I had the privilege of attending Sunday evening services at my home church last weekend. Polla and I love our pastor and appreciate every opportunity to hear him preach. Polla especially loves listening to a new voice since she has heard me preach for 42 years. Tough assignment! (Yes, Virginia, there is a star awaiting every preacher’s wife in Heaven!!)
On this night, our pastor did not preach. Instead, we had the joy of hearing presentations from two teams who had returned from mission trips. I never tire of seeing and hearing about the dramatic impact these trips have on God’s people who participate. Across the last 40 years, the faces and places have changed, but not the indelible mark left in the lives of those who take the risk to carry the Gospel to places where it is not readily available. As I observed the participants’ excitement regarding the powerful touch of God’s Holy Spirit and the incredible good done during their trips, I could not help but draw some conclusions.
First, every trip strikes Americans with the overwhelming sense of how blessed we are. We throw away more things in a year than most people will hold in their hands in a lifetime. While we choose where to go eat and what we are “hungry for tonight,” many in this world struggle to find enough to sustain life. They face tough situations and hard realities we never encounter. We are tremendously blessed.
Second, there is both a hunger for the Gospel and a lack of opportunity to hear it. In places like India, China and across Africa there are millions waiting to hear. They are not unwilling to consider or even respond to the Gospel. It is that they have not heard the Gospel. One of our team members had the opportunity to speak to a person who had never heard the name of Jesus. Americans have a tough time comprehending such a thing.
Third, God desires to use all of us to carry the Gospel to the unreached. I can tell you from experience that Americans have a powerful opportunity to impact the world with the Gospel. Our team spoke of entering villages in India and finding people ready and willing to open their homes to them. Word of Americans being in their village spread very quickly. Not everyone who heard the Gospel of grace and forgiveness responded, but many who heard it embraced Jesus as Savior and Lord. New home churches will spring from these “Gospel surge” events. The people who carried the Gospel were normal, everyday followers of Jesus who accepted the challenge to leave their comfort zone to declare the Good News to people who had not heard.
Fourth, mission experiences expose participants to believers who are willing to sacrifice all for the glory of God and His fame among the people. Pastors in these nations pay a huge price to follow Jesus, proclaim His word and shepherd the flock. But so do all who decide to follow Jesus. My own experiences on the mission fields of the world regularly leave me humbled and broken by the depth of commitment of God’s people in these faraway places. One cannot help but be struck by the stark contrast between the Christianity of the West and the far more New Testament Christianity found in other parts of the world. Following Jesus does not mean giving God an hour a week—it means giving your life and your all to follow Him. That sounds strangely like the requirement of Jesus for authentic Christianity.
Fifth, there is an undeniable thrill associated with seeing with one’s own eyes the incredible commitment and giftedness of our missionaries. When I was a child, missionaries were heroes in my eyes. I never ceased to be amazed that these people would leave home and family to invest their lives in dark and often hard places. My childish awe has grown to an adult exclamation of “ahh.” I now am privileged to walk beside them on the field and hold deep friendships with many of them. I am still astonished by their commitment and remarkable ability to penetrate darkness with the Gospel. Our teams bore testimony of the unique privilege to see firsthand the effects of the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering at work through our missionaries. They are there because we give. If you ever go on a mission trip, you will never see the Cooperative Program and mission offerings through the same eyes. Suddenly, those gifts become very personal. Never again will you hear with calloused indifference the arguments on why to cut mission giving. You will be a champion for giving.
Our Mission Advance Team has talked extensively about developing ways to engage every Oklahoma Baptist church, large and small, in mission involvement. Many of our churches and associations are already deeply involved in hands-on mission efforts, both at home and abroad. We have a deep desire to see that number grow exponentially. Mission participation will transform churches and church members. But most of all, it will transform those who have never heard.
Anthony L. Jordan is executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.