By Lee Hodges
Global missions have been in my heart and mind since I was a teenager. I remember being moved with a passion and concern for the lost when missionaries visited my home church and told how God was using them to bring people to Christ. Missionaries became my heroes. They were my early motivation for becoming a minister.
A major turning point in my life came from reading the books written by Elizabeth Elliott about the work of her husband and four other young missionaries. These brave souls were determined to bring Christ to the jungles of South America only to be killed by those they came to reach. “The rest of the story” reveals some of the very men who killed these missionaries were eventually brought to faith in Christ.
I was also encouraged and motivated reading about the lives of missionary pioneers from Europe in the 19th century. Many of them packed and shipped their belonging in coffins because they knew they would die where they were going.
This kind of story and testimony is rarely heard today, but the work of missionaries in the 19th and 20th centuries was so critically important. Paul Borthwick in his new book “Western Christians in Global Mission: What’s the Role of the North American Church?” says “Some estimate that 70% of the world’s Bible-believing Christians (as opposed to nominal or cultural Christians) now live in the Majority World (those outside of North America).” Those early missionaries who put their lives on the line for the Gospel of Christ planted the seeds for the harvest going on in the Majority World today.
While this is exciting, it is not a complete picture as there is still so much to be done. Almost 3 billion people made in the image of God are destined for a Christless grave having never heard about Him or His death on a cross for them. What makes this picture even more sad is the USA, which followed those 19th century missionaries with a strong missions emphasis after World War II, has significantly decreased in sending missionaries within the last 20+ years. We have seen an inward trend of “Let’s fix America first.” While no one today would question the validity of reaching people in America, we still must never lose sight of the vision God has for the entire world to hear the Good News.
The church’s mission should never become a choice of us OR them, but should always be us AND them. The first Christians made a similar mistake. Even though Jesus’ words were intended to send them into all the world, the early disciples didn’t want to leave Jerusalem. It took a period of persecution to move them out of their reluctance to leave the familiar and comfortable.
Today the USA is presented with wonderful opportunities at home and abroad. We may not have gone to all the world, so God is sending the world to us. Now the mission field is in our back yard, as new immigrants are our neighbors who have connections around the world.
It is also interesting that the countries where early seeds were planted by mission efforts in the past are now sending missionaries to the USA because they are concerned that we have lost sight of the mission we first shared with them. A book titled “Word Made Global: Stories of African Christianity in New York City” features a specific case study of African church plants based in New York City from churches out of Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria. The Redeemed Christian Church of God in Nigeria has already planted 500 churches across North America.
While some might think “we can’t do both local and foreign,” let me share another quote from Paul Borthwick’s book mentioned above: “Most of us are living on an island of affluence in the sea of poverty. We fail to realize this because we think that everyone else around us is more affluent. So we often think of ourselves as ‘poor,’ failing to remember our relative position in this globalized world” (page 26).
Our challenges in following the commission of Jesus to carry the Good News to all the world are not financial. God has provided us with everything we need to do what He has commissioned us to do. Ours is a faith and trust issue. When we deal with those issues, then we will join Christians in the rest of the world to accomplish the vision of God.
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9, 10). God’s vision fulfilled is that all people hear the Good News! We may pray, “Come quickly Lord Jesus,” but not until all hear! There is work to be done, souls to be saved, that God might receive glory for the gift of His Son. How could we hold such a priceless gift and not share it with those who have never heard?