Perspective: Hard places
What testimonies, from those who travel on missions trips, grip you the most? What stories from missionaries lift your soul? I don’t think you are much different from me, and none brings greater joy than to hear of people coming to Christ because of the mission effort. Indeed, the more people who come to Christ, the louder my praise!
I would also suggest that many of us are prone to measure the success of our mission trips by the number of people saved. Please do not misunderstand. People coming to Christ should always cause our hearts to rejoice. But is that the only standard we should use for success of our mission work? Is there room for trips that till the soil and plant the seeds? Should the number of people saved be the only criteria for achievement for our missionaries either across the ocean or in the spiritually arid places of the United States?
How will we reach the cities of our nation if we do not send missionaries and teams who are willing to see success as prayer-walking, witnessing, and serving? While attending seminary in New Orleans, I was told stories of the first students who were sent into the bayou country. They were seen as people propagating a cult, but they kept going into those little towns and parishes. They loved the people and continued to share about Jesus. It would take years before they would begin to see an impact and gain a foothold for the Gospel, but these students stayed the course and kept planting the seeds.
Some years ago, I sat with some North American missionaries serving in Chicago and listened to them tell of their work. These brave men and women were serving in the hard places of the city. One told of multiple languages on their block that complicated being able to share the Gospel. Others spoke of gang violence and a resistance to anyone who spoke of God. These missionaries lamented the short time they had to produce results or they would lose their funding. I concluded it is one thing to plant a church in Oklahoma and quite another in Chicago, Boston, New York City, or Los Angles. Some of these missionaries would be required to pray, weep, plow, plant and replant over and over again. No short solutions. Are they less successful because they did not see immediate results?
Or consider the work of Lottie Moon, Bill Wallace, or other Baptist and Christian missionaries in China before Communism prevailed and tried to sweep every visage of religion, including Christianity, from its culture. Today, the Gospel is flourishing in China, and I would propose it is because of those who labored with little to show for a lifetime of mission work. They planted the seeds of the Gospel that today have become an abundant harvest. Were they not successful because the harvest did not come in their lifetime?
I assure you, we must move when the Spirit moves. Dr. Henry Blackaby was not wrong when he said, “We should find where God is at work and join Him there.” But we must also be careful to realize that God often is at work in the background. We cannot always see the Hand of the Almighty, yet He is working His will to perform.
This week, I had a visit from the leader of Baptists in Latvia. Few leaders have greater vision for their country or a more well-defined plan to expand the work of the Kingdom through Baptists. Yet he said to me, “The ground is hard.” He and his little band of Baptists are plowing, planting, and watering with determination and great faith that one day there will be a great harvest. My heart resonates with his eyes of faith that even though there is no fruit on the vine and no cattle on the hills today, someday the Spirit will descend in great power and a harvest will come.
I want to challenge us as Oklahoma Baptists to be willing to join the pioneers—no, become pioneers—who are willing to charge the hard places of this world for the sake of the Gospel. Let us not shy away just because we do not see immediate fruit. May we be found faithful to plow, plant, and water the seed until the one Who gives the harvest reveals His mighty Hand. And yes, we can count it as a success when we take on the hard places knowing those who follow will be able to reap because we were willing to plant.