In the Fall of 2006, I had the opportunity to work for a national upscale department store after working for over four years on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.. Our store was located in one of the wealthiest and diverse counties in the country, resulting in a mosaic tapestry of tongues, tribes and religions. My department alone included six Muslims, an Orthodox Jew, a Sikh, a Buddhist, a few non-Western Christians and others who were spiritual, but non-religious. Ethiopia, Morocco, Somalia, Gabon, India, Afghanistan, Japan, Columbia and Pakistan were all represented, creating an amazing work environment and cross-cultural learning experience. It was in this context that a clash of national heritages occurred. One afternoon my Gabonian co-worker asked me, “Is your name African?” As a thoroughly white midwestern American (in the strictest WASPian sense of the description) I could not help but laugh out loud at his question! Obviously, my African co-worker got a kick out of it, too. He was curious about my family heritage, because he came from a part of the world where my ancestors were apart of something I could only touch and feel at movie length. You see, my last name, Bouma, is Dutch and the Dutch Empire used its naval and military might to colonize parts of western and southern Africa, including Gabon where my African friend was from. Through such trading companies as the Dutch East Indies Company and Dutch West Indies Company, the Kingdom of The Netherlands used its might to leverage trade in newly discovered lands outside of Europe. And it was through the Dutch West Indies Company that my family name spread from European to African. Thus began my introduction to the realities of colonialism.
Like me, most Westerners are incredibly removed from the colonial experience and its consequences. Though the hundreds of Native American reservations plagued by rampant alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicide are mini-colonial dystopias in our very own backyard, Americans scarcely encounter the effects of colonialism. And though some commentators may attempt to paint the Bush Administration as colonialist militants wrapped in peace keeping garb, for all intents and purposes the Age of Colonialism is over. Through colonialism, European nations extended their sovereignty over territory beyond its borders, dominated the resources, labor and markets of the indigenous peoples of Asia, South America and Africa, and imposed socio-cultural, religious and linguistic structures on the conquered populations.
Though, nation states no longer overtly exploit other people groups in this sort of manner, the struggles of a post-colonial era are just beginning.
Within former European colonies and nations of the global South and East, there is a growing desire for self-assertion, self-expression and self-rule that was formerly gutted at the hands of White Europeans. Likewise, the West has been quick to make recompense for past imperialistic misdeeds and accommodate that self-assertion. In the United Nations, for instance, the developing world insisted in 1961 that a non-Western be elected Secretary General. As a result, U Thant from Burma (now Myanmar) served this global agency for a decade, while a Peruvian, Egyptian, Ghanan, and now South Korean have served the United Nations since 1982. In addition to this political paradigm shift, the world has seen economic ones, too. Globalization grants the South and East unprecedented opportunities to begin enjoying the luxuries and technologies the West has enjoyed for centuries. Nations like Brazil, China, India and even Kenya are now economically linked to the West and benefiting from that interconnectedness at unprecedented levels. So not only is the South and East asserting themselves like never before, and rightly so, the West has begun to value and incorporate the cultures of these non-Western nations into their ethos, rather than insisting they conform to Western sensibilities.
Despite the post-colonial shift in the secular West, however, the Church has been slow to incorporate this important global paradigm shift into Her interactions with the world, especially Her worldview of global missions. In light of the post-colonial condition, the time has come for the Western Church to shed Her colonialist impulses and embrace a post-colonial posture toward global mission enterprises. Particularly what’s called for is a worldview reorientation toward a post-colonial worldview of global missions. This blog series (based on a paper I wrote for a global missions class) seeks to make the case for such a worldview shift, arguing globalization begs a different posture by the Western Church toward the rest of the world. Such a worldview will inform how we do both theology and missions in the 21st century. To explain how a post-colonial worldview of missions would look in a global context, this paper will examine Evangelism Explosion International as a case study in light of this worldview. In the end, I hope the Western Church will begin to see how it should relate to the rest of the world, a relating that is post-colonial at its core.