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from The global evangelical, by Brian Howell, The Immanent Frame, 28 July 2008

Foreign missions have long been a significant element of Christianity, and everything from the popular books of Victorian missionaries to the stadium crusades of Billy Graham have brought a certain global consciousness to rank-and-file Christians. Unlike that removed and professionalized globalism, however, this is a globalism of the rank-and-file itself. As millions travel to various sites, and millions more hear from their friends and family members about these travels, they gain personal contact with a world that was once just so many pieces of yarn stretched from the picture of a missionary family to their location on the map of the Missionary Bulletin Board in a church basement.

Moreover, this is not a one-way globalism. It is not simply a neocolonial movement redux. These newest internationalists are part of more complex global flows that carry influence in multiple directions. In their article on the Global Issues Survey, Wuthnow and Offutt cite the flows of people, resources and knowledge as far more multidirectional than in the past. While acknowledging the enormous disparity of wealth and influence between American Christians and those in many other countries, they note examples of Brazilian Pentecostal broadcasts finding significant play in the New York City Spanish language market and Ghanaian gospel hip-hop gaining a hearing in Atlanta congregations. In my own research on short-term Christian volunteerism, I have found that those who make these trips or meet with foreign visitors in their home congregations often are struck by similarities. Statements such as “even though I couldn’t speak Spanish [or Portuguese or Chinese or Amharic], I knew we were worshipping the same God” reflect a belief in a unity and connection with non-Western Christians that few evangelicals personally experienced in the past.