The millennium has galvanized evangelical Christians. They're focused not on the end of the world, but on what they see as the possibility, for the first time in history, of fulfilling Christ Jesus' great commission: "Go ye into all the world and make disciples of all nations" and "preach the Gospel to every creature."
While globe-shrinking technology has paved the way, another development most fuels their hopes of evangelizing the world: A global prayer movement has gathered such momentum over the past decade that they feel God is moving people toward a new awakening.
This prayer movement has grown "so significantly that I would consider it to be probably the single most significant change in Christianity in the last two decades," says Glenn Sheppard, a Baptist pastor long involved in evangelism who now heads International Prayer Ministries, which gives prayer seminars worldwide.
The movement encompasses grassroots initiatives in many nations (in the United States, a goal of 3 million Lighthouses in communities, where Christians pray for their neighbors); a global strategy in which millions join in targeted prayer for specific cities and peoples; and a new World Prayer Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., using the Internet to link intercessors with prayer requests and alert them to world situations calling for prayer.
Evangelical pastors from many denominations pray together regularly "to take our cities for God." Churches adopt "unreached peoples" of the world for prayer. A new perspective on spiritual warfare - and a global Spiritual Warfare Network - is gathering adherents to its focus on "breaking spiritual strongholds" that prevent receptivity to the Gospel (story coming Sept. 23).
When you look back in history before awakenings, you can find the roots in united prayer, says Jonathan Graf, editor of Pray! magazine, which was launched two years ago in response to the burgeoning movement. "Jonathan Edwards, one of the instruments in the first Great Awakening [in the US], for years before it broke out brought together churches for 'concerts of prayer.' "
"Probably the most significant impetus [for the current movement]," suggests Dr. Sheppard, "was the awareness that 'method evangelism' had not brought significant changes in the world. People were trained in the methods of evangelism but they were not necessarily anointed."
Alvin Vander Griend, director of Houses of Prayer Everywhere, says that in the past "we have failed to understand the place that God intends prayer to have. Several passages in Scriptures make it very clear that God governs the world through the prayers of His people, that prayer releases His power and grace or directs His work."
The goal of the global movement - which is linked in an informal network called AD 2000 and Beyond - is "a church for every people and the Gospel for every person by AD 2000." The tasks, as evangelicals see it, are to make the Gospel available to every individual in a culturally understandable way and to plant a church among each of the 1,600 ethnolinguistic groups that have never before been reached.
"A prime part of our mission is encouraging the galvanization of global Christians in focused, fervent, united prayer," says Luis Bush, AD 2000's international director.
One strategy is "Praying Through the Window" - for "the lost" who live in what is called the "10/40 window," the rectangular area of North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia between 10 degrees and 40 degrees north latitude. This region, says Mr. Bush, contains the great majority of the world's least evangelized and 80 percent of its poorest people. It also represents areas of the world that are predominantly Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist.
Praying Through the Window began in October 1993, when some 21 million (according to AD 2000) prayed for the 62 nations in the window, and 188 prayer-journey teams took 257 journeys to pray on site, visiting each of those nations. During October 1995, some 36 million followed a prayer calendar targeting 100 "gateway cities" in the region, along with more prayer journeys. And in October 1997, prayers focused on the 1,739 unreached-people groups. The final effort is planned for October, targeting 3,000 "strategic towns."
To support this and "Joshua 2000" - the church-planting project - research and mapping organizations have created databases, people profiles, and maps to give intercessors tools to make prayers specific.
In-depth research is becoming a key element in prayer evangelism. "Spiritual mapping" of communities - "the discipline of diagnosing the obstacles to revival" - is a growing practice in other countries and the US, and feeds into spiritual-warfare prayer.
For those in the spiritual-warfare community, the Praying Through the Window initiatives are "the great air war preceding the entrance of the ground troops, the missionaries and church planters, who will go to the front lines to complete the Great Commission."
An area considered critical to fulfilling the plan is North India, which contains 40 percent of the population, is the religious hub of Hinduism, and the least evangelized part of the country. Bush says local Christian churches and organizations have put together specific strategies. They have come together in the North India Harvest Network, as AD 2000's Web site puts it, "to reach every people group in every city in every language in every geographic area." C. Peter Wagner, coordinator for the AD 2000 United Prayer Track has said, "Of all the nations in the world, India has the highest potential of fruitful investment of evangelistic effort at this time."
Over the past year, news media have reported attacks on Christian churches and missionaries by Hindus who, some reports say, are upset by Christian proselytizing. Hindu nationalism has strengthened in recent years, and a Hindu party heads the government for the first time.
Sheppard sees the results of prayer in Nepal, where his ministry planted a prayer movement back in 1990. Today, "the Nepali leaders are in contact with 3,000 to 5,000 people every other month sharing prayer requests and victories," and the Christian population "has grown from about 25,000 to between 400,000 and 500,000 today."
Evelyn Christenson, head of United Prayer Ministry in St. Paul, Minn. - who wrote the international bestseller "What Happens When Women Pray" and a study guide for evangelism praying - says healings are going on, too. She tells of a Muslim doctor who was to have an operation to remove her stomach. "She saw Jesus at the foot of her bed and was healed. She took him as her Savior. Now she tells her patients about Jesus."
As part of Joshua 2000, Ruggles Baptist Church in Boston has just "adopted" the Shan people in Burma and Thailand, where a member is a missionary. Larry Showalter, the pastor, says members plan a prayer journey there in January 2001.
To take full advantage of the Internet's networking potential, the $5.5 million World Prayer Center (WPC) opened its doors last fall. The WPC is outfitting a research center, a virtual observatory (online), and a place for "strategic prayer processing," says Derrick Trimble, observatory manager.
Prayer requests from all over the world will come in via developing National Prayer Networks ("50 now, shooting for 120 nations by the end of 2000"); local church prayer rooms in the US, and Lighthouses (see story below). Those in the networks will also have access to a database on countries and peoples, social and spiritual trends, religious sites and systems, cults and the occult, and spiritual mapping reports.
One of the co-founders of the WPC is C. Peter Wagner, who is also head of AD 2000's United Prayer effort and a leading proponent of spiritual warfare. When AD 2000 closes its doors in January 2001, the WPC expects to be fully operational, in Dr. Wagner's words, "to keep people in touch" and "properly equip them to wage effective spiritual warfare."
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society