Or so says the band The Hold Steady… (My apologies to everyone, but I am kind of a pop-culture and music freak, so I tend to think in lyrics or movies.)
Arriving in Seoul, South Korea was a pilgrimage of sorts for me, and not just for the amazing food. For a long time, I have read about and been interested in Korean Christianity, on the one hand, and the growth and vitality of Christianity in the non-Western world, on the other.
I work and live in Spain, and have so for the last 7 years. Spain, once a strongly Christian country, is running from the church as fast as possible. Only 20% of the nation consider themselves “practicing Catholics.” Less than 1% of the population is Protestant or Evangelical, and this segment of the population faced terrible discrimination up until the 1980’s. My boss’s father was a pastor and in the 60’s he had a gun placed to his head by the police and was told to recant his Protestant faith. The first Protestant Spanish missionary to his own people was sentenced to 30 years hard labor, in the 1880’s. The African American writer Richard Wright, after visiting Spain in the 1950’s, described Spain as essentially a pagan country of superstition with a thin veneer of Christianity. In 2011 more Spaniards were married in civil ceremonies than in the church. Most Spaniards see Christianity and the church as irrelevant at best, and corrupt and evil at worst.
Ministry in Spain is difficult. In my years here, I have already seen a number of friends and associates leave Spain disappointed and frustrated. Many refer to Spain as the graveyard of missionaries, not because missionaries are buried here, but because of disappointment and depression, so many die emotionally and leave.
With this as my context and perspective, Korea was a breath of fresh air. I marveled at the revivals that spread through the country and the incredible growth. The passion and dedication of Korean spirituality was heartening and encouraging. The Korean dedication to missions is admirable and contagious. I marveled at the news that this year 9000 soldiers were baptized, and at the nonchalance of one speaker who explained that she had gotten to speak to 4000 new Christians so far in her ministry.
The truth is that the epicenter of Christianity is shifting. It is shifting from Europe and North America to places like Korea and China, Kenya, Nigeria and Brazil. It is time to listen to these leaders and create space so that they can lead. It is time to learn new perspectives from these movements, and it is also time to share what we have learned in the west. Christianity was always meant to be a global, multi-cultural movement. Miroslav Volf explains that the goal of the church is to be the “one universal multicultural family of peoples.” Now it clearly is.
The question, however, does remain, will we as Westerner’s allow them to lead, or will we continue to impose an intellectual colonialism of “we know best?”
The gospel has truly become from everywhere to everyone. It is no longer a Western initiative (really was it ever?), and long after the Western church fades (God willingly no), the Koreans and the Kenyans and the Chinese will still continue the work of God, and most likely will be the impetus for the re-evangelization of Europe and the West.
Overall, my time in Korea was an apologetic to myself. It was proof that the gospel and the Great Commission are true. That it works. That a spiritual movement started 2000 years ago by a group of oppressed Jews can in fact fulfill its prophetic vision. That when we are told that all nations will worship the King, and that the gospel is for all people, that it is true, not just theologically, but in the real world. That truly, the kingdom of God is at hand. That Jesus can change a people and a nation. That a people who were homogenously Buddhist, poor, suffering, and subjugated only a hundred ought years ago, can transform themselves into the future center of Christianity and world missions. How is any of this possible without a mighty God, a risen King, and a wild Holy Spirit?
I am interested in how the power of non-Western Christianity can inform and influence the Western, postmodern mind. I wish I could bring Spaniards to Korea, to let them see a different face of Christianity. I wish that my Spanish friends could see that it is not just a European thing or a Spanish thing, but that it is something bigger and always unexpected. That it is has an Asian face, and that it impacts lives around the world. If Spaniards could see what I have seen in Seoul, I am convinced many more would worship the one true King, Jesus the Christ.