Hit in the solar plexus
This disaster is a wake-up call. Since the so-called end of the Cold War, many of us have not given much thought to the rest of the world except as occasional business, tourist, or short-term mission connections. Those days are over. We've been hit in the solar plexus with the truth that that we are globally connected and cannot cut loose.
Businessmen already know that. In Thomas Friedman's bestseller on globalization, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, he describes a label on a computer part that reads, "This part was made in Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, China, Mexico, Germany, the U.S., Thailand, Canada, and Japan. It was made in so many different places that we cannot specify a country of origin." Through the Internet many Americans have also tapped into a common global shopping system and global library. We are globally integrated as never before.
Yet many of us continue to live cocooned in own little circle of friends, walled off from people who are different. To think about the rest of the world overwhelms us. Masses of data pour out of the media, jumbled in sound bites that juxtapose great human tragedies with beer ads. We know Americans overseas have made mistakes. We know missionaries have. How can ordinary citizens like you and me know enough to make intelligent comments on global issues?
"Whenever I think about those people over there, I worry," says my friend Susan. "And I know God doesn't want me to be worried. So I've decided He doesn't want me to think about them." Another friend named Janet says that's why she doesn't read the newspaper anymore. The news disturbs her, and surely that isn't the will of God.
Our ignorance has come home to haunt us
In this we reflect our society's disconnect from the rest of the world. Consider this. Well before the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, where six people were killed and more than 1,000 injured, the FBI was in possession of some of the plans. The Agency held videotapes, manuals and notebooks on bomb making that had been seized from one of the plotters. They also had taped phone conversations in which one terrorist told another how to build the bomb.
"There was one problem: They were in Arabic. And nobody who understood Arabic listened to them until after the explosion at the Trade Center," according to New York Times reporter Diana Schemo.
Last year all the colleges and universities in the U.S. graduated only nine students who majored in Arabic. There is a joke making the rounds:
What do you call a person who speaks three languages?
What do you call a person who speaks two languages?
What do you call a person who speaks one language?
Now our ignorance has come to home to haunt us.
Pray through the newspaper
Of all people, Christians are to love our neighbors. When our neighborhood expands to include the globe, then we're called to love globally. How? Some of the most important steps may be some of the simplest.
Pray through the newspaper, especially the world news section. Befriend the foreigners who live in your city. Develop strong relationships with your church or denominational missionaries.
Ask members who are businessmen to talk about their global involvements. Go to the local college and find out whether there's a group of local "friends of international students." Do the same with the Chamber of Commerce and foreign businessmen.
Ask your high school and college youth what they're studying about global issues. Teach a church class on the biblical basis of mission, tracing global issues from Genesis to Revelation.
If you want to know more about specific nations or ethnic groups, you might try some of the general search engines (AltaVista, Yahoo!, Northern Light, or Hotbot), or the Joshua Project List of People Group Profiles (www.ad2000.org/peoples/index.htm).
Mission magazines with on-line resources include Evangelical Missions Quarterly, (www.wheaton.edu/bgc/EMIS/emqpg.htm) and the International Bulletin of Missionary Research (www.gospelcom.net/omsc/ibmr.htm).
Apples, salmon, hungry bellies, and empty arms
Yet we can do all this with a patronizing smile, at arms' length. without ever leaving the security of our own turf. Loving our neighbors means something more. It means being vulnerable. It means entering into their pain. When God in Jesus came to live among us. He shared our troubles and felt our hurts. Do we feel the pain of those in other countries?
Globalization has hurt a lot of people. That includes Americans. Last weekend my husband and I drove through the apple orchards of Washington. In spite of their rows of green trees heavy with fruit beside the Columbia river, twenty per cent of those farmers are failing.
Some blame cheaper apples from Mexico and China.
Apple season coincides with salmon season, and we have not had such a glorious run of fish since the 1960s. Yet the commercial fishermen are giving the fish away, or mailing them to state legislators. They can't make a profit. The price is too low. Some blame competition from farm-raised salmon from Chile.
The transitions and readjustments of globalization can hurt Americans. But people in other countries suspect that transnational corporations—most based in America—are reaping the lion's share of the benefits. This breeds a love/hate feeling toward America.
Yong-Hun Jo of Korea, in the article, "Globalization as a Challenge to the Churches in Asia Today" published in the October 2000 issue of the Asian Journal of Theology, says poverty levels in Asian countries have worsened as globalization has bloomed. Although the article's tone is moderate, and recognizes the benefits of a vigorous economy, it also speaks of bankruptcies, destruction of jobs, massive unemployment, a sharp rise in prices and decline in wages, capital flight into tax-free zones, the reduction of public services, environmental degradation, and a growing distance between the rich and the poor. At present 34% of the children under age five in Southeast Asia are under weight, and 50% of the children in South Asia. Half the people in the world live on $2 a day or less. Meanwhile, there is a "race to the bottom," as companies vie to see who can pay workers least, offering fewest benefits. If one country does insist on safeguards for its workers, multinational capital departs for a neighboring state in a matter of hours.
Melba Maggay in Patmos: Journal of the Institute for the Study of Asian Church and Culture speaks of the cost to families when labor must follow jobs in a borderless world. Filipinos, Maggay's compatriots, are thick on the ground as laborers , managers, and nannies in the Middle East, and as maids in Hong Kong and Singapore. Back home they may leave spouses and children, not to mention parents with whom traditionally they would have spent much time. Globalization obliterates that family closeness.
Complacent on our couches
Do we feel that pain? The prophet Amos blasted God's people because they did not grieve for hurting people.
Woe to you who are complacent in Zion and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation … You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches, You dine on choice lambs … You improvise on musical instruments … but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph (6:1-6)
In one sense this text refers to a special case. In a broader sense, it may serve as a wake-up call for us. Do we grieve for those who hurt outside our borders?
"Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food," writes the author of the Epistle of James. "If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead" (2:14-17).
Even if we limit the application of this text to Christians, in all 238 countries of the world today there are Christians, according to the World Christian Encyclopedia. And surely we ought to love nonChristians concretely too?
There are many macrostructural and microstructural ways to reach out to these needs, but they are beyond the scope of this essay. Evangelism remains primary. Economic programs may teach methods, but evangelism will unleash the meaning and the motivation to use those methods conscientiously.
The earth is whose?
How shall we respond to the devastation of September 11? Our government and military will need to respond at several levels. We could discuss justice and retribution and security and Israel and Palestine. If we have been cozy and complacent Christians, this tragedy also is a personal wake-up call. There's a big, real world out there. It is not negligible. India's population alone is larger—by 200 million—than the entire Western Hemisphere. China's population is larger than the entire Western world—all of Europe and North America combined. We cannot indefinitely ignore the pains of other peoples without danger to ourselves—from huge hungry populations, from environmental degradation, from terrorism. For reasons of security alone we must pay attention to the world. Current levels of global inequality are unsustainable.
More important, the earth is the Lord's. All of Scripture rings with this. God's concern for global issues didn't begin when Jesus said, "Go into all the world" or "You shall be my witnesses." Thousands of years earlier, Abraham heard God call his name, saying, "I will bless you, and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed" (Gen. 12:2,3). David's psalms sing out: "May God be gracious to us and bless us … that your way may be known upon earth, you saving power among all nations" (Ps.67:1-2).
Isaiah saw the people of God as a light to the nations (42:6). Habakkuk sea saw the "earth full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (2:14). Micah saw that "His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And He will be their peace" (5:4-5). Jonah, Daniel, Esther, Nehemiah, and even Naaman's little slave girl saw God's care for the nations. All of Scripture resonates with God's absorbing interest in the whole earth. We cannot be healthy American Christians today and ignore the world. A global concern is not optional. It comes from the heart of God.
How shall we respond to the devastation of September 11? In his brief commentary on Revelation titled For the Healing of the Nations, Justo Gonzalez paints two alternative pictures. Glimpsing them may help us find a place to stand. First,
There is a vision according to which all peoples and nations and tribes and languages must bow before the beast and worship it. This is the vision of Nebuchadnezzar: "You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that … you are to fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up" (Dan. 3:4-5). There is a vision that takes for granted that there will always be a great harlot who sits upon many waters; and these waters are the many nations and tribes and languages and peoples who must bring their wealth to her. In a way, this is the vision of Belshazzar in the book of Daniel, who does not learn from his father's humiliation, but is content with inheriting his power over peoples and nations. If we live by that vision, we shall be content with a world order in which many nations and tribes and peoples and cultures have no other purpose in life but to enrich those who sit upon many waters. According to that vision, the nations and peoples and tribes can and should remain subjected, for that is their place in the scheme of things. According to that vision, our task is to make sure that we, and others like us, are the ones who sit upon many waters, while the rest of the world enriches us.
But that is not the vision of John of Patmos. According to his vision, out of these many nations and tribes and peoples and languages, God will build a kingdom in which all have royal and priestly honor. According to that vision, a great multitude, from all different nations and cultures, will jointly sing, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty." According to that vision, our music and our worship must be multicultural, not simply because our society is multicultural, but because the future from which God is calling us is multicultural. We must be multicultural, not just so that those from other cultures may feel at home among us, but also so that we may feel at home in God's future … because like John of Patmos, our eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; because we know and we believe that on that great waking-up morning when the stars begin to fall, when we gather at the river where angel feet have trod, we shall all, from all nations and tribes and peoples and languages, we shall all sing without ceasing: "Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee, casting down our golden crowns before the glassy sea; cherubim and seraphim; Japanese and Swahili; American and European; Cherokee and Ukrainian; falling down before thee, who wert, and art, and evermore shall be!" Amen!" (Orbis, 1999, pp.111-112).
Miriam Adeney is editor at large for Christianity Today and is Associate Professor of World Christian Studies at Seattle Pacific University.
Copyright © 2001 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
A ready-to-download Bible Study on this article is available at ChristianBibleStudies.com. These unique Bible studies use articles from current issues of Christianity Today to prompt thought-provoking discussions in adult Sunday school classes or small groups.Christianity Today's other articles on the attacks include:
In the Belly of the Beast | Christians, calling terrorist attack "satanically brilliant," minister at epicenter of World Trade disaster. (Sept. 12, 2001)
Churches, Agencies Respond to Attacks | Leaders call for prayer, justice, and mercy. (Sept. 12, 2001)
Muslims Fear a Backlash | No matter who is responsible, observers feel a reaction will still be present. (Sept. 12, 2001)
A Wake-Up Call to Become Global Christians | The deadly attacks on America will provoke many responses, but Christians are commanded to love our neighbors. (Sept. 12, 2001)
Nation's Religious Leaders Urge Calm, Pray for Peace | Churches will maintain prayer vigils for victims and leaders. (Sept. 11, 2001)
Church Leaders Around World Deplore 'Unspeakable Horror' of Attack | Christians urged to unite in prayer as they unite in shock and denunciation. (Sept. 11, 2001)
Experts Say Spiritual Roots Will Aid in Coping With Catastrophe | Pray and connect with others, advise nation's chaplains. (Sept. 11, 2001)
Fear and Hate | In times like this, as in all other times, Christians have a responsibility to love above all else. (Sept. 11, 2001)
God's Message in the Language of Events | In the face of evil, we must focus on keeping our hearts right. (Sept. 11, 2001)
The BBC has compiled reactions from world leaders (with video).
President Bush addressed the nation on Tuesday evening (video | transcript). He also released a statement Tuesday afternoon. Bush first learned of the World Trade Center tragedy while preparing to speak to schoolchildren in Sarasota, Fla.. There, he asked Amercians for a moment of silence for the victims.
Slate.com explained who responds to crisis situations like Tuesday's.
An Interpol report details the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.