by Andrew Palmer
Like many Gen X kids I spent a great deal of time as a small child watching dubiously “educational” shows on the ABC.
It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I actually understood surrealism, but I had substantial exposure to it before my fifth birthday, mostly via Mr Squiggle.
What Mr Squiggle taught me to do, of course, was see things differently: “It’s upside-down, Miss Jane!”
I still repeat this line when asked questions by students, or by my children. They look at me like I have a screw loose.
But the truth is, this is one of the most valuable lessons I have ever learned.
The history of Christian activity is example after example of seeing and acting differently – upside-down-differently – to the prevailing cultural mores. It’s not just the ministry of Jesus; it’s his life context: his culture, his family, his region, even the commonality of his language.
He came from the least influential and most maligned part of the country in the wrong part of the Roman Empire. He came from the working class and spent most of his time among the less than desirable. He was a Galilean Bogan who eschewed popularity and authority even when it was thrust upon him.
And the best moments in the Church’s history are when it has doggedly walked in his footsteps, rejecting the same temptations and subtle power games.
Sadly, the best moments are matched and sometimes outstripped by our worst, too… when we have cravenly pursued wealth, influence, political power and a seat with the glitterati.
The prevailing culture – even within the Church – sometimes paints Global Christian Mission unkindly: pith helmet wearing, moustachioed men clad in dodgy safari suits and austere, possibly even stern (dare I say matronly?) women with their hair in tight buns held together with deadly hair pins.
Even worse, sometimes Global Christian Mission is viewed as imperialistic, intent on destroying indigenous cultures and establishing a very specific western-styled ecclesiastical structure. To be fair, sometimes the critique is well founded.
It’s a volatile environment to try and develop a passion for authentic, principled Global Mission.
And yet this is the overriding call of the Scripture: it is the story of God-in-Mission (the cool phrase is ‘missio-dei’). The role of the Church today in Global Mission is just as urgent today as it was in the first century, but this urgency is easily lost when we gather together in vibrant and relatively stable Churches in Australia… we sense that surely the task is almost done?
Let me be blunt: for every 100 people living on the planet today, around 40 are likely to live and die without ever having any meaningful contact with a follower of Jesus. These representative 40 are known in mission circles as the least reached, and they embody some of the hardest cultures for Christianity to grow in. Globally these people groups are primarily found in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, principally Buddhists and Muslims.
Of these groups, 99 out of every 100 will never hear the gospel in their heart language; 99 out of every 100 never being given the possibility “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that (they) may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19)
The Global Cross Cultural Mission call has never been more urgent. It’s also never been less urgent. Its urgency hasn’t changed, our attitudes have.
Budgets matter, but please don’t let your discussions about Global Mission to the least reached reduce to debates about amounts in the budget.
Local Mission matters, but don’t let it become a question of whether you support local mission or global least reached mission (that’s a false dichotomy).
Please, please don’t let it be a question of whether you support global least reached mission or put in a new, ducted air-conditioning system. By all means get the A/C; just don’t steal the money from mission to do it!
More to the point, we need men and women willing to sacrificially go and share the gospel with least reached people groups. We need people willing to learn a new language; to embrace a new culture; to give a decade or more of their lives to the task and to live out the good news of Jesus in culturally sensitive words and actions. Global Interaction has opportunities TODAY for those sensing God’s call to Global Mission.
It’s absolutely the opposite of what a ‘sensible’ approach to life in our culture means. “It’s upside down, Miss Jane.” And it might just be the greatest adventure of your life.