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26 April 2016

Spreading the good news of the global Church

Spreading the good news of the global Church

Timothy Goropevsek is the director of communications for the World Evangelical Alliance. Before joining the WEA, he was involved in student ministry, church planting and also worked for several years as a reporter for a Christian newspaper. He spoke to Amaris Cole about his role, the importance of living authentically and what we can do to help the global Church.

Can you explain what your role at the WEA involves?

I'm working with a small team in New York and my role includes anything related to spreading information internally and externally, through the website, social media, newsletter, media releases, and so on. And I'm also involved in membership and fundraising. 

A lot of my work has to do with writing and putting thoughts, ideas and information into words that the respective audiences can easily understand. This is obviously not always a simple task, as our message should reach and touch people in Brazil, India, Kenya, Korea, the US and the UK in the same way – to just name a few! It's a very interesting and enriching job and I feel privileged to be allowed to serve God and His Kingdom in this way.

In addition to my 'regular' communications work, I'm also part of the executive leadership team, along with our secretary general Bishop Efraim Tendero and five other colleagues.

We try to be 'good news people', but the media and culture in the UK often portrays Christians in a negative light. Do you think the global Church does enough to tell the news of the amazing things Christians are doing?

Media plays a huge role nowadays and this becomes a challenge for us if they seem to turn against anything Christian. What plays into this is that media often like to report on what is sensational and more often than not, the voices that are then quoted in the headlines are extreme, polarizing and not representative of who most Christians are and what they stand for.

At our recent International Leadership Forum in Korea, we had one session on public engagement and what we looked at was how our personal lives are reflected in what we do and say in public. And public doesn't necessarily mean in the media – it could be anything that has to do with others, starting with personal conversations or your behavior at work, at school, etc.

The key passage we focused on was Galatians 5:22-23, the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If we focus on growing in those and living out these qualities – in private and in public – then people will notice. And their understanding of Christians will likely be influenced by your life more than by what they read in the news. They might say: "Well, the media say that Christians are intolerant, homophobic, old-fashioned and I don't know what else, but my friend who is a Christian is none of these in real life."

We also have to be careful not to become reactionary, frustrated, defensive or even afraid. Yes, times may be challenging, but we just can't help sharing the good news of Jesus Christ!

You must hear some amazing work being done across the world – what's been the most inspiring story recently?

Personally, I'm always touched when I hear how Christians who themselves live in very poor circumstances share the little they have with those in need. That's the message of the gospel lived out authentically. In recent months, the refugee crisis was in the headlines all the time, but what the media don't report is how local churches in Turkey, Greece, and many other countries are serving refugees selflessly.

Christians along the so-called 'Refugee Highway' not only care for the physical needs of refugees, but also the emotional and spiritual needs. There are also many churches within refugee camps led by refugee pastors. In the midst of all the tragic situations that cause people to flee – be it conflict, persecution, or other reasons – there is God who sees and cares and uses His people to heal and restore. 

We're concerned about the reports of persecution we're hearing in the media. As someone reporting on the plight of evangelicals around the world, do you think these attacks against our brothers and sisters have been increasing during your time at the WEA?

Persecution around the world is clearly on the rise overall and it takes on many forms. From discrimination to legal restrictions of worship to criminalising Christianity and outright persecution of Christians. It's also not restricted to one country or even one region, it's a global trend and it's concerning. It's therefore also a major focus of the WEA to raise awareness among Christians and the general public; to advocate for religious liberty – for all, not just for Christians – at the United Nations, in public and private meetings with government leaders, and on other occasions; and also to equip local churches to respond to discrimination and persecution. 

Our Religious Liberty Commission does annual training events where they teach the biblical theology of persecution, how to do systematic research and recording of violations, how to do advocacy with government, and more. We recently held a consultation in Africa on 'a Christian response to persecution'. How do you, as pastor, respond if they burn down your church? How do you as a Christian respond if your loved ones are killed because of their faith? These are some very challenging questions.

But again, what stands out is their request to their sisters and brothers in Christ around the world. If you ask them: what can we do for you? Most respond: "Please pray for us!" The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (idop.org) on the first two Sundays of November is an excellent opportunity to raise this topic as part of a worship service. But it's an issue that should be on our minds and in our prayers always, for "if one suffers, all suffer together" 1 Corinthians 12:26.

The UK is about to vote on whether we should stay in the European Union. It feels like the continent is becoming increasingly secular – as someone from outside Europe, have you noticed this?

Yes, it's noticeable that Europe is becoming more secular and that there is an increasing tendency to move away from the Christian roots and values. But similarly to the question about media, I think it's important not to be defensive or withdraw from public life or to hide our Christian faith. Instead, we should seek God even more in prayer and in the study of His word and live it out each day of our life in public and in private, so that we truly are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We should ask ourselves: does our life reflect the relevance of God's word for us here and now? The challenge is not just secularism in society, but it's secularism coming into the Church that we have to be concerned about. The gospel is very contagious, but only if it is lived out authentically in our personal life. 

Is the global Church concerned about Europe?

I do hear sometimes that people are concerned about the secularisation of Europe and the apparent decline of Christianity on the continent where it once was so strong. Some, in other regions, are concerned this is potentially a preview of what will happen in their own countries one day if their economy develops and people become rich and think they don't need God anymore. But they're also praying that the spiritual hunger that can't be satisfied by the world will bring people back to God who alone can satisfy.

What can the Church in the UK do to help our evangelical global neighbours?

At the WEA, we say we serve some 600 million evangelicals around the world, and this is actually a very conservative estimate, so it's 
a big family out there! If you consider yourself a child of God and a citizen of this world – not just the United Kingdom – then take some time to think about and pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.

For example, if you read the news about the refugee crisis, what is it that comes to your mind? Do you think about Mary, your sister in Christ, who had to flee because she's persecuted for her faith and her home was burnt down? How would you respond if Mary was your physical sister? Do you think about your brother in Christ James who was born in a refugee camp 18 years ago and who's home address has always been 'Kakuma Refugee Camp', living alongside 200,000 other refugees? What would you do if James was your physical brother? I believe that our point of view changes – and our prayer changes – when we put a face to a global issue and when we as Christians forget about nationality for a moment and look at our family from the perspective of our Heavenly Father.

What would you like the UK Church to pray for the World Evangelical Alliance?

Please pray that God continues to use the WEA to bring Christians together across geographical and organisational borders and contribute to unity among evangelicals, so that the world sees a strong witness of love lived out (John 17). We seek to fulfill this by strengthening national Evangelical Alliances like yours in the UK and establish them in countries where they don't yet exist. Pray that the WEA can be a faithful and strong evangelical voice to UN, governments and media – a voice that is invitational to the gospel. And please pray that WEA can equip churches through training and resources to respond to issues like persecution, refugees, human trafficking and others, so that they can truly be salt and light in their neighbourhoods.

To find out more about the World Evangelical Alliance, visit worldea.org

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