My former colleague at Westminster Seminary, Dr Sue Baker, has edited a collection of essays in honour of our mutual friend, Manny Ortiz. Sue’s own contribution to the volume is a thought-provoking article entitled: Globalisation: How Should Mission Respond?
In reflecting on the drawbacks of technological advances, Sue warns that the speed of communication could be at the expense of relationships, and that people in mission, both local and distant, must resist the temptation of spending five to six hours a day in front of a computer screen and relatively little time with people. That certainly seems like a problem for those in ministry anywhere. Is this blog just another symptom of the disease? Maybe I should have gone to visit a family in my congregation rather than write this?
She also points out that we are less than a day and a half away from any other part of the world which allows missionaries to come home much more often than in the past. She mentions three couples from her church who are now in Asia or Southeast Asia and who have either had a baby recently or will be having one soon. All of them are taking time off to have their babies back “home” in the US. In the past missionaries had their babies on the field and their adopted local community became part of the process. Missionaries no longer step off a boat or out of an aeroplane and enter their new culture permanently. “Will these jet-setters truly imbibe the local culture to the point at which they can effectively communicate the gospel? What message does their link to the home culture send to the people they are trying to reach?” It seems like the old-time career missionary who left home never sure if he or she would ever return is now well and truly a thing of the past.
With regards to the advantages of the new technology and the task of mission, Sue quotes Samuel Escobar:
In the field of Christian publishing, missionary linguists are working on the translation of the New Testament into an Indian language of Ecuador. A missionary aviation organisation has flown the linguists to a remote village where they live and work. From there they will email their drafts to their supervisor in Canada and discuss technical problems with him. When the manuscript is ready, the final layout of the book will be seen by experts in Dallas, Texas, and then be sent by email to Korea, where the books will be printed and later dispatched to Miami, the center from which they will be marketed in Ecuador.
It got me thinking that while technology may facilitate mission in many areas, does it not expose Christian missionaries working in some remote areas to workplace temptations that they never had before the Internet? The new technology really is a mixed blessing.