My wife Pam and I are missionaries in Ireland – except that increasingly over the past few years that’s less and less an accurate description. Because more and more we are becoming missionaries to a new planet.
For example on Monday of last week I met a medical student called Alice who chronicled her spiritual journey, starting in primary school which was run by devout and quite strict religious teachers. This was followed by her teenage atheistic rebellion against all religion. But now she has reached her current, more placid, “believing” stage at the age of 26.
So what does she believe now? Tibetan Buddhism. Why? She thinks it’s better at looking after the poor. So we then had a conversation along the lines of, “So how’s that working out for you then?”. But her answers consistently referenced Jesus and his teaching about the poor. “The primary school must have done a good job!” she said sheepishly.
But here’s the clincher – she said that if she were to embrace Christian belief nowadays that would be looked on by her father as “a bit rebellious”. He is now a “total atheist”. His favourite authors are Christopher Hitchens (“God is not Great”) and Richard Dawkins.
We’re on a new planet where the issues to be dealt with include: equality, God’s doubtful character, gender theory, women’s reproductive rights. There are new questions like “Is Christianity actually a fake news story?”. Objective truth is seriously in question. In Oprah Winfrey’s recent Golden Globes speech she acknowledged “dedication to uncovering the absolute truth” but then said, “what I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have”.
This is a job for cross-cultural missions – and now we all need to get good at it. Eddie Arthur who worked with Wycliffe Bible Translators for years expressed it well when he wrote recently on the Global Connections blog
“Not so long ago, Christians tended to talk about mission as something that happened overseas, while evangelism was what we did in the UK. I know there were exceptions, but the generalisation stands. The point was that we saw Britain as having an Evangelical background; there was a cultural understanding of the faith and all we had to do was call people back to beliefs that they had abandoned. What we needed was the revival of something that was there, but dormant. However, outside of the UK on “the mission field”, people didn’t know about Christianity at all and mission work was all about starting from scratch with a non-Christian or profoundly anti-Christian population.”
Although Eddie is writing about the UK this phenomenon is common across the Western world – and Ireland is an early adaptor.
During the last semester our team surveyed hundreds of students on five universities. Although 90% had a church background only 11% would think of looking to the church for any spiritual guidance. One of our staff remarked that “the church is so insignificant to them that they aren’t even anti-church”
And the good news? God is not in the least surprised by any of this and is changing lives in the midst of it all. This past week we talked to a prospective student leader who is keen to be trained in sharing her faith and ready to lead others. She was born in India, grew up in Saudi Arabia where her parents were working. Her parents got baptized in Saudi (not everybody can say that!) and after the police discovered that her father had planted a church they needed to leave and they settled in an Irish city. There they planted another church (!) where our student leader friend was baptized “along with my grandfather” she proudly told us (not many people can say that either!). Now she’s ready to lead others in knowing Christ and making him known. You couldn’t make it up in a book.