Global technological and political developments have changed the face of the world and altered forever the way the church can participate in God’s work of establishing his kingdom. The great gods of science and secularism of the 20th century are making room for the pluralism and skepticism of the postmodern mind. An increasing sense of global interdependence coupled with competition over limited resources serves to emphasize the divide between the "haves" and the "have nots". With the onslaught of 9-11 even North America has become aware, with the rest of the world, of the vulnerable and fragile nature of humanity at the hands of angry people with access to powerful weapons. Within such a setting Christ’s followers must address several crucial issues in order to be relevant and significant participants in transforming lives for God’s kingdom.
The first challenge is to ask those crucial questions which, although severe, provide that self-examination necessary for correction. "How can the church repent of past mistakes? How can it try to rediscover the essence of its missionary nature and calling?" (Bosch 1991:365) How can it respond creatively to the pressures of a world that has radically changed? How can the people of God maintain a faithful link with their rich and instructive past in a pluralist and shifting environment, while remaining relevant to those people who view life from very different perspectives? How can the followers of Christ bridge the gap between the eternal truth of the gospel and the myriad of cultural identities?
While this culture gap can be daunting and even frightening for the NA church, it must be remembered that throughout the history of missions these are the very questions that missionaries have had to deal with when travelling to foreign lands.
At times the resulting answers have been syncretistic in diluting or losing the Christian message, at times the answers have resulted in cultural domination such as in colonialism, but at no time have those who have reached out to others in cross-cultural situations been able to avoid these questions. The common missionary feeling in the face of such challenges is helplessness.
Helpless in the Essential Task
During our time of serving in Pakistan, helplessness seemed to be the operative word. I distinctly remember the time a friend brought an illiterate man to my meeting room and I explained the gospel to him. The man smiled and nodded, but I could sense that he was not able to understand or relate to what I was saying. I could have been reciting the Vancouver Canucks roster for all I was able to make an impact. Our worlds of experience, belief and culture were so far apart that I could not even begin to bridge the gap. In fact, when people would respond to the gospel I would all too often be astounded and respond by saying, "Do you know what you are doing?" because suffering is a certainty when a Muslim comes to Christ. However their answer would often be, "Jesus is the way. He died for me. How can I not become his follower?"
Ultimately the daunting task of cross-cultural ministry teaches us the one lesson that we need to learn above all others: that the only accomplishment that is important is the one thing we are helpless to do – change people’s hearts. "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Almighty Lord." (Zech 4:6)
Bosch, D.J. 1991. Transforming Mission. Paradigm shifts in theology of mission. Maryknoll: Orbis.