How do you tell a story you cannot tell? Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? The answer must be obvious. Give up? You just can’t tell your story. This is the challenge so many of our missionaries must face today.
The majority of newly-appointed Southern Baptist missionaries are heading to destinations in the 10/40 window where lostness is the greatest. In many of these countries, missionaries are not welcome. Yet, they forge on carrying the Good News of Jesus into hostile environments. Their presence in these countries is always at risk. The darkness surrounding them would be overwhelming if it were not for the brightness of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
One of the significant challenges of Southern Baptist missions is the inability to personalize such a vast organization. When support is given to more than 5,000 missionaries, it is hard to help the people who contribute through giving gain a sense of connection. It becomes doubly hard when on prayer calendars and in promotional material you can only use first names and sometimes not even photos of missionaries. Telling their stories requires stealth and creativity and does not allow for the up-close-and-personal connections we desire and that these missionaries desire.
Last spring, I sat in a room at the International Mission Board with other state executive directors from around the United States and listened to reports from our mission leaders around the world via Skype. One thing became clear, there are remarkable stories to tell—stories of incredible sacrifice by missionaries and their families who must live in harsh and unyielding conditions. Yet, they make the sacrifices because of their love for Christ, the Gospel and the teeming millions who have not heard the message of Christ. These missionaries serve in foreign countries because the Great God of Heaven placed a call on their lives they would not ignore.
As I listened, it did not take long to realize that in these hard places God is miraculously at work. Story after story was told of remarkable encounters with God through dreams and divine appointments. While foreign governments try to snuff out the Gospel and false religions seek to destroy visible demonstrations of the Christian faith, God is stepping into people’s lives with a clear witness. He is using our missionaries to present the story of Jesus and His love.
The IMB does an outstanding job communicating to those of us in the pew, but their task is no small one. Telling stories that cannot be told is hard. Because of the difficulty, some say that Baptists would give more if our missionaries were better known to each individual church. Others suggest we return to societal giving, which would require every missionary to find their own support and thus tell their own story. Been there, done that. The societal system produced far less than our cooperative giving method of the modern mission era among Southern Baptists.
So what do we do when can’t tell the full story? My deep conviction, born from many years of leadership among Southern Baptists, is that our people are mission-focused people. We are mature as a body and can move past stories to acts of faith. We give not because we heard a great mission story; we give because we know people are lost without Christ. We know missionaries go, and we have the joy of sending them. We give not because of stories, but because of our deep desire to be a part of the great task of spreading the Good News to the ends of the Earth. In short, we give out of obedient faith to God Who gave us His clear and compelling commission. We love to hear the stories and rejoice when we do, but if we can’t hear them, it is OK.
Some stories of great mission sacrifices and victories will have to wait to be told—so be it. I am confident that Southern Baptists will step to the plate and give a bountiful Lottie Moon Christmas Offering because it is the right thing to do. I look forward to Heaven and hearing the stories I had to miss here on Earth. I can’t wait to hear from the very ones who heard of Jesus because I joined others in giving so unnamed missionaries could go and tell the Good News.