Did You Notice How the World Has Changed?

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I grew in Sully, Iowa, in the 1960’s. Every year my parents would take us to Mission Fest at Market Square in Pella. I thought of missionaries as rather exotic creatures who travelled to far off lands. They showed slides that could have been borrowed from the files of National Geographic.

My grandkids are growing up in a very different world. Traveling internationally has now almost become routine. But more than that, the world has become our next door neighbor. The homogeneous Dutch community in which I was raised is now an endangered species. Most of us have the privilege of savoring the cultural richness of Latin American, Eastern European, Asian, or African neighbors, if not next door, then within a fifteen minute drive.

Not only has the world changed, but the church has changed. Today the majority of the body of Christ in the world is composed of people of color. The undocumented immigrant from Central America may be more likely to be my brother or sister in Christ than my suburban neighbor. I know Nicaraguan Christians who have been called to missions in Romania, Bangladesh, and Indonesia.

All of this makes it even more important that we understand how ministry “WITH” people is different from ministry “TO” or “FOR” people. When we do ministry “TO” or “FOR” people we are the ones defining the problem and prescribing the solution. When we do ministry “WITH” people we begin by listening and learning. We lead with relationships and not with programs. We value and seek to enhance the gifts God has already given the people with whom we have been placed in relationship.

Frankly, many of our young adults grasp this much better than does my generation. The writings of people like Shane Claiborne have challenged them to live as servants among the least, last and lost. How can we listen to, encourage, and learn from these young people? How would our approach to missions change if we made ministry “WITH” one of our governing values?

I have a dream. The dream is that the worldwide church would be one big discipleship network. I imagine North American Christians sitting at the feet of their Latin American brothers and sisters, who have soaked in the wisdom of African believers, who have in turn gleaned important lessons from Christians in Asia. And I imagine especially the young adults of our church playing a vital role in all of this.

So what is holding us back? What changes do we need to make to tap into this tremendous opportunity God is giving his worldwide body? What practical steps should we be taking to make opportunities available, especially for our young adults?

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Joel:  More excellent food for thought.  I just finished eating some Polish perogees and now am digesting the rich flavours of what you have shared with us.

I think one of the biggest blessings we have to share with the church world wide is the education many of us have been priveleged to receive in North America and in most of Europe but this is also our biggest stumbling block.  We think of ourselves as knowing so much that we don't think we have anything to learn from anyone with less education no matter where that person might be from, next door or on the other side of the globe.  

Dialoge is essential within the body of Christ. Each one contributing.  Each one attentively listening to what the Spirit is saying to the Church.

I share your dream!

Participant

Thanks, George.  One thing we need to do is share stories where this is already happening.  I think that many of the changes God wants to see in the North America church will only come as it learns from the church in the majority world.  What examples do we have of where this is already happening?

Well Joel, I think Partners Worldwide is an excellent example of attemting dialogue.  Books like When Helping Hurts also point us in the right direction.  Both of those are in the area of international development but certainly that is part of the church's mission.  I also believe that generations of younger Christians are far more engaged in the world wide dialogue or at least prepared to be.  I think there are some bold steps that we can all take to embrace our brothers and sisters and learn from one another.  

On a similar note, I just saw the movie "The Help".  A line that has really stuck with me comes from one of the maids.  She says:  "No one ever asked me what its like to be me".  I think that is a powerful invitation to all of us to ask one other person who is different from us this question and then truly listen.

Thanks, Joel, for this inspiring blog series.

I was struck by George's comments: "I think one of the biggest blessings we have to share with the church world wide is the education many of us have been priveleged to receive in North America and in most of Europe but this is also our biggest stumbling block."

I partially disagree with that perception about North American education. Some of the statistical data of recent decades and empirical observations may support my disagreement. I remember embarrasing moments when a Spaniard friend of mine visited Grand Rapids, and we toured some churches. He was asked several times, by intelligent and respectable people, if Spain was near Mexico. Another friend of mine, born and raised in the island of Puerto Rico, was asked also how long does it take driving to Puerto Rico, to which he replied: "not too long, but you might need a James Bond-type vehicle."

I fully understand what George infers about the fact that we have a more egalitarian and accesible education system in North America (and I am thankful for that), but we must strive to be careful about our comments because, whether we realize it or not, these venues are read by everyone in the blogosphere.

I think, Joel has shared what it might be a hope and a key to help us be less culturally arrogant, and more Christ-like: "Frankly, many of our young adults grasp this much better than does my generation."

We must strive to work WITH others, and ALONG SIDE them. I think the imperial era of working "TO" and "FOR" might be over, although I had been overseas for the last three years and sadly I still see that arrogan spirit among some Evangelical missionaries.

I also like Joel's dream: "I imagine North American Christians sitting at the feet…"  

Alejendro:   Thank you so much for your comments.  I suppose I had a certain aspect of my own education in mind and perhaps a somewhat narrow view when it comes to majority world education.  I was thinking about my own theological training in relation to that of many of my brothers and sisters who are pastoring churches with little of no formal training.

I had the privilege of traveling to Uganda and Kenya and interacting with a number of Pastors.  None of them had the letters behind their names but they certainly had insights that I could learn from.

I suppose we all need to learn to listen more and speak less or perhaps write less but it is only through dialogue that we learn.