As diplomatic, maritime, and military tensions escalate in the East Chine Sea amidst territorial disputes over a chain of small, but resource-rich Japanese islands, now being brazenly claimed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), along with a November 23, 2013 warning by the PRC that the islands are part of an “East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone” (ADIZ) and as such restrict foreign air space (and extend to the restriction of certain shipping lanes as well), the attention of much of the world is once again shifting to this powder-keg region of the East. The crisis, and it is fair to call it that since China is warning of dire consequences if Australia and Japan become involved, is drawing military-show-of-force-responses from the United States, and South Korea. The Washington Post quoted an unnamed White House official as saying that untangling the players in China is “…extraordinarily complex.” Others see this as a provocative move of the PRC Army. As a new conservative, nationalist Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, warned China to stay clear of the ” Senkaku” islands (the Japanese name for the contested area), the Communist Chinese government reacted with talk of their new drones before finally making the claim for what they call “Diaoyu” islands. The stakes are high in this China Sea drama and GlobalSecurity.org’s Daniel Schearf reminds us that the tensions could even lead to an “unintended confrontation.”
We pray for peaceful resolution and for the fair treatment of our ally, Japan. We pray that foreign policy in the matter will be negotiated on principle and the rule of law. We also pray for wisdom for senior military leaders as they must execute moves to counter Chinese provocation and seek peace as our elected civilian leaders set the policy. We certainly pray for our elected leaders. Jesus taught to also pray for our enemies. We must pray for the Gospel to permeate China all the way to the top of the military—and to the far reaches of the ranks, to tomorrow’s leaders. Nothing is too hard for God.
Thinking of this situation, I bring out an article I wrote not too long ago on the trajectory of Western interests to the Indian Ocean and the inevitable challenges that await in places like the China Sea, the Strait of Malacca (سلت ملاك), and other touch-points in this giant region. These potential areas of operation lie at the edges of the “Monsoon,” but testify to the invariable route of U.S. and, I believe, soon, British and British Commonwealth, as well as Russian military (and certainly foreign office) interests. The trade route is already there. The military and diplomatic entourage will journey in the wake created by the merchant ships that have been making their way there since the middle of the twentieth century.
For those in ministry this undeniable pathway into 21st-century-geo-politics-and-foreign policy holds enormous potential for reaching others with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus, I share this article with a prayer towards that end for all in the work of missions who would read it.
Google in. Closer. There: The vast Indian Ocean lies before you. Follow the arc from Cape Town up and over. Look: The smoke of ten thousand camp fires rises like a demon cloud from primitive villages and green jungles. The charcoal smoke mingles with the heat and gasoline fumes from snarled traffic in innumerable, economically booming and yet humanity-crippled urban mega-centers. Google up. Move a bit. Now. Down. Google in—Locusts and flies swarm over the endless, rich plains of the former “Star” in the Crown Jewell of the British Empire, South Africa. Apartheid is gone. Socialism and violence of the most heinous kind have arrived. Google out. Breath the fresh air. You will need it. Back down. Google in and over to the Sub Content. There! Go in more! Go to Agra! Stop: The Taj Mahal sits amidst the Churchillian prophecy of mass poverty, while princes of the earth’s greatest nations come to pay respect to this “wonder of the world.” The architectural jewel inspired out of veritable brutal passion of the Mughal Empire is a fitting symbol for the sense-attacking enigma that is India. And India represents the clash of ancient and new, mysterious and yet emerging lands of the Indian Ocean.
I was reading the book by Robert D. Kaplan—Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power, when I heard the news report in my hotel room. India had launched an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of sending its nuclear arsenal as far away as Europe or to a more likely scenario—Iran. The news report came, literally, as I was reading Kaplan’s report on the shift from the Atlantic, beyond the giant sapphire Pacific, around the rugged African Cape, to the “embayed” Indian Ocean. I slowly laid the book aside as I watched the video, in astonishment, of this latest illustration of Indian engineering genius shooting through the riddle of Indian poverty and Indian economic prowess, into the cloudless sky with all the menacing events this might portent. The visage before me became a metaphor for Kaplan’s proposition. The news didn’t stop there. There was more news coming out of China. There is now always news about China. The Communist-controlled market titan, another dialectical puzzle in the Indian Ocean frontier, dominates the economic news, the military news, and the Geo-political news, but invariably, competes with more peaceful, democratic India for attention. Whether it is financial buoyancy, or industrial espionage, or the projection of its naval might in the region, we are witnessing, in my view, the ascendancy of Kaplan’s forecast. Even as the Bay of Bengal received the great southwest monsoon in the early summer, so we steer our way deeper into the blank-page annals of the 21st-century, and the unrestrained waves of the Indian Ocean crash against the pylons of the older Atlantic nations. The Monsoon is not coming. The Monsoon is here. The recent devastation in the Philippines brought US and UK ships and planes and troop to support relief effort. Into their wake will also come more military and more diplomats, but likely not to hand out rations to starving refugees. The provocations of the People’s Republic of China will not go unmet. Eventually, one of the Pacific, or Indian Ocean nations, will strike back.
The mission of the Church often follows the economic and military movement of peoples. It is in the upending of things that people are, in fact, more receptive to the news of the unchanging Gospel of God in Jesus Christ. The same will be true in the Indian Ocean in the 21st Century.
Many in ministry and world mission are setting a course of prayer, asking God to show us the great global cities and regions where we should be; where we should leverage the theological and Biblical tradition, legacy and resources, to reach what Philip Jenkins has now famously called the “Next Christendom.” The Christendom that Jenkins sees arising in the global South in the global East is better understood, I think, by reading Kaplan’s book. Indeed the Indian Ocean and the great arc of its sweeping extent, from the horn of Africa, up the dangerous Somalia coast, past the pirate lanes and through the Arabian Sea, over and down to the Asian Subcontinent, then through the treacherous, billion dollar oil lane, the Strait of Malacca, into the scattered, burgeoning population centers of the Indonesian Islands on the South China Sea, finally merging into the Pacific ocean at the Philippines and Taiwan, is now the new dramatic setting for an economic clash of the titans—of China and India—with other players, like Indonesia, seeking to take the stage with them, appearing all but certain to draw in new colossal armies, air forces, and especially, the naval forces that will make the Royal Navy and perhaps even the American Navy seem like ghost ships of a far-flung past. Yes the Monsoon is now here. As American and British and Western powers come to grip with the reality that globalization has shifted like a great Southern hemispheric gust of warm wind, blowing new-born influence and agitated unease to the Indian Ocean, so, too, the opportunities for ministry—whatever your ministry’s particular calling is within the larger mandate of the Great Commission of Christ–are rising like the “mountains of hibiscus and bright orange mangoes” in the Bay of Bengal.
This is one of the most exciting times in history to be a believer. It is a time to seek strategic alliances with other ministries on the ground in the Indian Ocean nations. It is a time to not only leverage ministry here, but learn faithfulness there. We go not a conquering missionaries, but Christians on a quest to both preach Jesus Christ as the savior of the nations and to learn of His life from those who have learned to put on His life in the midst of darkness. The future of our own nation may well lie in our test of bringing the Gospel to other nations.
With the historic shift taking place before our eyes, shall we believe that Christ the Lord is not in, with and under the Monsoon? Is this not His own sovereign occasion to convey His Kingdom rights over the Indian Ocean even as He would, we pray, revitalize the Atlantic “Old Christendom,” and then prepare for His ultimate sweep across the earth? Oh, let us not be blind to the days we live in or stagger, benumbed by the fast-moving currents of the white-foamed sea that is mostly divided on our maps; as remote and strange as the moon, and yet is now before us. This is also our time; for it is always His time. And do we not see the image of One walking on the waters through the misty reach of the Indian Ocean? Is He not the Lord of the Monsoon? It is time to deploy for places unknown to us but not to God.
Google out. Pick up your Bible. Pray.
 Robert D Kaplan, Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power (New York, NY: Random House, 2010).
 Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
 Kaplan, 135.