Global North vs Global South

Posted: December 31, 2012 in Generations, Missional Leadership
Tags: , , , , , , ,

salt_of_the_earth11One of the more discussed topics currently circulating the mission world is that of the ‘global north vs the global south’. With many referring to the global south now leading the way as to how missions are to be done, the question from those in the global north are what their responsibility heron forward should be.

Calisto Odede of Nairobi, Kenya, refers to the people of the south as the ‘people from the 11th hour’. Reading from Matthew 20, he acknowledge the great momentum people from the north gave in spreading the gospel amongst those in the south. However, although those who came early have been part of the mission movement much longer, their responsibility is not greater than those who arrived on the 11th hour. As those of the south start to take their responsibility within God’s mission movement, they are not to be seen as late comers, but us fellow workers who are to receive the same payment at the end.

Stories of great missionary legends such as David Livingstone are well known in mission circles around the world, which is great. But how many people know the names of ‘Chuma’ and ‘Susi’? The unknown heroes who carried his body for five month to the coast where it was then taken to Britain. We would not have known about the story if it wasn’t for these two men; people from the 11th hour.

The situation in the South is changing, very quickly. The question is not as much how the global north is to adapt, or what the south is about to do, but rather how we are to ensure the gospel is taken from everywhere to everywhere?

Odede continues in giving the example of ticks that are attached to the skin of a goat. When the goat gets slaughtered, some of the ticks fall off and look for a fresh skin to which they can attach themselves. Others remain and eventually dry out with the skin. The same applies to the church and mission organisations. The way missions used to be done have changed, and is still changing. Are you like the tick that went on to find a fresh skin, a fresh approach, or are you the one who will hang on till the last drop of blood is left and eventually dry out with the skin; a memory of something which ones lived?

The global south is arising and its people are taking responsibility. It is not looking the same way as many would have expected, but the mission field is becoming a sending force.

Paul Borthwick gives us a few good examples on how to avoid becoming a mere memory. I was blessed with the honor to attend one of his seminars at Urbana 2012 where he continuously referred to his latest book ‘Western Christians in Global Mission; What’s the role of the North American Church?’. Below are a few of my notes taken from his session.

A strong emphasis is placed on the attitude in which the gospel is taken cross culturally.


  • Willingness to ask, “Please teach me”. Be zealous to learn from the south, how they’ve been doing it, how they are doing it, and what’s their vision for their people.
  • Put what you know behind. What you know will be of much greater value once you understand the local context.
  • Encourage that which you hear. Local vision is to be encouraged, strengthened and helped to put into perspective. Local vision equals local ownership.


  • Servanthood is not define by me, but by those who I serve.
  • I am coming to work with you to serve your purposes, goals and vision.


  • Is there anything I can do to help you serve your vision for your place.
  • Listening trips. Before going into a partnership, do a listening trip where you visit with the mere purpose to listen to their stories, vision and passion. Partner with people where your vision and passion are similar or closer to theirs. Remember, you are too given a passion and vision, find those who are similar.
  • Understand that you might not be needed in every ministry you meet.


  • Faith. Willingness to take risk while not knowing the outcome; serving the global south without knowing what’s next; what measurable contribution you are actually making.
  • Hope. Create a positive view of the future. As you listen to their vision, encourage, motivate and find ways to assist in serving. The least, but also the most you can do is to daily pray with them for their vision.
  • Love. A platform of love creates a platform to speak.

Knowing that much are still to be said and that this conversation is way from over, I am grateful for scripture such as Matthew 5. This is my version of it: “By being the salt we are not replacing, nor becoming an alternative of that which is already existing. We are merely evaporating within that which already exist, so that the local entity will be able to produce a flavor, to its fulness, for the pleasure of its community.”

  1. I think that the shift to the global south brings up questions of leadership. Where will mission leaders come from? Not only local leaders will come from newly Christian geographies but Global leaders, too. People who might have once thought of leading will need to learn to follow.

    And new leaders will approach missions from a new perspective. What problems and opportunities will emerge from their particular relations to geopolitical powers? How will those relations shape how Christians in a new generation understand and engage in Christ’s mission?

  2. Daniel Bianchi says:

    Global south is becoming something like a buzzword in some mission circles. This is a vague term, coined by people in the so call “global north”. There is no way to express the vast diversity that the “south” has, and therefore no words can embrace it as a whole. The experience of India is very different to Africa (and someone can ask of what part of “Africa” are you talking about), and those are again different from the perspective of Latin America. Partnership issues and what is the “role” of the “global north” will probably differ if you talk with mission leaders from these latitudes.
    Sometime the rising of the “global south” seems to be expressed along lines of a “global north” sense of becoming obsolete or put aside by the “global south”. Very seldom we hear that leaders of the “global north” look to people in the “global south” to engage in an equal dialogue to seek together what the Lord has for his church, his “global church”, may be the only place in earth where East and South, North and West form a community. Ultimately his Body is not defined by any human characteristic.

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