Posted by: Titus Presler | November 28, 2011

“Potential” ad campaign of HSBC should stimulate missional thinking

The use of potential as the key concept in HSBC’s current international ad campaign is striking in that it encourages people to reflect on how startling realities of the contemporary world open opportunities to do new things or do old things in new ways.

At least some of the facts that HSBC cites should stimulate religious people to reflect on their religious practice, including the outreach that is intrinsic to Christians’ practice of mission, Muslims’ practice of dawah, and the outreach that may be practiced by other religionists such as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Bahais.

Here’s a sampling of the facts HSBC cites on ads in airports around the world, especially on those covered walkways you travel as you embark or disembark in places like Heathrow and Dubai, two airports I recently went through – and in each case I’ve included my bracketed comment from a Christian missional perspective:

• Over 138 million people work outside their country of birth.  [This is obviously relevant for the priority placed on ministry with immigrants in various countries, and for the ministry that people in a home country may offer to those who have emigrated elsewhere, as in, for instance, the Church of South India’s congregations in North America.]

• There are five times more people learning English in China than there are people in England.  [This is relevant to the question of English-language ministry in China and to aspects of Chinese language acquisition among missioners planning to work among Chinese populations.]

• Indian e-tutors generate $20 million annually, teaching American students.  [Clearly there are  opportunities for shared learning between classes at Indian seminaries and seminaries elsewhere in the world.]

• The Halal industry is worth $3 trillion worldwide.  [This highlights the economic importance of a particular practice among Muslims globally.]

• 0.3% of Saharan solar energy could power Europe.  [Harnessing that energy could transform life on the planet.  How can religious institutions and their outreach help catalyze commitment to such energy transformation, whether polemically, which is important, or practically?]

• Just 20% of the world’s wind energy could provide all of its energy needs.  [Ditto to the solar fact above.]

• Only 4% of US films are made by women, compared to 25% in Iran.  [This challenges one particular perception about women’s participation in a possibly volatile medium in one Muslim country.  Doubtless there are other perceptions that should be challenged.]

• The U.S. has more Spanish language newspaper readers than Latin America.  [Others would have a better sense of the implications for Hispanic ministry in the USA and its relation to Latin American ministry.  Relatively high Hispanic literacy in the USA, or simply greater success in newspaper saturation?  And how might USAmerican Hispanic ministry therefore relate to Christian communities in Latin America?]

• Hong Kong has almost twice as many skyscrapers as New York.  [Two recent visits to Hong Kong stunned me with its concentration of vertical living, as did Sao Paolo in Brazil, after which Manhattan seemed almost town-like.  The statistic illustrates just how urban much of the world has become, which highlights the importance of urban mission, in contrast with the rural emphasis of much Christian mission in the past.]

• Every day 200,000 people leave the countryside for the city.  [Ditto to Hong Kong, above.  But this statistic also brings to mind the dreadful physical and economic conditions in which many migrants live for years, making them vulnerable not only to political exploitation but to such plagues as the drug trade and human trafficking.]

• Of all the people in the world who have ever lived to be 65, two-thirds are alive today.  [This highlights not only the tremendous increase in life expectancy over the past century, but the consequence of population explosion, which needs ministry, as does the vastly increasing multitude of older people.]

Alongside each factoid and an accompanying picture is a question or a statement that HSBC poses, and so far I’ve noted four, all of them related to the concept of potential:

Do you see a world of potential?  We do.

The world belongs to those who see potential.

We see a world of potential.  Do you?

Discover a world of opportunities.

Do religious people see a world of potential?  We certainly should.  Along the lines of “Watching for Signs,” my blog posting of yesterday, the facts cited by HSBC – and thousands of other as well – can be taken as signs for missional action.

Some of HSBC’s facts are not quite so interesting from a religious standpoint – or at least to me as a missiologist, but I could be wrong:

• Comic books. More popular with Japanese adults than American children.

• Turkey has 3 times as many acres of vineyards as South Africa.

• Holland makes more exporting soy sauce than Japan.

• Pakistan is the world’s second largest exporter of clothing.

• Tokyo has 3 times more Michelin starred restaurants than Paris.

• About 80 percent of all life on Earth is found in the oceans, which cover 71 percent of the planet’s surface.

• The amount of gold beneath the ocean could give everyone on earth €100,000.

• Right now, there are over half a million people travelling the world by air.

The current “Potential” ad campaign, while stimulating, does not have quite the intellectual depth of HSBC’s earlier  “Difference” ad campaign, which highlighted how differing cultural backgrounds around the world result in radically different interpretations of a single phenomenon.  I reflected on that campaign briefly in my recent book, Going Global with God: Reconciling Mission in a World of Difference.  But I’ve often thought that campaign merited an entire journal article, both for the particulars it chose but also for how it reflected a current global discourse on the revaluation of difference in human experience.

Headquartered in London, HSBC is one of the largest financial services and banking organizations in the world, with an international network comprising about 7,500 offices in 87 countries and territories in Europe, the Asia-Pacific region, the Americas, the Middle East and Africa.  Its chief slogan, itself interesting, is “The world’s local bank.”  If I’m not mistaken HSBC is the acronym for the Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation, a reference that recalls an imperial history that the “Difference” campaign could be seen as counteracting.

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