Missionaries, Essential or Obsolete?
By David R. Barnhart
Volume 29 Fall 2014 Issue 5
HEROES ARE BORN FROM SELFLESS ACTS OF LOVE AND MERCY
Heroes are a dime a dozen in today’s shallow culture. While those most likely to be elevated to hero status include sports personalities, music celebs and movie stars, true heroes are seldom found within their ranks. True heroes are those who put their lives on the line for the sake of others, such as members of our Armed Forces, as well as those in police, fire and emergency services. The patriotic hymn “America the Beautiful” reminds us that our nation’s authentic heroes were proved “in liberating strife,” and that they “more than self their country loved and mercy more than life!”
High on my list of genuine heroes are Christian missionaries who have placed their personal dreams, family and country on the altar of sacrifice in order to take the gospel of Christ to unsaved peoples in near and distant lands. Their commitment to Christ seeks no greater goal or more lofty ambition than following the Savior wherever He may lead them.
In this and past issues of The Vine and Branches, we have highlighted Christians whose sacrificial service to God and man is truly worthy of recognition and emulation. These and a host of other authentic Christian heroes are described by the Bible as men and women “of whom the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:38).
“GREATER LOVE HAS NO MAN THAN THIS...”
Today’s list of missionary heroes surely must include Dr. Kent Brantly with Samaritan’s Purse and Nancy Writebol with Service in Mission (SIM USA). Kent and Nancy contracted Ebola while treating people who were infected by the same deadly virus in Liberia.
When Dr. Brantly initially fell ill with the Ebola virus, he was offered an experimental drug as a possible cure. However, after learning there was only enough of the experimental drug for one person, he selflessly deferred treatment to his fellow worker Nancy Writebol. Praise God, both missionaries have made miraculous recoveries after being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
Also on my list of missionary heroes, though not as well publicized, are Roman Catholic priest Father Miguel Pajares (75) and Sister Chantal Pascaline (65), who both contracted the Ebola virus while working with patients at a Catholic hospital in Liberia. Sister Chantal Pascaline from the Congo and Father Pajares from Spain died after battling the dreaded disease.
OUR “ME FIRST” GENERATION HAS LOST THE MEANING OF SERVING OTHERS
Like the man who offered the table prayer— “Lord, bless me, my wife and our two sons, us four and no more”— many people today have a myopic view of the world. Consider, for example, an article entitled “Ebola Doc’s Condition Downgraded to Idiotic,” by Ann Coulter. (Townhall. com, August 6, 2014.)
In her article Coulter questioned why Dr. Kent Brantly would ever choose to go to Liberia to care for sick people. According to this sometimes caustic commentator, Dr. Brantly could have found plenty of people who needed his help right here in the comforts of the good old USA.
In fact, said Coulter, “Whatever good Dr. Kent Brantly did in Liberia has now been overwhelmed by the more than $2 million already paid by the Christian charities Samaritan's Purse and SIM USA just to fly him and his nurse home in separate Gulfstream jets, specially equipped with medical tents, and to care for them at one of America's premier hospitals.”
Not surprisingly, Coulter’s several Bible quotations are out of context, and her personal comments surmising why Dr. Brantley or any missionary would undertake to help people in the third world are demeaning and without merit. Endeavoring to explain what she called Dr. Brantly’s “idiotic” decision to go to Liberia in the first place, Coulter asked: “Can’t Christians serve Christ in America anymore?” Then, in answer to her own inane question, Coulter stated:
“We’re supposed to take care of our own first. The same Bible that commands us to ‘go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel’ also says: ‘For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, you shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and poor in your land.’
“Right there in Texas, near where Dr. Brantly left his wife and children to fly to Liberia and get Ebola, is one of the poorest counties in the nation—Zavala County— where he wouldn’t have risked making his wife a widow and his children fatherless. But serving the needy in some deadbeat town in Texas wouldn’t have been ‘heroic.’ We wouldn’t hear all the superlatives about Dr. Brantly’s ‘unusual drive to help the less fortunate’ or his membership in the ‘Gold Humanism Honor Society.’ Leaving his family behind in Texas to help the poor 6,000 miles away—that’s the ticket. Today’s Christians are aces at sacrifice, amazing at serving others, but strangely timid for people who have been given eternal life.”
There is little doubt that many people in congregations across the land agree with Coulter when it comes to putting the needs of local folks ahead of helping people in foreign lands. However, in congregations that are dominated by this attitude, one usually finds that little is being accomplished either locally or abroad when it comes to evangelistic outreach and foreign missions. One has only to read the book of Acts to realize that the church from its infancy set out to accomplish both local and extended mission work at the same time. For them it was not a matter of choosing one over the other but applying the full power of the church to both spheres of ministry and service.
DR. BRANTLY TELLS WHY HE BECAME A MEDICAL MISSIONARY
As by divine providence, Dr. Brantly issued a statement a few days before Coulter’s column was published. In it he answered practically every issue Coulter would raise in her article. He wrote:
“My wife Amber and I, along with our two children, did not move to Liberia for the specific purpose of fighting Ebola. We went to Liberia because we believe God called us to serve Him at the ELWA Hospital.
“One thing I learned is that following God often leads us to unexpected places. When Ebola spread into Liberia, my usual hospital work turned more and more toward treating the increasing number of Ebola patients. I held the hands of countless individuals as this terrible disease took their lives away from them. I witnessed the horror first hand, and I can still remember every face and name.
“When I started feeling ill on that Wednesday morning, I immediately isolated myself until the test confirmed my diagnosis three days later. When the result was positive, I remember a deep sense of peace that was beyond all under- standing. God was reminding me of what He taught me years ago, that He will give me every- thing I need to be faithful to Him.
“Now it is two weeks later, and I am in a totally different setting. My focus, however, remains the same—to follow God. As you continue to pray for Nancy [Writebol] and me, yes, please pray for our recovery. More importantly, pray that we would be faithful to God’s call on our lives in these new circumstances.”
My response to Coulter’s unkind and misguided comments comes from St. Paul, who answered similar critics when he wrote: “For God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise...For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God...We are fools for Christ’s sake!” (1 Corinthians 1:27; 3:19; 4:10). Paul, who was no stranger to sufferings as he served the Lord, also wrote: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). Like Paul, God’s faithful servants look for the approval of God, not man!
MISSIONARIES ARE CONSIDERED OBSOLETE IN MANY CHURCHES!
The missionary hymn “Rescue the Perishing, Care for the Dying” is a theme of the past in churches where a limited vision and a self-indulgent attitude dominate people’s thinking. Such an attitude and lack of vision offer little incentive for Christians to even want to listen to God’s call to sacrificial service or prompt their concern for unsaved multitudes across the world who desperately need a Savior.
Consider world missions in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). In 1986 the newly formed denomination listed over 500 missionaries on its roster. Today that number has dwindled to less than 240. But not to worry—in order to handle this decrease, the ELCA increased their world missions administrative staff by 16 percent. Prior to the formation of the ELCA in 1986, there were times when the combined total of missionaries in two predecessor bodies—the American Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church in America—exceeded 2,000.
Indeed, there was a time when foreign missions were clearly understood throughout the Church as being absolutely essential in following Christ’s command to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Missionaries were held in high esteem, and the work of missions was given top priority in countless churches. Today, however, most mainline churches believe that sending out missionaries to evangelize the lost is an outmoded concept, thanks in large measure to their proclamation of a watered-down gospel.
Furthermore, in most mainline churches, the outreach mission programs that do exist are little more than social programs wrapped in the heretical doctrine of universalism. This false doctrine maintains that one religion is as good as another, and that there is no need to evangelize because people of all religions, including people with no religion, will reach heaven’s shores regardless of faith or belief. It also claims that all religions have something of value to contribute to our collective understanding of a divine being.
One of the obvious reasons for the decline in Christian missions within the ELCA and other liberal denominations is their involvement with and participation in organizations like COEXIST. This organization is especially popular onc ollege campuses through various campus ministries.
COEXIST seeks to promote the cooperation of all religions, including paganism and atheism. (See page 12.) Participation with COEXIST and similar organizations is a total sell-out of Christianity and everything that is holy.
THE SPIRIT STILL CALLS TODAY!
In the early 1980’s, the congregation I served in Minnea- polis, Trinity Lutheran Church of Minnehaha Falls, sent out ?and financially supported between 30 and 35 full-time missionaries. Prayer was offered for each missionary by name during the Sunday worship services. Pictures of Trinity’s missionaries were affixed to a wall in the main office lobby, and over them was written a quote by W. Cameron Townsend, founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators, “A church should be known not for the number it seats but for the number it sends.”
The World Mission Prayer League was begun through the vision of Pastor Evald Conrad and several Trinity members. Three former missionaries served on the staff at Trinity while I was their senior pastor, and there were numerous retired missionaries who served the Lord in the congre- gation’s various ministries. The congregation lived and breathed missions. How wonderful if such an emphasis on missions could be the norm in every church today!
Thankfully the Holy Spirit’s call to world missions and to full-time Christian service is still being heard by young and old alike in churches that maintain a sound biblical theology regarding reaching the lost with Christ’s precious gospel.
In Bible-based churches all over the world, men and women of faith are still stepping forward to follow Christ, even to the most remote parts of the earth. The Holy Spirit is still giving young people, such as Nate and Rhoda Jore who now serve in Uganda, a heart for missions and sending them off fully empowered to carry out the work of the Kingdom.
We encourage all Christians and congregations to support specific foreign missionaries through prayers and finances. Pastors and youth leaders should talk and preach missions at every opportunity. Furthermore, they should exhort members of their congregations, young and old alike, to be open to a call from God to enter into full-time Christian service. Congregations that support world missions and evangelism ministries also experience life and growth in other areas of ministry.
For years Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU) and various youth outreach ministries, such as Teen Missions and Youth With a Mission (YWAM), have been training and sending out young people on short-term mission assignments throughout the world. Recently we have observed that an increasing number of churches, Bible schools and Christian colleges are offering short-term mission opportunities as well. Participation in short-term mission programs often captures the hearts of those who are involved, prompting them to continue praying for and supporting the work of world missions in their local congregations.
This past summer Peace Free Lutheran Church in Canal Winchester, Ohio commissioned and sent out 13 of its members on a 8-day mission trip to the Dominican Republic, where they helped build a new house for a local family and shared the love of Jesus Christ with people in the community. Throughout the months leading up to the trip, members of Peace Lutheran prayed for and gave contributions to help make the trip possible. When the group returned home, they reported their experiences to the congregation, but the joy on their faces told the real story.
We know of several other congregations that sponsored short-term mission trips this year, and how each was immeasurably blessed by their efforts. Again, we encourage all congregations to consider developing or participating in a short-term mission trip as part of your mission strategy.
CHRIST IS THE ANSWER
It is not clear how much time we have left before Jesus returns, nor is it clear whether there is still time to curb the hatred and violence that now plagues our troubled world. But what is clear is this—Every moment is critical! There is not a government on earth that is either prepared or capable of bringing peace to the human heart. Such peace will come only as the peoples and nations encounter the Prince of Peace.
People all around us are struggling through life without a scintilla of hope, even as countless others are headed for a Christ-less eternity. Indeed, people everywhere are searching for answers, and we whose lives have been redeemed know precisely what that answer is— Jesus Christ the Lord, crucified, buried, risen and coming again!
LORD, GIVE US A HOLY BOLDNESS AND SET OUR HEARTS ON FIRE!
Much of the blame for the low spiritual condition of our world today is due to the failure of Christians to faithfully carry the gospel to those who are perishing here and abroad. Certainly until Jesus returns, there is still time to snatch precious souls from the hand of the enemy and bring them into a living relationship with Jesus Christ. Above all, let us never forget that those living next door and those living in distant lands are equally precious to God, and that our mission is to reach them all. Now is the time for all Christians to lay down all the superfluous activities that consume so much of our time and resources. The gospel song reminds us—“We’ve a story to tell to the nations, that will turn their hearts to the right.” Therefore, let’s roll up our sleeves and get on with the mission God has called us to do. As Corrie Ten Boom said, “Don’t bother to give God instructions. Just report in.”
In these last days, Christians should evaluate each ministry and activity by answering the following questions—Is this program or activity for the glory of God, or is it for a lesser purpose? Is this ministry being carried out with eternity in view?
If the whole Christian church would decide today to be about the Father’s business and live out the Great Commission of Christ, it would dramatically change the world. Let the Church be the Church! Let all God’s children become Christ’s hands and feet, remembering His words— “And you shall be my witnesses to the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8).