If you talk to church leaders in this country, they are in awe of South Korean churches, one of which has 800,000 members. [Yoido Full Gospel Church, a Pentecostal Church in Seoul] I was at a leadership conference a few years back, and the presenter was talking about church growth. Our basic problem, he said, is this: the average Methodist in South Korea invites two people to church every week but the average Methodist in the U.S. invites one person every 38 years. Do the math. Do you think we could learn something from our Korean sisters and brothers?
Here in the Gospel of Mark we learn that exorcisms were a hallmark of Jesus' ministry. "And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons." [1:39] The practice sounds perfectly medieval to us, but it is not. In fact, casting out demons is making quite a comeback in Christianity these days.
I asked Father Lawrance about how Assyrian Christians interpret the story of Jonah and what it means for them today. He sent me a long email back and told me that three weeks before the beginning of Lent, the Assyrian Church commemorates the repentance of the Ninevites with a three-day fast. [It's called Baouta d' Ninwayeh or the Rogation (beseeching) of the Ninevites.] This tradition dates back to the 6th century, when there was a plague in the city of Kirkuk in Northern Iraq. The Christians there fasted and prayed, just as the Ninevites had done, and the plague miraculously ended. Ever since then, the Churches of the East have strictly observed this fast. It begins tomorrow.
And that just touches the need in our own neighborhood. What about Nazareth? Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Two thousand years ago, Jesus did. Today, the Jesus Trail does. The good news coming out of Nazareth today is the Jesus Trail. It was started by two young guys who had hiked all over the world and wanted to create a world-class trail in Israel that would not only promote ecotourism but "build transformational relationships and understandings between different nationalities, cultures and religions in the Middle East." [from jesustrail.com]
Right now, I wish we had a festival like Timkat. In general, I think Protestantism could use a few parades. But I don't think three days are nearly enough to celebrate our baptism, because I can't begin to imagine the rest of life without it. Ethiopian Christians know that baptism is a very big deal and that one way or another life will teach us to remember our baptism every single day and be thankful.
Can you see what I'm getting at here? Christianity didn't come to us fully formed with the birth of Christ. It was God's plan to reveal to us the "boundless riches of Christ" through the spread of Christianity into Gentile cultures. This was Paul's task: to reveal Christ to the Gentiles and to build up the Body of Christ in lands outside of Palestine so that "through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known…" [3:10]