The site was carefully chosen. The Brazilian state of Bahia has the second largest population of African blacks of any nation, and Christians there live amid a vast array of cultures.
"Salvador is a microcosm of the world's diversity," says Ana Langerak, a pastor from the Lutheran Church in Costa Rica. Langerak is director of the World Council of Churches unit that organized the Nov. 24-Dec. 3 conference on world mission and evangelism held in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil.
For 10 days, 638 Christians from more than 80 nations gathered to worship, study the Bible and hear presentations on the theme "Called to One Hope--The Gospel in Diverse Cultures."
Delegates and visitors gathered one morning on the dock at Solar do Unhao for worship. The dock is where the first Africans disembarked in 1550 when forced to Brazil as slaves. At dockside participants sang the spiritual Deep River, moving many of them to tears. Worshipers confessed to one another the sin of watching silently when others are enslaved and when innocent children are killed or starved.
Keynote speakers spoke of moral decay and human suffering as the central mission challenges of today. "Who will raise a voice against this moral decay if not the church?" asked Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk.
Flirting with hopelessness
Musimbi Kanyoro, a Kenyan theologian on staff with the Lutheran World Federation, spoke of today's human suffering that makes "our times ... ripe for flirting with hopelessness."
Kanyoro warned that "the witness of the church will not be credible unless we who claim to be church take into account the traumatic situation of millions of the world's people living in perilous conditions. What meaning can mission have in churches that seek to be a witness to Christ without sharing in the people's battles with the forces of oppression that assault their dignity?"
Participants applauded when veteran ecumenical leader Lesslie Newbigin told them, "The gospel is certainly the most important fact in the world and one that we cannot keep to ourselves."
© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers