The world is flat

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From the desk of…

by Victor Doughty, Major – 

“The world is flat!” So says journalist and Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas Friedman. At least that’s what he claims in his 2005 national bestseller, The World Is Flat––A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. In case you are wondering where Friedman has been since 1492, let me quickly assure you that he is well aware of the discoveries made by Christopher Columbus.

The flat world described by Friedman in his book has emerged in response to a variety of economic, political and technological changes that are enabling developing countries like India, China and others to become part of the global supply chain for services and manufacturing. This has created the potential for an explosion of wealth in the middle classes of the two biggest nations, giving them a huge new stake in the success of globalization. As a result of this “flattening,” America and the West must run faster simply to stay in place economically.

In Friedman’s words, the flat world is “a global, Web-enabled playing field that allows for multiple forms of collaboration—the sharing of knowledge and work—in real time, without regard to geography, distance, or, in the near future, even language.” He acknowledges that not everyone has access to this “playing field,” but asserts that this platform “is open today to more people in more places on more days in more ways than anything like it ever before in the history of the world.”

One of the best known, least complicated examples of this flat world is the critical role India plays in the world’s knowledge supply chain, providing vital backroom operations for companies like American Express, General Electric, Avis, British Airways and Delta, including more than 275,000 Indians answering phones from all over the world or dialing out to solicit people for credit cards or cell phone bargains or overdue bills. And that is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Whatever one thinks of globalization, the reality of a flat world offers exciting possibilities for Salvation Army ministry in the 21st century—but only if we possess sufficient imagination to tap its full potential. More than anything else, we will need to cultivate, encourage and validate the dreamers among us to make the most of these opportunities.

Friedman shares the following comment by organization consultant, Michael Hammer: “One thing that tells me a company is in trouble is when they tell me how good they were in the past…You don’t want to forget your identity. I am glad you were great….but that was then and this is now. When memories exceed dreams, the end is near. The hallmark of a truly successful organization is the willingness to abandon what made it successful and start fresh.”

William Booth was certainly a man ahead of his time, an incurable optimist, a dreamer who seized every opportunity and exploited every innovation for the benefit of the salvation war. The Founder cast a global vision to the very end. On his deathbed he admonished his son Bramwell: “I have been thinking again about the world as a whole. I have been thinking of all the nations and peoples as one family. Now promise me you will begin the work in China.”

Booth could see a flat world in his mind’s eye, not flat in economical, political or technological terms, but a world free of encumbrance and barriers to the Gospel.

In this Advent Season I am reminded that God has a marvelous way of using people and events throughout history to accomplish his purposes. In the fullness of time, at just the right moment, when everything was in place, God sent his son to carry out what had been planned before the foundation of the world. The appropriate prophesies were fulfilled. John the Baptist effectively prepared the way. The Roman Empire, the great “flattener” of its day, provided the perfect backdrop for the propagation of the Gospel. Spirit-infused apostles took that 1st century version of the flat world and turned it upside down.

In the same way, God can use the economic, political and technological realities of our 21st century flat world to advance his kingdom in this generation. Isaiah’s call to prepare the way of the Lord is particularly relevant today as we embrace the challenges and opportunities presented by the “flattening” of our world:

A voice of one calling:
“In the desert prepare the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low;
The rough ground shall become level, the rugged
places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
And all mankind together will see it,
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Isaiah 40:3-5

And if Isaiah worked for Verizon, I suspect he might even have added for emphasis: “Can you hear me now?”

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