Feature

Missions Lost

How does your church respond to the Great Commission?

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Our world is changing, and out of necessity, the face of missions is changing. But the urgency of reaching the lost for Christ has never changed. Nor has our responsibility of keeping that vision alive within the church.

What is the mission condition of your church? Recognizing that believers have a responsibility to obey Christ’s command “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them . . . and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19–20) has always been an Alliance distinctive. So, why are there shortfalls in giving to the Great Commission Fund? Why have Wednesday night prayer meetings dwindled to a few believers? Perhaps it is because we no longer have a vision of the lost. As a result, opportunities to reach them are slipping by.

Jesus said to the church in Sardis, “‘I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God’” (Rev. 3:1–2). While the Church is sleeping, millions are dying without Christ. Our churches need to reawaken and fulfill the Great Commission.

Lost Priority

In 1889 Rev. Gratton Guiness of London, England, visited the United States, and spoke in a series of Bible conferences. Touched by his message of those who “have perished from the earth, gone into a dark and dread eternity, without ever having heard of Him who died and rose that man might live,” a small party of nine prepared to go Sierra Leone, on the west coast of Africa (_The Christian Alliance and Missionary Weekly_, February 28, 1890).

Their priority was not comfort. It was not preserving their possessions, or even their own lives. Their priority was to reach those who were perishing without Christ. Their dedication was tested as one after another succumbed to malaria. They buried a third of their party within the first month in Sierra Leone, with others dying in the months that followed. Other missionaries joined the remaining members of the party, and their numbers also dwindled.

Did they ever lose sight of their priority? Did they ever want to give up? Following the death of his wife to malaria, one man wrote “I praise God for the way He led me to choose that field. I had little expectation of living out the first year. Why I did, when five of my companions fell, God alone knows. While He has work for me, I want to be patient and labor on. There is nothing on earth that can give as rich and deep a joy as fellowship with Christ in His sufferings” (_The Christian Alliance and Foreign Missionary Weekly_, October 19, 1894).

Lost Vision

Missionary graves began to dot the hillsides of Sierra Leone, and by the early 1900s supporters of missions in West Africa began to question the wisdom of sending more workers. By 1907 there were more missionary graves than living missionaries in West Africa. Alliance founder A. B. Simpson gave the workers the opportunity to withdraw, but their vision was still alive.

At the Missionary Training Institute (now Nyack College, Nyack, N.Y.), students began to pray for the surviving work, and one by one, members of what was known as the African Band (later known as the African Prayer Band) volunteered to take the place of those Christian workers who had fallen. On the home front, the vision was restored, and the work pressed on. In spite of continued trials and tears, workers clung to the vision (_The Christian and Missionary Alliance Weekly_, January 15, 1910).

In 1921 at a field conference in Sierra Leone, a missionary placed his thumb on a map in the area in which missionary work had been concentrated. The vast area of the interior that could not even begin to be covered by his hand represented the rest of West Africa, yet unreached for Christ. The vision now included a line of “spiritual lighthouses” that reached all the way to Timbuktu.

Lost Opportunity

While pioneer Alliance missionaries in West Africa were pressing on to Timbuktu, dwellers of the nearby rain forests of the Ivory Coast were waiting for “the man with the Book.” Earlier, in 1912, a lay pastor from Liberia answered God’s call to evangelize those in the neighboring country. Traveling along the coast, thousands responded to his preaching, alarming the French government, which was afraid of a movement that might overthrow them. In 1916, the government expelled him. But before the preacher left, he was allowed to address his followers one more time, urging them to watch and wait for the “man with the Book,” who would come to teach them.

Walter Arnold, who went to the Ivory Coast in 1936, wrote, “What hunger for the gospel! They said they had waited for years for us to come. One with tears in his eyes said, ‘Why have you neglected us so long? Why have you not cared for us?’ For years they had waited for a teacher to come” (_Missionary Trials_ by W. G. Lewis, 1937).

In the June 21, 1989, issue of Alliance Life, Mabel Stadsklev told of a similar incident when her husband and a national pastor visited a village in the rain forest. An elderly man greeted him with the words, “You have come at last! Where have you been for these many years?” After two days and nights of teaching, Mr. Stadsklev prepared to leave. The old man asked, “Have you finished telling all of the stories?” The missionary regretfully said no but that he would return later to tell them more. The old man said, “I will be dead by then.”

He asked the missionary to go with him to a cemetery. He pointed to the graves one by one. “Where have you been for these many years?” he asked. “So many waited. So many have died. Where have you been?” When Mr. Stadsklev returned home, he buried his head in his hands and wept, repeating the words: “Where have you been? Where have you been? So many have died waiting to hear the story!”

The Job Is Not Done

As Joe Ost, a veteran missionary to the Ivory Coast, prepared to retire, he wrote about his yearning for the lost: “As I drove over that jungle road for the first time, I was surprised to see seven villages that I had never seen before. Did you ever see an unevangelized Baoule village basking in the light of the tropical moon? Did you ever know of the holy anointing and feel the urge to stay and tell them the story? I felt the old exciting thrill and the urge to stay longer. But we have to leave. I can go home and tell young people there is still a lifetime of challenge awaiting them in the Ivory Coast.”

Today our world needs to hear the message of Christ. Has your church taken advantage of every opportunity to respond to the lost? They are all around us.

“The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2). Will Jesus find us praying, giving, going or sending and supporting His work? Or will we be absorbed in our own concerns, comfort, financial security and frantic pace of life?

It is time for the sleeping church to awaken and respond to the challenge. Let us recapture His vision as our own, making the most of every opportunity before it is too late. Do the words echo in your ears as they do in mine? So many waited. So many have died. Where have you been?

Past Alliance Life Issues

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