When I Noticed the Rest of the World   (global awareness)

I spent my youth in a monocultural community of the Midwest. I grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City. There was very little ethnic or cultural diversity in that community.

In our 20s my wife and I moved to the “big city.” Then, in a suburb just north of Chicago, we and several friends planted a church, which was when God began immersing us in cross-cultural situations. Our young church looked after a man in exile from Uganda because Idi Amin was trying to kill him. We helped him earn a graduate degree. After Amin’s ouster, Edward Muhima returned home to become a leader with African Evangelistic Enterprise and, then, with the Church of Uganda.

God also prompted a house fellowship we were leading to help refugees from the Vietnam War. That grew into Exodus World Service that endures as a large-scale regional ministry to refugees.

Every year, our involvement with different people groups increased. I joined the board of a mission in Haiti. Opportunity International recruited me to lead their microcredit programs in 17 countries that grew to 27 nations. The history section of this site traces other experiences that followed.

Now I work with people of different nationalities and ethnicities nearly every day as I have for years. I travel the world. I was in Kenya, Uganda, England, Taiwan, China, Korea and St. Kitts, Belize and India during 2012. I was in nearly two dozen countries over the past two years including several less common places such as Cuba, Vietnam, UAE and Croatia. Of course, what matters is not the geography as much as the people. I am fortunate to have experienced the Church in so many different settings. In Korea recently, I spent time with both mature believers from South Korea and new believers from North Korea.

Through Geneva Global and, now, David C Cook, I have assisted ministries in more than half the countries of the world. I am fortunate to witness so many extraordinary moves of God.

Today, many of my closest friends, confidants, and mentors are scattered throughout the world. Frankly, we often feel more at home with them then we do with many Americans.  I thoroughly enjoy relating with believers from other cultures. That should come through in an article I am enclosing that I wrote for Power for Living (200,000 circulation through American churches). It tells of one of my experiences in Burundi.

In short, I am highly networked both with senior leadership and grassroots leaders throughout much of the world. I have years of experience managing multicultural teams as well as collaborating with peers from all over the world.

While I find it easy to be effusive about the beauty of variety in the Body of Christ, I have also collected enough scars over the years to be aware of schemes and ploys that can occur in cross-cultural situations. Working globally can be both wonderful and tricky at the same time.

Today, we have a sea change with missions. For the past century or more, missions meant people going from the global North to the global South. Praise God, it worked! Africa, which had few believers, now has large numbers of Christians, a majority in many countries on the continent. China went from being unreached to what may now be the largest Christian population of any country in the world!  We’ve seen colossal change in Korea in recent decades, going from a barely detectable Christian presence to a robust Church that is sending and supporting missionaries. God is also moving in Cuba. I met with scores of pastors there who say the number of believers has doubled in the last decade.

The trend is clear. The center of gravity for the Church is no longer the “First World.” The majority of Christians from now on will not be Caucasian.  The global South dominates the Church, at least numerically.

This huge change is also a wonderful opportunity. We must learn our new place in the Body of Christ because our role will be different going forward than it was in the past.

We must learn from believers in other cultures who are highly effective in ministry. The most powerful prayer movement I’ve seen in recent years is in India. Church planting and leadership development is innovating and succeeding in China like nowhere else. The creativity of God’s people in the Middle East inspires me. Africans grow my understanding of relationships and community every time I am with them.

Does the West, or global North, have anything left to contribute, at least anything other than money? Absolutely! We need to make changes, for instance, from pioneering to assisting, from teaching to collaborating, from making all the plans to supporting the calling and dreams of local church movements, and from being the experts to becoming peers on a common mission. Of course, these trends are not absolute. There are still places where God calls Americans to start new work or serve in other traditional ways. For the most part, however, the western church needs to join with the global church. For some that will feel like almost a reverse of missions history. 

We are Christ’s followers, and we can now see where he is going. God’s greatest move in the world today is in the global South. Believers there are rapidly becoming the new face and voice of the Church. I am committed to moving in the same direction God is moving. I urge that we all welcome the fact that the majority world is now the majority of the Church. Let’s do all we can to encourage and assist them.

 

© Eric Thurman 2015