The lightning speed with which the global economic crisis has spread from one financial capital to another — heedless of national borders — seems to confirm a basic tenet of globalization: The world is flat.
Writer Thomas Friedman made that proposition famous with his influential book of the same name (The World Is Flat: Expanded Edition Thomas L. Friedman). The basic idea: Interconnected technology, trade, communication and mobility have tied us all together so tightly that national and cultural barriers are becoming increasingly porous, even irrelevant.
Not so fast.
In a new book, The Power of Place: Geography, Destiny, and Globalization's Rough Landscape, Michigan State University professor Harm de Blij argues that location still matters — a lot.
“In their lifetimes, this vast majority will have worn the garb, spoken the language, professed the faith, shared the health conditions, absorbed the education, acquired the attitudes, and inherited the legacy that constitutes the power of place: the accumulated geography whose formative imprint still dominates the planet.”
Despite modern mobility and massive migrations, fewer than 3 percent of human beings are “mobals” who live in a country where they were not born. An even smaller minority make up the “globals” who have access to all the advantages of modern technology and travel. The rest of us are “locals” — still tied, for better or worse, to the cultures that spawned us.
So why has the International Mission Board begun to move away from dividing its missionaries by location or region — South Asia, West Africa, etc. — and toward “global affinity groups” that focus on peoples sharing the same language, culture or ethnicity?
Because “place” is a state of mind and heart as much as a physical location. The most powerful “place” is culture.
Even though the vast majority of humans still are “locals,” their migrating “mobal” cousins often hold the key to reaching them. The new “global affinity groups” will be designed so missionaries can more effectively engage unreached peoples regardless of their location.
“This move recognizes the mobility of populations,” explains Gordon Fort, IMB vice president of overseas operations. “(It) allows us to focus on peoples wherever they are in the world.”
Missionaries will still focus on peoples living in specific locations — most unreached South Asians still live in South Asia, after all. But they won’t be “artificially limited by geopolitical considerations,” as Fort puts it. Millions of South Asians have migrated to other parts of the world and often are more accessible in their new homes.
“In our current rush to embrace the rewards of global ‘flattening,’ it is worth reminding ourselves that point of entry continues to matter when it comes to opportunities in reach,” de Blij writes.
For transmitting the love of Christ to all peoples, our key points of entry are language, culture and ethnicity. That means mobilizing churches, missionaries and local believers to take the Gospel to every part of the globe’s “rough landscape” — whether the “place” is a physical location or a cultural/spiritual stronghold.