Global Partnership as a Way to Fight Collective Impoverishment (Part 1)

The chasm among global neighbors leads to impoverishment and death in all of us. War, famine, and disease may be more rampant in the Global South and may be the direct cause for the loss of many people’s lives. The Global North suffers from its own problems. I will say the chasm is a greater loss to many of us who live in the developed nations. Because we are being left out from what God is doing in the Majority World. Spiritual vitality and alertness, active manifestation of both God’s power and the enemy’s work, youthful optimism and resilience of faith, and great affection and love for neighbors are commonly found among Christians in the Majority world. I am not saying these are not found in the developed nations, but according to a research, spirituality and the wealth of nations have an inverse relationship (http://www.pewglobal.org/2008/09/17/chapter-2-religiosity/). The decline of Christianity in Europe and North America is a trend no one can deny. It is a fact. Mainline denominations know it. Seminaries know it. And we are grappling with this issue. How can we breathe in new energy and vitality into churches in the developed nations?

I believe that the answer lies in reaching out to our brothers and sisters in the Majority World for help and support.

When you are facing a deep trouble and are caught in the middle of it, it is hard for you to look at the situation objectively with a fresh set of eyes. When you cannot come up with a solution, you need to find another person who is not in the thick of trouble and can assess the situation you are in. I believe that our Christian brothers and sisters from the Global South or developing nations can provide that new fresh perspective on the problems of our community.

The rich man in the parable of Lazarus and a rich man (Luke 16:19-31) is a self-obsessed and indulgent man. He looks at his surrounding from his residence, which he believes to be the center of universe. He cannot see the reality from any other way. However, this eschewed perspective on life could have been avoided if he could see himself from the perspective of Lazarus who was sitting outside the gate of his house. Lazarus could have pointed out the excessiveness of the rich man’s self-indulgence very easily. Only if the rich man was willing to stop at the gate or better invite Lazarus to come inside the gate and listen.
At ITS, from my conversation with students, who are mostly from the Majority World, I learn about myself as much as about them, because they become a mirror to me and my community. One thing I noticed whenever my students greeted me was that they would ask me how my family was doing. I would ask them how they are. But they respond to me by asking me how my family was doing. It is a very minor thing, but it represents a very different perspective on self and ourselves’ relationship with others. Every single time they asked me that question, the question reminded me of the fact that I am more than me and part of a bigger entity called family. It was the moment my individualistic mindset was challenged by their community-oriented mentality. And it is a needed reminder and also a prophetic voice to the individualistic Western society.

When we come in contact with our brothers and sisters from the Global South, our values and assumptions that have been shaped by the cultural force of our society are exposed. We no longer take them for granted. We are forced to question and examine them.

James Lee

James Lee

1 Posts | Member since 2015-09-21
Dr. James S. Lee is ITS president and associate professor of Old Testament. He earned his Ph.D. in Old Testament from Union Presbyterian Seminary, where his research focused on the exilic identity and theological formation of hope for restoration in the Book of Daniel. He received his M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary and a B.A. in Philosophy from University of Texas at Austin. He spent two years as a graduate student of theology at University of Münster in Germany.

Comments

  1. Thank you for your thoughtful commentary. I do not disagree with your wise proposition that those in the developed nations ought to partner with and learn from our sisters and brothers in the Global South who live amidst violence and poverty. As Jesus attested, it is generally true that wealth tends to dull our moral senses (Luke 18:24). It is, however, not helpful for us to assume that poverty and suffering automatically lead to moral clarity. On the heels of the Korean War, in the decades that follow, South Korea experienced abject poverty. And not unlike the authoritarian government that was blinded by the singular purpose of economic growth at all costs, the Korean Church, equally intoxicated by the desire to grow the church, turned prosperity gospel into something of a theological orthodoxy from which we Korean Christians still have not fully recovered. Truth be told, both the rich and the poor are guilty of advancing their own versions of narcissistic theological distortion. Therefore, in addition to trying to assess my own situation from the eyes of “the other” — particularly the vulnerable and voiceless — I believe it is equally important for us to have a renewed commitment to theological education and integrity as well as unashamed devotion to counter-cultural spiritual disciplines — i.e. prayer, meditation, sabbath keeping — amidst powerful secular influences.

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