EMBRACING CHANGE

Our Senior Pastor recently preached a sermon urging us to reject maintaining order that perpetuates inequality and injustice for some and to embrace change that provides equality and justice for all. Those who are well served by the status quo are always loathe to allow changes. And those who are ill-served by it are always advocating for it to be changed. Both sides tend to defend their position vehemently and this often leads to clashes, nearly always highly vocal and sometimes violent. And positive results are generally slow in coming. But the good news is they are coming, however slowly.

This was pointed out in a book I recently read by Hans Rosling (with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund) entitled “Factfullness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think”.1 In it Rosling uses statistics compiled by the World Bank and the United Nations to show that our long-held preconceptions about the state of the world are incorrect. Instead of getting worse at an increasing rate conditions are actually getting better in most respects.

In 2017 he and his colleagues asked nearly 12,000 people in 14 countries a series of 13 questions about current conditions in the world. On average they answered only 2 of the first 12 questions correctly. And many groups of highly educated people fared worse than the general public. As these were all multiple choice questions with three possible answers, Rosling postulates that a group of chimpanzees would get one-third of the questions right by sheer luck (they have a 1 in 3 chance). And the chimps’ guesses would be more or less evenly distributed between the incorrect answers, while the human errors tend to be in one direction. Every group of people tested believes the world is more frightening, violent and hopeless than it really is.

The correct answers to the 13 questions are:

  1. In all of the low-income countries of the world 60 % of girls finish primary school.
  2. The majority of the world’s population lives in middle-income countries.
  3. In the last 20 years the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has almost been halved (i.e., 50% fewer).
  4. The life expectancy world-wide is 70 years. (Actually, the worldwide life expectancy at birth in 2016 was 72 according to the World Health Organization 2 and since 1900 the global average life expectancy has more than doubled 3)
  5. There are 2 billion children in the world today aged 0-15 years. According to the United Nations there will be 2 billion in 2100 (no change)
  6. The United Nations predicts that by 2100 the world population will increase by 4 billion because there will be more adults (aged 15 to 74).
  7. Over the last 100 years the number of deaths from natural disasters has decreased to less than half.
  8. There are roughly 7 billion people in the world today, 1 billion each in the Americas, Europe and Africa, and 4 billion in Asia. The United Nations projects that by 2100 there will still be 1 billion people in the Americas and Europe, but 4 billion in Africa and 5 billion in Asia.
  9. 80% of the world’s 1-year-old children have been vaccinated against at least one disease.
  10. World-wide 30-year old men have spent 10 years in school on average, while women of the same age have spent 9 years.
  11. In 1996, tigers, giant pandas and black rhinos were all listed as endangered. Today none of them are.
  12. 80% of the people in the world have at least some access to electricity.
  13. And the one answer 86% of people got right. Global climate experts believe that, over the next 100 years, the average temperature will get warmer.

This is due to the massive public awareness campaign to inform people of this issue. Regardless of what position people take on the causes of it, the fact of global warming is becoming self-evident. However, there is mass ignorance (not stupidity but lack of correct knowledge) on the other 12 questions. This lack of knowledge of the facts leads to misguided and mostly ineffective attempts to correct problems that do not really exist in the magnitude believed. And it tends to lead to seeking immediate solutions that are quick and easy to what are generally complex problems that take a long time to fully resolve. And so it behooves us to embrace the documented facts that positive change to issues like extreme poverty, child mortality rates, illiteracy, income inequality and Malthusian projections of overpopulation is ongoing and much progress has already been made and to continue to patiently and persistently pursue the eventual culmination of these changes. If this idea seems farfetched to you, I recommend that you read the entirety of Rosling’s book, which is available from Amazon.com.

Another book I read recently by Matt Brown, entitled “Awakening: How God’s Next Great Move Inspires & Influences Our Lives Today” draws similar conclusions about the general lack of knowledge about what God is doing in the world today. Brown’s premise is that Christians in the western world (and particularly the northern hemisphere) are so wrapped up in what is happening in our own churches and denominations that we fail to notice what God is doing in the rest of the world. If we were more aware of the incredible things happening in Christianity around the globe we would be greatly encouraged, he says:

“Most of the believers I’ve met at churches from many denominations across the country are unaware of how Christianity is flourishing around the world—and even down the street from where they live. They perceive the status of the global Christian faith through the microscopic lens of their local church, churches they may have heard of in their city, or what little they know of their denomination. This lack of knowledge and understanding of God’s constant activity can lead to many problems in a believer’s life—not just an unawareness of what God is doing, but a lack of understanding about our place in a much bigger story… With all that is going on in the world—political instability, persecution of Christians, tragedies, and wars—we need encouragement that God is at work all around us.” 4

Brown then proceeds to share “how God is moving around the world in ways unprecedented in history” and asks us to “reflect on how being a part of this larger story affects {our} own story.” 5 He begins by asking several questions about the status of Christianity today and the size of the movement of God globally. 6 These are:

  1. Where is the largest church building in the world, and how many people does it seat?
  2. Where is the largest church numerically in the world, and how big is it?
  3. Who has preached the gospel in person to more people than anyone {else} in human history?
  4. What is the largest ministry in church history for an individual ministry (not denominational)?

The largest church building is in Nigeria, Africa, he says, and seats nearly 50,000 people for a single service. The largest church numerically is no longer Yoiddo Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea, a small-group-based church that has close to one million weekly attendees. It is now another church in Nigeria, not the one with the largest building, but another congregation with nearly two million attendees (note that is not members, but attendees). This church holds a monthly prayer meeting outdoors that draws as many as eight million people. These are staggering numbers to those of us accustomed to much smaller numbers of attendees who are a small percentage of the members on the church rolls.

The answer to the third question is a “German-born missionary by the name of Reinhard Bonnke {who} leads an organization known as Christ for All Nations that has communicated the gospel to more people than any other in human history. Billy Graham’s largest crusade was in South Korea in 1979, and he preached in person to more than one million people in a single service. Reinhard Bonnke’s largest crusades have been held in Africa, and he preached to several million on a dusty field in Nigeria in 2001, and more than one million people dedicated their lives to Jesus Christ in a single service!” 7

And the answer to the fourth question is a man by the name of “Vincent Ferrer, whom the Catholic Church has since named a saint. He ministered in the fifteenth century, around the same time as Martin Luther, and he had as many as ten thousand people on his ministry team who traveled with him across Europe on foot as they spread the gospel.” 8

If you are like me you probably didn’t know the correct answer to any of these questions. These and many other astounding facts are unknown to many Christians.

“These kinds of stories”, Brown says, “could impact and inspire you and me to the greater things God has for us. Hearing about these people should stir our hearts and move us into action. But we often miss our moments. What can we do in our own neighborhoods? Some churches are effectively bringing in those who need to hear the gospel. But some are not as effective in this area, and many Christians don’t attend church at all. What can you do to show the life of Christ that is in you to others? We need to be willing to take what we know to be true and share it with those who don’t yet know it. We want to awaken them to the same life that we have because of Christ.” 9

Once we are aware of what God is doing in the world we should be inspired to actively participate in the movement of God by joining local or regional prayer groups that seek God’s guidance and empowerment to become part of what he is doing in the world. If we are unaware of such a group we should start one. A good resource for beginning an effective prayer group is a book by Brad Long and Doug McMurry, entitled “Prayer That Shapes the Future: How to Pray with Power and Authority” 10

And we should be involved with justice movements, rejecting the maintenance of order that perpetuates inequality and injustice for some and embracing change that provides equality and justice for all. In doing so, however, we need to avoid taking a one-sided, one-size-fits-all, approach that pits us against those with a different point of view and leads to bitterness and division. That only adds to the problem. Instead we should demonstrate a better way through loving our neighbor (and even our enemy) as Jesus commanded (not suggested). That means taking the time to listen to their point of view and prayerfully considering whether there is validity to it that can better inform our understanding and hopefully lead to joint solutions to the problems we are concerned with.

We should also fulfill our part of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20; see also Mark 16:15 and Acts 1:8) by going into all the world and teaching all the nations everything that Christ has taught us. And while this may seem to be an impossible task, the truth is it is already well under way. In fact, according to Brown, “People are coming to faith in Christ at a rate like no other time in human history, especially in the global South.” 11 We noted some of the evidence of that earlier in regard to Africa. But it is also happening in South America and even China. Brown quotes the pastor of a church in Bogota, Columbia with a quarter of a million weekly attendees as saying:

“Christianity is growing at three times the rate of the world’s population. In America only is it decreasing.”

“But even this quote can be deceiving,” he continues, “since America still has the number one population of Christians in the world. In fact, ten times more Americans attend church on a single weekend than the crowds that fill all the NFL football stadiums over the entire football season.” 12

As to China, Brown quotes Joe Carter, a writer for The Gospel Coalition, who says:

“The number of Christians in Communist China is growing so steadily that by 2030 it could have more churchgoers than America.  The People’s Republic of China remains, at least officially, an atheist country. But the number of Protestant Christians in China has grown from one million in 1949 to more than 49 million in 2010. Experts believe that number could more than triple over the next generation. . . .  Sociologist Rodney Stark estimates that during the first 350 years of Christianity, the faith grew at a rate of 40 percent per decade. During the 61-year period from 1949 to 2010, Christianity grew at a rate of 4,800 percent in 61 years, a rate of 89% per decade. . . .  By mid-century, China may have more citizens who identify as Christians than the United States has citizens.” 13

Even in the Muslim world people are coming to Christ in record numbers. Christianity Today quotes career missiologist David Garrison as estimating that “2 to 7 million people from a Muslim background worldwide now follow Christ.” 14

Much has been accomplished, but much remains to be done, and we should be motivated to join with our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world in this effort. We do that by following Christ’s commands and living our lives before the world to demonstrate the kingdom of heaven on earth, while inviting others to join us. As Francis of Assisi said:

“Preach the Gospel everyday & only if you have to…use words.” 15

And where are missionaries needed the most? According to Melissa Steffan:

“The country that received the most missionaries in 2010? The United States, with 32,400 sent from other nations.” 16

It should be obvious that you don’t have to go overseas to be a missionary. You can and should be one at home. In fact, the slogan of the church of which I am a member has the slogan “Every member a missionary” 17.

So what is my point in all of this? Simply that if we are concerned about the issues that we see and hear about every day and that makes us fearful, depressed and angry, believing that the world is rapidly “going to hell in a handbasket”, we are woefully uninformed about what is really happening. We should wake up, open our eyes and ears to behold what God is doing on a global scale to alleviate these problems and make the world a better place. And we should be asking ourselves how we can get onboard with this move of God and become an active participant with  him in bringing this to pass.

Notes:

  1. Rosling, Hans (with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund), Factfullness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think (New York NY: Flatiron Books, 2018
  2. https://www.who.int/gho/mortality_burden_disease/life_tables/situation_trends/en/
  3. https://ourworldindata.org/life-expectancy
  4. Brown, Matt Awakening: How God’s Great Move Inspires & Influences Our Lives Today (Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers-An Imprint of Abilene Christian University Press, 2015). Kindle Edition, pp. 11-12
  5. , p. 12
  6. , p. 25
  7. , p. 26
  8. , p. 27
  9. , p. 27
  10. Long, Brad & Doug McMurry, Prayer That Shapes The Future (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999)
  11. Brown, op. cit., p. 116
  12. Brown, op. cit. p. 116
  13. Brown, op. cit. p. 122
  14. Timothy Morgan, “Why Muslims Are Becoming the Best Evangelists,” Christianity Today, April 22, 2014
  15. http://famousquotefrom.com/st-francis-assisi/
  16. Melissa Steffan, “The Surprising Countries Most Missionaries Are Sent From and Go To,” Christianity Today, July 25, 2013, accessed October 27, 2014,
  17. https://www.gracepc.org/missions/

 

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