A New Missional Invitation without Western Participation

by Wilmer G. Villacorta 

Wilmer Villacorta PictureWhile the United States was debating whether or not to raise its debt ceiling, many nations around the world waited for the global repercussions of a possible financial collapse. As I watched the news, I wondered what would happen if another financial super power would emerge in the wake of a U.S. collapse. This economic and political showdown in Washington, D.C. provided a dramatic backdrop to my recent visit to Hong Kong for a consultation on global leadership development. From October 14-17, 2013 the news concerning the US not meeting its financial responsibilities spread like a virus in Asia. The deadline for default became the focal point. As the investment capital in the region, Hong Kong would have played a key role in a changing scenario.

This situation reminded me that in this era of information saturation, people are exhausted by the sheer weight of the data that continually flood their lives. However, sensationalism, bias and special interests often skew the accuracy of the data and the truthfulness of the information flow. For instance, not long ago, all the concerns and fears of an imminent North Korean attack was “front page news.” What happened? This crisis gradually moved out of center stage and out of our consciousness, as more emergent things captured our collective attention. We have so much information yet we grasp so little. Without appropriate context and follow through, our attention is scattered. Additionally, because of this information overload, our senses become increasingly blunted. We read, but retain little.

Hong Kong is the hub of commerce for millions of Chinese who travel there annually. In this ongoing semi-migration, there is a dynamic interaction between a westernized society and millions of citizens living under communist rule. The potential for key missional engagement is unprecedented. While in Hong Kong, I attended an international book fair and was amazed by the amount of Christian literature available in Mandarin and Cantonese. I asked if Christians from the mainland bought and took literature back with them and the answer was, “of course.” I asked my host whether or not “Christians in China were forbidden from taking literature with them.” He replied: “Not anymore, that is what the West thinks. There are too many good things happening now in China.”

 Although the global consultation focused on the topic of how leaders are being developed in various contexts, the good news is that we all felt a powerful movement of God, waking us up to a deep missional concern. The “news” came to us from listening to one another and God’s spirit, participating in discussions of ultimate concern: how to develop and equip leaders for the manifold ministries of Christ and his Church.

This was a first for me, being in a gathering where Chinese Christians were in the majority (more than 50% of the 250 participants). With most of these leaders being from various provinces, the level of commitment and the sense of expectation were staggering. Worship and prayer were all in Cantonese and Mandarin with no translation and no instruments. This arrangement allowed participants from other contexts to taste how Chinese liturgy takes place. The enthusiasm, passion and fervent prayer of the Chinese spread throughout the gathering. As I shared in these beautiful moments, I was struck by how much time and resources we in the West tend to spend in worship services with all the “bells and whistles,” while people of faith in other contexts can keep it simple and focused. Although I didn’t understand the lyrics, I sensed the presence of God in our midst. These are times I will never forget.

A committed minister from South Korea, educated in the West, offered a profoundly moving and convicting challenge in which God woke us up to a new and disturbing realization. He shared about his ministry to intercede and raise awareness about the dehumanization of prisoners in North Korea. A video of only eight minutes was long enough to cause us to fall to our knees for the suffering people in the prison and labor camps. The question echoed: who will go, who will be sent out to these? Then the answer came.

A fifteen-minute presentation about the suffering people in North Korea became an hour of intercession and commitment to participate in the suffering of the prisoners. You can guess who took this challenge as an invitation from God to become a missional agent of redemption to people in North Korea. Being in border proximity with this country, the Chinese Christians have one of the greatest opportunities to serve and participate in this mission. They embraced this opportunity in the hopes of beginning a healing movement of God’s kingdom – and all of this without the resources of the West.

This is the news that you will never read in Associated Press or watch on CNN, the news in which God’s children in North Korea took center stage, not as agents of nuclear destruction, but as suffering people in need of redemption. This kind of good news happens as the people of God gather around the word and pray together without limitations of agendas and strategies. From all of this I learned that God has prepared the countless people of faith in China for a next move to bring freedom and healing to the suffering children, women and men in North Korea. And he calls all of us to pay attention to the realities of the world beyond the news media and our electronic devices. 

This leaves me with a lingering question. How do we, as Fuller Theological Seminary see ourselves entering into this critical moment?  How do we walk alongside those who are called to direct action on behalf of the suffering people of North Korea?  What role might we play in this incredible missional opportunity? This is the good news I’m longing to hear!