The experiences that Cathy and I had through the overseas ministry of The International Congress on Revival (ICR) were many and life-changing. That ministry was begun by the evangelist Manley Beasley Sr. in the 1980’s as an encouragement to European pastors and their wives who were struggling to preach the gospel in countries which were Communist controlled.
ICR provided the leadership to host a 3-4 day conference in a major European city and the funding to pay all the expenses for the invited pastors and wives to attend. The early conferences were held in Switzerland and Austria and because funding was initially limited, only 20-30 were able to attend. The Americans who traveled overseas to supply the preaching and music paid their own expenses. Because Manley himself had serious personal health issues, the leadership for ICR was eventually passed to Bill Stafford who became the President of ICR in 1989. That was the year that Brother Bill invited me to become a member of the board. In the beginning Cathy and I were reluctant to attend an overseas conference thinking we would not have much to offer in terms of preaching and music. We simply asked that the money we would spend in travelling be used to invite another European pastor and his wife. After 2 years of resistance, Brother Bill convinced us that we would have much to offer in terms of loving and personally encouraging the attendees, and we agreed to make our first trip in 1991.
The conference that year was held in Salzburg, Austria in a beautiful downtown hotel. There were approximately 20 Americans including Cathy and me that had flown over together to meet with our European guests. There were approximately 60 attendees from 14 different countries throughout western and eastern Europe. The unique thing about this particular conference was that for the first time we were having simultaneous translation of the preaching. There were to be translators for Romanian, Hungarian, German and Russian. If needed, each attendee could put on a headset, switch to the proper channel for his particular language and hear the sermon translated from English to their native tongue.
Before the conference began, all the speakers were encouraged to not use commonly used idioms in their preaching because of the difficulties for the translators in having the correct word to convey the exact meaning. Some examples include the phrase, “He sure knocked it out of the park,” when describing a preacher delivering an especially impactful sermon. Another might be; “She can sing the stars down!” Pastors with previous experience in overseas ministry were more aware of this type of translation difficulty.
Paul Harper was the program coordinator for this conference, and was an experienced leader. He served as Executive Administrator of Woodland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which was Bill Stafford’s home church. The pastor of this large and influential church was Wayne Barber, and he was also in attendance at the conference.
Everyone was excited for the conference to begin and many who were in attendance had been to previous conferences, so there were already friendship bonds that had been established. The large conference room of the hotel was made ready by the hotel staff, and all the tables and comfortable chairs were positioned to take maximum advantage of the acoustics of the room. The tables which would seat 8 people had 6-8 headsets that could be set to one of the 4 channels. We tried to position at least 2 or more Americans at each table to encourage interaction with our guests.
Paul began the conference by leading us in singing the theme song of the ICR conferences, “Jesus Be Jesus In Me.” The words were projected on the large screen so those unfamiliar with the song could join in. After singing this praise chorus 3 or 4 times, everyone had the tune and words correct, and it was a beautiful praise lifted to the Lord from at least 15 nationalities! Following a prayer of consecration for the meeting given by Brother Bill, Paul began giving instructions to the attendees and his words were being translated simultaneously. The 4 translators were each positioned in a booth at the far back of the conference room, and if one stood next to those booths, there was quite a cacophony of sound. The booths were far enough back that the people seated on the back table were not distracted.
As Paul was explaining to everyone the technicalities of simultaneous translation, he said this was our first experience, and we all wanted it to be a good one. He then said, “We ask you to please be patient with us as we are trying to get all the bugs out of the system.” All the Americans nodded our heads in agreement, but immediately many of the Europeans and especially the wives, began taking their headsets off. It looked strange and some even stood up and looked in their seats while shaking their clothing. It took only an instance to realize that the translated word they were hearing was there were bugs in the system and we had been trying to get them out as quickly as possible! No one wanted bugs crawling through the headsets and possibly into their ears and down their backs. Paul realized what he had said and began apologizing profusely. He reassured everyone there were not actual bugs in the system, and it was perfectly safe to wear the headsets with confidence.
The remainder of the conference was free from such language glitches that caused fear or discomfort. Bill Stafford frequently would say when he preached that he wanted to “distress the comfortable and comfort the distressed.” I suppose in this case with bugs in the system, both of these goals were accomplished; and it was all to the glory of God!