URING THE LAST 40 YEARS geographical and cultural barriers have been reduced. I vividly remember 1969, when I heard the voice of Neil Armstrong speaking from the surface of the moon. For the first time we saw photographs of our own entire planet. This led to the coining of a new term—global village. Since that time the world has reached near total and instantaneous interconnectivity through the development of the Internet. As Christians we must ask ourselves: What is our role in this rapidly changing world? How can we employ these fast changes in the mission of the church?
For several reasons globalization has been an intrinsic part of the mission of the church. We believe that the cosmic conflict is of a global nature, as is all the problem of sin.
We affirm that Christ died for every human being in the world; He is the global solution to the sin problem. We are also persuaded that our mission is of a global nature because it must reach every nation, people, and tongue (Rev. 14:6). The forces of evil have a global movement against Christ and His people, but they will be defeated by the Lamb (Rev. 17:14).
How Significant Is Globalization?
Globalization has both positive and negative aspects:
World migration: Globalization has led to the opening up of national boundaries. During the last 25 years the church’s mission focus has been the 10/40 window—on the people who live between 10 degrees and 40 degrees north of the equator, from the west coast of Africa to the eastern limits of Asia—because in this area of the world live many people unreached by the gospel. As a result of migration many millions of people in the 10/40 window have moved to Europe and the United States. Six million Muslims today live in the United States, more than 1 million Muslims live in the United Kingdom, and an additional 3.4 million live in Germany. Migration is bringing non-Christians into areas where they can be more open to evangelism and religious change. Migration also brings vibrant Christianity from Africa and the Caribbean to post-Christian areas of Europe and North America.
Air travel: We can now be anywhere in the world within hours. The computer and television allow us to be “connected” with things that we consider significant. This connectedness provides opportunities to influence and be influenced by other cultures around the globe. As people learn about other countries, they become interested in discovering what they feel they are missing, so they leave their home countries to live somewhere else, severing family ties and becoming vulnerable in a foreign country. What an opportunity for the church to
provide these travelers with security, support, and above all, hope!
Fast and affordable travel also allows church members to explore new territories, people, and cultures. Nonresidential and short-term mission experiences have become a reality for church members.
The Internet: Instantaneous information exchange facilitated by the Internet is a prominent feature of globalization. Anyone from Albania to Zimbabwe can set up an account and join the Internet at a village cybercafé—even individuals who cannot afford a computer. Internet interconnectivity has made it possible for non-Christians to investigate Christianity or the Bible. They can ask questions and receive answers, all without exposing themselves to risks if they live in sensitive circumstances.
Economic system: Globalization and the free market economy have created millions of jobs for people around the world, but the global village economy has also created a mechanism for greater economic exploitation, environmental and cultural degradation, pollution, and political oppression.
The only people with value are those who have goods to sell and those who have money to buy the goods. This in turn drives many people to the margins of economic life and only the stronger, successful competitors survive, thereby widening the gap between the rich and the poor. Social injustice has become a way of life and an acceptable reality. It is said that the top 20 percent of the world’s population has access to nearly 83 percent of the wealth, while the bottom 20 percent struggles to survive on 1.4 percent of the world’s resources. Globalization has contributed to the oppression of the poor.
Ecological aspects: In order to increase economic production, an expansion of mechanization and massive industrialization has reduced the environment to a mere object without intrinsic value. Nature is looked upon as a means to exploit as much as possible to satisfy human wishes, and natural resources are depleted for quick profits without regard to the environmental and social costs. The ecological dilemma of today is the direct result of industrial and technological growth and our modern lifestyle.
Religious aspect: The threat of globalization and the often associated trends of secularism have created hostility among societies. Often religiously committed young people have fallen victim to exploitation by religious fundamentalists and fundamentalist organizations. It is in this context of religious hostility that today’s mission is taking place. If we do not try to understand the phenomenon of globalization, we will miss golden opportunities for advancing the kingdom of God in this world. The church needs to develop plans to bring the Christian hope to both the beneficiaries and the marginalized losers of globalization.
Globalization in the Light of Scripture and Mission
We should see the phenomenon of globalization not only in the fulfillment of God’s mandate to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28), but also in the commission of Jesus to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). Today God is using the modern means of world migration, air travel, and the Internet to let the eternal gospel be heard by those “who live on the earth—[i.e.] every nation, tribe, language and people” (Rev. 14:6). Evangelism is greatly enhanced through the use of technological means available to us today. Adventist TV and radio stations are beaming the eternal gospel to the world. Evangelists are able to utilize the latest technologies to make their presentations more attractive. What a blessing!
The flip side to the globalization phenomenon is the increased destruction of God’s creation and the resulting increase of poverty and pain among people. How do we as Christians respond to the problem of poverty in this world?
In Mark 6 we see Jesus’ lengthy discourse evangelizing the “sheep without a shepherd” (verse 34). He has shown them the way to God, which is the very path to freedom for every human being. He has revealed to them their blindness and their inner slavery. At the end of that day, the people are hungry, and the disciples make Jesus take notice of it: “Why do you not send them away so they can go to the crossroads and villages around here and buy themselves something to eat?” (see verse 36). This was the same as telling Him: “You have finished your mission. You have done your part to help the people; you gave them the spiritual message. Now it is necessary to let them go that they may solve their material problems.”
Jesus’ answer is surprising: “You give them something to eat” (verse 37), meaning: “My mission has not yet ended. We cannot reduce it to my message and preaching. We cannot be oblivious to the hunger of the people and their material miseries. We cannot abandon them. So then give them food, free them from their material misery. This is also part of our mission.”
During this week we are looking at the signs of Christ’s coming. They are not signs of despair but rather of hope and joy. As Jesus used His disciples in the feeding of the multitudes on that day when it was “late” (verse 35), He invites us today to be involved in His final ministry. May we all, while looking for the signs of His coming, be joined in His ministry here on earth, especially to the “least of Mine.”
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND SHARING
1. Is globalization a good thing or a bad thing?
2. In what ways have developments in the modern world facilitated the spread of the gospel?
Born in Germany, Rudi Maier has served in mission work in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Since 1988 he has been connected with the Department of World Mission at Andrews University.