A video segment from Jimmy Kimmel Live! is getting big social media play this week.
People interviewed on the street could not identify a single country on a world map. Not even their own. It couldn’t possibly be this bad. Could it?
Things do tend to look at least a little better inside most churches. Some semblance of a worldview and a sense of global mission keep a map in front of us and swim against the nationalistic tide. There is no person on earth whom God doesn’t love infinitely. We do well to remind ourselves and others of that.
Even so, it’s easy to write off much of the world. To assume from the safety and comfort of America that Christianity has vacated the Middle East … that India is beyond hope … that Africa — that’s a continent, not a country — consists mostly of mud huts and tribal wars. That Papua New Guinea … wait, that’s a place?
Almost anywhere you can go in the world, God is working — especially so in the unlikeliest of places. In 2014 I had the privilege of visiting Egypt, just after its second revolution in three years. I saw an alive, active Church where denominational lines had blurred as a prayer movement cried out for that nation. I saw thousands of Egyptian Christians gather for prayer and worship, and I heard stories of God working miraculously. You can read and watch some of those stories here.
In an American chapter where nationalism seems to be winning the day, it’s worth reminding the Church that our focus must stay global. Good journalism can do that, by introducing audiences to people they’ll never meet but who represent an expression of Christ’s Church in a completely different context.
In Run with the Horses, author and Bible translator Eugene Peterson examines the globalistic viewpoint of an Old Testament prophet who barely left Jerusalem during his life. Jeremiah wrote separate messages to 10 different nations representing 750,000 square miles. His messages, Peterson writes, show “that he cared enough about the 10 nations to acquire thorough and detailed knowledge about them. … All of these oracles show an extraordinary knowledge of the geography, the history and the politics of these nations. He was not interested in them in general but in particular. He bothered to find out the details of their lives. He spoke God’s word in relation to the actual conditions of their existence. … The nations were not lumped together as ‘pagans’ or ‘lost sinners’ and the assaulted with stereotyped formulas.”
The best way to present a God’s-eye view of the world is simply to show people’s stories. Lots of stories, from lots of places. Leverage the greatest communication tools mankind has ever known for the glory of God. Tell about common struggles, common experiences and a common love for God. Help people understand and get comfortable with cultural differences. In short: Engage and connect the global Church.
It’s worth noting that Run with the Horses was first published in 1983, a generation before social media and its echo-chamber culture. Peterson writes:
“The larger the world we live in, the larger our lives develop in response. … We cannot be whole human beings if we cut ourselves off from the environment which God created and in which he is working. People of faith live in a far larger reality than people without faith. ‘God so loved the world.’
“We often betray this reality. We huddle and retreat. We ignore and even despise outsiders. We collect a few friends who look alike and think alike. We reject any suggestion that we transcend biological comforts and psychological securities. We barricade ourselves from visions that expose our prejudices, from people that challenge our narcissism.”
May journalists, communicators and anyone else who works in ministry strive to reveal the works of God among his people everywhere. This isn’t such a small world after all.