Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Different World

Written by: on April 3, 2014

It was a different world. The patio at the back is only vague memory. What I remember more is the soft cushion of lush grass that grew on either side of the stone walkway that extended from that back patio. The walkway made its way through, winding a little bit, and then beyond the garden and then it stopped. The last stone didn’t represent an end from which you should turn and go back. Rather, it was as though it was an invitation to what lay before you. A different world than the row houses, blacktop parking lot and an open field filled with old cars and other junk – that’s what we were used to. But before us was a HUGE yard, maybe the biggest my eight or nine year old eyes had ever seen, and there were trees waaaaaay back in the corner. Not just trees that grew tall, but trees that you could climb, and if we came at the right time of year we could pick the fruit off of it and eat it. My sister and I had been here before, how many times I can’t say for sure, but we always enjoyed it. Sometimes it would rain, and we would have to play inside. I remember once playing hide and seek, and getting lost – or losing track of the game, because instead I was counting bathrooms, six maybe seven, but there parts of this mansion that I hadn’t seen before. I don’t remember the names of the people we visited. All I knew was that he was an ambassador from Trinidad. To a child, a visit to this kind of place seemed highly unusual, special perhaps. It was a different world and by getting a glimpse you couldn’t help but want it more.

Reading To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, by James Davison Hunter, brought  those memories back to life; memories which have undoubtedly been distorted by the passing of time. Hunter’s book, for the Christian, is a welcomed challenge for our shared desire to see change in the world in which we live. “There are Christians today who have been yearning for something different, who recognize intuitively that the older paradigms of engagement are fundamentally flawed and are discovering an alternative…” (p.272)

Throughout the book, Hunter strategically works at bringing us to points of agreement with our picture of change, only to expose its weaknesses or shortcomings. Whether it’s seeking change through grassroots movements, political power, cultural innovation or a strong dose of evangelicalism, our western society has seen it all. Sometimes we’ve seen it separately; sometimes we’ve seen them together. More predominantly in these days of advanced post-christian pluralism we see fragments and combinations of all of them.

Yet common to each is a dissatisfaction (or repulsion) for the present and the desire for a different world, as Hunter says: “Both Right and Left, then, aspire to a righteous empire.” (p.147)  However, despite the varied and earnest efforts of many, the evidence of sustainable change has been found lacking.

Can we really change the world? Are we supposed to change the world?

Which brings me back to my childhood memories at the ambassador’s mansion:

The role of the ambassador was to keep my father connected to things that were happening in his home country. To bring good reports of the nation and developments in the regions of my father’s upbringing. The ambassador also provided my father with names of other people from his home country and events that were taking place locally, in this distant land where others from the home country would be connecting. It would provide opportunity to rekindle memories, to introduce others to the distinctive of our home country and to share about plans of a return at some point.

The ambassador’s role wasn’t to recreate Trinidad in Canada. It wasn’t to defend all things Trinidadian. Nor was it to denounce all things Canadian. Nor was it to denounce or degrade other people from the home country. His role was to unify those from the home country in this distant land.

The ambassador’s mission is to reside in a distant land and communicate news about the native land to those that live in this distant land. The ambassador’s mission is to connect the native land within the context of the distant land.

As followers of Jesus Christ, while we are called to bring change (light, salt, compassion, faith, hope, love, justice, mercy) to the world, we have forgotten that we are not the Agent of Change for the world. There is a New World that is coming, one that we can point to and communicate about. A New World that we cannot usher in, but one from which we can derive strength, perseverance and joy in knowing that it will come to pass, but it is not yet. To that end, our responsibility may now be to take on the role of an Ambassador, as strangers in this land, reminding others of a distant, different world:

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors as though God were making his appeal through us.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)

The role of an ambassador could well be described by Hunter’s theory of a “faithful presence within” our society. It is one that resonates well with my own interests in exploring the role of incarnational leadership. He presents four implications of the incarnation of Jesus Christ for our engagement with society (p.241-242):

  1. God’s faithful presence implies that he pursues us. Though estranged through indifference or rebellion, God still seeks us out.
  2. God’s faithful presence is his identification with us.
  3. The life he offers.
  4. The life he offers is only made possible by his sacrificial love.

In these post-christian pluralistic times there exists a great opportunity for followers of Jesus Christ to take on the role of an Ambassador. While many of us will be in agreement with the first three implications of this role, it’s the last one that is needed most. To what extent are we willing to sacrifice our lifestyle, our ambitions, our goals, our comforts in order to direct the attention of others towards the different world or our promised New Creation? When will we stop trying to fill God’s role and simply, faithfully go about the task He’s given us to do?  He’s got the whole “change the world” thing under control.

I don’t remember the name of the ambassador from Trinidad, in fact it may have been that there were more than one ambassador stationed in Ottawa during the time of my childhood – but the mission of the ambassador was something I have never forgotten – that, and his sprawling yard and endless number of bathrooms. Therefore he must of done his job well, embedding in us a sense of identity with our distant home, and fostering a longing for what might one day be possible.

May it be so, for us, as Ambassadors for Christ longing for others to capture a desire for His promised Different World.

About the Author

Deve Persad

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