As we look at the “missions” landscape within the evangelical church, we can see a broad definition being used as we look at outreach around the world. We call anything “missions” that takes us out of our own local environment and that is aimed at meeting the needs of people worse off than ourselves.
We have organizations that focus on medical needs. We have others that seek to provide clean water for people groups in Africa. We have many who put their efforts into feeding the poor both here at home and abroad. Still others seek to build orphanages to house the growing number of children needing a home and family.
I suppose that all of these things have their place. They all seek to show compassion and to meet the needs of those in the midst of physical suffering. I fear though, that we have lost sight of what missions should really be. I fear that we have replaced the spiritual with the physical; the eternal with the temporal; the heavenly with the earthly.
As I have had the opportunity to be involved with short-term missions over the last several years, I have been forced to reevaluate my own philosophy of missions. It all became clear to me several years ago while on one of these trips. Here is my story:
As I stepped off of the airplane in Kathmandu, Nepal, the reality of what I was going be experiencing became very real very quickly. The air was filled with the stench of burning human flesh and hair. The air was filled with smoke from the cremation fires that were burning. You had to step over human waste in the streets and there were open sewers along the streets. People who had been disfigured by terrible diseases begged on the streets. The water was undrinkable and the food had to be cooked “well”.
When I first arrived, the excitement of being in a new place and meeting new people caused me to not consider too much all that was around me or to consider the ministry implications. By the time my seven week trip was over, my mission philosophy had been set in stone.
We were conducting a short-term pastor training school. For six weeks, men from the United States came over and taught these men so that they might be better prepared for the ministry. At the end of this time, I was left alone with the locals to go to visit the places where churches were to be planted. Each day we would travel to a village where these men would be ministering. On the last day, the decision was made that the last village to be visited was too far and the terrain was too rough for us to get there in a timely fashion. Instead, we decided to visit this pastor’s home village.
We drove to spot along the river. You could look across the river and in the distance you could make out the thatched and tin roofs of the houses in the village two miles away. It was the dry season so we were able to wade across the river and work our way to the village. As we got closer, I began to notice a change. There were beautiful crops growing in the dry river bed. Men were hard at work in the fields. There was no more garbage or human waste in the streets. The air was clear and there were no more cremation fires.
We were invited to sit in the shade on the porch of one of the houses. You could see that the dirt roads were clean. The houses were kept very well even with their dirt floors. There was a completely different feeling about this village.
Not trying to be too mystical, as I sat on the porch and the clean breeze from the river blew across my face, it was as though the Spirit of God was in that place. It was like we had stepped out of the darkness and had stepped into the light. It made me want to weep.
The explanation came when one of the locals shared with me the history of the village. He told how the founders of this village had come to settle there after being persecuted and driven from their land for being Christians in a Hindu land. This had taken place two generations before. It had made such a difference.
At that moment it dawned on me. The Gospel had made all the difference.
Now I do not believe for a moment that everyone in that little society was a true believer. But, I do believe that the Gospel had made such an impact that every area of that society was influenced by it.
My conclusion is this;
If you want the people to have clean water, preach the Gospel.
If you want the people to have more food, preach Gospel.
If you want the people to develop medical care, preach the Gospel.
If you want to have clean streets preach the Gospel.
If you want to stop the spread of AIDS, preach the Gospel.
If you want to stop abortion, preach the Gospel.
If you want to curb the spread of the homosexual agenda, preach the Gospel.
And the list could go on.
You may ask how I can come to this conclusion. It is because believers believe in doing all things well and unto the Lord. Believers believe in working with their hand and providing for their families. Believers believe in the sanctity of human life. Believers believe in sexual purity before marriage and fidelity in marriage. Believers believe homosexuality is a sin. Believers believe that Christ is the only way.
When the Gospel is preached and hearts are changed, it affects every aspect of the society.
If our projects do not have the Gospel as its purpose and motivation, it should not be called missions.
Should these other things be left undone? That question I cannot answer. But one thing I do know…..
”And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Mt.28