As I leafed through the pages of Peter Frankopan’s, The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, my mind was elsewhere. This weekend, for the first time since our arrival in France eight and a half years ago, we will be hosting a short-term team from our home church in Spokane, WA. I’ve instructed the team not to call this a “mission trip;” but rather a “ministry exchange,” as I am convinced that they will receive as much or more than they give.
Some of Frankopan’s words catch my attention.
“We think of globalisation as a uniquely modern phenomenon; yet, 2000 years ago, too, it was a fact of life. One that presented opportunities, created problems and prompted technological advance,”
I’m once again thinking of my globe-trotting American colleagues and the days of opportunities, problems, and invention that lie before them. Reviewer Anthony Sattin suggests that Frankopan’s goal was to “recalibrate our view of history, to challenge assumptions about where we come from and what has shaped us.” I think I have a similar goal for this ministry exchange. What would it look like to challenge the assumptions that have shaped them?
Many North American Christians view themselves and their traditions as the global center of Christianity. In Global Humility, author Andy McCullough observes that those who travel for the sake of the Gospel “travel to teach, but not learn. We assume that our way of doing things is the best.” I have a French colleague who once told me that he had been approached by a well-known American pastor who wanted to bring a team from his church to help train Christian leaders in France. My colleague responded positively, genuinely excited about the possibility. He then offered to bring a French team to the US the following year to help train up Christian leaders in the States. He never heard from the American pastor again.
Author and missionary Andy McCullough believes that book of Jonah was written “to challenge the Jewish ides that they were the only seat of revelation, that they had nothing to learn from the nations.” He points out that the sailors seem to be more righteous than Jonah in their fear of God, the King of Nineveh seems to have a better understanding of the merciful character of God than Jonah, and the Ninevites seem to be more prone to repentance than Jonah. AND JONAH WAS THE MISSIONARY!!! In all of these cases, God is teaching his chosen people that they have much to learn from those whom they consider to be beneath them, theologically and religiously speaking.
Modern missionaries, whether long-term or short, must wrestle with as well. In fact, the global center of Christianity has shifted significantly over the past hundred years. Countries like Brazil, India, and South Korea that were once missionary destinations are now some of the largest missionary sending nations in the world. Greater collaboration on multi-cultural teams is the future of global missions. Will we rejoice in the prospect of partnership, or cling to the belief that we, North Americans, are the ones with all the answers?
In her book Christian Mission: How Christianity Became a World Religion, Dana Robert observes that historically, “A strange omission from western scholarly critiques of mission history has been the role of indigenous initiative in mission…. Missionaries were powerless without indigenous partners who could express the gospel in their own cultural framework.” And more recently, Engel and Dyrness assert, “There seems to be an unwarranted assumption that a Western expatriate can somehow perform the task as well or better than those who are much closer geographically, linguistically, and culturally.”
And so when my American friends arrive tomorrow, the first thing I plan to do is to walk them up to L’Amphithéâtre des Trois Gauls in the Croix Rousse neighbourhood of Lyon, just a kilometre from our church. It was there, in 177 A.D. that Christians were martyred for their faith. We’ll talk about the rich Christian history in France, a history that precedes the existence of the United States of America by almost 1600 years. I’ll tell them the story of Blandina, the slave woman who was thrown to the beasts, but they refused to touch her. Consequently, she spent months in prison alongside her Christian brothers and sister. I’ll explain that the fact that Blandina was a slave woman, and yet named and honoured in the historical accounts of the events while her mistress (also one of the martyrs and a Roman citizen) remains anonymous indicates that Blandina was a leader in the early European church. I’ll finish the story with its tragic ending, Blandina being thrown to the beasts a second time, and this time being gored to death.
I hope they can begin to grasp the reality that though there are few practicing Christians in France today, the ones that they will meet have a long and rich history of faith, one from which we have much to learn.
 Peter Frankopan, The Silk Roads: A New History of the World (Vintage Books, 2017).Kindle loc 595
 Anthony Sattin, “The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan Review – a Frustrating Trail,” The Guardian, September 29, 2015, sec. Books, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/sep/29/silk-roads-peter-frankopan-review.
 Andy McCullough, Global Humility: Attitudes for Mission (UK: Malcolm Down Publishing, 2018). Kindle loc 390.
 McCullough. Kindle loc 390.
 Dana Lee Robert, Christian Mission: How Christianity Became a World Religion, Blackwell Brief Histories of Religion Series (Chichester, U.K. ; Malden, Mass: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009). 94.
 James F. Engel and William A. Dyrness, Changing the Mind of Missions: Where Have We Gone Wrong? (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2000). 20.