1) Unexpectedly, I was impressed more by similarities than by differences among the representatives of 68+ countries. In my small discussion group were individuals from Malawi (south central Africa), Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and Greece. From the very outset, when the sharing of problems was candid the empathy was remarkable. Church issues, family issues, and personal faith issues seemed to be so similar that we could feel each other’s strains immediately. This was a surprise to me.
2) Listening long and hard should precede too much speaking—especially when an American is interacting with a person from the third world. I sat down at lunch beside a man named Charles from Swaziland (between Mozambique and South Africa). We introduced ourselves and I began to ask questions.
At first his tone seemed harsh and resistant, as though his defenses were up and there were some grudge. Instead of withdrawing I asked and listened, asked and listened, asked and listened—no comment, no pronouncement, no assertion—just asked and listened.
After about half an hour there emerged a perceptible change in his tone. We stayed another half hour after others were gone. I learned much about the struggles of the church in that place and its desperate need for trained leadership, and how the parachurch ministries often draw away the most gifted and educated leaders from the pastoral ministry so that the churches often languish without the leadership they need. By the time we parted there was actually a developing warmth between us because I had not come on as a know-it-all American.
3) I love my wife more. It was amazing how largely family issues figured into this ten-day conference. There were good reasons:
- The PTL affair is known from Sweden to Sri Lanka. So the personal integrity of leaders was a top priority at the conference.
- A message from Gordon MacDonald was read to us concerning his tragic moral failure some time ago and his resignation from Inter-Varsity. John Stott sat with his face in his hands. The tears streamed down Leighton Ford’s face. And the participants were stunned.
- Leighton Ford’s vision for this younger leaders’ conference was born out the death of his 21-year-old son Sandy.
In other words, family was at the start and heart of this meeting. And the more we talked about it the more I loved Noël. I come home with new resolve to give her the time we need to weld an indestructible partnership for the greatest Cause in the world—which is far greater than the two of us.
Good to be home (with her and you),