Musical Proclaims "The Time Has Come"
The extent to which the Assemblies of God has become a worldwide movement became apparent Friday night at an upbeat and hopeful World Missions celebration in the MCI Center.
To sustained applause and a standing ovation, missionaries from 206 countries – 15 more than represented in the United Nations – paraded into the arena with flags and attire from their adopted homelands. A 20-voice Latin American ChildCare choir opened the three-hour-plus celebration with a rousing Spanish-language rendition of "Ancient of Days." A colorfully-dressed Samoan choir led worship. A video showed Cuban teens freely and joyously singing for the Lord on their island.
In the past decade, the Fellowship has grown by more than 17 million constituents – 74 percent – and 97,000 churches. There are nearly 48 million followers now in more than 236,000 AG congregations around the globe. In the past biennium, the Assemblies of God has approved its greatest number of foreign missionary candidates in history: 446.
Keynote speaker L. John Bueno, executive director of AG World Missions, noted that Jesus began his public ministry with the words "The time has come." Such an announcement signified more than a fad, Bueno indicated. Rather, Jesus’ words and his imminent kingdom changed history forever.
Such a theme still has meaning, 2,000 years after the Savior walked the earth, Bueno said. The words of Jesus continue to be worth living – and dying – for, he said. The time has come for all cultures, political dictators and despots notwithstanding, to know Jesus, Bueno said. Missionaries are willingly pleading to go to repressed foreign lands at the risk of their lives.
World Missionaries enter the MCI Center Friday night.
"Let’s send them now," Bueno said. "The time is now."
Dan Betzer, pastor of First Assembly of God in Fort Myers, Florida, urged the thousands gathered to give generously to a Sender’s Fund offering. He said a Friday night contribution of $2 million could cut the itineration time of missionary candidates by an average of three months. Betzer recounted how every miracle that has occurred at the church he pastors is attributable to generous missions giving.
"Missionaries tell me for every 10 calls they make to pastors they get through only one time," Betzer said. "We’re hard to get through to, pastors. But why would we not respond to missionaries, pastors?"
Betzer, noting that he is committing his church to a $1,000 monthly pledge and his family to a $100 per month contribution, asked every pastor in the crowd to agree to a monthly Sender’s Fund pledge. He noted that increased giving to missions throughout the Fellowship has reduced the average length of itineration for new candidates to 13 months from 22 months. He said a bountiful cash offering and faith promise Friday night could cut that to 10 months.
The evening included the debut of "The Time Has Come," a 25-minute musical directed by J. Daniel Smith of Bethesda Community Church in Fort Worth, Texas. As members from the Bethesda church, LACC and the Samoan choirs sang, those in the arena saw a video compilation of missionaries in action: feeding the poor, preaching the gospel, praising the Lord, providing medical care to the sick and teaching the children. The clips included segments that AG missions pioneers wouldn’t have dreamed possible in some countries formerly closed to the gospel. For instance, police in the nation of Cuba escorted youths being filmed in cars riding around Havana as they sang contemporary Christian music.
Early in the service, the General Council paid recognition to Bueno and his wife, Lois, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Latin American ChildCare. The couple, then in their early 20s, became AG missionaries in 1961 and started Evangelistic Center in San Salvador, the capital city of El Salvador. Two years later they opened an elementary school for 81 needy children.
"You could not ignore the hunger, poverty and lack of education that you saw ruining the lives of the children who lived near your church," a declaration from the General Council reads. "Today, the vision for that one school has become Latin America ChildCare, an outreach in 20 nations, impacting more than 80,000 children each day through 300 Christian schools that not only educate children and help break the vicious cycle of poverty and desperation, but give them the hope of Jesus Christ for their eternal future."
LACC provides education, clothing, food and health care to needy children throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. In its 40 years, LACC has helped 750,000 children, young people who likely would have lived in squalor or roamed the streets otherwise.
Bueno pastored Evangelistic Center in El Salvador for 25 years before moving on to area director, regional director and ultimately executive director of Assemblies of God World Missions six years ago. Friday night, choking back emotion, Bueno thanked churches and individuals whose sponsorship makes the LACCC educational programs possible.
The current missions growth, Bueno says, is in line with a measure approved by delegates at the 2nd General Council in 1914 in Chicago: "As a Council, we hereby express our gratitude to God for His great blessing upon the movement in the past. We are grateful to Him for the results attending this forward movement and we commit ourselves and the movement to Him for the greatest evangelism that the world has ever seen. We pledge our hearty co-operation, prayers and help to this end."