missionary

What Drives Disciples?

Jim Elliot is a name familiar to many of my generation. If you don't know who he is, his story is worth reading. Christian singer Twila Paris took a line from Jim Elliot's journal and turned it into the song,

 He is no fool, if he should choose,

to give the things he cannot keep to buy what he can never lose.

To see the treasure in one soul

that far outshines the brightest gold;

He is no fool, he is no fool.

 

Jim was sold out to Jesus Christ. He set his face towards missions early in life and single-mindedly pursued that goal until he arrived in Ecuador. Jim was one of five men trying to establish contact with the fierce Auca Indian tribe. On one day in 1957 all five were killed by the people they were trying to help. They left five widows and families. They also became testimonies to those of that generation, myself included, who would move into missionary service partially because of their example.

 What drove this disciple? What made Jim Elliot leave a comfortable home for the jungles of South America? What compelled him to put his life in jeopardy by approaching the Auca? The most obvious answer is that he believed that without Christ, there is no hope for salvation. He wrote in his journal, "I dare not stay home while Quichuas perish." He knew that everyone who does not have faith in Christ is lost and condemned. No one can gain eternal life without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Knowing this, he also realized his responsibility -- his privilege -- to share this good news with those who did not yet know.

What Drives Disciples?

Orphaned at age 14, dismissed from college for criticizing a teacher, unsuccessful in his first attempts at ministry, this man did not seem much of an inspiration.

 In the mid-1700’s, David Brainerd became a missionary to the Seneca and Delaware Indians then living in the colonies of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. More recently, as I’ve had the chance to drive highways and back roads in those areas, I’ve actually seen historical markers noting his paths of travel.

 Brainerd literally coughed his life away on those colonial roads as he traveled and preached, all the while dying of tuberculosis. Contemporary accounts say that his path was often marked by two knee prints in the snow -- where he had knelt to pray -- and spots of red between them where he had coughed blood during his prayers. He died in 1749, at the relatively young age of 29.

 In his journal he wrote about the Indians he was trying to reach, noting their ". . . inability to extricate and deliver themselves from [their fallen state]" and the " . . . absolute need of Christ to redeem and save them . . . “This certain belief led Brainerd to teach ‘of Christ as the only way to the Father’."

 What drove this disciple? What made David Brainerd leave his home to travel by horse and foot through some of the wildest lands these colonies had to offer? What compelled him to shorten his life by expending what little strength he had in pushing forward again and again?

 The most obvious answer is that he believed that without Christ, there is no hope for salvation. Everyone who does not have faith in Christ is lost and condemned. No one can gain eternal life without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Knowing this, he also realized his responsibility -- his privilege -- to share this good news with those who did not yet know.

Footprints in the Mud

I was told of a missionary and his family who had been working in Africa in the strife-torn early 1960's.  In addition to the very primitive living conditions of the post-colonial and rebellion-torn continent of that decade, their lives were in constant danger from many sources.

Back in their U.S. church one day, one of their friends felt he should pray for the family. Wanting help, he called around and finally pulled together a group of six who also felt that urge. They didn't know why, but they knew they must pray and not stop praying until the Lord gave peace.  Coming together in one of their homes, they prayed for several hours through the day. As suddenly as the need to pray had come, it left. They could stop.  Again, they did not know why but it was a unanimous feeling.

On that day the missionary and his family were travelling by jeep through a dangerous part of his country. Knowing others had been stopped, robbed, beaten, and even killed on that road, he told those with him to stay in the jeep and to keep the doors and windows closed as they drove through a certain part of the rain forest. 

They began their journey in late afternoon, hoping to drive directly home before dark. Halfway there, the jeep broke down in the middle of nowhere. Night was falling and the only thing to do was huddle in the locked vehicle and pray.  Total darkness fell, as it only can in the tropics.  Through the night they heard the sounds of people talking and moving around the jeep.

The next morning there was no one there.  Around the jeep, facing outward in the dust of the road, they found six pair of footprints. 

Don't ask me, as some have, who these footprints belong to.  I give you the story as I heard it.  Six people prayed; six sets of footprints were there, facing outward.  The prayer group had surrounded their missionary with a circle of God's power so that nothing could get through. Sounds more than a bit like Elisha’s experience in 2 Kings 6.

The prayer group did not immediately know why they prayed or the results of that prayer.  The missionary did not know what those footprints meant.  Their understanding of God's intervention did not come together until sometime later when the missionary came back to that church and shared his experiences.  Comparing dates and times, they finally realized how God had brought them together at exactly the time of need (even accounting for the difference in time zones).

Friends who are reading this. You are, or can be, the footprints in the dust around your missionaries.  As you pray for their needs, for their health, for their protection, you will be standing around them, your backs to the workers, facing outward to protect and sustain them so they can get on with the job God has given them to do.

An Egg

“I found it!” called my wife from the kitchen. She was excited. “Our can of pumpkin pie filling!”

We were still fairly new missionaries in the rain forest of the Indonesian province of Papua. The initial excitement of being there had about worn off. We were feeling the responsibilities of communicating the gospel to an animistic tribe. We were also feeling the loneliness and isolation of being the only western family in our area.

Although not on the Indonesian calendar, Thanksgiving was still on ours and we wanted it to be as familiar and comfortable as it could be half the world away from home. We didn’t have a turkey, but we could get chicken. We could get some familiar vegies flown in from other mission stations. Now, with the pumpkin pie filling, so lovingly carried from home and stored away for just such an occasion, we were ready for a family feast.

Then my wife read the label. “Oh, no! We need two eggs. Do we have any eggs left?”

We were so isolated, we had to have some foods, like eggs, flown in from the capital city on a missionary plane. We usually ordered eggs in trays of 30, which had to last the couple of weeks between flights. Our tray was empty. No eggs, no pie.

For the sake of our 3-year-old (as much as for our own), we tried to be upbeat. But our little one had a better idea.

“If we need eggs, and we don’t have any, let’s ask Jesus to give us an egg.”

Looking back, I’m not sure how much faith I had, but we followed her childish confidence. Together we bowed and let her pray a very simple, “Jesus, we need an egg. We don’t have one. Please send us an egg for our pie.”

In the busyness of starting our day the next morning, we noticed an older woman from the nearby village standing just outside our kitchen.

As I approached her, she held out her hand, showing what looked like a mound of grass and leaves. As I watched, she stuck a finger into the grass and wiggled it around, revealing – yes, you guessed it -- one small, dirty chicken egg.

The next day, Thanksgiving, we had our feast, complete with a pumpkin pie which, even with only one egg, tasted heavenly to us.

We were thankful, very specifically, for the egg. We were even more thankful that we could come to God with such a childish request, and He cared enough about us to honor that request.

Since that day over 40 years ago, I’ve not forgotten that we should be thankful, not only for the specific visible blessings God gives us, but even more thankful to know that we are His children, He loves us, He hears us, and He has already given us everything we need in Him.

EXpire

            To die, to come to an end, to no longer be valid. All of these things come to mind with the word expire. Rarely do we think of exhaling, the alternate definition. Even further from our minds is creation and life. Our response to the great commission begins with being INspired. The living Word of God is taken into our hearts like a deep breath, fanning the sparks in our hearts to where we are stirred to action.

 

            Just as an exhale follows an inhale, after we are inspired, we EXpire. While we don't die or come to an end, our old self does. “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” Romans 6:11. Sin is that which turns us away from or separates us from running after God and His callings for us with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths. It's letting that fear get in the way of doing more. It's lack of belief in how much God truly loves you or just how BIG His plans for you may be. It's all of the weaknesses and shortcomings we know about ourselves that we let disqualify us. When we let these things die, or expire, we become truly alive. We breathe life out on the world around us.

 

            “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host” Psalm 33:6. This creative breath speaks things into existence that were not there before. That gift of breath is a gift He shared with us, that we may to continue “breathing” on His creation and stewarding the earth. In Ezekiel 37, God asks man to speak His word to dry bones so that they would live again. Dry bones represent something completely devoid of life and hope. As Ezekiel speaks in faith, exhaling the creative words of God, the impossible happens and LIFE comes. We have this same calling. We are charged to bring His word to the driest places so that it would restore life beyond our wildest hopes of restoration. Think right now of a place in your own life or in the world that is a dry valley that seems beyond restoration. Commit to pray about how God is calling you to expire. See what happens when you come alive in Christ Jesus and begin to breathe that same hope you were inspired by on the world around you.

The Goal of World Evangelization

Two weeks ago, we started examining Ed Dayton’s expanded definition of world evangelization.

Because world evangelization is a task, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the goal of that particular task.

The nature of world evangelization is communication of the good news.

The purpose of world evangelization is to give individuals and groups a valid opportunity to accept Jesus Christ.

And the goal of world evangelization is the persuading of men and women to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and serve him in the fellowship of his church.

As I finished up last week on the topic of what constitutes a valid opportunity to accept Christ, I suggested:

. . . missionaries (and all evangelizing Christians) must take the time to understand their target audience as they present the good news. We must present the gospel in a language people understand; we must present the gospel with words whose meaning people understand (or, at least, don’t misunderstand); we must present the gospel in thought patterns people can follow; we must present the gospel in such a way that people understand they have a choice; we must be ready to present the gospel over and over again; we must be prepared to have people consciously reject the gospel, though we sincerely hope they choose the better way.

Having prepared ourselves and our message so that the receiving people and groups could fully understand what it means to accept or reject Christ, we can move on to the final point of Ed Dayton’s definition of world evangelization.

And the goal of world evangelization is the persuading of men and women to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and serve him in the fellowship of his church.

When Jesus gave what we call the great commission, he directed that, as a priority, we make disciples. They he spoke of baptizing and teaching the new disciples. As we learn later in Paul’s New Testament writings, baptism is something we do in tandem with salvation, an act of identification with Christ in his death and resurrection. In doing this, we proclaim our unity in the body of Christ, which is the church.

As I read the great commission, we are to help people make a valid decision to follow Christ, then baptize them as a sign of incorporation into the greater body of believers. Once people are identified with Christ and other Christians, they can be more easily taught as a body and we can all use our spiritual gifts to build up one another in Christ. As Paul taught the church at Ephesus:

. . . Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)

My major hobby right now is working with bonsai trees. I am a member of several internet groups which share information about this hobby. Every so often someone new to the hobby gets into our groups asking, “how can I learn about bonsai?” Almost every time one of the long-standing group members will advise the newbie, “find a bonsai club near you and start attending their meetings. Working with them is the best way to learn.”

If you want to learn about bonsai, hook up with people who already know the hobby. If you want to run, join a local running club. If you want to grow in Christ, where else would you look than a local church, where you can find people directly gifted by God who will help you grow and find your own place within that local body?

Isn’t this what we see happening throughout the book of Acts? Paul, especially, goes somewhere, makes disciples, organizes a church, and then moves on to the next challenge.

Too often in the history of missions and evangelism, the goal has stopped with individuals making a profession of faith. Through our experience with mass evangelism, I dare say that most people in the United States think in terms of people raising their hands in a meeting, or signing a decision card, or just repeating the words of a prayer. People do this (and none of these is bad), and are usually urged to find and join a local church. But there is rarely any practical help or follow-up to match a new believer with a church.

Because of that, I’ve heard it reported that up to 90% of those people who make a decision outside the local church never settle into a church for themselves.

If we do not establish churches as needed and direct people into those churches, we end up having to repeat the evangelization process for every new generation.

On the other hand, if we “[persuade] . . . men and women to . . . serve him in the fellowship of his church,” we are doing our best to ensure they will learn and grow while serving in and through the church. The local church, then will be the best means of evangelizing their own society, allowing the cross-cultural workers to repeat the process in more spiritually needy places.

That’s a worthy goal. And that’s how we’ll get the job done.

What is a missionary?

Can we define the word missionary?

I’m sure we can, but there are so many subjective definitions out there, which one would we choose? The task is even more difficult when we realize the word missionary is not even found in the English Bible.

So, if missionary is not in the Bible, where in the world did it come from?

The word apostle is in the Bible. Seeing it, we generally think of the 12 men who followed Jesus throughout the gospel histories. Usually referred to as disciples, Matthew, Mark, and Luke also called them apostles.

Eleven of these men went on to become the apostles of the early church, as recorded in the book of Acts. We most often think of them, and their title, in this context. They were the appointed leaders of the new church after Jesus returned to the Father. In the minds of most people, apostle became both a role and spiritual gift. Most Christian traditions today think this way and believe the role of apostle ceased with them.

Let’s go back up a couple of paragraphs, and center in on Luke 6:13, where [Jesus] “called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles . . .” The original word Jesus used was a form of apostle, which basically means “one who is sent.” That fits the context of this passage, in which Jesus began preparing His disciples to be sent out on His behalf.

Later in the life of the church, Latin took the place of the widely-used Greek of New Testament times and writing. The Latin word missio replaced the Greek work apostolos in common usage, both meaning one who is sent. I’m sure you just picked up on the connection between the Latin missio and the English missionary. The general meaning of the word also expanded from just the original twelve sent ones to anyone sent by the church to bring the gospel to others in need.

In modern times, missionary can subjectively mean anything from a Christian who walks out of his church after a service, to local workers at a homeless shelter, to people who work among non-Christians in other countries without ever declaring their faith, to people who set out to establish new churches in areas where there are few or no Christian believers.

If we can’t objectively define missions for every situation and to everyone’s satisfaction, maybe we can go back to the question which started this series a few weeks ago, “what does a sent one?” Or, even better, “what did the original sent ones?”

From the New Testament we know that most of the apostles originally stayed in or near Jerusalem until God used the killing of James and subsequent persecution to push the other apostles, and many laypeople to spread out to evangelize and establish churches throughout their known world.

These apostles, sent ones, missionaries, went out from their homes to different countries, different languages, different cultures, all having one thing in common – there was no established church in these areas strong enough to evangelize their own people.

Paul, of course, was the primary cross-cultural worker of Acts. He was not alone. Peter was the first of the apostles to bring the gospel to the Gentiles, possibly the most extreme cross-cultural ministry of his time. Both Peter and Paul ended their lives as martyrs in Rome, a city neither would have visited for any reason other than expanding the kingdom of God.

Because of my special love for Ukraine, I also have a special fondness for Andrew, who went to what was then called the "land of the man-eaters," on the Ukrainian side of the Black Sea, even coming within sight of what is modern day Kyiv. He also preached in Asia Minor, today’s Turkey, and Greece, where he is said to have been crucified.

Thomas was probably most active in the area east of Syria. Tradition has him preaching as far east as India, where the ancient Marthoma Christians revere him as their founder. During my most recent visit to India, I was privileged to meet some leaders of the church founded by Thomas almost 2000 years ago.

Philip is thought to have had a powerful ministry in Carthage in North Africa and then in Asia Minor, where he converted the wife of a Roman proconsul. In retaliation the proconsul had Philip arrested and cruelly put to death.

Matthew, the tax collector and writer of a Gospel, ministered in Persia and Ethiopia. Some of the oldest reports say he was not martyred, while others say he was stabbed to death in Ethiopia.

Bartholomew had widespread missionary travels attributed to him by tradition: to India with Thomas, back to Armenia, and also to Ethiopia and Southern Arabia. There are various accounts of how he met his death as a martyr for the gospel.

James the son of Alpheus, one of at least three James referred to in the New Testament, is reckoned to have ministered in Syria. The Jewish historian Josephus reported that he was stoned and then clubbed to death.

Simon the Zealot, so the story goes, ministered in Persia and was killed after refusing to sacrifice to the sun god.

Matthias was the apostle chosen to replace Judas. Tradition sends him to Syria with Andrew and to death by burning.

John is the only one of the original company generally thought to have died a natural death from old age. He was the leader of the church in the Ephesus area, which, though originally evangelized by Paul, provided more than enough challenge to grow and reproduce the church in, around, and from that great city.

Look at the map showing where these men worked (and often died). Think about what they did. True to the One who sent them, they went to places where people needed the gospel. They shared their own testimonies. Depending on the people they met, they taught from the Old Testament or even from the local culture to show that Jesus was God’s sent one to provide salvation to all peoples. They baptized and organized new Christ-followers into local church groups. They trained new leaders for these new churches. Then, in most cases, they moved on to repeat the process further and further from their own homes.

In light of the examples of these sent ones, perhaps we can draft our own subjective definition for missionary.

A missionary is one sent by Jesus Christ to peoples who will not hear the gospel except through an outside messenger. A missionary is one sent by Jesus Christ to explain the gospel to these people so they can understand enough to make a choice to follow Christ. A missionary is one sent by Jesus Christ to establish the church among all peoples. A missionary is one sent by Jesus Christ to teach God’s word to new believers. A missionary is one sent by Jesus Christ to train leadership to continue and expand the work he or she has begun through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Following in the footsteps of these who have gone before us is no easy task, but there are few more rewarding tasks than being a missionary sent by Jesus Christ.