CHRISTIANITY TODAY/September 5, 1986

More than 8,000 itinerant preachers left Amsterdam 86 better equipped to reach their countries for Christ.

A Dutch Christian described most of his country’s churches as somber places where the words “hallelujah” and “praise the Lord” are seldom heard. In sharp contrast, some 8,160 evangelists and 2,000 other Christians who recently spent ten days in Amsterdam raised the rafters of the huge RAI Center with shouts of praise. Billy Graham, whose organization sponsored the International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists (ICIE), said “hallelujah” is possibly the only word that is the same in every language.

The conference, also called Amsterdam 86, was a larger version of the first ICIE held in Amsterdam in 1983. This year’s meeting offered 22 plenary sessions, five conference-wide seminars, and 141 workshops. A team of 112 interpreters translated plenary sessions into 25 languages. Before he spoke, Los Angeles pastor E. V. Hill told interpreters: “If my joke doesn’t work [in your language], tell one of your own. Just make sure it’s funny.”

Encouragement And Inspiration

In addition to training opportunities, Amsterdam 86 offered plenty of fellowship, encouragement, and inspiration. Conference planners based their work on a “purpose statement” rather than on setting measurable goals, said ICIE program director John Corts. “The primary purpose is … to encourage, to equip, and to motivate the evangelists of the world,” he said. “Probably 70 percent of our purpose is in the area of encouragement. Twenty percent of it is in the area of specific training.… And we’d like to be effective in motivating them.”

Corts acknowledged that such a purpose statement might not make sense to Westerners accustomed to measuring the impact of such efforts. But he insisted Amsterdam 86 was well worth its $21 million budget.

“We don’t want the evangelists going back [home] saying, ‘I’ve got to produce twice as many as I had last year.’ … We didn’t bring them here to badger them some more. They’re here to be encouraged. Is it worth it? Yes. It may be closer to the biblical admonition than our quantifying.”

Corts and other conference executives said feedback from 1983 participants indicates their approach is producing results. In response to a survey sent out by the ICIE communications department, an Indian evangelist who attended the 1983 conference wrote: “Many times I have used Dr. Graham’s messages and jokes in my presentation, and it has a good effect on the audience.… Since [Amsterdam 83], the crowds in evangelistic meetings increased and the number of souls [receiving] salvation increased.”

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A 1983 participant from Ghana sent the ICIE staff a letter, describing the effect on his ministry. “When I preached at two of my out-stations and issued the invitation, … wonder of wonders the entire congregation … moved in to accept the Lord. Not trusting my eyes, I repeated the invitation three times, laying the stress on every syllable. But the result was the same.… Every member moved forward.”

Graham told participants at this year’s conference it was his hope that the meeting would spark “a fire of revival” that will spread around the globe. “We … have within our hands technological breakthroughs in communication which make it possible to reach every corner of the earth with the gospel of peace before the year 2000.” “I am convinced we are facing a period of unprecedented harvest for the gospel,” Graham said. “There is a gigantic spiritual vacuum among the world’s five billion people that only the gospel of Christ can fill. We could see the greatest harvest for the gospel in the next few years our world has ever seen.”

Broad Representation

Amsterdam 86 attracted participants from some 173 countries and territories, more than any other meeting in recorded history. Some 78 percent of the participants came from developing nations, called the Two-Thirds World in light of its population. Because of the broad international representation and an increase in terrorist acts around the world, security was tight. People could not enter the building without displaying a plastic wristband and a name tag. They also had to walk through metal detectors, and all bags were sent through an X-ray machine.

“[The security apparatus] is designed to protect all the participants, which includes participants from Libya, Iraq, and Iran,” said ICIE chairman Walter Smyth. Some participants asked not to be photographed, apparently to avoid possible problems once they returned to their home countries, ICIE executive director Werner Burklin said he knew of no direct threats against the conference, and Graham told reporters that canceling the meeting “never crossed our minds.”

The idea for Amsterdam 86 was born after some 6,000 evangelists had to be turned away from the 1983 conference due to a lack of space and funds. Burklin said an additional 5,000 evangelists sent letters after the 1983 conference to inquire about a second meeting. More than 65,000 persons eventually inquired about or were recommended to attend Amsterdam 86, and some 22,000 filled out formal applications.

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Program chairman Leighton Ford said as many as seven regional conferences might be held in Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Pacific Islands as an “extension and expansion of Amsterdam 86.”

Tools And Clothing

Most of the evangelists at this year’s meeting were given clothing and a canvas bag containing 30 items, including books, audiocassette tapes, and a hand-cranked tape player. Clothing, both new and second-hand, was donated by Christians in the Netherlands, Korea, Canada, the United States, and England. Each evangelist received a tropical shirt, a dress shirt, a necktie, a scarf for his wife, and a choice of ten additional items.

A man who arrived in Amsterdam with no shoes found a pair. Another, who said he had no money to buy his daughter a wedding dress, obtained one. And an evangelist who asked for curtains and cloth suitable to cover a Communion table found his needs met. By the end of the conference, more than 100,000 pieces of clothing were distributed, financed by Samaritan’s Purse at a cost of nearly $300,000.

Facts and Figures from Amsterdam 86

The International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists was replete with fascinating statistics and heart-warming stories. Among them:

• An evangelist from Ghana spent all his money paying for his visa, leaving him without funds for land transportation. As a result, he walked 140 miles to the airport where he caught a flight to Amsterdam. Another evangelist traveled 12 days by boat to Jakarta, Indonesia, before boarding a plane for a flight halfway around the world.

• During preparations for the conference, a 484-megabyte computer system, with 40 terminals and printers, worked around the clock for nine months.

• Until the Amsterdam 86 staff moved to the RAI convention center, it occupied three floors of a downtown Amsterdam office building.

• Hundreds of lost items were recovered by participants at the conference’s lost-and-found center. Close to the end of the event, lost items included 15 handbags, 12 coats, 39 Bibles, four song-books, nine umbrellas, 12 sweaters, and nine overcoats.

• Contributions to pay for the $21 million event averaged $8.75.

• Two California women, Jeanie Graff and Debbie Larson, scrubbed floors, washed dogs, and painted a 100-foot fence to earn money to pay for their trip to Amsterdam. They served as stewards at the conference.

• Some 166,500 bottles of distilled water were consumed during the conference. Bottled water was provided because people from Third World countries can get sick on European tap water.

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• One North American participant, the operator of a home for abused women, started her trek toward Amsterdam through reading an article by Billy Graham about love, sex, and marriage. The woman became a Christian, got her life in order, and set out to evangelize prostitutes.

• Amsterdam 86 staffer Jeanine van Halteren sported hair that was green in front, blond in the back, and shaved on the sides. Earrings dangled around her face, and her clothes were bright orange and green, van Halteren serves with Youth With A Mission as an evangelist to punk rockers. She joined the Amsterdam 86 art department part-time, designing many of the conference directional signs. Before the event was over, one participant attempted to convert her.

By Lloyd Mackey in Amsterdam.

Spiritual Battle

The conference attracted evangelists who serve on the front lines of spiritual battle. Ghanian preacher Joseph Donkor grew up near an area where idol worship and black magic are popular. He says he felt called to evangelize those people.

In one village, a spiritist priest tried to prevent Donkor and his gospel team from preaching. The priest repeated an incantation, causing it to rain, and the villagers scattered. But Donkor told the priest, “Our God is greater.” Part of the gospel team prayed while the rest sang praises to God. Within ten minutes the rain stopped, the priest left, the people came back out of their houses, and “many became Christians,” Donkor said.

Another participant, Filipino church planter Juan Lorenzo, ministers in a fishing village. He does door-to-door evangelism and helps villagers find jobs and obtain food and medicine. In less than one year, 54 new Christians are worshiping at his church.

“Mainly we’re working in remote areas, and it frustrates me,” Lorenzo said. “But seeing this great number of people gives me moral upliftment that I’m not the only one who has suffered frustrations and defeat. I have with me 8,000 other evangelists, and that gives me encouragement to go on.”

By Ron Lee in Amsterdam.

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