A few years ago I came across this statistic. "If all the moving peoples of the earth were to comprise the population of one country, that country would be the fifth largest country in the world." This statistic has sunk down into my heart and created a passion to spread the word of God among this "people group". Most of these moving peoples are filling the major cities of the world. This is part of "globalization". In 1974, in the first Lausanne Conference, Ralph Winter proposed that mission focus should be given to bringing the Gospel to "unreached people groups" of the world. These people groups were understood to be geographically distinct along with their unique culture and language. Reaching the unreached people group is a mission mantra that continues today . This strategy looks something like this: 1. Identify a people group that needs the Gospel. 2. Cross the boundaries of language, culture, and location to bring the biblical, culturally contextualized gospel to the unreached (and/or) unengaged peoples. 3. Disciple new believers to be obedient disciple-making disciples of Jesus. 4. Once that new body of believers is self-sustaining, move on to the next unreached, unengaged people groups. Understandably, that is an oversimplification of the missionary's strategy, however it encompasses the general idea. Considering the phenomenon of globalization and the sheer number of moving peoples from every corner of the plant, I see a new opportunity in missions found in the planting of International Church. The International Church can play a key role in reaching those unbelievers that are on the move.
When considering the phenomenon of globalization, how are we to both effectively and efficiently transmit the Gospel faithfully to those that are "on the move"? I propose that the most effective way to reach the moving person is not through the identification of particular people groups, but by seizing the current opportunities that are bridging traditional boundaries to unreached peoples. God has seen fit to allow three of the most common barriers to Gospel transmission to be more easily overcome. Those are:
Globalization has allowed the unreached access to major cities that are often equally accessible to missionaries. Within the globalized city, the missionary can find a myriad of representatives from unreached people groups. These people desire to make a life for themselves with a higher income, job opportunities, education, access to medical care, etc. Certainly, there are many peoples who have not found their way to the cities and must be engaged directly in the place where they are living. However, if they have a "representative" living and working in the city, they may become an ambassador for Christ to their people "back home".
The proliferation of the English language has created an unprecedented demand for English language learning. In many ways, the demand for English is leveling the linguistic playing field for the western missionary. By creating access to English language learning to any and everyone, the opportunity for the English-speaking missionary to transmit the Gospel increases. This is an argument for efficiency as learning each language and dialect of every person in the city (or the world) is an impractical (if not impossible) undertaking for any missions organization, let alone the individual missionary. On the other hand, the depth of understanding of the Gospel may lag due to the time needed to grasp the English language. If the opportunity for Gospel transmission arises in the city context, by all means share boldly and fully the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The benefit, however, is for those who have arrived in the city to flourish economically in the long run. This occurs when the moving person gains the skill of speaking English.
(I concede that there are a host of other needs that may be more pressing such as food, clothing and shelter. These must be met in the name of Jesus, so also should the gift of speaking a language allowing the person to engage the global economy). What's more, there are thousands of English-speakers that are on the move, taking up residence in global cities. Each need the saving message of the Gospel and a church where they can be discipled to carry that Gospel to the next corner of the earth.
Following the teaching of English, the teaching of the host city's language may be just as effective in the long run. Many moving people found in a globalized city are not familiar with the host country's language.
The boundary of culture is being crossed by already occurring changes to the culture's of moving people. Although I say natural, I do not mean easy. The person on the move already must contend with cultures unlike his or her own home culture. They must work hard to change accordingly by learning the culture of the host country. They may even abandon elements of their own culture in order to survive and thrive in their host country. As a missionary kid, I've seen this most keenly in the lives of Third Culture Kids like my self. "TCKs" are raised in an environment outside of their parent's home culture. They may never fully integrate into the host culture, therefore, they ultimately operate according to their own uniquely developed "third culture". Every person seeking to establish a life for themselves is already culturally adjusting to succeed in the host culture. The missionary must see this already occurring adaptation as an advantage for Gospel transmission. As one's culture is changing, so the person is often more likely to accept their need for a Savior in the midst of great transition. Accepting the Gospel means change, something with which the transient person is already becoming familiar.
[Side Note. This is where the International Church has the tremendous opportunity to support and encourage the local church to love the moving person in their midst. On the other hand, the International Church has the opportunity to receive the Intentional and network them according to their needs. (More on network and national church relationships in another post)]
Seize the Opportunities
Given the opportunities for crossing boundaries within global cities, I propose that International Churches are key to increased disciples making among moving peoples. The greatest strength of the International Church is to seize its position in a global city to reach the moving person who, in turn, can become Christ's ambassador wherever they go next. The International Church can use English as a means to reach the transient person. Finally, the International Church can stand at the cross-roads of cultures and introduce the ultimate cross-cultural bridge into new life with Christ. As disciples of Jesus Christ, let's seize new opportunities to carry the Gospel across barriers.