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What Can We Do?: Practical Ways Your Youth Ministry Can Have a Global Conscience

What Can We Do?: Practical Ways Your Youth Ministry Can Have a Global Conscience

by David Livermore, Terry Linhart

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Too often these days, youth hear about global issues such as poverty, human trafficking, and HIV/AIDS, but they don’t get practical suggestions on how they can make a positive impact on these problems. The reality is, today’s students will be leading the way in the workforce, ministries, and education in a few short years. If they begin to understand


Too often these days, youth hear about global issues such as poverty, human trafficking, and HIV/AIDS, but they don’t get practical suggestions on how they can make a positive impact on these problems. The reality is, today’s students will be leading the way in the workforce, ministries, and education in a few short years. If they begin to understand their connection to the global community today, just imagine the way they could contribute to improving these issues in future years. What Can We Do? offers youth workers an overview of pressing global issues, along with realistic, practical ways their youth ministries can respond. By helping teens understand how their faith intersects with the struggles around the world, these youth groups can have a lasting, worldwide influence. Respected educators and youth ministry veterans Dave Livermore and Terry Linhart give youth workers a thoughtful, deep perspective on the pressing issues facing the world today, while also offering creative solutions for youth groups to get involved and impact the lives of people all around the world.

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5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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Copyright © 2011 Terence Linhart and David Livermore
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-310-67035-3

Chapter One


When I (Dave) was a teenager in youth group, international travel and exotic experiences were reserved for the rich and famous, soldiers, and missionaries. Most of my global understanding came from visiting missionaries who told me fascinating stories about life in the jungle, language struggles, and discovering exotic foods.

Today, it's a rare youth group that hasn't crossed an international border to experience many of these things firsthand. It's an overused cliché ... but the world has gotten smaller. Many North Americans blow across international borders like we used to go from state to state or province to province. And even if you rarely travel far from home, other nations are literally moving in next door.

Both of us have had the unique privilege of doing quite a bit of international travel. We've gone on countless mission trips with high school groups, conducted research overseas, and we continue to engage in work with leaders around the globe. But increasingly we're finding that we don't even have to leave home to experience the wonders of globalization—the growing interdependence of people throughout the world. Through transportation and communication advancements, we—the 6.8 billion people on the planet—are more closely tied together than ever before. It's amazing how life in our rapidly globalizing planet brings us an unprecedented number of encounters with people, places, and issues from around the world.


Journalist Thomas Friedman popularized the phrase the world is flat to suggest that the competitive playing fields between industrialized and emerging markets are leveling. For a long time there was a sense that people in China and Mexico, for example, were waiting for a German or U.S. company to come charging in to build factories and create jobs; today, Chinese and Mexican firms are building their own factories and often outselling their Western counterparts. In the new millennium, all business is global.

The other day I (Dave) was slogging through a bunch of administrative tasks in preparation for an overseas trip. While responding to an email from a ministry partner in China, a friend in Malaysia sent me an instant message asking, "Can we Skype?" As I moved the cursor to the reply icon, I noticed a "breaking news" alert in my Web browser, and it updated me on some of the latest violence in Sudan. At that moment I had more information about some of the happenings in Africa than I typically receive about my kids' progress in school, just three blocks away.

Such is life in the so-called flat world.

Anyway, I got through most of my email and even managed to catch up with my friend in Malaysia for a few minutes over Skype. I had just enough time to pick up my wife Linda for a lunch date at our favorite Indian restaurant in Grand Rapids. (Admittedly western Michigan isn't flush with choices for Indian cuisine, but the food and ambiance at Bombay Cuisine is great.)

After lunch we made a quick stop at the grocery store. The guy bagging our stuff was a refugee from Sudan. He was very gaunt; his bones nearly poked through his skin. We've talked before. I wondered if it would be appropriate to ask for his view of the latest happenings in Sudan. I decided to keep things at the small-talk level. When I got home, I made a quick phone call to inquire about a charge that showed up on our credit card bill last month. The customer service representative picked up from a call center in India. A few minutes later I was on my way to my girls' school and arrived just in time to pick them up from the day's Cinco de Mayo celebration.

This is life in the flat world.

We're connected to grieving civilians in Gaza, starving people in Burundi, and women trafficked for sex in Thailand. Many of us sponsor children through monthly donations and read Facebook posts from people living a dozen time zones away. Although such connectivity brings with it a certain "cool" factor, more importantly it asks us to take responsibility for people not just in our homes or neighborhoods or schools or churches—but people everywhere. So throughout the book, we'll take on several key, world-shaking issues and suggest several practical ways we can respond to them.

But before tackling some of the issues one by one, we want to view our increasingly borderless world as a whole—to look through a wide-angle lens to see the seamless connections between people, issues, and places near and far. We'll start by looking at our global village and then consider three of the most important issues of globalization we need to understand—economics, youth, and Christianity.


A wide-angle view begins with a snapshot of our global village. Today's population is racing toward 7 billion people.2 If all of us populating this planet lined up single file, we'd create 112 lines circling the globe. That's a mind-blowing thought and difficult to grasp. So another way to get a glimpse of today's world is to imagine what it would look like if all the realities of our globe were represented in a single global village of 100 people. If that were the case, here's how it would break down:

• The village consists of 60 Asians, 14 Africans, 12 Europeans, 8 Latin Americans, 5 people from the USA and Canada, and 1 person from the South Pacific. • 51 are male; 49 are female. • 82 are people of color; 18 are white. • 80 live in substandard housing. • 67 are non-Christians; 33 are Christians. • 67 are illiterate. • 50 are malnourished and 1 is dying of starvation. • 39 have no access to improved sanitation. • 33 have no access to safe water supplies. • 33 receive and attempt to live on only 3 percent of the village's income. • 24 don't have any electricity (and of the 76 who do have electricity, most use it only for light at night). • 7 have access to the Internet. • 5 control 32 percent of the entire village's wealth—and each of those 5 is a U.S. citizen. • 1 has a college education. • 1 has HIV.

We'll unpack several of these realities throughout the book. The most important consideration for now is being aware of the interconnectedness of our lives and ministries with what's going on globally. Because your youth have the potential to meet certain needs in our global village. And in turn, the people in our village offer many resources for discipling teenagers.


Globalization is eroding economic borders. When most people use the word globalization, they're talking about international business. It involves more than that, but it's with good reason that Nike, Sony, Billabong, and Coca-Cola are among the first images that come to mind when we think about globalization. Many of us have welcomed the familiar taste of Coke in a faraway village on a short-term mission trip. Coke is available in more places around the world than any other product. In fact, many large multinational corporations like Coca-Cola have more financial holdings than entire nations do. Then again, in our flat world nowadays you can just as easily be involved in global business as a solo entrepreneur working from a home office as someone working for a massive multinational company. In response, there are many questions we should be asking ourselves, such as: What ethical implications should this raise for how we shop? What regulations should governments place upon large corporations? What's the relevance of this understanding to youth ministry?

Our youth and their parents are deeply impacted by globalization—as consumers, employees, movie fans, etc. Most North Americans used to be all for globalization, usually without even knowing it. Globalization allowed us to buy things for a lot less money. Buying a pair of jeans made by a sweatshop worker in Bangladesh earning 25 cents per hour instead of a pair of jeans made by someone in Cleveland making $8 per hour "benefits" us financially. For years a vocal minority—usually outside Evangelicalism—protested the sweatshops, exploitive labor practices, and corporate greed often involved with outsourced manufacturing. But global competition is an inevitable outcome of capitalism. Why wouldn't a business find the cheapest place to make their products in order to increase profits?

As more and more North Americans have lost jobs in recent years to overseas counterparts in China, Mexico, and India, more Americans have begun to question whether globalization was such a good thing after all. The economic challenges aren't obvious when it's your country that benefits. But now with China possessing a growing stake in the world of business, for example, some Americans are feeling the threat of China taking over the world—not dissimilar to how other countries used to fear the U.S. and its influences.

And when an economic crisis hits, like the one in 2008, it shows we're forever connected economically with each other. Globalization isn't going away, so we need to pay attention to the long-term impact of so many complex issues related to the globalization of business.

For example, the establishment of call centers in cities such as Bangalore and Delhi has brought unprecedented economic opportunities to many Indians—in fact, the Indian middle class is now equivalent in size to the entire U.S. population. Yet 700 million Indians remain desperately poor, and many allege that globalization widens the disparity between the rich and the poor. No simple answers exist for challenges like these.

Or consider the fair trade coffee movement, which charges extra for a pound of "fair-trade" coffee in order to pay coffee farmers a fair price for their coffee beans rather than gouging them. It's a great idea with lots of momentum behind it from big-name coffee shops such as Starbucks and Caribou. However, many critics maintain that the vast majority of the extra profits gained from additional fees for a cup of fair-trade coffee go to the businesses and fair-trade coffee promoters, not the farmers. Some argue that you'd do far more to help coffee farmers by buying "non-fair trade" coffee and donating the difference to a nonprofit organization devoted to helping oppressed farmers in Guatemala.

There aren't simple answers to these dilemmas, but we do promise to give you some concrete ways to respond throughout the coming chapters. (In particular, chapter 3 specifically addresses the issue of poverty and global economics.) For now, our primary concern is to broaden your perspective to see the reality of our global economy and begin thinking about the implications for how you disciple your students.


Imagine Web cam images from teenagers' bedrooms in Atlanta, Mexico City, Tokyo, and Stockholm. Do you think you could tell the bedrooms apart? Several years ago, a New York City-based ad agency filmed teenagers' rooms in 25 countries. The congruencies in their bedrooms were striking. Basketballs sat next to soccer balls and closets were stuffed with what appeared to be the global adolescent uniform: baggy Levi's or Diesel jeans, NBA jackets, and Doc Martens and Timberland shoes. "In a world divided by trade wars and tribalism, teenagers, of all people, are the new unifying force. From the steamy playgrounds of Los Angeles to the stately boulevards of Singapore, kids show amazing similarities in taste, language, and attitude ... Propelled by mighty couriers like MTV, trends spread with sorceress [sic] speed ... Teens almost everywhere buy a common gallery of products: Reebok sports shoes, Procter & Gamble Cover Girl makeup, Sega and Nintendo videogames, Pepsi, etc."

Of course if this study were conducted today, it would reveal a different array of logos and products. And although New York and Paris used to be the epicenters of youth culture, Mumbai, Tokyo, and Shanghai are as much the driving centers of youth culture today for most of the world's youth. And more and more youth are connecting with peers worldwide through a common language of music, movies, fashion, and pop culture.

A word of caution is in order, however. We used to be among those who would talk about the unifying world of youth by suggesting that teenagers in Dubai, Prague, and Chicago may have far more in common with each other than any of them have in common with their own parents. There's some truth to that. But we can't discount the profound cultural differences that still exist among youth from various places around the world. There are some interesting similarities between youth in Toronto, Tampa, and New Delhi—but venture into the tribal communities outside Chiang Mai, Thailand or Monrovia, Liberia, and suddenly the unifying youth culture seems nearly nonexistent.

Keep in mind that barely 29 percent of people in the world have ready access to the Internet, and that "youth culture" is largely a middle class, urban phenomenon. Most teenagers worldwide have never talked on the phone, believe it or not, much less dabbled in Facebook accounts and instant messaging. And while it's true that a uniform, global culture characterizes growing numbers of youth around the world, alongside that reality are many youth who still have very little in common with the youth we encounter week to week. Regardless, global youth are one of the most targeted markets by a growing culture of business and consumerism—sadly it's not just because they're primary target consumers, but also because they're a primary labor source.

Researcher Jennifer Gidley has studied global trends happening to youth in places around the world. One trend she identifies is the way teens' imaginations are being colonized by MTV, iTunes ... and al-Qaeda. Toys are no longer made for kids and their parents; they're made by industries that want to create appetites for long-term consumers. And—on the other side of the coin—youth are often the top suicide-bombing recruits. Everyone wants a piece of adolescents.

In addition, culture is increasingly being secularized. More and more human explanation of the unexplainable is viewed as superior to the supernatural, spiritual rationales in Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and Jewish contexts. And youth—more than anyone else—will be impacted by the degradation of the environment.

These global trends are reason for concern.

But not everything going on among global youth is bad news. Criticism of youth has been a consistent theme across history. Each generation seems to blame and fear the younger generation coming up, and soon that once-younger generation becomes adults who do the same thing. Instead we need to be more accurate in how we talk about today's global youth. We can't say today's adolescents are "so much worse" than those growing up 30 years ago. Research just doesn't support that. Believe it or not, most high school students in North America are making safer choices today than their counterparts did 30 years ago. And this better decision-making is mirrored by youth in other countries as well. For instance, U.S. high school students are more apt to wear seatbelts, avoid getting into cars with drivers who've been drinking, and drink less alcohol than teenagers did 15 years ago. And on a global level, tobacco and pot and methamphetamine use, as well as sexual intercourse, are in decline among youth, though some regions have seen slight increases.9 Probably the most encouraging news about U.S. youth is that attempted suicide among high school students continues to decline, a welcome change from the sharp upswing in the 1970s and early 1980s.

No one is sure why these healthier trends exist. Is it possible that globalization is playing a positive role in the lives of many youth? Three global developments may offer us some insight. First, young people today know more than ever before. Better education has had a significant impact on the reduction in risky behavior because it provides hope. Where there isn't education, adolescents take greater risks. More young people than ever are graduating from high school, many of whom go on to college, a predictor of a more hopeful outlook. And the quality of education is improving in most places globally. It's still not enough, but the results are promising.

In addition, many local governments, parents, schools, and faith communities are more involved in the lives of youth than in previous generations. Think about the available number of parenting classes, books, and Web sites. Countless schools have adopted special rules regarding how students are to treat other students (e.g., zero tolerance on bullying), and many communities around the world offer a variety of youth programs. Talk shows champion a child-centered focus that never used to exist. Globalization is raising the expectations of parents and their kids.


Excerpted from WHAT CAN WE DO? by DAVID LIVERMORE TERRY LINHART Copyright © 2011 by Terence Linhart and David Livermore. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

David Livermore (Ph D, Michigan State University) is president and partner of the Cultural Intelligence Center in East Lansing, Michigan, and author of several books, including Leading with Cultural Intelligence and Serving with Eyes Wide Open. He is a visiting research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and has consulted with and trained leaders in one hundred countries across the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Australia. www.davidlivermore.com

Terry Linhart (Ph D, Purdue University) is Chair of the Religion and Philosophy Department at Bethel College, Indiana where he teaches ministry-related courses. His research and writing has focused on missions, evangelism, multicultural ministry, and leadership development. He is the co-author of Evangelism Remixed: Empowering Students for Courageous and Contagious Faith, and author of Middle School Talksheets: Life of Christ and High School Talksheets: Life of Christ. Terry and his wife, Kelly, have three teenagers, Lauren, Jayson, and Sean.

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