Western missionaries and money

28 Jul 2023

Why all the article links about heat and climate? The world is becoming a progressively hotter and hungrier place, which is amplifying wars, water conflicts, and migrant flows. This year is ‘hotter than normal’ because the slow creeping upward rise in temps has been made even hotter by the El Nino effect.

The cause of heat increases are obviously debated, and plenty of people shrug off “global warming” by pointing to individual instances of colder-than-normal weather. Still, it seems pretty clear increasing heat is not going away. Average temperature is climbing. The chance of encountering severe heat is increasing (number of 100-degree days, for example), and spreading out over more countries. In addition, we see more instances of “extreme weather” - droughts, storms, and the like - and these instances are becoming almost a “new normal.”

Why is this important for a newsletter focused primarily around the idea of long-term mission to unreached peoples, and particularly around the idea of rapidly multiplying movements? Because half of the Christians in the world - 1.3 billion, out of 2.6 billion total - are living in places progressively getting hotter and experiencing severe weather.

A quick glance through this issue highlights this fact. Nigeria, for example, has 116 million Christians, and they are in the midst of a crisis featuring heat, multi-year drought, food shortages, economic upheaval, war, and violence. India, with over 110 million Christians (and potentially much more), is similarly experiencing lethal heat waves, severe weather (droughts, floods), and food upheavals.

Given the distribution of readers of the Roundup, you are slightly more likely to be in a place that is typically cooler (although this year, the USA has experienced some of what those 1.3 billion experience most of the time, albeit USA Christians have resources–like air conditioning!–to cope). It’s important for us to be reminded of the basic difficulties of life faced by our brothers and sisters.

But aside from this basic empathy, it’s also important for us to keep in mind those who are closest to the unreached have different challenges in the missionary and evangelistic task than we do. People are hot, and hungry, and caught up in violent conflicts, and frequently ill, and sometimes running for their lives. In such contexts, endured by believer and nonbeliever alike, ministry will look very different. To use an extreme contrast, “being a blessing” may be less about Vacation Bible School and more about bottles of water, tents, and food (and, perhaps, sports & soccer).

As we read articles related to these situations, we need to ask the Spirit to open our eyes to better understand the life they live. As with last week’s commentary, we should be less directive about ministry in these environments, and more asking questions, listening, and thinking about how we might serve. What works in Western environments - colder, with buildings, security, and widely available food and water - are far less likely to work here. But for more than half the Christian world, hot, hungry, and dealing with daily fears is the norm.

One additional thought: it seems fairly unreasonable, to me, to expect people to stay in places where the heat is unbearable and food is unattainable. It is also true that nations are hardening their borders (witness, for example, the article about foreigners in Turkey). We as believers likely have little control over rising nationalism or political policy. But local churches and believers can extend a hand of kindness and compassion to people who have made it into our neighborhoods.