For many people, the word ‘missionary’ still conjures images of white westerners replete with pith helmets living amongst the local people of remote regions of Africa, China or South America. Whilst many Christian workers still serve in rural regions, this notion is certainly not representative of the global mission scene as a whole - if indeed it ever was!
For a start, the areas in which people are living around the world has changed beyond all recognition, even during the last twenty years. Since the beginning of the 21st century, it is likely that the global urban population will have exceeded the number of people living in rural areas for the first time in history. This is largely the result of massive migrations in developing countries from rural areas into the cities as people seek jobs.
With the population of cities growing faster than their social and economic structures can cope, there are often many more people than jobs. Desperate people are routinely exploited as cheap labour and many more live in slums - often enduring conditions far worse than those they left.
With better paid jobs available in the West, there have also been several instances of significant international migration trends. In the UK, we are currently witnessing one such trend first-hand, with the increasing immigrant population changing the ethnic makeup of this country and the Church. This trend has been intensified by the free movement of labour within the EU which has seen many people from Eastern Europe in particular settling in the country.
As the UK has been experiencing the demise of Christendom and the corresponding decrease in the size, influence and activity of the Church, the Church has grown dramatically in many countries in the southern hemisphere. As churches in these countries send people out on mission, many have travelled to countries in Europe that have traditionally been seen as ‘sending nations’. This has resulted in the planting of numerous churches amongst the various diaspora now living in Britain. Over the last few years several mission agencies who had previously worked exclusively overseas have now begun work in the UK.
So what does all this mean for British churches and agencies seeking to engage in mission? Certainly, mission must not be thought of as being ‘from here to there’ but more like ‘from everywhere to everywhere’. Churches must simultaneously prioritise both global and local mission - both sending people out and at the same time seeking to engage with and witness to their local communities.
As a network, Global Connections aims to identify trends such as these as they develop. We have also recently sought to facilitate discussion on other key issues such as taking risks in mission, partnership between churches and agencies and mission and the environment. Our hope is that by considering the future, we might together learn how we may better serve God through mission in our ever-changing world.