by Gary Corwin
Something truly remarkable is happening in the world today. Authoritarian structures of every kind may have finally met their match. From Berlin to Baghdad, Kiev to Cape Town, and Beirut to Beijing, the world is incredibly and irreversibly being changed.
Something truly remarkable is happening in the world today. Authoritarian structures of every kind may have finally met their match. From Berlin to Baghdad, Kiev to Cape Town, and Beirut to Beijing, the world is incredibly and irreversibly being changed. No longer can the machinery of social control, whether political, criminal or religious, keep the masses cowed. The genie of individual empowerment is out of the bottle.
What is the source of this empowerment? It is largely the result of ubiquitous information technology harnessed in the quest for human freedom. New technological means plus age-old human cravings for freedom are uniting to bring about a dawning of great opportunity and challenge. On the downside, however, social and political upheaval is often the mediating environment.
Wherever you go, satellite television, the Internet and the cell phone are changing the way people get their information. No longer does government-controlled media, the friendly neighborhood mullah, or the secret police have veto power on where people get in touch with ideas and one another. The oppressors can no longer count on secrecy and the isolation of the oppressed to maintain their control.
From an evangelization perspective, this changes nearly everything, particularly in those areas that have been the most difficult. One of the great external barriers hindering both individuals and groups from accessing the gospel is crumbling. While oppresive social control isn’t the only barrier, and it won’t disappear overnight, it will cease being the great wall of obstruction it has been.
As people lose their sense of isolation and lack of empowerment, they are free to hear about and consider new ideas. Certain ideas, like the gospel, when presented with the authenticating power of lives lived with holiness and love can become highly attractive to those searching for a life built upon truth and transparency. We have known for a long time in missions that new immigrants, whether moving from one area of the country to another—or from one nation to another—are most open to new ideas during the first two or three years of transition. This thought should both haunt and excite us as we consider the millions of people experiencing an analogous transition of mind and community as a result of a new-found communication freedom.
How should this shift in context change the way we carry out our task? First, we should ruthlessly reassess our primary communication channels and ask whether we are utilizing the most effective ones. Creativity should not be just a nice addition; it ought to be a priority. If teens in the closely regulated Arab world can initiate clandestine dating via cell phone exchanges, for example, messengers of the gospel should certainly be able to find creative ways to maximize effective use of such new technology.
Second, it should encourage us to be more focused and energetic in our outreach to the least reached. Even those laborers and groups attracted to the most receptive peoples and places rather than the most needy ones should reassess their paradigms and plans. They may be pleasantly surprised to find societies which have been largely unresponsive in the past to be much more responsive now. And this does seem to be happening to some degree already, particularly in many parts of East Asia.
Finally, this trend should bring about an upsurge of optimism and hope. Signs of this seem to be budding in many difficult places, including much of the Hindu and Muslim world. Praise God for this.
One of the hurdles which needs to be overcome, however, is the high level of prejudice found in many Western churches toward these very peoples. Rather than the love of Christ, things like raw nationalism, economic insecurity, fear of terror and skewed eschatology have become the dominant prisms through which many saints view these people groups. “The Chinese are a growing military and economic threat to our way of life.” “Our jobs are being shipped to India and our standard of living is being diminished.” “Muslims are terrorists and Arabs are the enemies of God’s people, Israel.” These, and similar sentiments are the obstacles we face.
But they can be overcome now, as they have been in the past—in circumstances such as post-Soviet Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia; or in the orbit of the axis powers following World War II; or in the Celtic church’s outreach to barbarian Europe following the fall of the Roman Empire.
The question is, “Can mission agencies adapt in a reasonable time frame to these new opportunities and challenges, or will we be among the late adapters who must watch as other ideas and causes fill the information and reality void that the new technologies have created?” I sincerely hope that we can.
GARY CORWIN is associate editor of EMQ and missiologist-at-large for Arab World Ministries, on loan from SIM-USA.
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