A New World for Missions

A generation ago, a leader of our Foreign Mission Board said to me, “Eventually, Southern Baptists are going to have to come to terms with our changing world. We know what we mean by the word ‘missionary,’ but in much of the world that is an inflammatory word and simply saying it brings up hostile reactions. We need to find other terms to describe our people.”

That time is now with us.

I am confident some Southern Baptists view the changing nomenclature of our missions effort with a certain amount of alarm, as though this were all about political correctness. But it has nothing to do with that.

In my last pastorate, Shelley finished college and went to central Asia for two years to work with what is now called “a people group.” That nebulous term refers to a subset of a nation in which the people are somewhat isolated, have a different culture, and speak their own language. Shelley was not allowed to tell us which country she worked in or the name of the people group. She sent e-mails home in code. For ‘pray’ she would write ‘yarp,’ which is ‘pray’ spelled backward.

A missionary executive told me this week, “There are people all over the planet who type into their internet search engines the name of their country and ‘prayer.’ They’re looking for just this very thing, for religious groups heading their way for proselyting. And when they find them, that person or that group is barred from entering.”

It can be dangerous when the individual is already in that country and is judged to be evangelizing. That’s why, several times a year, we hear of American missionaries being arrested and imprisoned. No matter the good they are doing in that country–feeding a starving people, showing farmers how to improve their agriculture, digging wells for safe water–religious zealots (those for whom nothing else matters but protecting their dogma)rise up in arms and do anything necessary to make them stop.

This is a crazy world. The Richmond News-Leader for this morning told of two Middle Eastern clerics who were visiting in Vienna, Austria, and preaching in a mosque there. Members of the audience did not like the message and began to attack the preachers. A riot ensued and one of the ministers was killed.

What kind of religion, one has to wonder, makes its people prize orthodoxy (their brand of it) more than human life? What kind of person is willing to kill another human being over his interpretation of truth?

Today, the missionaries I’m been working with this week are in classes dealing with the persecution of Christians across the planet. Leaders of our denomination’s worldwide outreach are trying to prepare these men and women for what some will have to face when they arrive on their assigned fields.

I’ve been sketching these parents and their children. Some will use the drawings on their internet newsletters to their support team back home. Sometimes as I draw a child, I will ask the parent, “And are the grandparents grieving because you are taking their grandchild to the other side of the world?”

“Oh yes,” they will reply. And usually add a version of, “They’re grieving more about that than the fact that we will be leaving too!”

One has to wonder if the grandparents thought deeply about the dangerous world their children and grandchildren were sailing into, and if they did, what they would do.

I think I know.

They would pray. (Or, as Shelley would say, ‘Yarp.’)

There’s nothing else to do. The missionaries, no matter what titles they go by–representatives, teachers, doctors, advisors, you name it–are of mature age and witness that they have been called by God for this purpose. The mission board commissions and sends them, then supports them with team members and finances and counsel. But ultimately, they are casting themselves on the mercies of God and looking to Him as their Guide and Shepherd.

The parent of one missionary told me, “Nothing impacts your prayer life like knowing your child is on the other side of the world in a land hostile to Americans and antagonistic to the Christian faith. You pray as you never prayed before.”

It’s not necessary to have a child in this work to pray. They all need our prayers more than ever before.

I saw Dr. Jerry Rankin today. He is the president of the International Mission Board, a native Mississippian, and a longtime friend. A news release from his office last week told how with the decrease in finances, the IMB will have to curtail the number of missionaries it appoints in the immediate future.

When I arrived Monday afternoon, Dave Householder, who was driving the golf cart, helping with my luggage, and who identified himself as “only a volunteer,” said to me, “The number of missionaries on campus right now is down. Mostly it’s the recession. Some of them can’t sell their house back at home, and the board will not send you overseas with outstanding debts.”

Pray for Dr. Rankin. Pray for the IMB. Pray for these missionaries. Please.

3 thoughts on “A New World for Missions

  1. Good morning Dr Joe, from Austria …

    the incident you mention did not occur at a mosque, and did not involve Muslims.

    It took place at a Sikh temple, and involved rival groups of Sikhs — the visiting preachers belong to a faction within Sikhism which draws heavily on the Dalits, the “untouchables” of India, which have been converting in large numbers from Hinduism to other religions, including Christianity and Sikhism.

    Chances are that “dogma” had little to do with it.


    Wolf Paul

  2. We have a mission team of 55 from La. Dist 8 in Honduras, due to return this Saturday… we have not been able to contract any of them to determine how they weathered the 7.1 earthquack this morning.

    We have 8 from our church in that 55, including our pastor and his family.

    We’re praying for their safety and that God will use this disaster to His glory as our team continues to witness and minister to the people of Honduras.

    We covet your prayers…

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