Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

The death of two great men

In two days’ time the world lost two great men: Luciano Pavarotti, who was my favourite tenor and whose death was mainline news all over the world and Dr D James Kennedy, probably best-known for Evangelism Explosion (EE III). He died on 5 September. The report of his death was not on the mainline news (at least not where I live) – it was not even reported in the newspapers.
On two occasions I had had the privilege to meet Dr Kennedy. In 1996 I was invited to the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale for a celebration service, after EE III had been established in every single country in the world. The last country where EE III was started, was North Korea. Swaziland was one of the last countries where EE III was established. I had the honour to host the first EE III training clinic in Swaziland in 1994. When Dr Kennedy planned to have a celebration service, I received a telephone call with an invitation to join the occasion on behalf of Swaziland. What a great privilege!
Then in 1999 I was able to visit Fort Lauderdale again when my wife and I attended the newly-launched Evangelism Explosion for Children (Kids’ EE). During that week Dr Kennedy turned 69 and all of us attending the training were invited to tea with him. When I went to congratulate him, I mentioned that I had been there in 1996 and had also met him then. His immediate response was: Oh yes, I remember, you wore blue trousers on that occasion! He was joking, of course, but just for a moment I thought he was serious.
There’s a lot that he stood for and that he did which I would not be comfortable with myself, but that he inspired me to speak to others about their faith, cannot be denied. Through my training in EE III I have had countless occasions where I could share my faith with others. I have no idea how many of these people responded positively by accepting Jesus as Saviour. I’ve never been interested to count. It doesn’t matter. When I train people in evangelism I also emphasise that God did not send us to convert people. He sent us to tell others about God and about salvation. I’m the last one to say that EE III is a magic formula through which every person will be converted to Christianity. But even when people have rejected the gospel, I’ve had some of them say to me that, for the first time, they really understand what it is that Christians believe.
Pavarotti’s death touched me in another way. I never had the chance to meet him personally. I never even had the chance to attend a concert where he sang (tickets were just too expensive when he visited South Africa), but I have numerous recordings of him. I grew up in a home where music was extremely important. My father was also an opera tenor and I remember as a pre-schooler how we spent many hours as a family in concert halls in Durban (South Africa) where I grew up, whilst my dad was rehearsing for an opera. So, I couldn’t help feeling a bit nostalgic when watching the news on TV last night and hearing about Pavarotti’s death. (My dad died seven years ago and he also had great admiration for Pavarotti).
Well, I wasn’t really intending to write all of this. It just more or less came out as I started writing. And then I just thought to myself: Millions of fans were uplifted by the wonderful voice of Pavarotti. Millions of people started serving God after they had heard the gospel explained to them. Both are important to me. I believe that both are important to God. But as my son said yesterday: Perhaps, when we are in heaven, we will all be able to sing like Pavarotti.

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Friday, September 7, 2007 - Posted by | Death, Evangelism Explosion, Mission, Swaziland, Women

2 Comments »

  1. I have only a smattering of knowledge about Evangelism Explosion. Unfortunately, what I was exposed to seemed formulaic and somewhat harsh, but it could have been the people involved. I was heartened to read your take on it. Once again you are so balanced! I have said nearly the same on many occasions as you did. We are not to convert but to tell others about the L-rd. I truly believe this and I, for one, can live with myself much more easily if I am not having to get in people’s faces with the gospel.

    Before I entered ministry, I pursued and received my Music Degree in College. It was in voice performance and I was going to pursue a career in Opera. Shortly before I was to leave for Germany to try to get an engagement, I discovered I was pregnant with my first son. Of course, my plans changed drastically, and I remained home in the States. A little later, the L-rd moved within me in a very strong way and I felt called to leave many years of career-building behind to raise my family and pursue ministry. Even so, I always thrilled to hear Pavarotti and Placido and was blessed to attend a local concert by Carreras. I had many emotions when I learned of Pavarotti’s death.

    Comment by Maya | Friday, September 7, 2007 | Reply

  2. It is a pity that many people are actually using EE III to force others into making a decision for Christ. I have heard well-meaning Christians make remarks such us: “We are going to EE that guy” with which they mean we are going to force him to listen to the gospel after which he will have no option other than to choose for Christ. And that, of course, was not what EE III was written for. When I train people in evangelism, I always tell them that if I should force someone in to becoming a Christian (be it with a persuasive character or just that I don’t want to take “no” for an answer) then the next person who may even be more persuasive than myself will be able to convince that person NOT to be a Christian. But if the Spirit convicts someone to trust Jesus as Saviour, then nobody else will be able to convince such a person otherwise.
    I have heard many people speak negatively about EE III and I fully understand why they feel that way. In my early years I made the same mistakes. To be able to tell others that someone had made a commitment for the Lord sent all of us on a spiritual “high”. Of course, if someone does make a commitment I still rejoice about it, but my aim in evangelism has changed, from seeing people come to the Lord to sharing the gospel in a way that people can understand it and make an educated decision.
    Dr Kennedy was a remarkable man, but I didn’t like the way in which he tried to convince people through sheer intellectual arguments. But that he started a movement in the church that changed millions of people’s lives cannot be denied.
    I was intrigued by your personal story. My dad truly had the potential to become a world-class tenor. Pavarotti said at one point that God had kissed his vocal chords. I think I could say the same about my father. He had a magnificent voice. He had the ability to sing a top-C seemingly without any effort and on two occasions that I know of, he succeeded in singing an F (apparently the highest note that a man can sing). My mother often told him to go overseas and pursue a career there (there isn’t really a future in opera in South Africa) but he never wanted to do so. It was only when I was much older, and probably only really after his death that I realised that he had sacrificed a career in opera which would probably have brought him fame and lots of money, for the well-being of his family, because I know that, if he had done it, that our lives would have been much different – and not necessarily for the better.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Friday, September 7, 2007 | Reply


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