The Coming Harvest
February 1, 2007 - Over the past few years it has become increasingly clear to me that God is accelerating His activity on earth. I have been involved in full-time Christian ministry for 37 years, and I have experienced the difference in what He is doing.
by Steve Douglass
I first noticed this 10 days after Sept. 11, 2001. I was in New York City, in a park just north of Ground Zero and a number of us were distributing a newly created evangelistic booklet. People around us were eager to receive the booklet, and some came back in a few minutes to ask for more for their friends and family. I saw one copy lying on the ground, but before I could pick it up an elderly woman swooped in front of me and grabbed it. It took a crisis to melt people’s hardened hearts, but it was clear that God was moving.
Looking back, an even bigger example is the Jesus film, a feature-length docu-drama on the life of Christ, based on the Gospel of Luke. Since its production in 1979, the film has been translated into more than 950 languages and has been shown in every country on earth. There have been more than 6 billion exposures to the Gospel through the film and audio versions of it. More than 200 million people have indicated decisions to receive Jesus Christ. One million churches have been planted by using the film.
An example of a church-planting occurred several years ago in Ethiopia. Two neighboring tribes were at war, killing each other on a regular basis. One evening, a Jesus film team set up a projector and screen in an open area between the two tribes. Since the screen could be viewed from both sides, many members of both tribes came to the showing. At the end, when the invitation to receive Christ was given, people from both sides flooded forward to repent of their sins. And then something even more remarkable happened. People from each side went over to embrace people from the other side. Within weeks a church was planted at that location—with people attending from both tribes!
It is a time of great harvest. God is opening many doors of opportunity; we just need to see them. That was what Jesus said to His disciples after His encounter with the woman at the well near Sychar, Samaria. The woman had encouraged the people of the town to go see this Man who, she said, told her everything she ever did. As the people of the town flocked toward Jesus, He said to His disciples, “Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest?’ I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for the harvest” (John 4:35 NIV).
Perhaps nothing shows the new harvest more graphically than the Internet. On Campus Crusade for Christ Web sites alone, someone reads the Gospel every four seconds, and someone indicates a decision every minute. After a decision is made, each person is given a chance to engage in follow-up by e-mail. One high school girl from Canada wrote, “I didn’t think you’d respond back so fast. Thanks for understanding. It means a lot. Until I e-mailed this to you … I was pretty much thinking about killing myself. … but now I feel that somebody’s finally trying to help me.”
In the Middle East, God is stepping things up as well. For example, the film The Passion of the Christ made a successful theater run through many Middle Eastern countries. Muslims waited in long lines to see a graphic picture of how much Christ suffered for the sins of others.
And many people in the Middle East are seeing dreams or other special appearances of Jesus. One Iranian woman was watching a broadcast of the Jesus film on SAT 7, a Christian satellite TV channel. At the close of the showing, Jesus is quoted as saying, “Behold I stand at the door and knock.” Of course, the reference is to Revelation 3:20, alluding to the door of a person’s heart. But the woman misunderstood and thought Jesus was referring to the door to her room. So, she walked over to the door and opened it, only to be driven to the floor by a blinding light. As her eyes adjusted, she saw a vision of Jesus in the doorway asking, “Will you let Me in?” She came to Christ on the spot.
In India at the beginning of 2001, surveys put the number of baptized believers at 2 percent of the population. By the end of 2004, that number had grown to 7 percent. Keep in mind that the population of India is about 1 billion. So that means 50 million Indians came to Christ and were baptized in a four-year period! What makes this even more remarkable is that, partly due to family and cultural opposition, there are estimated to be one or more not-yet-baptized believers for every one who is baptized. That would put the number of people who came to Christ during this four-year period in India at 100 million. It truly is harvest time!
About eight years ago the entire Body of Christ was planting about 100,000 churches per year worldwide, according to DAWN (Discipling a Whole Nation) Ministries. That number multiplied to more than 500,000 in 2005.
But I believe we have only experienced a foretaste of what God is about to do. I have the privilege of taking part in many partnership meetings involving denominational and ministry leaders, and I am personally seeing a marked increase in cooperation and unity. On one occasion a top representative from a large, mainstream-evangelical denomination had a stack of church-planting training materials in front of him. He proceeded to push those materials across the table to a leader from a large parachurch ministry with more charismatic leanings. “Every bit of material we have on church planting is yours, free,” he said.
In that same partnership I learned of a course designed to minister among illiterate people. As part of the course, a Christian can take a person who doesn’t read from being a new believer to being a senior pastor or a missionary, without requiring that person to learn to read. That is crucial in languages where there is little or nothing at all in writing.
Also, according to Robert Creson, the president of Wycliffe Bible Translators, there has been a radical improvement in how long it takes to translate enough of the Scriptures to start churches in a new language. It used to take 13 years; now it takes two. Wycliffe is aiming to have a translation project going in every language on earth where one is needed by the year 2025.
The “Back to Jerusalem Movement” in China is another example of massive evangelism. In a place where the Church has grown from 2 million to 100 million in the past six decades, Christians feel it is their God-given assignment to take the Gospel west—back to Jerusalem where it started. They hope to send as many as 100,000 missionaries for that effort. As one considers the challenging circumstances present in the intervening countries they intend to reach, one starts to realize that thousands of Chinese missionaries will probably be martyred in the years to come. Yet one of their maxims is, “Today I am prepared to die for Jesus.”
It is impossible for me to consider all of these developments without being driven to the conclusion that God is on the move today. He is assembling His “armies.” He is equipping them with tools to deal with illiteracy and with Scriptures to be available for every heart language. He is causing Christians to work in unity like never before in modern Church history.
I believe that in the next 10 years we will see the greatest evangelistic harvest of all of history. And you and I have the blessing of sharing the Gospel right in the middle of it. What an unbelievable privilege!