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Assemblies of God congress celebrates faith’s diversity

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INDIANAPOLIS — Some 50,000 members of the Assemblies of God, the world's largest Pentecostal church, gathered for their first world congress held in the United States — celebrating the denomination's growth around the globe and noting that missionaries are no longer exclusively white men from the West.

"It's a demonstration that missions no longer are a domain of the Northern Hemisphere," said Don Corbin, the U.S. church's African regional director.

Independent churches banded together in 1914 in Hot Springs, Ark., adopting the name Assemblies of God. Since then aggressive missionary work has carried the church's message far. Today only 2.5 million of the church's 32 million adherents are Americans, compared with 17.2 million Brazilians.

Lazarus Chakwera, general superintendent of the 420,000-member church in Malawi, described the efforts of missionaries to start an Assembly of God church in Sudan.

"The easy places have already been taken, so whatever is difficult, the Africans will do it," Chakwera said, bringing cheers from the standing-room-only crowd of more than 400 people.

Jean Kabore said missionaries from five African countries, along with others from France and the United States, have worked for a decade in the predominantly Muslim nation of Niger to build a network of 10 churches with 1,700 members.

The first two world congresses were held in Brazil and South Korea. It was fitting to meet in the United States this year, said Edith Blumhofer, director of the Institute for Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College in Illinois.

"It's a way to bring it back home," she said, noting nearly a century has passed since the founding of the modern Pentecostal movement.