The Bells are Ringing
The World Methodist Conference meeting in Seoul, Korea, July 20-24, 2006 set evangelism as its worldwide priority for the next five years. The World Methodist Council links together churches in the Methodist/Wesleyan tradition in 138 countries. The World Methodist family includes 75 million persons who worship in more than 500 different languages. Worldwide, the “Methodist Communion” is growing at more than one million persons per year.
At the World Methodist Conference more than 3000 persons from 71 countries heard dynamic reports on the ministry of the World Evangelism Division of the Council by Dr. Maxie Dunnam, Chairperson. Dunnam said, “What World Evangelism is doing in leadership development, faith-sharing and connecting congregations through the world is one of the most powerful dynamics in contemporary Christianity.”
The theme for World Methodism Evangelism is, The Bells are Ringing, That the World May Know Jesus Christ. The theme is rooted in a dramatic story of faithfulness in the Methodist Movement in Bulgaria. It is a joy to share this story.
For more than seventy years, a beautiful bell rang in the tower of the Methodist Church in Bulgaria. From the time it was given as a gift to the Methodist Church in Bulgaria in 1890, it called the people to worship with joy and expectation after their liberation from 500 years of domination.
However during the Communist regime of the sixties, the church building was confiscated. One Sunday the congregation came to church and it was closed. Benches, hymnals and pulpit were all thrown out into the fields. The people were forbidden to come near the church and were forbidden to gather for worship. When the church building was later converted into a puppet theatre, the bell tower was demolished. Three brave young people, pretended to be workers took the bell, and buried it in secret garden. For nearly forty years, the bell laid silent in its grave in the garden.
Evil never has the last word! When the winds of change came across Bulgaria, the church building was reclaimed. In a gesture of good will, the congregation offered the ‘puppet theatre’ to the children of Varna and in gratitude, the government donated a plot of ground for the building of a new church. Even though construction of the new church building took more than a decade, at the beginning of the process, the congregation resurrected the 550 pound bell secret garden tomb. The bell tomb was opened and the bell was raised from its grave. When the new bell tower was completed, the bell was placed at the highest point in the sky above Varna.
The congregation decided that the bell would not ring until the entire building was completed and dedicated to the glory of God. The Lord continued to bless the people. Many people contributed and through World Methodist Evangelism, a family made a huge sacrifice to help finish the church. On the day of dedication in September 29, 2002—after nearly forty years of silence—the bell rang again!
Today, the very precious bell chimes from the tower of the new Methodist Church in Varna. One of the young people who buried the bell is now Superintendent Bedros Altunian who says, ‘As the pastor, I stand each Sunday morning with the congregation listening to each toll of our bell as it resonates in our hearts and testifies to the faithfulness of God.’
The Bell rang in creation. God created out of nothing, and brought order in chaos. He created humanity in the image of God, and the Bell declares that we, all are children of the living God. In our disobedience and in our sin we desperately hide from the call of God, but the ringing of the bell, the voice of God penetrates the garden. The bell will not be silenced by our sin. The Bell rings through the prophets, in the songs of the Psalmist and uniquely, in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And today, all over the world the bells are ringing through the power of the Holy Spirit. And today, everywhere, people in the world need to hear the bell.
Just as the bell rang on Pentecost Day in a mission situation, so today in the world the church is in a mission situation. The church was born into a multicultural, multireligious world as the world in which the church ministers in the 21st century.
We live in a world of division, war and violence and it is not God’s intent for God’s creation. Christians everywhere are called to ring the bell of salvation, healing and hope in the world.
The challenge is for Christians everywhere to do their part in spreading the good news of the gospel. Through World Methodist Evangelism the Bell is ringing through specific ministries. Some examples of these ministries are as follows:
~**International Christian Youth Conferences on Evangelism attended by more than 6000 young people, ages 17-30*~~*Unique wholistic ministries of evangelism, spreading the good news of Christ Jesus through word, deed and sign have been part of World Methodist Evangelism from its beginning. These ministries include EvangeMed in the favellas of Rio and in Amazonia, Brazil providing access to medical care and healing, hope and salvation in the name of Christ Jesus. The ministry of EvangeBread offers a warm meal, tutoring and stories of faith for children in Bulgaria. EvangeBicy are “good news bikes” for lay pastors across the island of Cuba.*~~*More than one half-million of The Faith-Sharing New Testaments which focuses on the ‘Grace-full pattern for sharing the good news of Christ Jesus has been published in 37 languages in the past decade.*~~*Training programs in evangelism have been provided for more than 6,000 leaders through the World Methodist Evangelism Institute.*~~*Eight hundred young pastors are trained as members of the Order of the FLAME to be committed to “doing the work of an evangelist and carrying out the ministry fully.*~~*And through Connecting Congregations, new churches have developed on every continent in the past 15 years.**~
We are compelled by our passion that “The World May Know Jesus Christ.”
Our unity is in Christ Jesus, full of grace and truth. There are parts of our movement today which are in decline, and in denial, who are suffering from ‘truth decay.’ Christian congregations are challenged to hold fast to the core values of our faith, for if there is no center, there is no circumference.
We, Christians everywhere, are called to be bell ringers of the gospel. There is a song which many of us have heard, If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning…Well there is a second verse, ‘If I had a bell, I’d ring it in the morning…in the evening, all over this land.’ We, Christians everywhere have a bell and we are called to be bell ringers of the good news. The people in Bulgaria are ringing the bell and they inspire and encourage Christians everywhere to be bell ringers in Jesus’ Name.
At the conference in Korea, the emphasis continued as many the delegates gathered at the Peace Bell in the Korean Demilitarized Zone on Sunday declaring that the bell would ring in the name of Jesus Christ for all the people on the Korean peninsula. It is our prayer and hope that the Bell of the Good News of Jesus Christ will ring for the whole world. Evil will not silence it, nor can any tomb contain it. The bell rings!