Greg Clarke: How Christianity can use “glocalisation”

It is five years this month since the various Bible Societies in Australia amalgamated into one national organisation, Bible Society Australia. I have had the joy and privilege of seeing the various bodies become one, like a prolonged wedding and honeymoon. It hasn’t always been a conflict-free zone (which marriage is?), but overall the many parties and people involved have moved into the slipstream of change and the benefits have been enormous.

I am often asked by people from other organisations how the amalgamation was possible. My answer is that it was all in process before I came along and I just inherited the miracle.

But reflecting on it, I think the answer is that those involved started to think glocally.

“Nothing really important happens globally. The global must serve the local.”

“Glocalisation” is one of those ugly words that just happens to encapsulate an idea really well. “Think global, act local” is the more attractive expression. But the idea is the same: we now have the capacity to gain a global vision of issues, but we still need to make a difference in our own backyards.

Lifting your eyes to the global picture is essential for many Christian enterprises today. The barriers that kept us apart from each other have dropped quickly and dramatically. Communication is easy around the world, in multiple formats. Trade has brought foreign cultures into home cultures, where they are more often than not accepted, modified and enjoyed. This is all the more the case when you believe in a creed in which there is no racial, cultural or traditional justification for staying apart.

Christians involved in poverty relief, publishing, social enterprise, disability ministries and the like must think globally. So many of the resources they require to do their work are produced overseas, and so much development and innovation takes place between international partners. Think of Bible production, for example. The printed Bibles you are reading most likely come from China, America, Korea or Germany. They are not developed or produced in Australia. If you want a Bible in your hands, you have to be willing to participate in the massive global endeavour that is Bible publishing. But this global awareness is only valuable if you also act locally. You have to have a plan from the outset to make a difference where you are.

You need to care for your neighbour, and this principle of proximity is a healthy one (otherwise we could go mad thinking of how we will never meet the vast global needs of which we are now aware; leave God to worry about that). You need to use that Bible in your suburban home study groups, in the local pulpit, in the high school around the corner. You have to think locally about what it is you are trying to achieve with the help of your global resources.

But if you also think glocally, you will realise that you may have some resources to support the local needs of others. Since resources are so unevenly distributed around the world, it will almost certainly be the case that we Australians will need to provide the (global) resources for the (local) ministries of others. That is our lot.

We are seeing this dynamic expressed in the recent responses around the world to the refugee crisis stimulated by war in Syria. There is worldwide awareness of the crisis, reported through myriad channels. Some news is “official”, sanctioned by major media organisations and carefully curated. Other news is immediate, raw, and hard to put in context, delivered through new media such as Facebook, Twitter and Periscope. But there is no denying the common Australian awareness of the crisis; we could barely avoid it if we tried. We are all beneficiaries of the globalisation of information resources.

But we are encouraged to act locally. We have to work with the Australian government and charity sectors to find ways of housing and caring for these refugees. Thankfully, this seems to be coming together. People are even offering to take refugee families into their own homes. That’s “live with thy neighbour”.

But we also need to give to other organisations who are working around the world, especially in the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Some of us will need to go and work with them, on the ground. That’s the glocal mindset at work.

It has been wonderful to see the progress Bible Society Australia has been able to make over five years, as part of the broadest mission movement on the planet: nearly 150 Societies all serving the Scripture needs of the waiting world. It’s a movement built on thinking glocally. But the truly wonderful achievements are all local ones: remote indigenous people groups reading the Bible for the first time in their own language; gatherings of Pakistani women taking literacy classes in order to read the New Testament (and read their pay slips and shopping lists); raising funds for Scriptures for the Syrian refugees soon to be arriving in Australia.

Nothing really important happens globally. The global must serve the local. And we will need to think glocally to achieve it.