Up until fairly recently the word “glocal” could not be found in the dictionary. Originally coined by Sony founder Akio Morita, the term refers to the “interconnectedness of global and local issues, factors, etc.”1
In missions “glocal” gained currency through Bob Roberts, Jr.’s 2007 book Glocalization: How Followers of Jesus Engage a Flat World. Ten years later Rick Love’s book Glocal made the case for what he called the 3D persona. Since globalization has erased many traditional barriers of geography and culture, it is no longer possible to have one persona overseas and another in one’s home country. The message missionaries proclaim on the field should be the same one they deliver to supporters back home.2
Despite the potential of globalization to bring people together, traditional narratives about China and its church have tended to accentuate the distance between believers in China and Christians elsewhere in the world. The persecuted church narrative, for example, highlights the political distance between the West, where the concept of separation of church and state is a given, and China, which, for most of its long history, has known no such separation. The needy church narrative points to the resource gap between China’s church and the church outside China, perpetuating a mentality of “from the West to the rest.” Cultural distance is the focus of the Christian China narrative, which views Chinese culture, seen through a Western lens, in terms of what it lacks. Finally, the missionary church narrative seeks to narrow the gap between visionary but ill-equipped cross-cultural workers from China and their experienced counterparts in traditional sending countries.
These narratives, by creating distance, have served to objectify the church in China, diminishing the possibility of a true shared experience with China’s Christians. Defining China and its church in terms of what they are not, or according to what they lack, places Christians inside and outside China on unequal footing. The unspoken assumption is that when China’s Christians finally have what we have, then we can relate to one another as peers. Until then, the notion of sharing is understood primarily as meeting needs rather than the deeper mutual participation in one another’s lives, or koinonia, envisioned by Paul in his letter to the Philippians.
Ed Alden of the International Mission Board suggests something better is possible as a result of the changes brought about through globalization: “The flattening allows individual impact in a way that wasn’t previously possible. No longer was an individual’s impact limited by geography, but everyone was suddenly able to connect with almost anyone around the world.”3
The COVID-19 epidemic has not only driven home the stark realities of living in a flat world where what happens in one country is able to radically alter life around the globe; it has also made possible a type of cross-cultural sharing among Christians that may not have happened otherwise were it not for the shared experience of a global pandemic.
A ChinaSource board member recently experienced this phenomenon of “everyone suddenly able to connect” on a very practical level when she hosted a China prayer meeting in her home in the United States. While the original plan had been to gather a couple dozen members of her local church in her living room to listen to a presentation by a speaker in Hong Kong, the “safer at home” orders prompted by the coronavirus precluded everyone from gathering in person. Instead, all the participants—not just the speaker in Hong Kong—joined via Zoom. Meanwhile, the speaker had taken the opportunity to invite friends not only from his city but from elsewhere in Asia, the Middle East, and other cities in the United States.
The result was truly a global gathering. Rather than information flowing just one way and prayers flowing the other, there was freedom for mutual sharing and support. US participants were surprised to learn about mission strategies in China they could have never envisioned, much less dreamed possible in China’s repressive political environment. Asian participants listened with empathy as their new friends in America related the loss and disorientation they were experiencing with the sudden onslaught of COVID-19. All sensed the Lord’s presence as they humbled themselves before him and before one another, seeking his grace and mercy.
Born out of necessity, this ad hoc “glocal” prayer meeting hinted at the possibility of a new narrative. We can allow God to show us opportunity amidst global disruption. The power of shared experience can enable us to bridge distances that too often divide.
Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Dr. Fulton served as the first president of ChinaSource until 2019. Prior to his service with ChinaSource, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding …View Full Bio
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