Hearing other voices or talking to ourselves?

Different voices or just mere talking

Daniel Bianchi

Global Church, and Global Mission, is an increasing focal point around the world.  An increasing number of Christian gatherings are addressing this issue in one-way or another. Many time the so called “ listening to other voices,” I believe, is on the edge of becoming a buzzword. Maybe it seems fashionable to have a speaker coming from another country. Maybe we are merely talking to ourselves in a new way but not really opening possibilities to listen to other voices.

This concern can be manifested by looking at the list of guest speakers for a given Christian event. Many times I read, or hear that there are people coming from the “Global South” or from outside the Western World. Looking closely, I found some characteristics.

1. Most of them have been educated in Western universities. This is something that seems very important for the audience in a Western setting. Many leaders in the South never had such an opportunity for study, so those that are invited are already a kind of elite in their countries.  As an example in a very large mission congress I found that the vast majority of people from the “Global South” had studied and held degrees from the Western World. (Nothing wrong with having a top-notch education!) One wonders if that is the main rationale for inviting them to speak to the North.  I mean in a way that, perhaps, a Western audience finds more appropriate and comfortable. Which in turn is another way that the North has found (unaware?) of listening to themselves.

2. Something similar can be said about the place of residence of some of the Global South speakers. They are living, or have lived extensively, in the Global North; sometimes they live in the same country where they are invited as speakers from the Global South.  As a matter of fact, after living for a while out of your own culture and language you lose some of the sense of reality that you had before. One thing is talking, or teaching mission, mobilizing, etc., in the Global North) with the resources, technology of the North); or, for instance, talking to your former peers from the South while you are living in the North. It is quite another issue to do the same in the South, with the limitations, challenges and situations that people face in their own countries. (Of course this does not mean that people in the Global North do not face their own particular challenges).

3. Language is quite an obstacle for not so few people coming from South. English is an extensively used language, but there are those who not speak it in a way that enables them to communicate (or write, as you can tell!) Many of them are anointed speakers in their own language but have no chance in another tongue. People in the South have heard a lot of speakers, evangelists and pastors coming to the Global South – with programs, initiative, teaching – and have heard them in English, through interpretation. Time is short for ministry and neither is realistic to expect that those coming from the North will speak the language of the land (sometimes, we know, there are many languages in just one particular place). Now, when it comes to the opposite side we tend to measure with a different stick. There are those that expect that the people from the South will speak a good English when they come to the North. In fact a good number of people in churches of the Western World, even at international gatherings, have seldom heard a speaker being interpreted from a foreign language right upfront, I mean on central stage and a during “prime time” (main plenary) of a conference.

4. Another issue here is people have repeated themselves in different gatherings, to the point that they are mainly are travelling and speaking (nothing questionable in itself since, networking, cross-fertilization of ideas and so on are all important). The point here is that most of the people living in the “real” South will find it very hard to keep up with. The implication is that they don’t have an opportunity to speak to other people as their counterparts from the North do. Living in the South means facing the great challenge of raising funds for travel. This will not usually be the case if the speaker is member of an international organization and has supporters abroad. Some people have, probably, travelled enough. Maybe it would be healthy for them to take a year off and go back to a grass-roots environment, back to basic work. May be that will help to regain perspective.

5. Another observation has to do with representation. Sometimes the people that show up at international gatherings are not the ones involved in the ministry that the gathering is calling for. I am always amazed to know of people that attend conferences when in fact they have never been involved before, and perhaps, may never be involved afterwards. I recall a Global South pastor that went very far to a global mission conference. Before that he was not involved in mission in any way – even until today (some twenty years later) his large church is not involved- yet, he still visits the country where the conference was held as a guest speaker. Organizations summon people to gatherings assuming that they represent the church of their home country, but in some cases you have people that are almost unknown back home. Another example happened after a large congress.  Delegates were supposed to meet when they went back home to reflect and disseminate the outcomes of the congress. Sadly, they never did that even though some of the delegates encouraged it. For most of them the thing was being in the event. A point I want to make is:  there is a lack of true representation in many international gatherings.

6. The place of the church – or of less known ministries – is not always taken into consideration. Being a speaker from the South should not be linked with the organisation that one belongs. I mean, if somebody works with a well-known ministry, and especially, if that ministry has put up funds, then maybe there are more open doors. I reject the idea that the type of meeting or time allocated to a speaker could correspond to the amount of financial support given by his organization. I advocate for changing the categories that sill are held in many places. The Bible says that being poor is to be rich, being weak is to be strong, being the last is to be the first, and I added, being on the periphery may actually be in the real centre, at least from God’s perspective.

7. For decades leaders from the South have been hosting rallies, seminars, and church meetings for speakers from the North (and I expect that we will continue to do so because we been have been blessed, no question), but, sadly, we have not always received the same reciprocity. More can be done from the Global North to invite people from the South and having them share at their churches, and meetings, even having them stay at their homes, and eat at their tables. As an example there was an international organisation that for years sent North speakers to the gatherings that their South representation organized. Yet they seldom open doors for some of those leaders from the South to share with their counterparts in the North. When the leaders from the North came South, they were the main speakers, when the leaders from the South went to the North, they rarely were asked to be the speakers.

A word of encouragement is due here.  I have seen some conference and organisations that are taking into consideration some of the issues I have raised in this article. For instance, a mission network from the North dedicated its central gathering to understand how to best engage with the Global Church. In order to do so they invited leaders from the South as the only speakers, thus different parts of Asia, Africa, North Africa, and Latin America were represented. The program gave a lot of opportunity to interact and present different points of view.

I also need to mention that there are leaders from the North that have been involved in a mature and responsible ministry with the vision to open doors for people from the South in a global context. 

In conclusion, I advocate for a more loving and sensitive relationship, for more equality and reciprocity in our common effort of glorifying and serving God since we are part of only one Body and one Church. In Christ there is no man nor woman, nor wise, nor unlearned. Also it means that there is no East, West, nor South. Maybe for one of the first times in history, the Church is becoming truly global. This needs to be manifested, not through the exclusion of any part, but with the integration of all.

 We find it difficult to come up with words to embrace the concept of  “all” so we stumble with concepts like “Global North,” “Majority World,” etc., yet… let’s keep Christ in the centre. In Him and though Him we can all join and embrace, by him all barriers have really come down. Redemption is our common identity, not blood nor race. We are His people, citizens of His kingdom. Let’s try to really listen. Let’s listen to Him, and let’s listen to one another. 

Daniel Bianchi is from Argentina. He served in Operation Mobilization for many years, later he was founder and director of AMI, the mission agency of Argentina Baptist Convention, he was member of the International Board of Directors of Wycliffe Global Alliance, Vice-President and Regional Director of COMIBAM International, and founder and president of Letra, a mission focused on Bible translation and literacy. He has an extensive mission networking, teaching and mobilizing ministry. Currently he is finishing his DMin studies with the Facultade Teologica Sulamericanaform Londrina, Brazil, and REG, Argentina. Daniel is Associate of the Mission Commission of WEA, and Reference member of the international Board of MEC (Middle East Concern). Bianchi is married with Fabiola and has two young children. He lives in Argentina.

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