Saturday, April 21, 2007

Is the World Round or Flat. . . and Why Should We Care?

In Pursuit of World Awareness

By Bill Wimberley

In his 2005 best selling book, The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman sets out to prove that the world is indeed flat (and getting flatter) . . .at least from the perspectives of communication, business and commerce. He begins his book with the following quote from Christopher Columbus' diary at the outset of his famous voyage in 1492:

"Your Highness, as Catholic Christians, and princes who love and promote the Holy Christian faith, and are enemies of the doctrine of Mahomet (Muhammad), and of all idolatry and heresy, determined to send me, Christopher Columbus, to the aforementioned countries of India, to see the said princes, people, and territories, and to learn their disposition and the proper method of converting them to our holy faith; and furthermore directed that I should not proceed by land to the East, as is customary, but by a westerly route, in which direction we have hitherto no evidence that anyone has ever gone."

Clearly, heading westerly was not Columbus' first choice, but since the traditional trade routes of Spain and other European countries to the Far East had been effectively seized and blocked by the followers of Muhammad, Columbus was forced to head into a direction that he was sure no one has ever gone before. Columbus was convinced the world was round. Therefore, he would eventually make his way to India and accomplish his mission. Little did he know that the world was much greater in circumference than he had calculated. As Americans we are reminded often of his misjudgment of fact - he dubbed the curious new people he met upon reaching land, Indians.

With a similar sense of mission that had characterized Columbus, Christian missionaries that followed him to other distant lands endured great hardships, disease, separation from family for years, and even death in the pursuit of their God-given calling. Little was known about far-off lands and their peoples in the early days of William Carey, Hudson Taylor, Cameron Townsend, Lottie Moon, and others. Transportation was difficult, communication was slow to non- existent, medical supplies were rare, languages were unknown and cultures were misunderstood. Yet, these brave souls set out on faith journeys compelled by the conviction that they had been crucified with Christ and it was no longer they who lived, but Christ who lived in them. These were true pioneers of the faith who were sold out to Christ and His purposes. . . regardless of the obstacles!

So, what does a secular book like Friedman's have to do with modern day missions and completing the task of the Great Commission? Perhaps more than you think. You see, Friedman was out to prove that a variety of global factors have effectively flattened the world and leveled the playing field in many respects. He comes to the conclusion that there are some aspects of this flattening that are good. Some are bad. And some are terrifying. None the less, they are a reality of a rapidly changing world and we must understand them. Since the days of William Carey our world has seen unprecedented advances in communication, computer technology, travel efficiency, shipping and distribution effectiveness, etc. Globalization, urbanization, free trade agreements, nation formation, regime change, and other such factors are effectively shrinking (or flattening) our world . . .right before our eyes. Friedman is no missioligist, but the realities he and other world observers are pointing out to us should be carefully considered and studied as we reflect on the mandate of completing the task of the Great Commission.

Churches committed to a missional perspective need to be aware of the current state of missions. For instance . . . according to the World Christian Database (World Christian Database), and the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (lausanne ), we find some surprising statistics our churches should be made aware of:
  • Despite Christ's command to evangelize, 67% of all humans from AD 30 to the present day have never even heard His name.

  • 648 million Christians today (called Great Commission Christians) are active in Christ's world mission; 1,352 million Christians seem to ignore this mission.

  • Non-Christian countries have been found to have 227 million Bibles in place in their midst, (more than needed to serve all Christians) but they are poorly distributed.

  • 124 million new souls begin life on Earth each year, but Christianity's 4,000+ foreign mission agencies baptize only 4 million new persons a year.

  • 91% of all Christian outreach/evangelism efforts are expended in World C locations, where the Gospel is already rooted and the church is thriving.

  • 818 different un-evangelized, ethno- linguistic peoples have never been targeted by any Christian agency to date.

  • 40% of the church's entire global mission resources are being deployed to just 10 overly-saturated countries already possessing strong citizen-run home ministries.

  • 98.7% of people have access to scripture in 6,700 languages leaving 78 million in 6,800 languages with no access at all.

  • Only 1 out of every 4 missionaries is working in a pioneer ministry among non- Christian peoples of the major religious blocs.

  • Of foreign mission giving, 87% goes toward work among those already Christian, 12% goes for work among already evangelized non- Christians, and 1% goes for work among people groups in the un-evangelized or unreached category.

  • Out of 648 million Great Commission Christians, 70% have never been told about World A's 1.6 billion un-evangelized individuals.

  • Every place on Earth can reasonably be targeted with at least 3 of the 45 varieties of effective evangelism.
(See Lausanne World Pulse for more details)

These statistics do not diminish the extraordinary efforts of the faithful, but it does give some indication of the task yet remaining for the evangelical church.

In 1976 Francis Schaeffer posed a question for his generation, in his book How Should We Then Live? Whether you agree or disagree with Schaeffer's conclusions, he asks an important question for every generation to consider. Based upon the facts and realities of this world in this age, how should we then live? What is our responsibility in the face of a rapidly changing world? Could the "flattening" of our world represent an awesome opportunity to finish the task?

Over the last two years, my wife and I have made several vision trips to places including North Africa, China, Central Asia and the Middle East. We visited numerous countries and observed some extraordinary mission projects - most within the least reached areas of the world. With respect to the flattening world, we observed the following:
  • Air travel to and from was easy, relatively painless, and often cost less than flying across the U.S.

  • Communication in and out of the countries was easy with ready access to telephone and internet. . . even in the most ancient and remote of settings. Case in point . . . Afghanistan has over 1 million cell phone subscribers!

  • Shipping of materials and supplies was uncomplicated and inexpensive, in most cases.
    Everywhere we have gone, the majority of homes (from mud hut to shack to city apartment) have a satellite TV access.

  • The language of business and commerce was similar. Western business was considered supreme and was highly regarded and coveted.

  • English was considered the language of success and prosperity. Although ancient cultures and languages remained - indigenous peoples also wanted to know English.

  • Among illiterates, story-telling and other oral communication was highly effective.

  • In Morocco - one of our least-reached areas - new Free Trade Agreement is paving the way for unprecedented commerce and business cooperation with the U.S. Other opportunities for free trade and business are emerging across the 10/40 Window.

Even a casual study of history, the growth of the Christian church, and our Bible reveals that none of this has caught our sovereign God by surprise. And none of it is out of His control. Quite the contrary, God, Himself, is "flattening" our world and changing its dynamics for His purposes and for His glory. Today we know more about the least reached peoples of the world than ever before. We have more access to closed countries (even if only by satellite TV, radio or Internet) than ever in history. Business and commerce advances are opening unprecedented doors for Kingdom-minded business people. Even the unfortunate tragedies of war and natural disaster are opening up opportunities for the Gospel in places and among peoples that have in the past been beyond our reach.

Our response? We must become World Christians - knowledgeable of world events, ready for world access, and seeking opportunities to leverage the resources we have at our disposal. We should explore what God is masterfully doing to open avenues for the Gospel. We must partner with other members of the Body of Christ, particularly growing indigenous churches, and work together. Never in history has there been more opportunity for the spread of the Gospel!

Is the world round or flat. . . yes! And, yes, we should care!

Bill Wimberley


At 1:21 PM, Blogger Abu Daoud said...

Greetings from the Middle East!

Really enjoyed the article. Great info. What year is it from?

I have posted links on my blog at and also over at Arabs for Christ:

Peace; I look forward to checking out your blog on a regular basis.


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