Review: A Company of Heroes

Tim Keesee, Crossway, 2019, 288 pages, 4 of 5 stars

Summary: poetic journal entries of known and unknown missionaries and their stories

Below is my endorsement of Tim Keesee’s excellent recent work:

“Peopling that great heavenly choir is among the missionary’s greatest motivations. Tim Keesee compels us to sit at the feet of this great cloud of witnesses by presenting a kaleidoscope of missionary lives. From mosques to Mormons―from first world to third―he urges us to lock shields with the great soldiers and choristers of the past and present. In A Company of Heroes, Keesee writes brilliantly as a reporter and lover of gospel advance.”

Keesee is the founder of Frontline Missions International, an organization which works to spread the gospel to the least reached places in the world. He also produces the missionary documentary series Dispatches from the Front. While traveling around the world, he doesn’t fly at tree top level. He lives and breathes with the people–retelling their stories of trial and triumph.

Keesee is not only a gifted writer but seems to put great value on friendship and building relationships. He esteems what the St. Andrews Seven called “earnest conversation.” Much of what he chronicles are intimate and lively conversations.

Company covers twenty different countries and explores missionaries both time-worn (Georgi Vins, William Carey ) and modern (JD Crowley), well-known (Amy Carmichael) and obscure (Mei Li). I was edified by each chapter, especially chapter 15 “The Broken Sword.” It covers missionaries in Indonesia and explores the nature of risk and the aspect of taking handicapped children to the mission field.

The Dangers of Western Churches Supporting Foreign Pastors

Why should a church support an American missionary family at forty, sixty, eighty or even a hundred thousand dollars per year when a national pastor–who already knows the culture and language–can live on just a small fraction of that?

Among the chief proponents of foreign support for national pastors is KP Yohannan and his ministry Gospel for Asia (GFA). In his best-selling book Revolution in World Missions Yohannan writes: “The primary role for Westerners now should be to support efforts of indigenous missions works through financial aid…” (147). He bemoans the untold millions of dollars being wasted on Western missionaries and structures.

On the surface, supporting foreign nationals appears to be the cheapest, most efficient way for the West to use their missionary funds. Beneath the veneer of this plea, however, are a number of dangers that may make this method more destructive in the long run.

1. It discourages personal responsibility.

When a Chinese cow plows a Chinese field, it is not the responsibility of the French to give it the feed bag (1Tm. 5:18). When a Zambian pastor shepherds a Zambian congregation, it is not the duty of Brazilians to support him (5:17). Except for extreme circumstances (like funds for famine relief, Ac. 11:27-30), it is a sign of an unhealthy church that expects others to support the pastor that labors for them in preaching and teaching. Continue reading

John Paton Roundup

John G. Paton was one of the great missionaries to the New Hebrides Islands in the South Pacific. He labored during the Great Century of Missions at the same time as Adoniram Judson, William Carey and Hudson Taylor. His colleagues on the islands are lesser known because (1) many of them were killed and (2) those who survived were unable to publish an account as vivid and winsome  as Paton.

Improving upon Paton’s Autobiography is impossible–like trying to find an English word that rhymes with silver. Every page is special and deserves to be read by Dad at family devotions, missionaries before assailing the field, pastors in need of anecdotes, and kids in search of adventure.

But for those who cannot imagine reading a 500-page hardback published over a hundred years ago, consider my book on Paton’s life published by Banner of Truth.

Below are a few radio interviews I’ve had over the past year on the life of Paton. The programs cover Paton’s exploits and philosophy of ministry as well as some insight into our ministry here in South Africa.

  1. VCY America Radio
  2. Reaching and Teaching Podcast
  3. Janet Mefferd Radio

For some brief reviews of the book, check out Tim Challies and World Magazine.

Video: Reformation Day Celebration in Rural South Africa

As many churches around the world celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation (October 31, 1517), our church members gathered to lift their voices in gratitude for the Five Solas: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria. 

We translated the Reformation Hymn (© Chris Anderson/Bob Kauflin) into Tsonga, sang it as a choir and congregation, observed its application in Acts 19 and capped it off with baptisms of new believers from Valdezia and River Plaats.

Continue reading

Missionary Minds: Porchers in Ghana

Missionary Minds is a series of exchanges with missionaries around the world.

Joel Porcher, his wife Deanna and their four small children minister in Ghana, West Africa. They are in the midst of a church plant started by a missionary friend who is now stateside. The work is called Anchor Baptist Church, which is located in a village community just outside Cape Coast, Ghana. Continue reading

Missions Myths: Missionaries are Mavericks

Samuel Maverick (1803-1870) was a Texas lawyer so preoccupied in his business that he failed to brand his cattle. His neighbors soon dubbed his large herd of stray, unbranded calves “mavericks” and in time the term came to mean an independently minded person.

This is not a picture of St. Paul

To many, this is the perfect description of a missionary. He’s an individualist, a free spirit, and a dissenter, roaming the foreign fields without the branding of any higher authority save God himself. Off he goes to distant lands, a cowboy throwing caution to the wind—a kamikaze itching to make his mark.

The heroes adorning his wall are men like David Livingston—pioneer explorer to Africa—and Robert Morrison, the father of Protestant missions in China who sailed for the Orient alone. And couldn’t one add St. Paul to this list, for it was the apostle who wished bachelorhood upon everyone (1Co. 7:7)? Continue reading

Four Cautions for the Short-Termer’s Swag

screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-3-28-03-pmShort-term missionaries are as popular as ever these days. Like Abraham’s descendants, they are too many to count. Short-term missions (STMs) has its advantages. I’ve counted myself among their rank many times and I may not even be a full-time missionary today had it not been for those early short-term trips.

But there is a dangerous side that churches would do well to spend more time thinking about.

Let us address just one: STMs, by their very nature, appeal to fallen humanity’s infatuation with the new. If familiarity breeds contempt, the new and avant-garde breeds respect and esteem. Continue reading

Missionary Minds: Shipe in Tanzania

Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 1.14.17 PMAaron Shipe, his wife Nicole, and their seven children are missionaries in Tanzania where they are church planting in the small village of Mapea. Though the church consists of over 15 tribes, their primary focus is to contact the lesser-reached tribe of the Datooga. For more, visit their blog.

  1. Finish the sentence: Do not become a missionary if ____. You do not have a wife who is fully dedicated to the ministry.
  2. What Scripture passage(s) is most comforting to you amidst the difficulties in missionary life? Hebrews 12:1-4 has been a consistent help to me as I consider the sufferings of Christ and the pattern He laid for me. My struggles have not been to the point of bloodshed. I may be mocked, harassed, robbed and deceived, but I have not suffered as my Savior or as other Christians throughout history. These verses are telling me to toughen up, stop looking at myself, and focus on my Savior.
  3. What are the most common errors that missionaries make? Many missionaries hurt the ministry with their wealth. Well-intentioned generosity can lead to false disciples.
  4. The most comical mistake I ever made is when ______. I was talking with college students and recounted the two years my brother and I lived together in college (chuo). Unknowingly I told them we had lived together for two years in a bathroom (choo). Their unbridled laughter clued me into my mistake. When I was preaching on the judgment of God, I inadvertently mispronounced the word judgment and spoke instead about female reproductive organs. Embarrassing!
  5. What role does the foreign language play in your ministry? Without Swahili, there is no ministry here in Tanzania. There are no English speakers in my entire church nor a single person even proficient in English in our surrounding villages. Tanzania has over 120 tribes and therefore over 120 languages. In Tanzania, Swahili is king.Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 1.14.39 PM
  6. How has missions changed the most over the past 50 years? The world has become much smaller because of the expansion of technology and the improvement of transportation. As a result, many missionaries come in for short stints and throw money after missions. They start churches and build buildings but their disciples are few. Missions is becoming more focused on outward humanitarian projects and “sound bites” and less geared toward the hard, often discouraging work of disciple making.
  7. What kind of dangers do missionaries face that other ministers do not? Spiritually, the lack of oversight often breeds laziness. Physically, they face muggings, traffic accidents due to chaotic road conditions, and sicknesses like malaria, TB, and meningitis. There are also the emotional/relational dangers of living in a foreign culture. Many marriages are tried significantly by culture shock and the challenges of living far from friends and family.
  8. What is the most misunderstood thing about you and/or your ministry? True intimate friendships with Tanzanians are very difficult because of the cultural/economic/educational differences. We have many friends, but the barriers to intimate friendship are many.
  9. If we visited you, what is the place we would have to see? Ministry wise, the Sunday worship service with the believers in Mapea. From a tourist point of view, you would need to see the Tarangire and watch the animals come to the river in the evening.
  10. What is the best advice you have ever received? God is looking for faithful men not famous men.

Missionary Minds: Meyers in South Africa

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 6.54.58 PMSeth Meyers lives with his wife and five children in Louis Trichardt, South Africa where he is church planting among the Tsonga people.

  1. Finish the sentence: Do not become a missionary if ____. You do not enjoy and see that you have some ability with language.
  2. What are the most common errors that missionaries make?
    1. They choose to work among cultures that have more light than the least-reached places.
    2. They do not devote themselves to language mastery.
    3. They do not pray as if it is their lifeline in a war.
    4. They may be gullible about the nature and power of culture as a tool in Satan’s hand to bind men with a greater fastness in darkness.
    5. They are hasty to accept professions of faith without evidence of repentance.
    6. They devote their time to other labors rather than churchplanting.
    7. They raise more support than the average national pastor assuming that they must continue an American standard of living.
    8. They don’t actively look for a way to get around the 40-churches model of deputation that requires years to raise support and a lengthy furlough.
    9. They don’t commonly cultivate a love for theology and books.
    10. They are content with a superficial knowledge of Christ and His Spirit.
  3. What missionaries (past or present) have been most influential on you? William Carey for his tireless work ethic and broad scope (evangelism, teaching, translation, and botany). John Paton for his absolute devotion to his Savior and the lost. Don Richardson (author of Peace Child), for giving me zeal while in college to reach the least-reached. Paul Schlehlein for his fellowship in all the details of life, ministry, and theology
  1. What Scripture passage(s) is most comforting to you amidst the difficulties in missionary life? Second Timothy 2:10, “I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.” Revelation 5:9, “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.’”
  2. How has missions changed the most over the past 50 years? Globalization has produced more of a universal culture. Among other fruits, this brought American revivalism including crusades, instant conversions, speakers, synthesized music, and celebrities even to the rural villages.
  3. What kind of dangers do missionaries face that other ministers do not? (1) Laziness and inefficiency since they have no one to watch them. (2) Cynicism since missionaries often come from a culture that has had deeper exposure to the gospel. (3) Superficial answers to problems like poverty. (4) Increased crime or persecution.
  4. The most comical mistake I ever made is when ______. I told a group of baptismal candidates from three different villages in Tsonga that they will hold their noses, I will place them in the water, they will “get wet,” and they will come out. But by adding one extra syllable to the verb for to be wet, I told them to relieve themselves.
  5. What is the best book you’ve read on missions? William Carey by S. Pearce Carey.
  6. Who is on your Mt. Rushmore of missionaries? The Swiss missionaries who translated the Bible into Tsonga. The Welsh missionaries who translated the Bible and evangelized in Madagascar in the early 1800’s.
  7. What is the best advice you have ever received? “Where’d you learn to preach like that?” A question not meant as a compliment by a man who heard me preach in 2002. It produced a crisis that led me to expositional preaching.

Missionary Minds: Wuori in Ecuador

P1030673Steve Wuori, his wife Veronica and their three children minister in Ecuador. Saved at 27, he entered seminary at 28, and at 31—one month after graduation—arrived on the mission field. His tasks include church planting, education, jail ministry, and evangelism in the Amazon jungle. He has worked with Latinos but mostly with Kichwa and Shuar Indians.

  1. Who or what played the greatest role in your call to missions? When I first arrived at seminary I was averse to becoming a pastor. Then God gave me a desire to preach. Then He gave me a desire for missions. I thought that the US had received the Gospel and was full of churches. Other places have not received the Gospel and are without churches. As Paul wrote in Romans 15:20, “Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation.” I had studied Spanish for 7 years in high school and college and saw this as God preparing me for a work even while I was an unbeliever. Shadow of the Almighty had the most direct impact regarding where my place of service would be.
  2. What are the most common errors that missionaries make? Any missionary who is not planting reproducing churches through discipleship, training pastors, and allowing the congregants to do their own work including establishing their own buildings is making a mistake. Where I minister, missionaries will go to a place, evangelize for a few days, and then leave someone with almost no biblical knowledge as the “leader” of the “church.” They return sporadically to visit one of their numerous church plants. What would our heroes of yesteryear say about this?
  3. What Scripture passage(s) is most comforting to you amidst the difficulties in missionary life? With what may be called my “lack of success”, I look to the Old Testament saints who were also called to preach where the people would not heed their call to repentance: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Noah, Lot.
  4. What adventurous tale in your current context can you tell us? Our arrival in the jungle was met with a town meeting. We were summoned and threatened with stoning and the burning of our home if we did not immediately leave. I pulled out the machete for the first time and cut a path through the thick jungle brush for my wife to flee if they came in the night. We prayed and trusted in God. I believed it was His calling for me to remain in that place. The Indians never attacked.
  5. What kind of dangers do missionaries face that other ministers do not? Death threats, disease, continual sickness due to poor drinking water and unsanitary living conditions, animal attacks, witchcraft.
  6. What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first arrived? (1) Not to build a church with my own money or mission funds. (2) The Indians hatred of the white man. (3) That I would not be immune to the lack of success in planting churches in the jungle.
  7. What is the most misunderstood thing about you and/or your ministry? I’d like to change the word from “misunderstood” to “unknown” or “incomprehensible.” The deep-seated Indian hatred of the white man consumes so many of them.
  8. What missionaries (past or present) have been most influential on you? Jim Elliot, John Paton, Hudson Taylor, Paul Schlehlein
  9. What is the best advice you have ever received? If there is anything else you can do, do it, because when you are suffering only your call will get you through.
  10. The biggest blind spot Western churches have in relation to missions is _______. In many places where missionaries are located, there is no need for them. Most cities throughout the world are very similar to US cities in that they are full of churches. Missionaries should go to the places where the Gospel is not being preached, or establish pastoral training centers in the already evangelized areas. Of course in some parts of the world there is a great need for orphanages and other such missionary work.

Missionary Minds: McPhail in Cambodia

Missionary Minds is a series of ten-question exchanges with missionaries around the world.

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 4.34.16 PMForrest McPhail and his family have been involved in church planting and evangelism in Cambodia for most of 15 years. He has worked with missionaries from several different missions in several locations, including the capital city of Phnom Penh, the rural provincial capitals of Pursat and Samraong, and most recently, the city of Siem Reap. Presently, he is seeking ways to assist other missionaries, particularly those laboring in Cambodia.

  1. Finish the sentence: Do not become a missionary if ____. You think it is the height of spirituality; you think it the greatest way for Christians to prove their devotion to Christ; you are not primarily concerned with evangelism and being a cross-cultural disciple maker; you are not willing to make long-term sacrifices
  2. What is the most misunderstood thing about you and/or your ministry? People fail to understand the spiritual pressures and oppression faced on the mission field. They only think of missions in practical categories. People tend to think that missionaries do not need spiritual accountability, and rarely offer any. I have literally asked maybe five pastors over the years to provide some kind of regular spiritual accountability for me, and none have done so.
  3. What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first arrived? Almost everything I know now I did not know when I first arrived! That is one reason why I wrote my book!
  4. Who or what played the greatest role in your call to missions? Pastors that took my burden for Gospel ministry seriously when I was in junior high and high school made a huge impact on me. When it came to missions, God used missionaries serving in Thailand (Jim Hayes) and Cambodia (J.D. Crowley) to direct us to where to serve in cross-cultural missions.
  5. What role does the foreign language play in your ministry? Absolute necessity for witness and discipleship. Cambodians are increasingly studying English, but very few speak English well enough to understand the Gospel and its truths without the use of their own language, Khmer. English teaching, or allowing Cambodians to practice their English on you, can be an effective means of building relationships in the community—just don’t do it in your church meeting place!
  6. How has missions changed the most over the past 50 years? The movement of peoples, diasporas, and the ease of travel and access to many places has added whole new dimensions. There is a need to cooperate more and realize that we are sowing and watering in conjunction with others like never before. Lone missionaries tackling large areas are no longer the need many places today.
  7. What kind of dangers do missionaries face that other ministers do not? Greater pressure to perform; the burden of beginning ministry in darker places of the world; genuine spiritual fellowship and accountability options are limited; it is easier to get caught in narrow-mindedness if missionaries are not actively fellowshipping with others; sin problems and ministry deficiencies and problems can go undetected much more easily; temptation to be in a state of continual doubt over what you are to do because you are solely in charge of your daily life and ministry.
  8. What are the most common errors that missionaries make? Trusting in the power of money over the power of the Gospel; trusting the methods and giftedness over the power of the Holy Spirit; lacking faith in what the Gospel can do, and what it is doing, through them; counting success according to visible and measureable attainments; frustration at God when He does not work according to our ambitions or timetable; failing to take prayer supporters seriously.
  9. What is the best book you’ve read on missions? Let the Nations Be Glad (Piper); The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches (Nevius); Paul’s Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours (Plummer and Terry); Building on Firm Foundations (McIlwain); Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? (Allen); The Indigenous Church (Hodges); We are Not the Hero (Johnson)
  10. If we visited you, what is the place we would have to see? Angkor Wat and its many temples are among the World Heritage sites and are one of the few remaining wonders of the ancient world still standing. In the last twenty years, Angkor Wat and its temples, located in Siem Reap, have become one of the hottest tourist destinations in the world. They are monuments to the world system apart from God in every way, and will get you stirred up to preach the Gospel!

Carey’s Creed: The Eleven Laws of Missions

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 1.45.52 PMMany know the famous Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards. But how about those of William Carey?

On October 7, 1805, nine missionaries of the Baptist Missionary Society, including the famous Serampore Trio of William Carey, William Ward, and Joshua Marshman, signed a covenant in Serampore, India. This declaration of missionary strategy would serve as a cornerstone document for future generations.

The missionaries lived together and essentially gave up personal property. In the covenant they wrote: “No private family ever enjoyed a greater portion of happiness, even in the most prosperous gale of worldly prosperity, than we have done since we resolved to have all things in common.” Continue reading

Did St. Paul the Missionary Contextualize?

In Galatians, the Judaizers were willing to accept only part of the message and in the end got full condemnation. They believed in justification by faith, only not by faith alone. In Islam, Muslims accept Jesus as Messiah, only not as the Messiah who is Creator of the universe and Savior of the world.

Insiders and C5 proponents believe that the way to bridge the gap is by blending in to the community and in doing so softening the vast differences between Christianity and Islam. Paul’s perspective from Galatians can help us here.

First, Paul’s gospel was not palatable to the unconverted. His goal was not to tickle the ears but teach the evangel. “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10).

Apparently some were accusing Paul of being a flatterer, acting like a flag that flies in the direction of public opinion. Anathematizing to hell anyone who twists the gospel (Gal. 1:8-9) quickly put an end to this farce. Paul did not remove the rough edges or offense from the gospel. “But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed” (Gal. 5:11).

Second, the only times Paul “contextualized” with his hearers is when he made life more difficult for himself, not easier. Hence, the “all things to all men” passages in 1 Corinthians 9. Any definition of contextualization that made it easier to be a follower or proclaimer of Jesus was foreign to Paul. John MacArthur wrote:

[Paul] was not advocating a marketing plan. He was not making a plea for ‘contextualization.’ He was not suggesting that the message be made more acceptable….He was calling for self-denial and sacrifice for the sake of proclaiming the unadulterated truth to those who do not know Christ.

In conclusion, our recent analysis of the Insider and C5 Movements demonstrates they misappropriate contextualization to Muslims by softening the theological differences between Islam and Christianity and discouraging suffering for Christ.

All Nations Sing for Joy

This missions anthem may be sung to the tune of “Now Thank We All our God”

  1. All nations sing for joy, each tribe and tongue and kingdom.

Like clouds infused with rain, pour all thy praise upon Him.

The gospel now unfurled, glad servants He shall send.

To every land and realm, And then shall come the end.

  1. ­ All churches fast and pray, the Spirit bids thee sending

An army full of hope, a multitude unending.

Adorn the hills with praise, with feet arrayed in truth

Proclaim the Treasure hid and gates of hell subdued.

  1. All martyrs to be slain, your blood at Satan’s bidding

Lift high the victor’s hymn, for Jesus goes on winning.

God’s sheep held in contempt, the world intent to kill.

The same your Lord endured, now His afflictions fill.

  1. All choristers confess, Jesus the Lamb unblemished

Unsullied blood vast shed, for sinners that would perish.

This psalm of thanks a ray, His work of grace the sun

For now and evermore, the song has just begun.

Interacting With the Insiders

The C-Spectrum is a practical tool some missionaries use to describe six types of Christian communities found in Muslim contexts. It is a coded scheme devised to see how contextualized one can become within Islam, even to the point of being considered a Muslim.

On the far left is C1, a traditional church that uses outward elements foreign to Muslim culture and considered Christian by both Christians and Muslims. On the far right is C6, supposed secret followers of Jesus but still considered Muslim by the Islamic community. Think of a C5 believer as one that makes a Muslim pause and tilt his head.

John Travis (a pseudonym) has written assiduously on this matter and is among the greatest proponents of what missiologists call the Insider Movement, a method of evangelizing Muslims that allows them to remain as active participants of Islam. Below is a summary of some C5 ideology.

Insiders Believe Religious Affiliation Doesn’t Matter

In his article, “Must all Muslims Leave Islam to Follow Jesus”, Travis tells of a question his daughter brought to him: “Daddy, can a Muslim go to heaven?”

I responded with an Acts 15:11-type ‘yes’: If a Muslim has accepted Isa (Jesus) the Messiah as Savior and Lord, he or she is saved, just as we are. We affirmed that people are saved by faith in Christ, not by religious affiliation. Muslim followers of Christ (i.e., C5 believers) are our brothers and sisters in the Lord, even though they do not change religions.

Let us keep our eye on the ball. No one is arguing against the opportunity that even the worst of sinners have for salvation. Those of any false religion will be granted eternal life based on the merits of Christ. But this girl’s question addressed the results of such a supposed conversion.

Suppose his daughter asked a similar question? “Daddy, if a Buddhist, atheist, or Satanist has accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord, can he be saved and not leave his religion?” If Travis answers yes, then he has no problem with Christians dabbling in the occult and denying God’s existence. If he answers no, then I wonder why a Satanist must leave his place of worship but a Muslim must not. This brings us to the crux of the issue.

Continue reading

Contextualization and Missions

The C-Spectrum in Muslim missions, the Insider Movements and how this touches evangelism in the Islamic community has been a much debated issue for years.

My experience with Muslims through formal debates, family meals, and one-on-one discussions have led me to believe that they are all too happy—mostly in an effort to gain leverage— to couch their theology in ambiguous Christian terms.

They are glad to espouse their love for Jesus and their willingness to follow him, but less reluctant to explain exactly what this means. The result is that Christians who do not know any better have a much more cozy perspective of Islam. What is worse, authors of the Insider Movement who do know better continue to encourage this kind of talk.

Contextualization simply means to act in such a way that one’s context would approve. In some ways this is good. A missionary seeking to reach the Tsongas of Mozambique, for example, should speak Tsonga, eat Tsonga food, and learn Tsonga culture. But some take contextualization further.

Exactly how much further has spurred endless disagreement. Missionaries have created vast systems (which we shall see in tomorrow’s post) to determine exactly how far a missionary can contextualize. In tomorrow’s post, we will address these structures and determine if they are biblical.

Three Theses on Poverty

With so much talk these days about social ministry, my thoughts turned there again after reading chapter seven in Theology and Practice in Mission entitled “The Gospel and Social Responsibility” by Sean Cordell. I walked away from the book with at least three conclusions about poverty.

1. Christians should know that the causes of poverty are vast and often moral.

Many who speak of poverty issues today are only concerned that someone is poor, rarely wondering why they are that way. At least Cordell tries on page 95, but he could have given more. He lists natural disasters, laziness, and oppression as causes but understates how much Scripture talks about sin as the source of poverty. Does this chapter and other popular evangelical books like When Helping Hurts just not know about these other passages? Are they naïve to the world’s depravity? Or are they unknowingly parroting today’s party line that poverty is always the result of something outside of us and not from within?

This grieves me because after living within a poor rural African village for eight years my conclusion is that most of the poverty stems from an unbiblical worldview. If my subjective conclusion did not jive with objective Scripture, I would reconsider. Such is not the case. Cordell briefly mentions laziness as a cause of poverty but includes no Scripture references. But the sheer number of passages warning us that laziness is the cause of poverty (Pr. 10:4; 20:4, 13; 24:30-34; Ecc. 4:5), hunger (Prov. 13:4; 19:15; 20:4; 21:25; 2 Thess. 3:10), ruin (Ecc. 10:18), and misery (Ecc. 4:5) should help us conclude that this is a major cause of poverty, not just one of several. Cordell implies this by listing laziness alongside crop failure, a cause of which Scripture rarely speaks.

Scripture in fact tells us that it is a sin to feed the lazy (2 Thess. 3:10). “But what if they starve?” Scripture has already thought of that and warns us not to be duped. “A worker’s appetite works for him; his mouth urges him on” (Pr. 16:26). Today’s corrupt government systems (and dare I say corrupt church practices) want to rescue lazy people from their poverty by giving them foreign aid, child grants, and handouts and by doing this they dull the pain that God uses to motivate them toward escape. Scripture says the shiftless man goes hungry (Pr. 19:15). The West says the shiftless man goes on welfare.

But laziness is just one of many poverty inducing sins; there is much that could be said of stubborn (Ps. 106:13-15) and prideful hearts (Pr. 13:18). How shocked would you be if an evangelical book said that many people are poor because of self-indulgence? “Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man” (Pr. 21:17).

2. Be careful not to define the poor to broadly.

Cordell may have done this in Matthew 25. He overreached when he says “Jesus made it clear that those who are followers of Christ must preach the good news and meet the needs of the poor as well.” (97) His first proof text is Matthew 25, where those who feed and clothe the poor actually do this to Christ (vv. 35-40) and those who neglect this neglect Christ (vv. 41-42). But are the poor in this passage the world’s poor or poor Christians?

The context points to the latter; Jesus speaks of his “brothers” (v.40). This fits in nicely with Galatians 6:10 where we learn that our first priority is toward other believes.

3. It is not unchristian for believing donors to vet those in need of donations.

While wealthy Christians today are made to feel cold and harsh if they set up criteria for those receiving aid, this is exactly what Paul told the early church to do. Needy widows did not get financial help carte blanche. According to 1 Timothy 5, a widow had to be a believer, a church member, and at least sixty years of age.

Martin Meredith in The Fate of Africa entitled one of his chapters “The Lost Decade” because of Africa’s steep economic decline in the 1980’s. In fact, in the 80’s and 90’s alone, Africa received more than $200 billion in foreign aid but was none the richer in the end. Part of the reason was due to corruption, as foreign money slid easily from the rich West into the coffers of unvetted, unrighteous scoundrels. The level of corruption was so noticeable, one Kenyan observed:

We hoped [corruption] would not be rammed in our faces. But it has: evidently the practitioners now in government have the arrogance, greed and perhaps a sense of panic to lead them to eat like gluttons. They may expect we shall not see, or will forgive them, a bit of gluttony because they profess to like Oxfam lunches. But they can hardly expect us not to care when their glutton causes them to vomit all over our shoes.

 

If a secular author like Meredith can see this, why not the Christians? Why is so little said about the unrighteous causes of poverty and the steps Christians must take in finding the root of physical paucity?

Answering Some African Ethical Dilemmas

A few weeks back I sent out an update letter regarding ten ethical dilemmas we are facing.  Here’s how I would answer them.

  1. On adulterous church members living as neighbors – Though I strongly encouraged Sally to find living quarters elsewhere, her deep poverty would not allow this. She lives with her two small children in a 8’ x 12’ room on about $100 a month. I then implored her to break off all forms of communication with Ruth’s husband, not enter Ruth’s yard, and follow the biblical rules of seeking forgiveness. Its been difficult, but she has followed this advice and comes faithfully to church every Sunday.
  2. On providing for your family v. your church – No pastor wants to leave his flock, but the situation of Pastor Lawrence in Zimbabwe was getting desperate. He should find another piece of property and forget about the government’s promise for reimbursement of his home that was demolished. Soon after, the police forced all men, women and children in the camp to sit outside in the sun from morning till night. Day after day they sat. His wife was beaten severely. Thanks to generous donors, Lawrence is building a new homestead.
  3. On US funds for a building – Third-world believers have difficulty learning hard work, frugality, and planning when foreigners buy them a new church building. To the charge that says such people don’t have a building to meet in, I say, neither did the NT church. To the charge that it will take them years, perhaps decades, to save enough for a adequate building, I say it is valid to give only enough so that their legs don’t buckle, not so they can relax.
  4. On watered-down forms of marriage – In order for Kojo to marry his girlfriend according to Genesis 2:24, he needs to declare before others his commitment to her according to Genesis 2:23. Whether surrounded by bowties and baroque or cattle and clansmen, he must make a public commitment. If not, Kojo must not touch her.
  5. On partaking of stolen items – St. Paul actually talked about this, but the item under discussion was idol food not Coke Zero. Unless I know for sure that the soda was stolen, I should enjoy it to the last drop (1 Cor. 10:27-28).
  6. On exorbitant mission trips – I would strongly discourage foolish use of funds such as mission trips that spend more on plane tickets that double the structure they are building. If the goal is to help financially, just send the money. This would make the money go farther and encourage the people to do the labor on their own. If the goal is to “experience” the field yourself, rather spend the day studying the language, being in people’s homes, and evangelizing.
  7. On attending risqué cultural events – When they give me the opportunity to preach, I attend such affairs but use the time when men are gawking to shake hands and meet with the community. The event is such that my character would not be in jeopardy simply for attending.
  8. On HIV testing – I believe the Gospels and 1 Corinthians 7 makes divorce and remarriage a valid option for Maria. But there is also value in striving to make the marriage work. In the meantime, the Golden Rule demands—for the sake of her children and others—that she get tested for HIV. Maria did so and was negative.
  9. On single moms – I’ve previously posted on this.
  10. On dealing with bandits – The villagers don’t respect those who are soft with thieves. “The prudent sees danger and hides himself” (Pr. 27:12), and that might mean in the bushes with a baseball bat. Protecting hearth and home is a good thing (1 Tim. 5:3-5).

How Generous Should Churches Be With Unwed Mothers?

Fornication and adultery are major problems among the teens (and adults) in our village. The South African government only irritates the issue by offering grant money to poor girls with children, thus encouraging a girl to have a child with a man who acts like one. Moreover, it is widely known that South Africa has among the highest AIDS rates in the world. So while the government promotes “safe sex” to the youth, our church preaches “pure sex”.

Often girls in our neighborhood will have babies out-of-wedlock; rarely, but at times, girls in our church will too. Should we be generous with gifts for the single mom? If the answer is no–because marriage is the prerequisite for such–why not include church membership, hospitality, and consistent Bible reading?

On the other hand, our church is small enough for the congregation to know in general which mothers are wed and those who are not. Would honoring them with gifts be a tacit softening of our position on fornication? Suppose Masana, a 19-year old member of our church, falls into sin and has an illegitimate child. What should we do? Of course we love her, implore Matthew 18-repentance, counsel, and pray for her. But isn’t the bestowal of baby clothes and ribbons with smiles on our faces the universal speech for agreement, joy, and commendation? Everyone agrees that Jesus showed kindness and forgiveness to the adulterous woman at the well, but neither did he proclaim her before all as a woman to be praised. In our village, there is no longer shame for having a child out-of-wedlock. In fact, it is far more disgraceful to be a wedded woman of thirty years of age with no children than to be an unwed girl of eighteen with two babies. If everyone in the village claps for the latter, should the church as well?

This is a difficult problem. Recently, a girl who has sat under our teaching and been involved in our ministries for years had a child out-of-wedlock. My wife made a large gift bag and we presented it to her in the hospital. Here are five reasons why.

1. Because she is still performing a very difficult and noble deed in raising a child, which is more than can be said for the father and those mothers who decide to kill their children prematurely in the womb. She did not make a wise choice in conceiving the child, but she was honorable in keeping it. A 2005 survey recorded nearly 250 abortions per day in South Africa. Department of Health figures show that between August 2012 and July 2013, 85,000 South African women aborted their children. This woman was not among them, and this should be commended. Continue reading

Ten Things Not to Say to a Missionary on Furlough

  1. You’ve just come back? I didn’t know you had left.
  2. I can totally relate with your rainforest experiences. Being a missionary to art students here is a killer!
  3. Does your church have an app?
  4. I remember you wore that dress the last time you were here.
  5. Can you speak Puerto Rican?
  6. Have you ever ridden a lion?
  7. You smell like a missionary.
  8. Must be nice to have a 6-month vacation, eh?
  9. Do the natives have difficulty staying awake during your sermons?
  10. Could your wife wear a grass skirt for her solo?

Dogged Evangelism

DSCN1570In our rural African village, getting men to attend church is about as easy as keeping mosquitoes out with a chain link fence. And since it’s summer here and our house lies next to a stagnant river, this metaphor is painfully fitting.

When visiting in the village, I find it difficult to keep the men engaged in conversation. So I like to start with a question that makes them squirm a bit: “Why are most African churches filled with women and children but devoid of men?” They will no doubt laugh, which is how Africans display embarrassment and unease. It is rare to get any farther than the initial question since the same things that keep them from church are what keeps them from following the logic of my question—you are one of these men that has no interest in spiritual things.

Our church has a healthy number of male believers in their twenties, but husbands and fathers with jobs? Zero. That is until this past Sunday, when Jerry Solane Maluleke professed faith in Christ through baptism.

How hard is it to find real male conversions in the village?

What if I told you my colleague Seth has had only one after nine years of ministry, and that convert was sadly killed in a traffic accident several years ago?

What if I told you foreign pastors commonly assail our region of Africa to hold one-week crusades in English where scores of men make professions of faith, but church attendance never rises?

What if I told you the events that preceded Solane’s baptism were four years of interaction, hundreds of Tsonga Bible studies, and endless questions about the gospel?

Isn’t this kind of dogged persistence in evangelism the pattern of Scripture? Paul reasoned “daily” for two years with seekers of the Truth (Acts 19:9) and later another three years of tearful admonition (Acts 20:31). Jesus sat in the temple teaching “day after day” (Mat. 26:55). We are commanded to preach in season and out (2 Tim. 4:2).

There are many reasons all of this effort has been worth it. We have confidence that Mr. Maluleke has truly been converted, exchanging the Pharisee’s righteousness for the publican’s humility. His wife will be baptized very soon. Members and neighbors are being influenced by his testimony.

Pray for us that we would persevere in our teaching and that God would add to our churches a hundred more Solane’s who have discovered the treasure in the field and know that God’s pearl is theirs.

Overcoming Fear in Evangelism

IMG_0832On October 1, 1866, the young Samuel Clemens—later known as Mark Twain—walked the roadway gripped with fear. His first comedy routine was just a day away and he had come to realize that his material was anything but funny. Earlier that day he had hired three stormy voiced men to sit in the audience and laugh with gusto.

But now he happened to pass on the street a drunken character that said to Twain: “You don’t know me, but that don’t matter. I haven’t got a cent, but if you knew how bad I wanted to laugh, you’d give me a ticket. Come, now, what do you say?”

Anyone familiar with evangelism knows that this is not how unbelievers approach the gospel. “If you only knew how badly I want to follow Jesus and receive eternal life, who’d give me the truth. What do you say?”

FEAR MAKES US COWARDS

But we are afraid to tell our family, neighbors, and co-workers about Jesus, and fear can turn us into cowards. The chief priests and scribes sought to put Jesus to death because they “feared the people” (Lk. 22:2). The blind man’s parents didn’t evangelize because they “feared the Jews” (Jn. 9:22). Government big wigs in Israel believed in Jesus but wouldn’t confess him for “fear of the Pharisees” (Jn. 12:42). Herod kept John the Baptist alive because he “feared the people” (Matt. 14:5). Joseph of Arimathea was a secret disciple of Jesus for “fear of the Jews” (John 19:38).

WHEN FEAR IS GOOD

A few preliminary points may help here. First, our goal in evangelism should not be to eliminate fear all together. Rather, we must strive to work through the fear and overcome it. Even the great apostle Paul ministered to the Corinthians “in fear and much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3).

Second, fear in evangelism is healthy and mixes well with other emotions. Matthew tells us that the women at Jesus’ tomb left “with fear and great joy” (28:8). After Jesus raised the widow’s son, Luke tells us: “fear filled them all, and they glorified God” (Luke 7:16). So fear mixes well with joy and worship. It also blends well with evangelism. If we never felt the sting of terror while telling our boss the Gospel or our neighbor the truth of Christ, we would be tempted to forget the enormity of the message. We talk of football and shopping casually. We speak of Jesus and redemption with measured trepidation.

Finally, the object of our fear must be the Creator, not the creature. Christians are commanded to “fear [Jesus] who has authority to cast into hell (Luke 12:5), but not to fear suffering (1 Peter 3:14). “Knowing the fear of the Lord we persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:11), but we are not to fear man (Prov. 29:25).  Continue reading

Comfort for Tired, Discouraged Missionaries

Tightened Oily HandsWith so many duties, so many hats to don, and yet so much left undone, the guilt missionaries feel is often too heavy to carry. For example:

According to Horatius Bonar, more time should be given to evangelism, as the minister’s one object is to win souls, for “the object of the Christian ministry is to convert sinners and to edify the body of Christ.”

According to McCheyne, more time should be given to personal devotion. “It is best to have at least one hour alone with God before engaging in anything else.”

According to Douglas Wilson, more time should be given to study. “Read constantly. Read until your brain creeks. Read widely. The timbre of your voice will be affected by where you have been, so read novels, bios, comedies, poetry, history and theology. Don’t be afraid to have 20 books going at once.”

According to Thomas Manton, more time should be given to family worship, as neglecting it would be “covenant-breaking with God, and betraying the souls of their children to the devil.”

Besides this, foreign missionaries often carry out so many other tasks that are not typical of ministers in Third World nations. Our African church plant is poor, so I spend handfuls of weeks and scores of hours with mortar and trowel and bricks as we slowly construct our church. How can I keep up?

Here is where John Frame gives hope and comfort:

Sermons sometimes suggest that to obey God means to drop everything we are doing and do something else. If the sermon text calls for persistent prayer, we ought to stop everything else and pray. The preacher reminds us that Luther spent many hours in prayer, and we feel guilty that we have not done that.

But then the next sermon says that same thing about another duty, say, evangelizing your neighborhood. And then we are told to feed the poor, visit the sick, pursue social justice, study Scripture, parent our children, work on our marriage, attend worship services, and on and on. The guilt becomes greater than we can bear.

The fact is, however, that although all these are legitimate biblical duties, we cannot do them all at once. We are finite. Our schedules are limited. We must frequently stop obeying one command in order to carry out another. God understands our finitude. He does not assume that every command of his must be carried out immediately and continually. It is comforting and reassuring for us to realize this as well.

God also understands that Christians will vary from one another in the emphasis they place on each command. That emphasis will vary with gifts and calling. Those who are called to be full-time preachers will spend more time preaching that those who are called to be full-time homemakers. (Doctrine of the Christian Life, 228)

Frame concludes:

So we are responsible to set priorities among divine commands. How arrogant that sounds! Who are we to determine how much time we are to spend carrying out each divine command? How can anyone presume to determine priorities among ultimates? But we must and we do.

Missions Round-Up (July 15)

Salary Caps for Missionaries – The US government isn’t the only wasteful spender these days. If you like Alcorn’s Money, Possessions, and Eternity, you’ll like this post from a thoughtful young missionary.

A Story of Persecution in the United Arab Emirates – “The constitution provides for some religious liberty, but the law denies Muslims the freedom to change religion.”

Facebook Friend Missions – An oldie but goodie. “One of the great needs of the hour in missions is true accountability, connection, friendship, and dedicated support.”

Blitzkrieg Missions: “Are Short-Term Trips A Friend or Foe to Missionaries?”

Early on in WWII, it is said that Hitler did not make a single error in judgment. He was decisive and swift, and above all feared for his blitzkrieg wars. He played psychological games by fitting the famed, German Stuka bombers with sirens. These planes would come in at incredible speeds, make lots of noise, bomb the cities, intimidate the people, then quickly vanish.

While I am in favor of short-term missions (or, Blitzkrieg Missions), they have limitations. ST missionaries don’t see many of the difficulties of the field because they are not there long enough to experience them. If the Western church is not careful, their short-termers will look very much like those German Stuka bombers–coming in quickly, making lots of racket, and departing before the dust clears.

In general, I am in favor of STM. I took the standard high school trip to Mexico but it was the reading of Hudson Taylor’s two-volume biography while on a three month survey trip of Ghana that eventually led me to full time missions. So I’m a fan of STM. I’m also a foe. Why?

STM trips can be a colossal waste of money

It is not unusual for a trip to cost $30k in airline tickets for a single team to have a two-week experience. When Helping Hurts (which I review here), states: “The money spent on a single STM team…would be sufficient to support more than a dozen far more effective indigenous workers for an entire year. And we complain about wasteful government spending!”

Short-termers rarely have the privilege of standing back and watching the character of the pastor or ministry they want to support. We must work hard to avoid paternalism. Distinguish between relief and development. A country wiped out by a hurricane needs immediate relief. Funds should be given quickly and generously. But a building project for a poor church in Moldova does not fit into the same category. Shrewdly discern the two.

STM trips may inadvertently be stealing responsibility from the nationals

Americans are initiators, self-starters, and confrontational. Many cultures are not this way, so when visiting Americans take the lead in giving and doing, many are all too happy to stand aside and let them lead.

Laziness, greed, and unnecessary dependence on others is a temptation to everyone, and men in the ministry are no different. I have seen nationals far too many times taking advantage of generous Westerners with exaggerated and sometimes fabricated stories to pull heart strings along with purse strings. Of course we are to be generous to the poor as Jesus commands, but how to do this is the complicated issue.

A Shangaan Proverb says: “Wealth is found in the mud”, meaning: “Precious things are often found after great effort.” When we give money to national churches or pastors without any effort or responsibility on their part, we are stealing the joy that could only come through sweat and toil.

A lot more could be said, but perhaps this article will suffice in reminding churches that STM trips are much more complicated than simply raising airfare. Even Hitler could do that.

Missions Round-Up (July 5)

IS THIS THE TEAM FOR ME? – This article from Postings guides prospective missionaries with a series of questions to ask as they consider which mission field suits them best. Short on Bible but very practical.

NEW BOOKS ON WORLD RELIGIONS – Here’s a list of three books published in ’13 addressing Islam and other world religions. Everything James White writes is solid.

10 THINGS EVERY CHRISTIAN SHOULD KNOW ABOUT ISLAM – this article carries weight because the author served for twenty years in Central Asia.

CHOOSING MARRIAGE OVER MISSIONS – Here is a transparent account of the strain foreign missions can have on marriage and parenting.

GOD IS DOING SOMETHING HISTORIC – “The price these converts pay for their conversion has not diminished with the arrival of modern times. Qur‘anic prescriptions remain unflinching: “…if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them” (Qur‘an An-Nisa 4:89b). And these religious renegades are paying an incalculable price for their spiritual migration to Christ. Yet they continue to come. What began as a few scattered expressions of dissent is now emerging as substantial, and historically unprecedented numbers of Muslim men and women wading against the current of their societies to follow Jesus Christ. And it is only beginning.”

A Greater North Korean Choir

Here is a poem dedicated to Jung-il Kim, former leader of North Korea, by North Korean Li In-Mo who had been imprisoned in South Korea for 34 years.

The air that I breath, the sunlight that shines on my body is completely filled with your love. I find that love in the hallways of my house, in the upper stories and the lowest floor. Your love is stacked in endless layers. By your forever-treasuring, your warm encouragement, by your merciful love that wants to give to all again and again,

I am astonished, wondering how love can be so grand.

Having been kept so long from love, only today, at threescore and ten do I cry, though late, finally comprehending.

Ah, dear comrade Jung-il Kim. You, man of passionate love, are the incarnation of the greatest love.

The apostle John was also imprisoned. He recorded the words of the heavenly choir–including North Koreans–that will be sung to Jesus Christ, the only One who is truly worthy to receive such praise.

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever! (Rev. 5:12-13)

We must pray earnestly for the heavily persecuted Christians of North Korea.