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A Faith Today Interview With Global Mission Specialist Charles Cook
Charles (Charlie) Cook spoke with the EFC's Aileen Van Ginkel about today's changing face of global mission and how being Canadian just might come in handy.


Charles Cook chairs the EFC's Global Mission Roundtable, a partnership that focuses on strengthening Canadian ministries involved in global mission.

FT: Charlie, we hear so much about the "global community." What does it really mean for Christians to be part of that community in the 21st century?

Charles Cook

CC: We're in an adjustment stage as we figure out what the new paradigm for doing mission globally is going to look like. Part of the answer lies in learning how to work with our brothers and sisters from the developing world, which we could also call the majority world. How do we deal with the distribution of resources? Who takes the lead? I think we're adjusting to a new way of working. The euphoria of the latter part of the 20th century, where everything was pointing to "finishing the task" by the year 2000 silenced the mission community as that obviously did not occur. The question now is "How do we refocus and re-engage for the 21st century?"

We need to stay engaged and find the new forums through which to be engaged on the global front.

FT: What does it look like to be a follower of Christ today, especially in the global setting?

CC: Engaging on various levels is very much at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. I think some of the new and exciting initiatives reflect a more holistic approach to the way we approach God's work in the world. In the past it seemed we could always dismiss poverty as an issue that relates to people who are without faith or living in sin, so to speak. But now, when our brothers and sisters in the majority world are still living under those kinds of conditions, I think it requires that we who are in the West understand what we can do to help advocate for their plight in the different corners of the world.

FT: Do you have an example of how we, as Canadian Christians specifically, can work in partnership with the Global Church?

CC: We're on a journey together to figure out what it means to be in the world but not of the world and yet bring about change in systems. I think of one situation in Latin America where my friend, who is a former minister of finance for Bolivia, was working his way through what it means to be a follower of Jesus and be in government at the same time. We've not been able to help the Church in the majority world understand how to bring those two realities of faith and work together because we've dichotomized the two things. One of my personal concerns has been that Christianity has spread throughout the majority world and seen massive growth, and yet we do not see any significant systemic changes in those societies where there's a high percentage of Christians.

FT: Of course that's an issue that faces North American Christians as well.

CC: Yes, some of the challenges that the majority world Church faces are of our own making because we hadn't really worked through it in our discipling. It raises the question of what kind of Christianity we have exported. Guatemala, for example, has a high percentage of Christians, and yet some of the most significant atrocities have been going on there. You could say the same for Rwanda. These situations become mirrors that reflect back at us.

FT: What are some of the issues that Canadian Christians need to be aware of as they enter into relationships with Christians in other parts of the world?

CC: One of the areas that has grown substantially in the past 20 years has been the short-term mission movement. In many respects this has been a grassroots movement from individuals in local churches wanting to have a much broader impact. I think that's a positive thing. But there are questions. To what degree are those experiences just for the North American Church? To what degree are those experiences actually trying to connect with our brothers and sisters in the various corners of the world to make long-term impact? It raises issues of sensitivity to other cultures and sensitivity to the churches within those cultures. Do we seek to understand the context in which those churches are serving, and are we willing to work in tandem with local bodies in those regions of the world to make an impact?

FT: What about long-term missionaries? Has this shift impacted their work?

CC: It raises questions as to how long-term or career-type people fit into the 21st century model of doing church or doing mission. Are they dinosaurs whose days have passed? Or are we missing something theologically in terms of the incarnational component of mission if we say there is no longer a role for those types of people?

There are, after all, 1.8 billion people who still haven't heard of who God is in the person of Jesus. How do we make sure this is still on the radar screen of believers not only in Canada, but also around the world—particularly since those people are often in regions where there are challenges to entering into dialogue with them about the person of Jesus. One model that's emerging is working together with people who come from those regions and who might be more suited to engaging in that part of the world. Another model is to make use of business opportunities that allow western people to enter into new kinds of relationships with people outside Canada.

FT: Is there a tension between the call to engage in mission globally and locally?

CC: I don't think there needs to be a tension. In the past when anything was done in the North American context it was called evangelism. When it was done in a global context it was called "missions." With the shift and use of the term "mission" to refer to activity in both North America and overseas, we seem to have blurred the lines for some people. The reality is we need to have a heart and a passion for both. Our human tendency is always to become a bit more concerned about ourselves and so people may want to give resources and do more in the local context.

FT: If we thought about mission as a response to God's call to gear relationships and resources towards sharing the reality of life in Christ in whatever context is presented to us, then as we become more engaged in the global economy we might naturally become more engaged in global mission. Might mission become more of a natural extension of whatever we're doing so that whether we're acting locally or internationally really doesn't make that much difference?

CC: Yes. With today's technology the far reaches of our globe come into everybody's living room. There are people in local churches who are engaged in the far corners of the world and doing business in those settings. There is also a good interconnection with an increasingly multicultural Canada. Our neighbours are now from different parts of the world. This has opened up an understanding of what's going on in the various corners of the world. The danger is that it can become very easy to say "Our church is going to engage only locally because the world is coming to us." Instead of seeing this as opening windows of opportunity around the world we can end up closing them down. Our immigration policy has nurtured a huge group of people who have language skills, culture skills and sensitivities. Canada may be able to send a new kind of people to be part of the mission task around the world.

FT: We've talked about informal partnerships with churches and ministries around the world but what about the more formal ones?

CC: We have wonderful opportunities in being part of the World Evangelical Alliance. I think our legacy as Canadians has always been the ability to be people who empower others to do things and who facilitate conversations around the world. We need to continue to be part of that by helping people get a voice. And I think, because of our proximity to our cousins to the south and our distinctness from them, we also have a role of broker or interpreter. We can be a bridge so that people from far reaches of the world can have a voice at the global table.

There's something about what has happened in Canada over the past 30 years that has created a culture that is very global. One of the exciting things about being Canadian is that our milieu forces us to really understand our faith and why we believe what we believe.

FT: So how does the Global Mission Roundtable fit into the picture?

CC: The Global Mission Roundtable is busy developing ways of helping the Canadian Church be engaged on a global scale. The most effective things we may have done in the past were our development of best practices in relation to short-term mission and missionary care. We're working on developing a code of best practices related to the ways in which Canadian or North American churches relate to churches and ministries in the majority world.

Our hope is that we can help Canadian churches deal with the challenges of bearing witness globally to God's Word in all aspects of life and society.

FT: Thank you, Charlie.

Charles Cook is professor of world mission at Canadian Theological Seminary in Calgary. Aileen Van Ginkel is director of the EFC's Centre for Ministry Empowerment in Markham, Ontairo.

Originally published in Faith Today, March/April 2007.

 

 
 
 
 

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