Thursday, January 26, 2012
Looking at Jesus stirring command for the apostles to “go” out from there into the cities around them brings up a lot of questions. The fact that He told them to go and gave no leeway for stopping to gather their things, or get food and supplies, or even think twice about going brought some instances to my mind which deal with how missionaries are supported.
In my circle of churches, missionaries being sent out are expected to gather prayer and financial support before they can go. They are given time to gather support, gather their things, say goodbye to family and friends and generally prepare their way. But generally when they step up to go, none of the support has yet been gathered. They step out to go, and then seek support for the path they feel they must follow. In other words, they say “yes.”
But one church I attended for several years handled the whole thing quite differently. Their organization included a missionary division and all the churches were expected to give a portion of their income to this mission board. The board would then handle all aspects of the missionaries being sent out, including providing for their needs through the board. This was an interesting idea to me. The missionaries who came to the church came to share the work they were doing and had no motive of raising support for themselves.
At one point, a family in our church took leaves of absence from their jobs and spent a year and a half training and serving in Central America to give respite to one of the families that served full time. They were greatly blessed in this and were very glad they had been able to go. It was all very interesting, and very different than what I was used to. This practice was encouraged by the board. It filled a double need.
Having recently read the short version of Hudson Taylor’s biography, I have been thinking about how much his call to the missionaries who would join him in China was similar to Jesus call to the apostles. Basically, he asked them to drop everything and get on the ship and go. He expected that those he left in charge of the board while he was gone would continue raising money and prayer support for the mission itself rather than for the individuals. That, too, was very interesting and certainly fit with his own determination to depend daily on the provisions of God rather than his own manipulations.
But another intense story of missionaries going out is the biography of “Vic” and Joan Olsen who became medical and diplomatic missionaries to East Pakistan (Bangladesh now.) After coming in faith to believe in Christ, they came to realize that God was calling them to “go.” Being who they were, and not being closely affiliated with an organized church group, they immediately set out to see what type of mission they should go out under. They talked with many, and weighed the differences between the types of mission boards and made their decision. They wanted to have individuals and specific churches know them and support them in prayer as well as with finances. They wanted that personal aspect to their ministry.
As Paul shows us in his writings, a combination of these types of support was critical for his own ministry and for the growth of the church. At least that is what I see. Paul walked into his mission with the prayers and blessings of the apostles, but he was daily dependent on the very people he was ministering to for housing and food, even as he worked to earn his keep as a tentmaker. And he eventually made it clear that the churches needed to support the spread of the word through the gathering of money and sending it to a central “distribution” center, if you will. And he made a point of being very grateful for the gifts sent directly to him.
Sometimes I think that we do not really understand the word “go.” This whole page is not at all about which support system is correct. It is about “go.” We can sit and frustrate over not knowing what God wants us to do until the cows come home, but if we do not step up and “go,” we may never know what it was God wanted from us. We may just miss the blessings God has for us. Sometimes I feel like I have been in this comfortable place too long and I need to be watching for a place to “go.” Meantime, I must not miss the people around me now to whom He wants me to go. There are many. Lord help us to see and to go to the needs right in front of us as we wait to see where you may direct our paths.