World Missions in the 20(first) Century

Al LaCour  |  September 04, 2015

Since the start of the 21st century, a new model for world evangelism has emerged — “Diaspora Missions.”  The sovereign God is on the move; people groups are on the move.  So, God’s people should move into “understanding and participating in God’s redemptive mission among people living outside their place of origin.”[1]  God’s scattering (or dispersion) of people on a global scale has opened up new ways to think about and to do world missions.  After centuries of “the West going to the rest” in missions, this is an opportune time for the church to define missions biblically rather than geographically.

Look closely at 1st century Bible history, and recall the lyrics of songwriter Peter Allen: “Don’t throw the past away … when everything old is new again.” In Acts 16, we see one example of 1st century Diaspora or “global-local” world missions.

Paul’s missions team faced a series of “closed doors.”  We cannot know all the details.  But the missionaries were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.” (16:6)  Next, “the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go into Bithynia.” (16:7) Finally, at Troas, Paul had a night vision of a man urging, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” (16:9)  After Paul shared this vision, his apostolic band concluded “that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” (16:10) With a quick glance at a Bible Atlas, we realize that this represented the gospel’s first movement to the continent of Europe from Asia.

What transpires is divinely ironic. The first person to become a Christian in Europe was neither a man nor a Macedonian. “The Lord opened the heart of Lydia, a seller of purple goods” (16:14).  Lydia was an Asian fabric dealer doing business in Philippi.  Like silk from Shanghai, her home city Thyatira was famous for garment manufacturing, linens, fabric dyeing, and indigo.  Philippi represented a key market, “a leading city … a Roman colony.” (16:12) With Roman pride (later challenged by Philippians 2) the aristocratic colonists imitated fashions of the Imperial City.  Humanly speaking, what brought Lydia to Europe? Market opportunity.  Who brought Lydia to Philippi to hear the gospel?  God. 

Today, almost a million international students are on American university campuses — more than anywhere in the world.  Humanly speaking, why do these students come?  They come for career advancement through world-renowned educational opportunities.   Each year, Shanghai Jiao Tong University ranks the world’s universities in Engineering - Technology - and Computer Science.  For the 2015 rankings, 14 of the universities listed in the top 20 are located in the USA. 

But who brings these future academic, political, and cultural thought leaders?  God.  And where can we do 21st century, cost-effective, global-local “Diaspora missions?”

[1] Scattered to Gather, © 2010, Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (LCWE)