For more than forty years, Operation World has been the definitive prayer guide for Christians, encouraging readers to pray for the world as the first, essential step to fulfilling the Great Commission.
This month, the 2010 edition of Operation World releases—the seventh edition since 1964 and the first major update since 2001. More than 2.5 million copies of Operation World, not counting unauthorized editions, have been printed in nine languages. Parts of it have been translated into Arabic, Indonesian, Urdu, and Czech.
In 1995, WEC missionary Jason Mandryk joined Patrick Johnstone as co-author, and in 2004 Mandryk assumed leadership of the handbook. Earlier this year, Johnstone and Mandryk took time from their busy schedules to discuss the new edition.
Have you seen any shift over the years in readership of Operation World?
Mandryk: I don’t believe the primary readership has changed much in the English edition, because people’s theological perspective and general commitment to missions haven’t changed. But one significant change we’ve seen is growth of Operation World use with non-English speakers. We now have Operation World in nine languages, as well as an online edition.
Johnstone: In some ways that has been one of the more dramatic results of Operation World. The different editions stimulated growth in missions in many countries. In places like Brazil, Korea, and much of Africa, it’s been a vital part of their equipping for ministry.
It’s hard to evaluate the impact just by the number of copies sold. In the African context, one copy of Operation World may actually feed dozens of groups. But it’s exciting to see more growth in readership in the Majority World. There’s strength in prayer movements that began ten to twenty years ago and are continuing today. Operation World entries often give a frank view of national and church-related problems.
Some of this information could be perceived as sensitive. What kind of feedback do you get?
Mandryk: One of the blessings is that there’s been so little criticism of the information in Operation World. We stick our necks out in so many places. We take risks in reporting on countries in which there’s not adequate information available. When we do receive criticism, we try to take people aside and ask them to help us with the next edition.
Johnstone: The biggest problem is where missionaries are working. We don’t want to expose them or indigenous believers to persecution. Mandryk: We’ve had interesting feedback in preparing the 2010 edition, where a range of attitudes regarding confidentiality has been expressed. Within the same country, one agency wants to be mentioned, and another does not. The level of concern over security exists and has been increasing over the last ten years.
What changes in information gathering have occurred since the last Operation World was published?
Mandryk: The process by which we gather information has significantly changed since the 2001 edition. The availability of information on the Web is much greater, so the capacity to do online research is increasing exponentially.
However, the type of information on the Web is limited in scope and value. Twenty years ago the challenge was to uncover information; now it’s to sift through rubbish to get to information of value.
Johnstone: Very few people realize that behind Operation World is a unique set of databases. We use the one hundred percent rule: Whatever cut of the cake we make of the world or percentage of Christianity in a nation, the whole of the data must add up to one hundred percent. That helps when we see that people are exaggerating or minimizing information. We use the grid to make data consistent.
Mandryk: We found that when we ask denominational leaders for accurate, verifiable information that is connected to a reliable source, they often have no idea. We’re the ones informing them!
How do you keep information current?
Mandryk: The aims and nature of information in Operation World require a long-term perspective. The kinds of things we ask people to pray for are not overnight issues; they take years to be answered.
Johnstone: If you look through the 2001 edition, the facts in it are just as relevant today as they were then. We don’t let the book date too obviously.
In writing this edition of Operation World, the material that changed most relates to political and economic issues. Facts about shifts in churches, unevangelized people groups, etc., change much more slowly.
Mandryk: When people ask why we don’t have anything more up to date, we remind them of the United Nations. They’re considered the primary authority on global population. They have a department of twenty to thirty full-time demographics experts. Yet, the best the UN can manage is to be never less than two years out of date. It’s unrealistic to expect any more from a small Christian organization.
How many people does it take to create Operation World?
Johnstone: All through my history with Operation World, it was never my full-time job. I had helpers, but Jason has the strongest team we have ever had. Everyone is an unpaid volunteer, so they come and go.
Mandryk: Right now, we have six full-time and three part-time volunteers working on the book. This is as large as our group will be as we enter the final months before publication.
Johnstone: It’s a miracle the way God gives us people.
Mandryk: It will stay busy after publication. We’ll have more speaking engagements at conferences and mission events. We also have a number of resources to work on: a children’s edition, PowerPoint presentations, and editions in other languages to name a few.
What can we pray for?
Mandryk: Pray the new edition is used even more than before to involve Christians in praying for the world and fulfilling kingdom work.