The globalization of the Great Commission movement changed the face of missions. Many nations in Asia, Africa, and Latin America have mission-sending movements (like Ethiopia, Nigeria, Brazil, Philippines, South Korea). The Majority World nations together already send more missionaries than Western countries. This exciting 21st-century reality also introduces unique challenges. New missions movements will still make old mistakes, and workers from the Global North will now work alongside or even serve under the leadership of those from the Global South. International agencies see more recruits from the Majority World. Praise God for a global mission force that is more multi-cultural and multi-national than ever before!
The future of Jerusalem. The world's holiest city is probably also its most volatile flashpoint. Conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has resisted major international efforts to resolve it. The fundamental and seemingly irreconcilable differences between most Israelis and Arabs mean that any outbreak of serious conflict can easily embroil neighbouring countries - especially Lebanon and Syria. Many feel that such a war is almost inevitable. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
The Korean Peninsula is shared between an untenable, failing dictatorship and an affluent but nervous democracy. If or when reunification comes, the main questions are whether it will happen peacefully and at what cost rebuilding the North will occur. War would be disastrous for both sides.
Somalia is a textbook example of a failed state; it is a broken land populated by warlords, pirates, an uprooted and exiled shambles of a government and a number of aggressive Islamist groups. The upheaval has spilled into the Horn of Africa and significantly affected marine traffic in the busy shipping lanes along its coast.
Central Africa, while not the cauldron of anarchy it was in the 1990s, retains much of the upheaval and unrest of those dark times. Eastern DRC and northwest Uganda in particular still suffer from the predations of lawless militias.
Afghanistan and Pakistan remain vulnerable to religious extremism. The support that groups like the Taliban and al-Qaeda found, both formally and informally, in both nations, demonstrates how many in these lands actually support their versions of violent Islamism. The use of porous mountain borders between the two countries enables such groups to grow their cause, and avoid detection and opposition. Additionally, mobs espousing their radical agendas frequently subvert justice through demonstrations, intimidation, and extra-judicial killings. Both nations remain among the world's most unstable and dangerous.
China's growing self-confidence and assertiveness seem less of a threat externally as it seeks to engage the world as a financial, rather than a military, power. However, its increasing global strength is not without its opponents - and victims. There are also increasing tensions with the Uyghur and Tibetan minorities, the looming demographic and economic fallout of a rapidly aging population resulting from the One Child Policy and the massive gender gap with a shortfall of millions of females. All have serious consequences.
Iran is a regional power unto itself and the Shi'ite half of the West Asia/Middle East region. Its unbending stance on developing nuclear power and its notable influence in Iraq may put it on a collision course with other nations, particularly in the West. It also has its own internal stability issues.
The Himalayan region simmers with tension and division. The competing claims over Kashmir, the volatile nature of Nepal, the oppression of Tibet, the upheaval in Bangladesh and Northeast India and the opposition of India and Pakistan on many issues make this a potentially dangerous area - especially since the three main players are all nuclear powers.
The Mexico-US drug corridor is an area where the hedonistic excesses of American appetites effectively fund brutal wars between various drug cartels and government forces. Tensions from immigration issues further fuel the fire.
The West African fault line between Islam and Christianity has seen clashes, mob violence and civil war, especially in Nigeria and Côte d'Ivoire. Religious differences are exacerbated and fuelled by ethnic divisions.
A Southeast Asian corridor, from Myanmar through Thailand down to Malaysia and Indonesia, offers a range of potential flashpoints - the Burmese military junta's brutality, the widening socio-political chasm and possible military coup in Thailand, the Muslim unrest in Thailand's south and the continued threat of Islamism in Malaysia, Indonesia and on Mindanao in Philippines.
The Caucasus has long been a hotbed of ethnic violence, with the overlay of renewed Russian imperialism and deep religious divides. More radical and violent forms of Islam are beginning to assert themselves, and secessionist regions in the Russian Caucasus are displaying increasing boldness in pushing for autonomy.
Immigration into Europe is an unstoppable tide of humanity from Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Eastern Europe. The plunging birthrates in EU countries and the affluence, stability and generous social services in Europe are factors that pull in immigrants, many of whom are coming from countries where conflict rages. While immigration is utterly necessary for the demographic and economic survival of Europe, the potential for resentment and violent backlash on the part of the native peoples of the EU is also strong. Postmodern secularism, Islam and Christianity must learn to co-exist or face a very turbulent future.
The globalization of politics and economics is far from accomplished. The vast differences between Somaliland and Switzerland, between North Korea and New Zealand indicate this clearly. Many states, regions and cultures have reacted - at times, violently - against the unwelcome and fear-inducing intrusion of the changes that globalization brings. Yet, the shrinking of the world generates a global youth culture, a globally networked world economy, a global news and media industry and, one might dare to say, a globalized evangelical Church culture.
International terrorism came to the fore in 2001 with the 9/11 tragedy. Subsequently, Madrid, London, Moscow, Beslan, Bali, Iraq, Mumbai, Nairobi, Ankara, Paris, Libya, Sri Lanka, and other places have encountered large scale terrorist attacks. Places like Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Egypt, and Yemen have been repeatedly victimized. The large majority of these attacks are driven by radical Islamist groups against what they perceive to be wicked worldly powers or against other factions within Islam. Increasingly available firearms, easy access to the knowledge and means of bomb-making and the willingness of many terrorists to maximize damage by committing suicide all create the potential for very destructive attacks. In the past 20 years, a vast amount of money, manpower and expertise have been spent on intelligence, surveillance, prevention and proactive actions against terrorist groups. Beyond the sowing of terror and the thousands of lives stolen, these attacks have brought on much soul-searching in Muslim world and a profound reshaping of how Christian mission is done (due to security issues).
The insidious power of international crime empires. Globalization probably benefits the wicked and corrupt as much as, if not more than, those with good intentions. Some of these are the US mafia, the Colombian drug cartels, Chinese Triads, Japanese yakuza, Jamaican yardies, Russian Bratva, the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta, Sicilian Cosa Nostra, Neapolitan Camorra and many others.
- Drug networks link the largest growers (Andean republics, Central Asia, the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia) with the largest users (the West, China, India).
- Smuggling of contraband ranges from cigarettes and alcohol, to antiques and art, to live animals and weapons and firearms.
- Money laundering on a massive scale.
- Control and extortion of politicians and business and industry leaders as well as their influence over entire economies.
Human trafficking is now the main activity of traffickers, replacing drugs and firearms, and is one of the great blights of our time. Today, approaching 30 million people live in what amounts to slavery. This industry generates $32 billion annually. The vast majority of the 800,000 who are smuggled across international borders each year are either deceived or coerced; 80% of them are women or children, and 70% of the women are trafficked for sexual exploitation. Around 1.2 million children are used by the global commercial sex trade. Only a tiny fraction of traffickers - who are women almost as frequently as men - are ever brought to justice.
Threats to human health, including disease. HIV/AIDS has been the high profile disease of the past 20 years, but treatments, increasing awareness and changing behaviour patterns see infection rates declining. Cancer continues to take many lives all over the world. New, resistant strains of old diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis, are spreading. HIV, SARS and H5N1 are examples of recent pandemics; fears abound of new ones, more virulent and deadly. Less glamorously, diseases associated with malnutrition, poverty, unclean water supplies and lack of sanitation are even greater threats to children - pneumonia, diarrhoea, TB and others. Included in this is malaria, which kills as many people globally as AIDS and has a similarly devastating effect on economies. Air and water pollution probably contribute to as many deaths annually as all of these diseases combined.
Technological developments have taken modern civilization in unanticipated directions. There are no flying cars, moon colonies or teleportation devices (yet!), but technology has advanced in a number of areas at a rate no one could have conceived. In all of these areas are great potential benefits and risks as well as the human ability to exploit them for good or for evil.
- Communications technology that connects machines, people and communities. The digital revolution continues to push forward. The ubiquity of the Internet and the rapid global exchange of information radically alter the way the world works - financially, politically and socially. Cyber warfare, therefore, is an area of quickly increasing interest and growth.
- Developments in computing and mobile phone technologies continue at a dizzying rate. Ever-smaller components with ever-greater processing power, robotics, cloud programming, artificial intelligence and virtual reality may all profoundly impact the future of every area of our lives. One risk for ministry is the reduced amount of personal, face-to-face contact that may occur for humans in the future, but the above two trends also point toward the possibility of seeing the gospel reach every last corner of human population via new media.
- Medical technology is likewise pressing forward - especially into new areas such as genetics (particularly in mapping the genome of humans, animals and plants) and stem cell and cloning research.
- Energy research is possibly the highest profile and most globally important area needing technological progress. Fossil fuels are highly polluting to our lands, waters, and the atmosphere, and the corrupting influence of the fossil fuel lobby is a blight on healthy economies and governance. Nuclear power is very expensive and still lacks the trust of the public. Renewable, green energy such as solar, wind and wave power are the clear way forward for the long term – rapid progress on efficiency and storage is necessary to make them more viable, but it is happening. Once clean energy is demonstrably affordable and viable at scale and affordable, we will see a rapid and overdue decline of the invasive, destructive, polluting dependence on carbon-based energy.
- Nanotechnology has profound implications in almost every area of human activity - medicine, computing, engineering and communications to name a few.
Demographic contrasts. Even though population growth is slowing in every area of the world, there are vast gaps in fertility rates around the globe. Populations continue to increase rapidly in Yemen, Afghanistan-Pakistan and much of West, Central and Eastern Africa. Much of Europe and parts of East Asia and southern Africa have sub-replacement fertility and face either terminal demographic decline or the necessity of large-scale immigration for civilization's survival. Rising ages of life expectancy, lower mortality rates and smaller families are good things, but the rapid aging of the human population will introduce altogether new challenges in the future. Massive immigration from more youthful, poor countries to more affluent - and aged - ones is one effect; care for rapidly increasing numbers of the elderly is another.
Urbanization. The past 50 years have seen great levels of sustained global urbanization - hundreds of millions of people moving from rural areas to cities. The population of the world living in urban contexts rose from 13% in 1900 to 29% in 1950, to break the 50% threshold in 2009. By 2030, it is estimated that 60% will live in cities, and 70% by 2050. With the impossibility of developing infrastructure as quickly as urban population growth (especially in poorer countries), many of those newly arrived in cities are forced to live in slums and shantytowns on the outskirts. These cities are at the centre of the world's economies - the world's largest 25 cities account for more than 50% of all wealth, and most likely for much of its vice as well. Increasingly, urban megaregions (such as Hong Kong-Shenzen-Guanzhou, Greater Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro-São Paulo and the Washington-NYC-Boston conurbations) present entirely new challenges for the future with massive urban sprawl, vast inequalities and vast hunger for resources. In many countries, urbanites have immensely greater opportunities to improve their quality of life. Cities, with their dense overlay of many value and belief systems, often break down previously held barriers regarding class, race and religion and allow for much greater social and economic mobility. They will necessarily be at the heart of future mission strategy.
International migrations. There are now 200-250 million people living outside the land of their birth. Greater levels of migration are fuelled by: increasing gaps, internationally, in quality of life; population growth (and decline); climate change and ecological ruin; financial, educational and social opportunities; and upheaval, conflict and persecution. Large-scale migrations into Western Europe, North America, South Africa, Siberia, Australia and other places will continue to increase regardless of what barriers are raised or laws passed - such epic scales of the global movement of humanity cannot be stopped by legislation. But violent xenophobia has been an increasingly common reaction. The "threat" of immigration could also be a great opportunity for Christian ministry - many migrants come from less-evangelized lands, and many others come as vibrant, witnessing Christians.
The treatment of women continues to be a scandal in much of the world. In many of the poorer parts of the world, women carry the burden of the workload as well as raise the family, despite having a significantly lower social and economic status and fewer rights and recognitions than men. Violence against women persists in just about every country in the world. The large majority of women who endure abuse or rape never report it and so suffer alone. In conflict areas, women suffer greater deprivation and risk than men: assault, abuse, abduction and rape statistics in places such as Rwanda, Liberia, the Balkans and Cuidad Juárez during their times of conflict have borne this out. Many millions of girls are denied primary education for cultural, religious or economic reasons. Worse yet, culturally established sexism has led to around 30 million cases of selective abortion of females or female infanticide, predominantly in India and China. This in turn fuels the growth of trafficking and abducting women - and girls - as brides or sex slaves.
Language extinctions. Globalization threatens the world's rich linguistic - and therefore cultural - diversity. Eight languages are spoken by more than 100 million people each. These eight total up to 2.9 billion mother tongue speakers (42% of human population), not to mention hundreds of millions or billions more who have learned them.
- Advances in communications technology (such as the Internet and digital technology) have placed great power into the hands of a very few languages, English predominant among them. This has great implications in economics, politics and science. Having a handful of global mega-languages, which aids in international communication, is also a cultural juggernaut that crushes many smaller cultures. Technological developments have greatly aided communications in a few languages, but translation technology is not yet advanced enough to significantly benefit the many smaller languages.
- Languages are dying out. About 472 languages are regarded as nearly extinct; 133 have fewer than 10 speakers, and 1,520 have fewer than 1,000 speakers. Estimates are that at least half of the 6,909 languages may be extinct in 2100. Only 39 languages are used as teaching languages in the world's universities. The efforts of Bible translators together with literacy workers are significant in preserving languages, restoring pride in cultures and allowing the gospel to be effectively communicated and to flourish in the heart language and culture of a people.
- Multilingualism is practiced by the majority of the world's population - some estimate up to 75%. One further redemptive role the world's mega-languages can serve is to function as gateway languages to bring vitality and resources into the heart languages of multi-language speakers. Developing evangelism and discipleship tools, hymnody and theology into these heart languages can effectively further Kingdom advance.
Water will be among the world's most crucial issues in the future. Given that sufficient fresh water exists globally to sustain humanity (even if the locations of water sources and human population do not match up well), the salient issues on a global level are more about ethics, equity, distribution and consumption.
- Access to clean water. Already, around one in six people lacks access to safe drinking water; by 2025, it is estimated that three billion will lack access to fresh water. Additionally, nearly one in three lacks access to adequate sanitation, and this in turn contributes greatly to disease, malnutrition and mortality, especially among children.
- Current wastefulness. The developed world uses more than 30 times more water per person than the developing world. And the vast bulk of water waste is through inefficient agricultural systems, which account for 70% of humanity's use of fresh water. Even diets (such as high consumption of red meat) that require much more water are a source of inequitable water use; the aspirations of most of the world to Western lifestyles, consumption levels and industrial output will generate even more waste and place even greater stresses on water supplies.
- Future societal and demographic changes. The large majority of future population growth will be in areas where safe water is in short supply. This, combined with ever greater industrialization (greater demands for water) and urbanization (population moving further from clean water sources), means that demands on water supplies will be even more intense in the future.
- Over-exploitation of limited water resources is poised to become a serious problem in the USA, Australia, southern Europe, South Asia, China and much of Africa. Aquifers are over-tapped and rivers are running dry. Water-rich countries such as Canada and Russia are moving to secure their own vast supplies of fresh water. Tension and even conflict already exist over:
- The Amu Darya/Oxus of Central Asia.
- The Tigris-Euphrates (Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran).
- The Jordan (Israel, Syria, Jordan).
- The Nile (Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia).
- The nations to the north and south of the Sahara Desert.
Demands for other natural resources, when combined with population growth and increasing levels of consumption, are at the core of what will make or break human civilization's progress in the 21st Century.
- Energy consumption is still vastly dominated by non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels. Until greener and more renewable sources can be developed to a level that makes them feasible alternatives, nuclear power might be the only other alternative.
- Food production is another area where great changes are afoot. Genetically modified crops, the environmental impact of current agricultural systems and current trends in global dietary patterns all raise serious economic, environmental and ethical questions - from organic foods to raising cattle to fishing. The existence of food is not a problem for the world's masses; at the heart of most problems are the amount of waste and the cost and difficulty of production and distribution. Growing crops for fuel, rather than food, intensifies these troubles.
- Other natural resources are also being rapidly depleted. Some resources, such as old-growth hardwood trees, can be renewed, though not nearly at the speed demanded by consumption. Others, such as minerals, are non-renewable, yet they are being extracted and used at increasing rates.
Climate change is now generally accepted as having a human causal component. Population growth, rapid industrialization and increasing consumption have an undeniable environmental/ecological impact. The negative implications of possible global warming are: desertification, soil exhaustion, greater frequency of natural disasters such as flooding and drought, water table salinization, flooding in low-lying coastal systems, massive loss of habitat for millions of species and unprecedented human migration. The staggering scale of waste and pollution - from plastics to pesticides to hormones and more - affects our water systems, our climate and even our biology. Despite the fact that humans still know little about these complex dynamics, green ethics have almost become a religion in themselves, the adherence to which is demanded in much of the developed world. However, it has also fostered in the Church the rightful and necessary development of a theology of Creation stewardship and compelled Christians to reconsider how biblical our lifestyles are.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.