The Fields are still white – Laborers still needed

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Fields are still white 001

The modern missionary movement is now about 225 years old, if you mark its beginning with the journey of William Carey to India in 1792. Of course, students of missions history recognize that missions hardly began with Carey. It dates to the New Testament era and the great missionary apostle, Paul. Moreover, looking at Old Testament texts like Psalm 67, one could argue that there was an implicit missionary mandate for the nation of Israel, if not an overt one.

Nevertheless, the past two centuries have seen a remarkable number of men and women leave home and family to travel to another country as missionaries. While many were western Protestants from England and the United States, an increasing percentage of the global missionary force includes Majority World members whose ancestors were once the target of missionaries. Now their descendants are sending missionaries into the regions beyond. According to a 2013 study done by The Center for the Study of Global Christianity, 400,000 missionaries were dispatched into the world in 2010. It is no surprise that the United States ranked first in terms of sheer numbers of missionaries sent (127,000), but it was only ninth in missionaries sent per million church members (614 per million). Brazil came in second among sending countries, dispatching 34,000 missionaries. Palestine came in first in terms sending rate, with over 3,000 missionaries per million church members! France, Spain, and Italy came in third through fifth in the sending of missionaries, with the first two sending 21,000 each and Italy sending 20,000.

Unfortunately, the study does not distinguish between evangelicals and mainline denominationists or even Roman Catholics who were sent, most of whom hold a radically different theological orientation than evangelical missionaries. Assuming that Roman Catholicism makes up about 50% of the whole of surveyed Christendom, then the Roman Catholics likely account for about one half of the missionaries sent. Of those 200,000, France, Spain, and Italy would account for about 30% of the Roman Catholic missionary force, as there is little evangelical presence in any of these countries. Given the number of Renewalists (the term the survey uses to describe some variety of Pentecostals) reckoned in the survey, that number can likely be halved again, leaving a global evangelical missionary force of no more than 100,000.1 Even this number is likely inflated, because many of the evangelical missionaries engage in ministries other than Great Commission evangelism and its entailments. But aside from that, and accounting for a global population outside of the Christian faith at about 6 billion people, this leaves us with one missionary responsible for 60,000 people to evangelize—a staggering number.

Let’s think of the world another way. According to the 2010 Pew Research Center report, “The Global Religious Landscape,” India, the world’s second most populous country, has 94% of the world’s Hindus (973 million). China, the world’s most populous country, has 50% of the world’s Buddhists (244 million) and 72% of the world’s folk religionists (294 million). We haven’t accounted for Muslims, of which 13% (209 million) of the global whole (1.5 billion) live in Indonesia, another 11% (176 million) live in India, with another 10% (167 million) living in Pakistan. Were I so inclined, I could pile-on with more statistics from around the world, but I think that the point has been well made. By the best possible consideration, there are still more than 6 billion people whose eternal destiny looks bleak.

Whatever one thinks of these numbers, one thing is clear: despite 225 years of Protestant missionary advance, the world is still largely unevangelized. I understand that missiologists have more precise ways of marking the unevangelized or underevangelized people groups of the world, and it isn’t my purpose to dispute these definitions. What is of concern is the stark reality that the unfinished task is now larger than it has ever been in the history of humanity. Even with an optimistic assumption that there are 100,000 missionaries of the evangelical variety, the work that God has called Christians to do is still largely undone.

My burden and purpose with these essays is to declare yet again the church’s duty to focus on the unfinished task. Recently, someone I know told of his burden to plant a church in a part of the United States that already has churches on every corner. In the county in which he is working, there are something like 30 Southern Baptist churches already there, likely all of whom preach the gospel and some, no doubt, who do so very well. I am not arguing that no American church planting efforts should be undertaken, for clearly there are places where there are legitimate needs. However, when one considers the world as a whole, there is certainly a far greater need for missionary activity beyond our own borders.

I was once introduced as “the voice of the Holy Spirit for missions.” This is a title I hope fits. As a Christian theologian, I understand that God uses means for the accomplishment of His will—instruments in His hands to do His bidding. Oh, that God would raise up another Herrnhut with its one-hundred-year prayer meeting and a leader like Zinzendorf who led in the sending out of more than 220 missionaries into 10 countries in his lifetime! I could only hope to reach his achievement. There is still much to do to fulfill the Great Commission, and the mandate to do it has yet to be rescinded. We must continue to keep world evangelism before our eyes and continue to thrust out good men and women into the harvest fields waiting for workers. Here am I, Lord, send me!


1Reasons for not including Renewalists among the evangelicals are too numerous to include in this brief essay. Some certainly are, while others, such as Prosperity Gospelers, hardly represent historic evangelicalism.

This essay is by Jeff Straub, Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.

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Living In Uncertain Days

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Washington, D. C.; New York, New York; London, England; Mumbai, India; Nairobi, Kenya; Moscow, Russia; and now Paris, France. What do all of these cities have in common? Well, in the light of the tragedy of last week, the answer is obvious to anyone who pays attention to world events: all of these cities have been sites of international terrorism in the past fifteen years. The threat of terrorism continues to grow. And since September 11, we know it is no longer isolated to “over there.” Those of us old enough to remember know exactly where we were when the airplanes hit the Twin Towers.

However, all of these cities have something else in common for me: I have visited each of them since 9/11. I have toured some of these cities extensively and repeatedly. Now, with the addition of Paris to the list of international cities targeted by terrorists (twice in recent months), the possibility of my being in the middle of an attack is greater than ever. Of course, the United States has an extensive anti-terror team that works diligently to keep these incidents out of our country, but in reality, no one is completely immune from this kind of a threat.

It used to be that most ministry servants had a reasonable expectation of never being in harm’s way. Relatively few western Christians faced any kind of real world trouble. However, in the current situation, all that has changed. Nearly every missionary or Christian worker who travels abroad has to be vigilant. No longer is danger restricted to those who plan to work in closed or restricted access countries. Now ordinary missionaries who simply leave the United States face the very real prospect of being caught up in some international chaos. Terrorism, it seems, is here to stay—until Jesus sets all things right.

How might we process living and serving in this world plagued with random acts of terrorism? Do we need to live in fear and allow these threats to paralyze us from ministry? Should I curtail my international travels lest I leave my wife a widow? Should I avoid London, Paris, New York, Nairobi or Washington? I plan to be back in Nairobi this summer.

Several comforting truths come to mind from Scripture as I ponder this state of affairs. Christians need not fret about living in this world at this time, though they may need to be more vigilant.

God directs our steps. Psalm 37:23 reminds believers that “the steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way.” What a comfort to know that God knows and plans our path, even through this sin-cursed world! Does this mean that all believers will be preserved from all evil in every case? Not at all. But what it does mean is that if God chooses to send a believer along a path where evil happens, there is some divine purpose intended in the journey. Our hearts ache for the city of Paris as it recovers from this wanton act of barbarity. Undoubtedly, there are some there who know the Lord who can point others to Christ during this time. We need to pray that the believers caught up in all of the chaos will shine as lights in the midst of darkness.

God walks with us always, even in the valley of the shadow of death. Psalm 23:4 reminds us that like a shepherd, God goes with us through the valley; He does not abandon us to the valley of darkness. Jesus gave a similar promise to His disciples when He sent them into the world: “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). As I travel globally in the service of the Lord, I “go with God,” via con Dios. I know that He will be there with me, and in His will, I need not fear. For what it’s worth, this has been part of the reality that many missionaries have clung to down through Christian history, as they have left their homelands to go unto parts unknown bearing the banner of the cross.

As Christians, God has appointed our days from beginning to end. How often have we reminded the lost that they all have an appointment to stand before God? The truth is, we all do—lost and saved. I remember a number of years ago, I was visiting with a brother from India in the aftermath of the death of missionary Graham Starnes at the hands of Hindu radicals. The brother had invited me to India, and I wondered about the safety of this friend in India. He looked at me and said rather soberly, “Don’t worry Jeff. If it’s God’s will for you to come and die in India, then you will die in India!” My immediate response, rather humorously, was, “If it’s God’s will for me to come and die in India, then I’m not coming!” Of course, I was joking. Who am I to think I can “cheat death”? I know that my days are a part of the divine plan. In His time, I have an appointment to stand before Him. This does not give me liberty to act foolishly, to tempt God with wanton disregard of the consequences. It does mean that believers are secure in the will of God until such time as God deems our mission complete and calls us home—be that from my easy chair in Plymouth, Minnesota, or riding a subway in some international city while serving the Lord.

Christians must not be needlessly troubled by the terrorism of our world. Yes, things are getting worse and the dangers are coming closer to home. We should heed the warnings to be vigilant. But we should continue to serve the Lord fearlessly as He provides opportunity, trusting that He will direct our steps as He goes with us through our journey. At the appointed time, we will stand in His presence and not one day earlier!

This essay is by Jeff Straub, Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.  It was originally published “In The Nick of Time” on November 20, 2015.

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Influences of Culture

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Now Entering Zambia

A person native to a culture often does not perceive the subtle influence of that culture.  That all changes when a missionary enters his host culture.  Everything is different, he feels, smells, senses all the differences in an overwhelming cacophony of stimuli.

These comments on the Influences of Culture are helpful:

Jesus was speaking about this danger in His comments on leaven (yeast). He warned His disciples to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6) “and the leaven of Herod (Mark 8:15). Leaven symbolizes human imperfection (see Exodus 12:15-20, 13:3-8; Leviticus 2:11; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8). Jesus was warning against mixing imperfect human ideas with God’s truth. The Pharisees had mixed their own religious traditions with the teaching of the Scriptures; the Sadducees were the philosophers of Jewish society; and Herod represented the world system. These three influences—tradition, philosophy, and society—seem inevitably to work their way into and become part of the value system of any Christian community to such an extent that it is possible to be a Christian, but live almost entirely within a pagan value system, and not even perceive it.

This possibility began to dawn on me when we moved to Brazil and changed cultures. Culture is hardly perceived as long as we do not leave the only one we really know. A fish doesn’t perceive the water in which it swims, and neither are we aware of our culture, or the influence it exerts on our thoughts and actions. Often we must step outside of it to understand it—and to understand ourselves! – Living Proof by Jim Peterson, NavPress, 1989, p.100

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Symptoms of Culture Shock

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Duane Elmer gives the following helpful list as symptoms of culture shock in his book, Cross Cultural Connections.  If you are going through culture shock this list may not lessen the pain you are feeling right now, but it can help you identify what is really going on. Symptoms of Culture Shock:

  1. Wanting to withdraw from the local people.
  2. Excessive sleeping
  3. Hanging out with only your friends
  4. Obsessing over missing favorite foods
  5. Craving for news from home
  6. Doubts about being in the new culture
  7. Wishing you were somewhere else
  8. Feeling physically ill (from emotional stress)
  9. Blaming others for your negative feelings
  10. Reluctance to leave the house to socialize
  11. Excessive daydreaming about home
  12. Criticizing local people and their culture
  13. General sense of anxiety and discomfort
  14. Sense of dread, fear, paranoia
  15. Lethargy, depression, lack of vitality or energy
  16. Spending enormous time on the phone or internet with friends back home.

Pray for your missionaries as you send them cross-culturally. They will need it!

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Flying Again – Interview with Gracia Burnham

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God’s grace in the life of missionary Gracia Burnham.  Gracia tells her story ten years after the rescue from Muslim extremists that ended in the death of her husband.

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Annual IBMGlobal Candidate Conference

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This week I have been participating in an annual training conference for cross-cultural missionaries.  I serve as the Africa Director for a mission agency, IBMGlobal.

This year we have missionary candidates heading to South Sudan, Costa Rica, the jungles of Peru, Zambia and Liberia.

I’m always challenged by the interaction with men and women who are committed to taking the gospel around the world.  The workshops are incredibly refreshing.

Mark Vowels, is the missions prof at BJUniversity.  On Monday Mark brought workshops dealing with cross-cultural ministry, strategy and cultural adaptation.

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On Tuesday Dr. Sam Horn helped us with a theological foundation for suffering and trials that will enable us to minster to others in their pain.  Later in the day we discussed managing conflict biblically.

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The Wednesday sessions with Dr Dave Doran focused on principles for evaluating what is acceptable and not acceptable in the host culture and the implications of this on indigenous ministry.

Neal Cushman and Steve Stadtmiller handled the nuts and bolts of ministry in the Thursday sessions: Developing a field strategy, Deputation, Funding & the Family and Ministry.

This has been a great week of fellowship and ministry refreshment.  I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve with this board, the churches sending these missionaries, and the faithful men and women heading out to serve Christ.

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Thomas Ragland’s Lessons For Successful Missionary Work

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The Great Commandment states that we are to “love the Lord… with all your heart, soul, strength and mind.” The Great Commission states that we are to “go into all the world and preach the gospel” to everyone, everywhere.

Thomas Ragland was a missionary many years ago in the land of India. From his experience he shared the following three lessons concerning the work of missions:
1. Of all the qualifications for mission work, and every other work, love is the greatest (I Cor. 13).
2. Of all methods of attaining to a position of usefulness and honor, the only safe one is purging our hearts from worldliness and selfishness (2 Tim. 2.21).
3. Of all plans for ensuring success, the most certain is Christ’s plan – becoming as a corn of wheat, falling into the ground and dying. (Jn. 12.24)

This is what Jesus Christ did over two thousand years ago. He lost His life and his fame. He went around over the world talking to men and women, taking little children up in His arms and ignoring what the world thought was important. He lived His life for others and to accomplish the will of His Father. And in the end, he lost His life!

Though he lost His life, He has found it again in the millions throughout the ages who have received His message and become His followers. Christ was motivated by love. He lived a life of selfless devotion to the Father and to others. He died and in dying offered life to every person in the world today. Jesus then commissioned us – you and me – to go with His love and the message of His life to “everybody, everywhere!”

Will you get involved by praying, giving and going?

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How To Encourage & Discourage Your Missionaries in Five Easy Steps

Five Ways To Encourage Your Missionaries:

  1. Pray for us specifically and let us know about it!  This morning I received emails from two churches asking for specific requests for prayer this week!  Knowing that you are praying is a huge encouragement.
  2. Send a care package or an Amazon gift card for no reason.  It is not so much about the package as it is your personal interest and effort to be part of our life and ministry.  Most of us love to read, and Kindle downloads are great! Give me a gift certificate and a suggested book and you’ve made my day.   The key is demonstrate the care and love you have for us!
  3. Minister to our kids! It is a special blessing to us parents when a church ministers to our kids.  One church provided a get away as a family, another took our family to the Creation Museum when we were on furlough.  Another church organized a day to celebrate the birthday of one of our children – a blessing he will never forget.  It does not have to be big – but it does need to be intentional!
  4. Pastor, get in touch with us personally! It is a blessing to talk with a pastor in a supporting church and it is abundantly clear that he actually knows who you are and can interact with you about what is going on in the ministry – he reads our prayer letters and is informed.  Don’t forget communication is a two-way street!
  5. Increase the amount of our monthly financial support!  Inflation hits the value of the US$ everywhere.  An unexpected raise in support is great news for most missionaries!

Five Ways To Discourage Your Missionaries:

  1. Dump them in prophets chamber and never give them time with the pastor or anyone from the leadership of the church.
  2. Schedule them for a meeting but don’t tell them they are actually a cheap replacement for pulpit supply while the pastor is on vacation.  I’m happy to do pulpit supply, but ask me to do that, don’t let me find out when I arrive.
  3. Pre-determine the amount of offering and make it so small that there is no way it can cover their travel expenses let alone help with the extra costs of traveling with a family.
  4. Make your missionary feel like a second-class minister at your pastor’s fellowships. Perhaps its just me but when I attend conferences and interact with other pastors there is a temptation not to tell them I am a missionary. It seems that identification changes the relationship between other pastors and myself, body language, level of interaction. I guess I would say to those who have such a response – I’m not attending because I am trying to get something from you, I would like to enjoy fellowship with brothers in Christ.
  5. Send your missionary a questionnaire with a form letter after you hire your new pastor.  We wonder if your new pastor is trying to purge the missions program by looking for some minor theological disagreement as justification for dropping our support.  We wonder this because it has happened on more than one occasion over the years. Purging the missions programs is necessary in many churches, but it would be best done after personal interaction with the missionary, and after they return to the States on the next furlough!
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Missiologists: 40 Maps That Explain The World

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Max Fisher at the Washington Post wrote a fascinating article entitled, “40 Maps That Explain The World.”  It is a must read for those interested in missions!  Here is the opening excerpt:

world-map-all-religions-1Maps can be a remarkably powerful tool for understanding the world and how it works, but they show only what you ask them to. So when we saw a post sweeping the Web titled “40 maps they didn’t teach you in school,” one of which happens to be a WorldViews original, I thought we might be able to contribute our own collection. Some of these are pretty nerdy, but I think they’re no less fascinating and easily understandable. A majority are original to this blog (see our full maps coverage here), with others from a variety of sources. I’ve included a link for further reading on close to every one.  Read More…

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Birding In the USA

During takeoff on a Delta flight I thumbed through the inflight magazine out of boredom more than anything else. There was an article on “Birding.”  This is a growing industry where American travel around the country… to look at birds.

The economic impact from this phenomenon is breath-taking. Consider these Birding facts from a 2006 Survey:

  • 12 Billion dollars spent on trips
  • 23 Billion dollars spent on equipment
  • Total: 35.7 billion dollars spent

Wow – there really isn’t a lack of money in our distressed economy!  The real issue is the affections of the heart… Will I spend my resources for personal pleasure or will I invest to fulfill the Great Commission.

(Delta Sky Magazine, Oct 2011 , pg. 60)

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