What if the world really is flat and getting flatter by the day? As Thomas Friedman surmised in his book, The World is Flat, globalization is creating opportunities for people like never before. As technology spreads and ideas race around the world, the available access to unlimited information is changing the way the world is perceived.
The explosion of available technology is also changing the traditional landscape of the mission field.
Much has been made of the experiences of the missionaries of old. Stories are told of how these brave souls would pack their possessions in a coffin and leave home knowing that they would never return. The coffin would be used to return their remains to surviving family members. Examples set by these earlier pioneers for Christ are inspiring and humbling. For the most part, these experiences provide a stark contrast to the missionary experience of today.
When I first moved to Tepic, Nayarit, Mexico, I came with a great sense of adventure. I was ready to leave modern trappings behind and rough it in the wilderness of the mission field. I had prepared to trade some of my technological comforts for the honor of “suffering for Jesus.” As the years passed I noticed more and more signs that the idea of roughing it on the mission field was not quite the same as it used to be. Subway restaurants started popping up throughout town and Wal-Mart became the best place to buy groceries. I even began to joke that if our relatively small Mexican city ever had a Starbucks, it would be a sign from God that I should never leave. Now there are two.
It is a strange thing, this emerging global culture. The same song is popular in Nayarit and Buenos Aires. The same movie is playing in theatres throughout the world. There are families living in extreme poverty, who in decades past would have been cut off from most of the world. Today they have Facebook accounts. A missionary friend of mine lives in Africa and routinely posts video to Facebook from the wilderness. Updates are available immediately and in High Definition.
What does this mean for us Christ-followers called to reach the world?
Being involved in foreign missions in the 21st century provides an opportunity to reach people in an unprecedented way. Methods are changing. What used to be impossible to do in a small village in rural Mexico is now possible through Internet connections and readily available video equipment on phones. Communication is more efficient than ever. Smart phones are everywhere and messaging apps are all the rage. We can push our message farther and faster than ever before. But what if churches and individual donors from prosperous nations decide that these signs of globalization are signs that their money is no longer needed on the mission field?
I currently live about two hours from Guadalajara. In Guadalajara I could take you to a Ferrari dealership. I could also point out abject poverty on a scale you may have never seen. Here in Tepic, I can take you to go get your favorite iced mocha. I could then drive you just outside of town to a garbage dump where there are families foraging for their next meal. As churches trend towards local outreach in their cities, let us remember the call of Acts 1, “in all Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” How awesome would it be for churches to consistently and efficiently shine a light not only in their local communities, but also have more influence worldwide? The ends of the earth are starting to look a little different, but the need for present, committed, culturally minded missionaries is as real as ever.
The economies of the United States and Canada are in a unique position to spread the gospel throughout the world. One pastor that I know in the U.S. went as far as to say that the only reason he believes the United States is as blessed as it is, is so Americans can serve others through missions.
Developments made in the modern church are being utilized to reach people far and wide.
Video campuses are popping up in Mexico. I know young preachers learning to preach by listening to the spiritual giants leading growing congregations in the U.S. My fear is that the idea of foreign missions could begin to lose importance in the hearts of America’s church leaders and individual supporters, because much of the romanticism and exoticness may be fading along with the remoteness of the field.
I understand some of these conveniences are not available in the entire world. A missionary in Indonesia may read this and argue against me. But the overall change in the world is undeniable, and as the body of Christ, we must adapt. Just because a missionary that you or your church supports can buy a non-fat extra hot hazelnut latte, doesn’t mean his calling is less important than it was 100 years ago. It doesn’t mean there is any less need for major international mobilization and financial support. The challenges to foreign missions remain real and prevalent. Proper medical care, lack of retirement funds, threats of violence, and instability are all threats that must be faced by those on the mission field. These threats still exist no matter how comfortably missionaries are living today.
As globalization changes how the world looks, the core needs of the heart remain the same.
People are hurting and lost. Loneliness, addiction, and insecurity are fruits of instant access and instant reactions. The amount of un-churched people living throughout the world remains staggeringly high. We must accept the unique time and place of our calling, both as send-er and as send-ee respectively. I am proud to be a missionary. I pray that the sending churches and individuals in the United States and Canada continue to feel the urgency of reaching a fallen world. There is no doubt the dollar stretches far in the developing world.
As the world continues to flatten and new opportunities continue to present themselves, let us as Christians charge forward. If that means adapting to new technologies on the mission field, we must learn them. If that means allocating more of a missions budget to help build some new modern buildings in a foreign country, then it is time to get to work. God has charged humanity with reaching the world with the gospel. He has placed us in charge of logistics, there is no greater time to be alive, flat world and all.