This week we will be part of a global gathering of emerging urban underground ministry leaders who are coming together as part of a roundtable event. Cornerstone Festival in Illinois, USA has generously allowed us to gatecrash their event and in fact has even put some of us on the speaking schedule. Like me, my good friend Olgalvaro from Brasil, and others. Somebody counted 39 nations. It is one of the most exciting mission movements I have seen, involving a generation of young people serving the poorest and most difficult areas of their cities, usually without funds and without encouragement. Often enduring the ridicule of churches more wealthy and respectable.
This movement has, at least in my corner of the room, been supported from the beginning by a small number of organizations, namely the Church Multiplication Center of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (which closed down 6 years ago), Dawn Ministries International (which has also ceased), Church Mission Society and the Underground Railroad network which started around 1996. Now there are other groups kicking in all over the world which is great.
A little history. For the past 15 years I have been a part of a movement of young people from alternative sub-cultures deciding to follow Jesus. We started out in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco living among really weird people who we came to love and serve. That was the mid nineties and we soon discovered there were other churches and ministries starting up like ours in other places.
In 1998 I starting working for the Baptist General Convention of Texas as a church planter in their Church Multiplication Center. My boss was E.B. Brooks who shared my passion for the generation of lost youth. He was greatly supportive and the BGCT loved what we were doing in Austin and beyond. Actually, they allowed us to travel the country in our RV helping to start churches in all the cities where there was a significant population of young pierced, tattooed alternatives who would never make it into one of their typical [cheesy] suburban or uptight urban churches. In 2000 they supported us to travel beyond USA into Europe which became our new base. We did not call ourselves missionaries because in the Southern Baptist world, missionaries are the people who join IMB and we were instead with the BGCT. So I was a 'consultant' for BGCT and we started The Boaz Project as a way of bridging the new churches with the old. E.B. has since retired but he still prays for us and cheers us on. The BGCT no longer have us on their radar and since we have found funding from other sources, we have only a relational connection that I try to maintain. I wish they knew what great things they helped to start.
Anyway, in 1999 we hosted an event as part of the SXSW Festival which at the time was not nearly as large as it is today. They put our big multi-media worship installation on their program and Austin First Baptist gave us their 4 story building for no charge. Leaders came from around the country and we introduced each other, told our stories and prayed for each other. We called the event Ecclesia. It cost us $2000 to host the event.
2 years later we did it again in Austin. We called it Epicenter and it was bigger, had more people, and it cost about $5000. Although most of the money was used to fly in some leaders from Indonesia (Hengky), Brazil (Olgavaro) and Germany (Karsten). A number of us had met at Tribal Generation in Sheffield, England, at the 2000 event hosted by Dawn Ministries.
In 2001 and 2002 there was a frenzy of gatherings that year. We were part of meetings in Germany ("Emerge"), Colombia, Czech Republic, Japan, England. We helped to host a number of events around the world that brought some of these new ministry leaders to the surface. I was also working part time for Dawn alongside Wolfgang Fernandez who was networking widely pretty much everywhere including Asia.
Thats me in Colombia when my hair was longer. That kid had just decided to follow Jesus at a hard core music concert from a Chilean band. The leader of that band, and the guy who helped start some of those hard core churches in Santiago, Chile, will be at the roundtable this year. His name is Fernando and he only speaks Spanish but he is really worth meeting.
In 2006 we partnered with Jesus Freaks International, and Underground Railroad to host our first global roundtable in Germany. "Global" in the sense of having a majority of international participants, not just a token amount. Trevor has some of the history of this event and others here. This was the same year the BGCT closed down their church planting center and I lost my job.
Germany 2006. The big guy in suspenders is Trevor McPherson. The bearded guy in black on the left is Pastor Bob Beeman who started the Sanctuary church movement. Bob will be speaking also at the roundtable and giving a "state of the union" address. Should be good.
In 2009 we hosted the second global event in Poland. About 24 countries were represented.
And this week, there are about 39 countries sending their leaders to the 3rd global roundtable. There would be many more but money is tight and not everyone could afford the airfare. Which is a pity because the rest of the event, like all these events, are pretty cheap. We get a discount or sponsorship into the festival, we sleep in tents with sleeping bags so there is no accommodation costs, and we just need a bit of food. These are sustainable events and easy on the budget. Many of the leaders were once on the streets themselves so they can rough it for a few days. Festivals are great. Good to see new ones start up like Wild Goose in USA last week.
What do we do?
We tell stories about our ministries. We share our struggles. We pray for each other. We discuss any issues that come up. We chill out and laugh. We teach each other. We eat and drink. We remind ourselves that our God is big and is doing great things in our midst, despite the fact that we suck and stumble forward only by his grace alone.
The movement is not big. Its not pretty. We are all poor and struggling and not many are eloquent or impressive. Most have never written books and don't get invited to speak at large events. Our churches are not the subject of envy and our hippie/punk/emo youth are not the target group of any sheep-stealing churches in the area. . . . But its real and God likes it. And there are millions of broken, abused, hurting young people out there so we will carry on.
The Boaz Project, despite losing its funding from BGCT and Dawn, has continued to assist this movement to mature and expand because of the generosity and bold faith of groups like the Maclallen Foundation, W Foundation, CMS, and hundreds of individuals that give small amounts of hard-earned money because they believe, like we do, that street kids make great leaders, nomads make great itinerant ministers and young alternatives who come to Jesus start movements of the Kingdom inside their worlds because they don't know any different.
Stay tuned this week and I will post some stuff when it happens.
Related: My story of "A white guy and a black guy in the emerging church" is from the gathering in Colombia. It will give you a glimpse into this world.
Want to pray for us and follow our story this year? Good. Check out our Fringe Expressions Project. We want to start 50 fringe expressions around the world over the next year. Help us out.