In a pandemic setting, a gathering of 4,200 people from just under 200 countries sounds like a terrifyingly bad idea. We have had a whole different set of opportunities through Zoom events during lockdowns, but what have we missed? What will we lose if we do not gather as we did before all this?
It has been 10 years since the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization which was considered perhaps the most representative gathering of Christians in history. Lausanne has just published a report looking back on the impact of Capetown 2010. I will admit that reading this account was an odd experience. I feel antsy now even when I watch a movie where people crowd onto an elevator, so pictures of people shoulder to shoulder around tables for discussion and even holding hands to pray makes me nervous.
But I’m glad I took the time to look through. Let me give two reasons that I hope you do as well:
The first reason is that we need reminders of the value of real connection and interaction. It is going to take time for us to figure out post-covid life after the vaccines catch up and we are going to look at big international gatherings like this differently. But I think we need reminders of what is at stake. So many of the positive outcomes recorded here – and there are plenty – happened because two people from two different places ended up in the same room. Viruses are not the only things that spread by contact. We have to think about theological education in these terms as well. It is true that plenty of information can be shared over vast distances via Zoom, but a great deal of the benefit theological education relies on community in contact.
A second reason to take a look at the report is to be reminded that God is at work and the good news of Jesus is making significant progress. Lockdowns and limitations have taken centre stage for a long time now and it is good to have a diversion which reminds us that covid is not the only thing going on in the world.