Praise God for the growth of the Church into new places. Lands previously cut off from overt Christian ministry are now home to dynamic, growing churches and unprecedented numbers of believers. This started with China in earlier decades, then moved to the former Soviet countries in Central Asia, the Caucasus Republics and Mongolia in the 1990s, and most recently in a number of Southeast Asian countries. Even in the heart of the Muslim world, thriving ministry to Christian populations (and other expatriate, non-Muslim peoples) is happening. Only in Saudi Arabia and Maldives are there no public-meeting Christian congregations; even in these countries (and many others), there are numbers of believers meeting together privately or in secret.
Church growth in Asia continues to be remarkable; for its sheer scale, for its unprecedented occurrence in previously unevangelized nations and regions and, in many areas, for how long it has been sustained. Some of the greatest growth in the past decade or two has been in China, India, Nepal, Iran, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam and, although unverifiable, North Korea.
- All Christians have increased from 22 million (2.3%) in 1900 to nearly 370 million (8.8%) in 2010.
- Protestant, Independent and Anglican Christians increased from under 3 million (0.3%) in 1900 to nearly 200 million (4.9%) in 2010.
- Catholic growth was slower, but still significant – from 11.1 million (1.2%) to 142 million (3.4%) over the same period.
- Evangelicals in Asia, nearly 150 million, now number more than those on any other continent apart from Africa. It is also the continent with the second-fastest growing evangelical population; if measured only by conversion rate (and not including biological growth), Asia has the fastest growing evangelical population by a significant margin – 33% faster than any other region.
Many previously unevangelized peoples are experiencing spiritual first fruits and in some cases breakthrough. There are too many to list, but some of the more prominent peoples to experience such include Shaikh (Bengali), Vietnamese, Burmese, Pashtun, Persian, Iraqi Arab, Bhil, Gond, Khmer, Kazakh, Kurd and Kyrgyz. Additionally, significant Christian growth has occurred in several clusters of smaller peoples, such as in the region of North Vietnam-Laos-Myanmar-Yunnan Province in China and in Western China-Nepal.
China is in the midst of amazing changes. Beyond the economic shift that has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, beyond the positive changes that the further opening of the country has brought, the Church in China is signalling a massive change in this, the world's largest population. Christians in China now almost certainly exceed 100 million. They are present in all regions of the country and come from all walks of life. They love their country and have ambitious visions to see it transformed by the power of the gospel. The government, traditionally a ruthless persecutor of the Church, now recognizes the positive social impact Christians can make and increasingly accepts the reality that the Church in China is there to stay - and will play a major role in shaping the country's future.
India is experiencing its own extraordinary harvest. Much of this is happening among the Dalits, the Untouchables outside of the caste system. Due to continuing persecution, social mores and the systemic discrimination that occurs against those who become Christian, the reported growth of Christianity is very modest compared to what is more likely to be reality. The compassionate ministry to Dalits and Tribal peoples demonstrates the compassion of God and generates a phenomenal response that ministries cannot keep up with. But increasingly, inroads are also being made into the fast-growing middle classes, the upper castes and into previously unreached areas such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
The increase in the number of Muslim Background Believers (MBBs). The hatred and violence of Islamist extremists most likely contribute to many Muslims' disillusion and greater openness to the gospel. While there are pockets of particularly momentous change, the inflow of Muslims into the Kingdom of God is indeed happening through much of the Muslim world, albeit under the radar and on a modest level in many areas. Dreams and visions from the Lord, combined with encounters with Scripture and demonstrations of God's love, play a large role in many of these testimonies. Other major factors include specific and sustained intercession for the Muslim world, increased efforts to reach them, more sensitive cultural approaches and the widespread use of media - satellite television programmes, radio and film/video. The impact of the Internet in communicating the gospel, leading Muslims to faith in Jesus and discipling new believers cannot be overstated.
The emergence of a mature, international missionary involvement. The growth of commitment and involvement in cross-cultural outreach in India is praiseworthy. South Korea, the Philippines and the Chinese diaspora are major components of the world's missionary outreach. The Back to Jerusalem vision in China and the vision to mobilize the Filipino emigrant workforce could be the two most significant dynamics for world mission in the 21st Century. Yet humility, cultural sensitivity and genuine willingness to work together across denominations, nationalities and ethnicities are all needed for Asian mission work as much as for anywhere else.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.