Ethne ’06: How it Started
Is yet another conference needed?
Is it possible to do a conference differently?
Ethne ‘06 wants to do just this.
by Justin Long
Ethne ’06 is a global consultation with an exclusive focus.Most such conferences, which are global because they draw people from all over the world, organize themselves around tracks that appeal to a broad cross-section of workers. For example, the recent Lausanne 2004 conference had tracks like “Globalization,” “Holistic Mission,”“Religious and non-religious spirituality,”while TransformWorld Indonesia had tracks titled “Emerging Women Leaders” and “Christian Higher Education.” Ethne ’06,on the other hand, will focus only on unreached peoples and have just a few tracks addressing issues related to reaching them.
As other articles in this issue have recounted, the movement to reach unreached peoples got its most recent shot of energy from the late 1980s and 1990s, when the AD 2000 & Beyond Movement popularized the term “10/40 Window” and initiated huge campaigns on its behalf—prayer iniatives like “Praying through the Window,” prayerwalks like “Joshua Project,” research, etc.
As the year 2000 loomed close, many mission leaders and workers grew uncertain about the future. When it was formed,the AD 2000 & Beyond Movement had committed itself to closing in the year 2000—it would not become just another organization. Still, it had created a lot of energy. What would happen when it shut its doors? Who would lead forward?
One of the first groups to step into the gap was the Great Commission Roundtable. Citing needs that were classically part of the unreached peoples movement—nearly 2 billion people still with little chance to hear of Jesus, the church sending only 4,000 of its 300,000 missionaries to them, Christians providing only 1.2% of mission funding for this purpose—the GCR was formed as an attempt to cross the communication gap between the three large organizations: AD 2000, the Lausanne Movement, and the World Evangelical Fellowship.
“It began in March 1999 when 90 men and women from many of the world’s evangelical movements and networks came together in Hurdal, Norway to create a new cooperative vehicle for world evangelization in the 21st century,” GCR’s web site reports. There was a time of repentance and reconciliation, followed by a moment when the participants decided a new global forum or “network of networks” should indeed be formed. This network became the Global Christian Roundtable.
In 2001, a GCR consultation was held in Port Dickson, Malaysia. For three days participants met together in a typical conference mode: with plenary sessions and breakout workgroups.However, those involved in ministry to the unreached were realizing their need for a specialized conference dealing with unreached peoples: at GCR, the unreached were just one of several tracks.Global conferences were good but those ministering to unreached peoples—like those in other ministry “niches”—needed a consultation area where they could focus on their area of ministry.
One of the people involved in the Roundtable was “B” (we’ll use initials for security’s sake). A Malaysian church leader helping to host the conference, he was passionate about unreached peoples and the need to keep moving toward them.
He pulled L (an American who had worked in Southeast Asia for years) aside and the two began talking animatedly about the need to “keep the flag” for unreached peoples flying high. “L got George Verwer in to the discussion. George said ‘we need you guys to keep the fire going.’”
Later, he dropped by the unreached peoples track for a quick talk with his longtime friend, K. The two discussed the idea of a specialized conference on unreached peoples. K was an American who had been born in Indonesia. His parents spent many years there, but returned to America when he was fairly young. Much later he headed for the field as well, and had lived and worked in Southeast Asia for nearly two decades.
K had also been thinking about the need for regional UPG networks. He and B talked about it with others and found they felt the same way. The UPG track had issued a formal recommendation to have continuing “UPG-focused” discussions. On the last day, a number of people gathered in the hall to talk about how to carry this idea forward. They decided to hold a meeting focused on “where we are in the process of reaching the unreached, and what we need to do next.”That took shape as Singapore ‘02.
Singapore ‘02 was attended by about 200 people. Like other conferences before it, the event was divided into several tracks and smaller workgroups, with plenty of time for networking. Out of this came three “global” options or “calls.”
The first was the call for secure communication. Many Westerners have secure e-mail systems, but many outside the Western countries don’t have or can’t afford the tool. The second was a reiterated call for ongoing gatherings. “While future regional or global level meetings would plan on improving what was started in Singapore, there was a sense that a global informal network focused on the unreached peoples of the world, with a broad base of global representation, must continue.”The third was a call for a global network of mission agencies that would focus on networking or partnering mission-focused entities at a global level.
Each of these calls was picked up. Sealink, a network of ministries focused on the unreached peoples of Southeast Asia,volunteered to convene a global committee to “foster the process of building a worldwide unreached peoples network.”
There have been several planning meetings since then. The first, held in February of 2004, was attended by a very small group—just eight people—and yet proved to be the pivotal “spark” that launched the group forward.
Each of the planning meetings have taken roughly the same shape: beginning with fellowship, then a brief recap of Ethne’s history for the new people (and there are always some new people coming), and then splitting into work groups to deal with the various issues required in holding a global conference.
Attend one of these conferences, and you’re sure to hear certain recurring themes. First is an idea born way back at GCR: “We are not able to finish the global task by ourselves as a small group of people from around the world. We need truly global leadership and participation. We need all the giftings of the whole body of Christ. And we need new congregations in unreached areas to be immediately charged with joining in to fulfill the global task.” In other words, Ethne is the idea that the remaining task could only be finished if all ethne went to all ethne.
A rotating steering committee is another key concept. This year, the core group for Ethne is Sealink. Next time, it might be from India, or Africa, or Latin America—or any other world region. “That way, no single world region can dominate.”
You’ll hear that Ethne is highly relational. People find out about it mostly by word of mouth, but also through other groups.Many UPG-passionate people have been involved in meetings held by Lausanne, WEA and TransformWorld. It seems only natural that the Ethne network becomes the “UPG track” of these events, even though Ethne ‘06 is its own, separate event.
Lift your hand to speak and you’ll be warned of a long-standing Ethne “rule”. Remember, K will tell you, this is a network.Make a suggestion and the group will say, “That’s a great idea—how about you doing it?” Only those things that get taken up by someone will get done—there is no corporate staff to order about.
There have been several of those ideas already. ‘Matthew & Helen’ are involved, along with others, in developing a 12-month prayer campaign. Breaking the world into 12 areas, they are developing tools to focus prayer on the unreached of each region.They had an introductory video produced, and are working on 12 additional videos, each one profiling the story of an unreached person as representative of one region.
All of the ideas have to work in a low-resource environment. Ethne is a global network, not a global organization. There is no single corporate entity behind it, and no staff or funds for major projects. Even receiving contributions to subsidize some of the attendees has been an interesting logistical hurdle, since it has to flow through the various organizations related to the conference rather than a single point. Could all of this be pulled off?
I went to the largest planning session so far—a meeting of the convening group held for three days in June in Southeast Asia. There were about 35 in attendance, with representation from every world region except Latin America (which could not attend due to last-minute travel complications).
R led devotions the first morning. “Jesus recruited and mobilized people he needed for a vision,” he emphasized. “Vision is important. ‘Leaders are people who know where they are going and can take others with them.’The Convening Group must own the Ethne vision, and mobilize others with you.”
After a brief overview of Ethne’s history for those who were new to the event, K once again went over the desired outcomes: a clearer understanding of the status of unreached peoples work in the world, the development of excellent materials to assist work, the continuation of the momentum to reach the unreached, a celebration of what had been accomplished, the sharing of best practices and critical problems, and the formation of partnerships for the future. Then we broke into separate workgroups to deal with many of the practical issues.
On the second day, B spoke on Matthew 14. “Jesus was grieving over the death of his cousin. He needed compassion—but he gave it to others. The people were hungry and He had compassion on them. He told his disciples to feed the people. This is what we do: we give people the bread of life. We, like the disciples, may have very little bread and fish—but we need to have courage and faith to use what we have and do what God has asked us to do even if we don’t seem to have all the resources.”
In many ways the challenge seemed appropriate. Issuing invitations alone would be difficult. The hotel, for example, had room for 650 participants, and the invitations task force was charged with distributing those 650 “slots” between all of the world regions. Given the security requirements, a broadcast invitation couldn’t be given. A network of regional facilitators and point people had to be tapped to identify people who should be invited.
Logistics was grappling with questions of security, hospitality, transportation, and cost. Resources in particular were skimpy:some $400,000 had already been raised, mostly through in-kind contributions (people paying their own way or paying for things that were needed), but about $350,000 still had to be found.Information and Resources discussed the need for a collection of resources to be made available to conference participants.
The Program group was focusing on the themes or “tracks”for the event. They had the difficult task of balancing between sessions and networking times. The Prayer group was continuing the focus on tools that would mobilize prayer for the unreached,including a possible 12-month prayer campaign with an associated series of video tools. Cost was a factor, but so was finding stories for the video tools. Once again, relationships with regional networks would have to be tapped: Ethne simply didn’t have spare video teams lying about that could go all over the world hunting down stories.
Despite the challenges, participation is infectious. Figuring out how to solve these problems in the midst of a global fellowship of people from all over the world is an exercise in cross-cultural communication and cross-cultural encouragement. On the third day, devotions were led by K. He focused on Matthew’s description of Jesus storming the Temple. “The Jews thought foreigners needed animals to sacrifice and money-changers to assist in worship. It was hard to have worship take place in a mall. Jesus was furious. He was most angered when foreigners were kept from true worship of the true God.” Contrasting this with 2 Thessalonians 2, “Jesus insists the Gospel be preached within crises and challenges—not in spite of them. Our strategies must deal with disaster, war, and difficulty as well as with peace. And we must not be challenging people to enter the costly world of sharing Christ unless we ourselves are prepared to pay the cost.”
The cost would come in personal contributions of time, money,and the like. Most of the 30 had paid their own way to the event, as they had to all the previous events. Some things were still uncertain. But as we left the conference we were all in good spirits. A ton of work was still to be done, mostly via e-mail. I had lifted my hand to suggest a resource CD and was tapped to facilitate the Information and Resources network; I suggested web processes might be good to help with the invitations process and later got tapped for that as well.
In the months since, others have stepped up to help out with some of the costs. Significant portions of the funding are actually being recruited from within supposedly unreached nations like those in Southeast Asia. Many things are coming together, and I am confident this event will be strategic if not a turning point. If you are passionate about unreached peoples, then you should ask yourself if you are one of the 650 who should be here. Ethne may not be the biggest on the block, but it’s not to be missed.
Prayer Mobilization is working on a prayer tool: a dvd containing a 5 minute overview video and 12 five-minute story videos, one on each region, along with a set of four bulletin inserts and one book mark per region, so pastors would have an easy-to-use tool for their churches. The network hopes that through strategic links with UPG networks around the world, harvest initiatives can be stimulated in each region during and after the month of prayer. Admittedly it is past time when we should have been crafting the story lines. We need lots of prayer to actually see this thing implemented. Only about half the funds needed are already raised, so we need further funding as well. And we need to collect the story ideas for the videos.” We are looking for potential stories of unreached peoples to be featured on the videos, as well as for potential sources of funding.
Information and Resources is looking for examples of resources either describing unreached peoples, mobilizing people to work among them, or used for ministry (e.g. evangelistic materials, etc). The resources will be cataloged for a database and distributed on CD. If you are interested, we can discuss your security requirements.
Funding needs to find individuals, churches, organizations and foundations who can help some of the 650 participants who will need to be subsidized to attend. Fundraising is being regionalized” as much as possible, seeking to raise funds for Indians, for example, within India.