical in that it had no Hindu temple or even a priest. Instead there was an Anglican church that guided his early life.

But Mohan was 21 before he committed his life to the Lord. He was later introduced to the Assemblies of God, baptized in the Holy Spirit, and called to the ministry. He attended Southern Asia Bible College in Bangalore, India, still a major preparatory educational institution of the AG today. Here Mohan poured himself into prayer, a discipline that would shape him for a lifetime — and become the foundation of the great church he would lead.

Missionary David Stewart Sr. asked Mohan to pioneer the work in a Hindu-dominated area that was extremely resistant to Christianity. Stewart and David Grant stood alongside Mohan in the process.

The results have been phenomenal. So it was appropriate that this would be the setting for such an international celebration and vision-sharing gathering.

Those who came to the Congress found it difficult to communicate verbally with most of the other delegates, but they also found they had a lot in common with the attendees. Followers of Jesus usually feel a bond with believers from other nations, but the commonality at this gathering went further. These were not only believers; they were Pentecostal believers. And they were not just Pentecostal; they were all Assemblies of God.

More than 140 individual fellowships comprise the membership of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship. Whereas meeting with other believers is like meeting with extended family, meeting with those of a common tradition and doctrine has the feel of meeting with very close friends — though you are meeting them for the first time.

Arriving in Chennai, representatives of this great church family quickly took to one another, meeting new friends and forging new relationships. The atmosphere was filled not only with God’s presence but with the sweet smell of Christian unity, personifying Psalm 133:1 — “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” (KJV).

It was indeed like “the precious oil” and “the dew of Hermon” spoken of in the psalm. Here a West African chats with a Pakistani. There a Latin American prays for a European; a Korean and a Russian share. They came from every inhabited continent. I had known the world was coming to India, but I had no idea this world would be so united.

Anyone who has done short-term missions, or even visited a national church while on vacation or business in another country, knows the feeling of love and unity for Christians of other nationalities that is immediately felt when one gathers with them to worship — despite the language barriers. But I was not prepared for how this gathering brought that feeling to a whole new level.

The Assemblies of God has made it clear by word and deed that it is about building the kingdom of God, not just our Fellowship. In every corner of the globe the AG has partnered with other churches, and thus helped maximize the Christian witness.

But along the way God has powerfully blessed the Movement. Today, worldwide, the AG has 63 million believers and 330,000 churches. The Congress, with the theme “Forward! Vision AG 2020!” unveiled 10-year goals for the Assemblies of God to grow to 500,000 churches and 100 million believers.   

The faith that filled the venue was almost palpable. The consensus was clearly that the goals, though high, were not idealistic, but very reachable. Many expressed the belief that the numbers would be surpassed. And this included those who came from nations where Christians are being persecuted for their faith.

I was also in awe of the heroes of the faith one frequently bumped into.

On a shuttle to our hotel I struck up a conversation with a man. Both he and his wife had martyrs in their families, close relatives who had died for the faith. He explained to me how he couldn’t bring himself to go to church or do much of anything for two weeks after his brother was killed — until the support of the people from the church pulled him through. He then took his brother’s place of spiritual leadership.

One leader from another country told how a young couple went as the first missionaries from their church. They were martyred. I had been in that church years ago and wondered if I had met them.

Shortly after their deaths, this pastor stood in the pulpit of his congregation and asked, “How many will take their place?”

One hundred young people stood. And then their parents, instead of trying to dissuade them, laid hands on them and prayed for God’s anointing.

A woman from another country spoke about an encouraging breakthrough among Muslim women and how she is training Christian women to lead them to the Lord.

One service featured prayer for leaders from nations where the Church is persecuted. The platform was filled.

Yes, it was a conference — a really good conference. The worship was exceptional and the preaching, superb. But what really made it so outstanding was the people — praising God together in many of the languages from “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9, NIV), mingled with the tongues of angels (1 Corinthians 13:1). Another glimpse of heaven, except that in heaven we will all understand one another.

There was the parade of international speakers and worship teams, with the United States only one of many nations, as it should be. “Missions” here did not mean U.S. missionaries going to other countries, but believers from other nations going throughout the world as well.

On the closing morning, Dr. George O. Wood, chairman of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship, told the delegates: “I don’t think I’ve ever been to an international conference that had a greater impact on those who attended than this.” They had been days, he said, when “heaven had kissed the earth.”

Those days ended with a massive evening celebration at the property where the capacious New Life Celebration Center will be built. The auditorium will hold 55,000 people, the approximate number that attended that final, stirring, open-air service.

In August 2014, the Assemblies of God will celebrate its centennial, 100 years since it was born in Holy Spirit-stoked revival fires. None could have imagined that the 300 individuals who gathered in Hot Springs, Ark., in April 1914 would have become 63 million before the Movement hit the century mark.

But there is great faith that, should the Lord tarry, 100 million souls will call the Fellowship home 10 years hence.

Thus, the Assemblies will mark its centennial with the next triennial World Congress of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship in Springfield, Mo.

Plan now to be there. You wouldn’t want to miss a chance to get a taste of heaven.

KEN HORN is editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.


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