Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you and how He has had compassion on you. (Mark 5:19)
When I learned my friends Missionaries Tim and Iracema Kunkel were returning to the States for a time of rest and recuperation, and would be sharing in SBC churches, I made a suggestion.
“Tim, when you speak in a church, don’t just deliver a missions sermon, the kind I or the host pastor might give. You have a unique opportunity to tell us something about God’s work in South America we don’t know. Tell us what you have seen. Give us your stories. Tell us which scriptures have made a world of difference in your life and ministries.”
It takes a certain amount of nerve, I know, to instruct veteran missionaries on how to do what they do best: preach in churches. And yet, as a longtime pastor who has pretty much seen it all, I want the speakers to be as effective for the Lord as possible.
In the late 1970s I served as a trustee of our denomination’s International Mission Board and have made mission trips overseas, working with missionaries. We love missionaries and give generously to support their work. As pastor, I was always delighted to have them speak in my church. But–and this is my burden–I’ve seen it done poorly and seen it done well.
Here was Tim’s response to me…
Believe me, that is what I do. Someday I would love to hear you preach, but also would love for you to hear my sermon. It’s all nicely alliterated, with everything beginning with C’s. (That’s a private joke between us preachers. Tim knows this is a pet peeve of mine.–Joe)
Missions is CALL. I go back 50 years to my missions call. Missions is COMMAND. The Great Commission. Missions is COMMITMENT. Sticking with it. Missions is COOPERATION. We cannot do it without you, oh SBC Pastor, Church, and church member listening to me now. .
Yesterday (in the church where we spoke), we shared three stories…
–How William Buck Bagby in 1882 went to Brazil and led to Christ Iracema’s paternal grandfather, Ambrosino Mendonca, in 1886. That led to the salvation of all thirteen of his children, which included Iracema’s mother, Ruth. And through that, Iracema was appointed a missionary, in 1990 and in 2018 that man’s great-grandson Steven Kunkel went to Japan, as a Macedonian Student IMB Missionary.
–I talked about how I gave a tract in 2003 to a young man in a McDonald’s 300 miles from my house in Uruguay. Through that tract, he got saved. Eight years later he sent me an email. And 11 years after that, I actually gave a copy of that email to the pastor at the church from the pulpit, and the Hispanic pastor who was there as well.
–My wife gave the story of a visit to a critically ill lady, ( AIDS, about 35) in a Catholic hospice in Asuncion Paraguay. As she presented the gospel to the woman, she began to cry. Looking off into the distance, she said to Iracema, “Who are those people with you?” Iracema looked around and said, “There’s no one else here.” The lady said, “I see many and they are all dressed in white.” The next day the woman was unresponsive and she died within the week.
So, yes, yes, yes, we are story-oriented and not just theologically oriented. What we share is not just your typical preaching.
And that is precisely what I’m calling for. My people can hear me preach on Acts 1:8 anytime. But when our missionaries arrive to share reports from the fields of the world, our people give them their undivided attention. These are warriors on the front lines for Christ and they deserve a hearing.
But sometimes they need reminding…
I encourage pastors to remind the visiting missionaries, “Tell us what you have seen and heard in your country. Tell us what God is doing. Tell us how we can pray for you more effectively.”
“Give us your story.” “Tell us what God has taught you.” “Leave my people changed forever by what you share.”
It’s a big order, but not for the Holy Spirit. We are doing His work.
Pastors, church members, and missionaries are partners in this worldwide enterprise. Those who have gone forth to the fields of the world have our undying love and respect and support. So, we want to do all we can to make them feel appreciated and put the proper tools in their hands.