Written by Dr. John E. Marshall, Pastor-Teacher
Second Baptist Church, Springfield, Missouri
Years ago my family received free tickets to see the St. Louis Cardinals play baseball at Busch Stadium. As we approached the stadium, ushers kept motioning us farther and farther up the stairways and then farther and farther around the stadium. Finally, we arrived at our seats, the farthest away section is dead center field. We were so far away from home plate that when the batter swung at the ball, we would hear the sound of the bat hitting it later. And then we were too far away to see the ball, and had to look around for moving fielders in order to tell where the ball was headed. Needless to say, we were on the outskirts of the game, barely involved. The game itself was a distant reality, something way off in the distance.
That’s exactly how I felt about two years ago, when the Lord began to put a burden on my heart for worldwide missions. I felt I was way off in the bleachers somewhere. I could hear Jesus giving the Great Commission, but it seemed to be only a faint whisper, a barely audible echo. I was in the stadium, but the game was not a vital factor in my life.
I began to wonder how this could be. I am a sixth generation preacher in one of the most mission minded denominations in the history of Christianity. I have been in church all my life. Preaching is all I have ever known. How is it possible that I could have dabbled in missions through some thirty years of ministry, but all of a sudden feel I was an outsider looking on?
To make my situation even more confusing, I believe I was not an exception to the rule, but rather typical of my whole generation of preachers. We have by and large supported missions, known the ground rules, and played our part, but worldwide missions has not been hot on our hearts. As the burden for missions grew heavier on my heart, I became curious. How did we as a generation reach this point in time and history. My curiosity drove me to doing some research. I needed to know, just for my own peace of mind. Maybe my discoveries can help other pastors understand themselves better. Possibly we can take a stroll together down memory lane and better understand how we came to where we are now. The old adage is true, if you would understand anything, you must know its beginnings. With this in mind, I began my search to understand how my generation of Godly, consecrated preachers had overlooked the burning drive for missions.
Any time an effort is made to determine the “most important” people in any field, the door is opened to error and disagreement. However, in the area of missions, four men certainly stand out as pillars, as the inaugerators of new eras. In revisiting these men briefly, we can begin to maybe understand our approach to missions better.
William Carey is credited as being the father of the modern missions movement. He certainly was not the first missionary. For instance, the Moravian Brethren were sending out missionaries before Carey’s time. However, Carey’s life seemed to open the floodgate. He built a network back home which not only supported him, but became a pipeline of information and inspiration, helping others begin to enlist in the mission enterprise. His work resulted in a flurry of missions activity which in the main followed trade routes established by the spread of the British Empire and its affiliated English speaking countries.
James Hudson Taylor brought a new dimension to the mission enterprise. He fostered the “inland” movement. He pressed past where the merchants and English speaking traders had reached. He became in essence the grandfather of our modern ureached peoples movement, which is now sweeping the missions community in Europe and North America.
Cameron Townsend became convinced that people needed to hear the Gospel in their heart language, not just in a trade language. He was asked by an Indian in Guatemala, “If your God is all-knowing, then why doesn’t He know my language?” That question spurred Townsend to push for the Bible to be translated in every dialect and language on earth. His efforts resulted in the establishment of the Wycliffe Bible translators, and probably should earn him the title of father of our modern unreached peoples movement.
The fourth Colussus of the missions movement was Donald McGavran. His contribution was in the area of worldwide church growth. As the son of a missionary, and a missionary himself, McGavran observed worldwide the dynamics which went together to make churches grow. From an internationally educated mindset, he taught us what is takes to grow churches. He is rightfully called the father of the modern church growth movement.
I have just recently read McGavran’s watershed book, Understanding Church Growth. It may be the greatest book, other than the Bible, I have ever read. I saw in it the genesis and formulation for the flood of books on church growth which have been written since. In reading the book, and trying to find in it some explanation for the lack of mission fire in my own life, and hoping to find clues for my generation’s lack of mission fire, I think I have begun to understand what may have happened. My observations are obviously overly simplistic, and will need more in-depth analysis by later historians, but maybe these thoughts will help us in the present moment.
McGavran’s teachings emphasized church growth through multiplication of the number of churches around the world. It also talks about church growth within the context of each local church. The underlying premise is the spreading of churches all around the world. He presents three main theses: the growth of each local church, increasing the number of churches, and missions.
After McGavran, specialists began to take these three main emphases and refine them. A whole host of writers began presenting material on how to grow a local church. Men like Lyle Schaller, Jack Hyles, Rober Schuller, Jerry Falwell, Elmer Towns, and John Vaughan began to flood the market with books on how to build a great local church. Leaders such as Dr. Larry Lewis, President of our Southern Baptist Home Mission Board, began to push for an increase in the number of local churches. Groups like Campus Crusade, Wycliffe translators, New Tribes Mission, Youth With a Mission, and our Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board took on the cause of worldwide evangelization and missions with reckless abandon.
In the midst of all this activity, a generation of preachers, my generation, began to make decisions regarding which direction their pastorates would go. What would be the main emphasis? Where would we give most of our efforts?
Having grown up in the tumultuous sixties, we naturally were affected by what we perceived the beginnings of our culture unravelling. We felt our country was falling apart. There was a sense of national and cultural urgency among us. We felt we had to save America. This being the case, I feel we made a generational choice. We opted to give ourselves to local evangelism and church growth. We obviously would not abandon the missions enterprise, we would promote our special offerings, pray for missionaries, and put our blessing on the mission effort, but our hearts were wrapped in saving a disintegrating culture. We were so intent on saving our own backyard that it was hard to see overseas.
Now something is beginning to happen to my generation of pastors. We are in some ways giving up on America. Please do not misunderstand my thought here. We love our country. We would die for her. However, we are beginning to see that if she is to be saved, God will have to intervene with Awakening. Our efforts are not going to suffice.
We must not do away with our Moral Concerns Committees. We still need to urge our people to vote. We still have to be salt, light, and leaven in a lost and dying world, but we have to take national, cultural, Christendom, efforts off the front burner. It is important, but must not be allowed to consume us to the exclusion of all else. It is a piece of the pie, but still only one piece.
This realization was part of what was happening to me two years ago. I had given myself to years of reading and learning all I could about church growth and evangelism. I would have been offended if anyone had accused me of not being vitally interested in missions. However, I was not spending much time on the missions enterprise. I was not preaching many sermons on it, was not spending much time in prayer about it, was not going on mission trips, and was not encouraging my people to do much on a personal level. Thus, two years ago, when God began to put a missions burden on my heart, I truly felt I was in the bleachers, and the Great Commission was being played out on a field far far away from me.
The One Hundred
I decided to gather together a group of church leaders to meet with me on a regular basis to discuss the purpose of the church. I had used lunch meetings in the past to discuss with key leaders such things as prayer ministries and more effective evangelism methods. I had also brought people into my office in small groups over lunch to discuss what they liked most and least about our church.
Expanding on this concept, I asked my staff to provide input on helping me bring together some of our finest leaders to help determine what direction the future of Second Baptist should take. This group of one hundred met on Wednesday evenings for several months. As their preparation for these meetings, I asked them to read the first thirteen chapters of Acts over and over again. I hoped this would stimulate our discussions as to what a New Testament church should look like.
Somewhere in the early stages of this group’s meetings, someone stated the obvious, which we had somehow forgotten or overlooked somewhere along the way. We have forgotten who voiced the insight, but the truth changed the dynamic of our group drastically. Someone said the first thirteen chapters of Acts are summarized in one verse, Acts 1:8b, where Jesus said, “Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Based on our discovery of this discovery, we subdivided our group into four parts. We formed a Jerusalem group, which for us is Springfield, Missouri, the town in which our church is located. We had a Judaea group, which for us is the state of Missouri. Our Samaria group laid out plans for the United States of America. The uttermost group set its sights on foreign mission possibilities.
Each of these groups met on Wednesday night individually, and then we began coming together collectively on brief occasions to compare notes, and see if we were heading the same direction. Our objective for each group was to establish mission goals for Second to be accomplished in this generation, by the year 2020. We then broke these goals down into measurable milestones to be achieved by the year 2015, 2010, 2005, 2000–this would give us a step by step plan to accomplish our long journey.
While our groups of one hundred, which we began calling our World Viewers, was meeting, I received a form letter from the Foreign (now International) Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. The letter was a request for large churches to consider adopting an unreached people group. There are approximately 2,200 unreached people groups remaining in the world. Of these, some 187 have a population of a million or more. The Board was asking for 187 churches to lock arms with them in adopting these 187 groups. I brought the letter to one of our World Viewers meeting and asked if we should follow up on the letter. They looked at me like I had lost my mind, and said, “Isn’t that what we are meeting for? Of course we should respond. This is what we have been praying about.”
I wrote the Board and expressed our interest in adopting one of the 187 unreached people groups. They responded with a letter giving us five groups to pray about and consider. I distributed the information sketches on the five groups to our World Viewers and we began to pray over which, if any, one God would want us to adopt.
In the meantime, we somehow heard of an organization which had entered into a five year contract with our Foreign Mission Board. Global Focus, under the leadership of its founder and president, Dr. Larry Reesor, was being used of God to help turn churches from a church growth mindset to a kingdom outreach mindset. This was exactly what our church was doing, so the World Viewers encouraged me to contact Global Focus to talk with them about the pilgrimage our church had begun.
I asked our church’s Minister of Education, John Edie, to make the initial contact with Global Focus and bring us a report. John called Dr. Reesor’s office just before he (John) was leaving town for a conference in Nashville, Tennessee. When he asked to speak with Larry, the secretary said he was out of town with his wife, who was attending a real estate meeting in Nashville. John Edie mentioned he was heading to Nashville and wondered if the secretary could tell him what motel Larry was staying in in case the two might could get together over breakfast or lunch. The secretary named the motel–it was the same place John had reservations to stay at in Nashville.
Let me digress at this moment a bit. Once we began to pursue a World mindset, remarkable providences became much more commonplace in our church life. Amazing things continue to happen on a regular basis in those areas vitally connected to our world mission enterprise. I would never say we take these remarkable occurrences for granted, but we have almost come to expect them, not because we are any more spiritual than before, but rather because we are dealing in matters which are important to the heart of God.
John met with Larry and quickly we all learned our church and Global Focus were on the same mission. Dr. Reesor squeezed us into his schedule, he literally added us on between two already scheduled plane stops. He made a special trip for the sole purpose of meeting with our group of one hundred. His message resonated with our people. If we had any reservations left about the worldwide enterprise of God, the Holy Spirit used Larry to dispel them.
Larry encouraged us, saying we were already way ahead of the game by already having divided our mission focus into the four prongs presented in Acts 1:8. He told us how God’s kingdom was spreading all around the world. He spoke of the revival which is sweeping many continents. We were literally breathless by the end of the evening. God was up to something in our midst. Our group of one hundred could feel a new breeze blowing in the sails of our ship of state.
Selling it to the people
Throughout the summer of 1997 we put on a campaign blitz to sell our people on the new mission enterprise our World Viewers were recommending. We did everything we knew to do, mass mailouts, bulletin inserts 13 Sundays in a row, video promotions, etc.
The response of our people was slow and skeptical. I was becoming frustrated until one night while burdened in prayer about his situation, a realization flashed into my mind. Our people had become what we pastors had made them. Our hearts and passion and zeal had been for local church growth. The people in the pews had become exactly what we had made them. We taught them well. It began to dawn on me that change would come–our people do love the Lord, His Word, and His Church, they do want to do right–but the change would come about gradually. Just as it had taken a process to change me, it would take another process to change them. I would have to be an encourager and try to nudge them along, but the change itself would have to be implemented by God Himself. Ultimately, He alone can change people.
God anoints our preaching and teaching. He empowers the message as it passes from our hearts to our mouths and then on to the people. Only God can anoint the hearing. He alone can anoint the message to go from the people’s ears to their hearts.
At summer’s end, the people voted to adopt the World View. They were in agreement with it in principle and with their minds, but the enthusiasm I longed for was not yet evident. They had voted with their hands. It would be a while for them to vote with their hearts.
In the meantime we pressed ahead with the nuts and bolts of the World View document. We called four of our lay people as volunteer staff members. They were given office space, access to secretaries, and attended staff meetings. They were assigned oversight of our mission work in Springfield (Jerusalem), Missouri (Samaria), the USA (Samaria), and International work (Uttermost). We also began setting up mission trips for those who wanted hands-on experience in mission work. We also began networking with everyone members of our church had direct connections with on the mission field.
Before pressing ahead, I need to tell the end of the story about our effort to adopt an unreached people group. As the World Viewers were praying over the five options the Foreign Mission Board had sent us, one of my men approached me and said he was feeling a strong sentiment for the bells (name fictitious). He was the only one of the World Viewers who ever mentioned a specific group to me.
A few days later, on a Friday, I was sitting in my office working on Sunday’s sermon. An old friend, who I had not seen in over six years, was driving down Battlefield Road in front of our building. Seeing my name on the church sign, he decided to stop in and chat a few moments. When I had last seen him, he was a pastor in the St. Louis area, but had since gone to work for the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home.
Rarely do I have interruptions during sermon preparation. My secretary hesitantly stepped into my office and said a gentleman was out at the reception desk and wanted to see me. I asked who it was. She replied, “Wayne Crull.”
“Wayne Crull!,” I said as I jumped up from my seat and headed for the reception desk. Memories came flooding in. Some eleven years earlier God had used Wayne Crull to help me overcome my lifelong battle with depression. I went to a preachers meeting one Monday morning and heard Wayne tell of how God had delivered him from depression after years of dealing with baggagge left over from the Vietnam war. That morning, when I heard Wayne speak, I for the first time thought maybe I could win over depression. I had long before decided that was just a natural part of my make-up. I dealt with it, but never really thought about actually overcoming it. Wayne met with me, referred me to a couple of good books, and with help from God and my wife, I began to emerge from a deep blue funk.
I moved off to a pastorate in Arkansas, and the years and distance came between us. However, my sense of debt to him never has waned.
I will owe Wayne Crull as long as I live. To spend a few minutes with him in my office would be sheer joy. The instant we saw one another at the receptionist’s desk, we hugged and started joking. It seemed we had never been apart.
We sat in my office and chatted about old times a while. When Wayne asked what was new in my life, I told him about the new missions enterprise we were involved in. He could sense my excitement. I told him I was especially excited about the possibility of adopting an unreached people group.
At that point Wayne mentioned he had a friend who was working with an unreached people group called the Bells. I could not believe what he said, and responded by saying, “That’s impossible, Wayne. There are over 2000 unreached people groups in the world. The FMB has asked us to pray about five, and one of them is the Bells. It’s not possible that you would walk in here and out of the blue mention them.”
Wayne hesitated to reply, but finally said, “Is it spelled B-e-l-l-s?” I said, “Yes, but this still cannot be.” I felt a level of excitement rising in me that I had not experienced in God’s work in a long time. If Wayne was correct, I knew I was in the middle of one the biggest God-things in my life. I have a friend, Carolyn Gillson, who often says, “It’s not odd, it’s God,” but this seemed to be off the chart of believable possibility.
Wayne promised me he would on Monday morning try to find the whereabouts of his friend. From Friday afternoon to Monday morning, I was in an agitated state of hyper-excitement. I felt something miraculous was afoot. It seemed I had stepped into a God-dimension of massive proportions. All through the weekend I tried to keep my mind on other things, for fear of being disappointed on Monday morning.
At 8 a.m. on Monday morning I telephoned Wayne’s office in St. Louis County. When he answered, I immediately said, “Have you found her?” He laughed and said, “John, I just walked into my office. I promise I will try to find where she is and get back with you later today.”
The hours crawled by that day. I knew a little bit about what Wayne was up against. Trying to find info on an undercover worker in a restricted access country is like trying to find a CIA agent. I am proud to be part of a denomination that has some 500 of these workers around the world. The spirit of heroism is alive and well on the foreign mission fields.
Finally, late Monday afternoon, Wayne called. He had found her. She was, in fact, working among the Bells. He had found a mutual friend who knew what church she had grown up in, and when he called that church, he was able to convince them he had worked with her on several occasions. They finally believed he could be trusted, especially since he already seemed to know what group she was working with.
When Wayne confirmed the people group, I knew immediately my life was inextricably connected with these people of whom I had never heard a few weeks earlier. They in that moment became “my” people, as much mine as the people God has given me to shepherd as a pastor. It was a defining moment in my life. I do not know how to describe it adequately.
For security reasons we refer to our lady in the field as Y. Wayne was able to give me the phone of Y’s aged father. I called him long distance and began to speak to him of his daughter. He was reluctant to talk of her to a stranger. As we continued to talk, we discovered we had been pastors at two small churches in Southeast Missouri which are only about five miles apart. This gave us a spirit of camaradie which seemed to set him at ease. Finally, he gave me Y’s overseas phone number.
It is extremely difficult for me to explain what I was feeling as I punched in the numbers for her phone number. For one thing, I never make international calls. I had to get two secretaries to help me figure out how to accomplish it.
Y and I talked for several minutes. In fact, it was a long and expensive phone calls. A new world of opportunity was opening before me and I could not seem to get enough information. It just so happened that Y was heading home in a few days for one year of furlough in the USA. We ended our conversation agreeing to talk again when she arrived here. I also told her we would want to have her fly here to speak to our church about the Bells.
This whole sequence of events has been told and retold as Second in many different settings. It has become part of the fiber that makes our missions mosaic so wonderful. I think all of us who were among the World Viewers will always have a soft place in our hearts for the events of those formative days in our mission endeavour.
World View was set in motion, Global Focus became our partner, we had new staff members working on missions, an unreached people group had become part of our lives, all seemed set in motion, and all seemed well. Then Larry Reesor, President of Global Focus, dropped the bombshell. “John, your church has adopted an unreached people group, and the Foreign Mission Board really thinks all pastors who do this need to travel and see their group first hand.”
I do not travel well. I am the ultimate home-body. Ruth and I rarely ever spend a night apart. The thought of an overseas trip was out of the question. I adamantly refused to do this, but Reesor was equally stubborn. He had already planned a trip to the country where my people were located. Several pastors and Jerry Rankin, President of our Foreign Mission Board, were going. Larry was insistent that I go. I kept deferring, begging my Administrator, John M. Edie, to go in my place. One day, John, Larry, and I were sitting in my office discussing the trip. Larry was talking as if I were going. When I reminded him I did not plan to go, he looked at John Edie, who quietly said, “Pastor, you have to go.” “What do you mean, I have to go?” I did not like the sound of that phrase. John went on, “We have already written the check and cannot get our money back.” The euphoria of my mission zeal suddenly disappeared. I felt panic in my stomach, but in my heart, I somehow knew this was what I had to do.
The next several weeks were tense, to say the least. I dreaded every thought of the upcoming trip. Having to take a battery of shots made things worse. Plowing through paperwork for passports, visas, and trip plans didn’t help my outlook. Shopping and packing added to the nightmare. The thought of leaving Ruth and my family put me in an emotional abyss. To make things even worse, Larry Reesor was the only person going on the trip that I had ever met.
I begged my people to pray for me, and they did. Even with all my pessimism, I still did not know how desperately I would need those prayers.
After making two domestic flights, I met up with my group in a large coastal city here in the USA. Our flight across the ocean seemed to last forever. My feet swelled. They hurt if I left my shoes on, and if I took my shoes off, putting them back on merely increased the agony. The only way I kept my sanity was by reading in Billy Graham’s autobiography, “Just As I Am.” It occupied my mind enough to keep me sane.
One we arrived overseas in a safe coastal city, we were briefed on the security risks and dangers which could possibly lie ahead. This did nothing to set my mind at ease. We were also introduced to the guides who would lead us into the more dangerous interior places.
Since my connection with our unreached people group was in the USA on furlough, I was placed with another pastor, who was going in with his connection to see the group his church had adopted. His people were similar to mine and a trip to see them was deemed by the Foreign Mission Board as sufficient for me to see what my group was like.
Thus, with two people I had never met before, I headed into the interior of a hostile country. Believe me, some major bonding took place over the next few days. I became fast friends with two people who shall forever more be special in my heart.
Two Baptist preachers with a blond lady guide–we were stared at everywhere we went. I think people thought she was the important one, and we two guys were her bodyguards. The farther we went, the more our light colored skin, and her light colored hair, seemed to attract attention.
We rode an airplane, a big bus, a sleeper bus, small buses. To reach our final outpost required us to rent a taxi driver. He had a small jeep with no windows and carried his battery with him whenever he left it.
Along the way I had to learn the intricacies of a squatty potty. Did I mention I do not handle change well? I felt I had gotten trapped in a time warp and was stuck somewhere in the middle of the Twilight Zone.
Finally, after days of endless travel, we reached the town from which we would make our final ascent to the village of my companion’s people group. When we arrived in town, the bus left soon thereafter. There would be no more buses till morning. We were stuck in the middle of nowhere with no way out for overnight.
That fact alone made me very nervous, but my fear was heightened when several of the local young men began to gather closely around us and laugh at us. Fortunately, our guide knew the local language and this fact seemed to calm their exuberance a bit.
Carrying all our luggage by ourselves, we trekked our way up a hill about two blocks to the hotel where our guide had made reservations. At the front desk, our guide and the clerk began to have a heated exchange of words. The other pastor and I knew something was wrong. Whatever it was, our fear was made worse by knowing we were trapped overnight in this town.
The local government officials had learned we were coming, and had forbidden either of the two motels in town to accept us. They had cancelled our reservations and were requiring us to stay overnight in the government guest house.
Our guide, who had been working in this town for several months, hoping to secure a position at the local school for us to put and English as Second Language teacher there, was visibly shaken. I think she knew at that very instant that all her effort had been in vain. The locals had tantalized her, and led her to think they had a place for her, but once the government officials got wind of it, they killed that project.
Our guide, as fearless as any person I have ever known, was obviously taken back by this turn of events. The three of us walked back out to the street, walked another block up the hill, turned left and walked another two blocks up the hill, all the while accompanied by the local young men who seemed pleased at our plight.
To make a long story short, the government guest house was a dump. As our guide negotiated with the desk clerk, who was determined to charge an exorbitant sum, I sat down on a couch in the lobby. A huge cloud of dust (and critters, I think) enveloped by whole body. I immediately jumped up.
Once the negotiating was done, we were given two rooms. Our guide was down the hall, maybe twenty yards from our room, which was immediately adjacent to the second floor lobby. We were given no keys to lock our doors. In fact, there were no locks on the door. Our guide told us to put our things in our room and then to meet her downstairs again in the main lobby. She instructed us to say absolutely nothing out loud until we were back together again. Gary and I silently put our things in the room, and then silently returned to the lobby.
Once K arrived, the three of us silently walked down to the riverside in the middle of town. Once we were way beyond ear-shot of anyone, K began to talk. Her words were spoken in barely a whisper, and the tone of her voice told us all we needed to know. She had probably been exposed, the local officials evidently knew what she was up to, things did not look good. We were having a change of plans and would have to decide what to do next.
The original plan had been to spend two nights in town. One day we would leave a gift for the local minorities museum, and ride up to see a village, the other day we would spend at the school, seeking to court the favor of the administration there.
I was ready to leave town immediately. I would have been willing to walk out into the woods and stay there until daylight if needed. I was as afraid as I had ever been.
Gary, though, wanted to fulfill his mission. His church had sent him to see his unreached people group. He felt he had to make it up to the village.
K was determined to press ahead with her plan, also. She wanted to give the museum a gift, and she wanted to talk with the school leaders.
By this time, night was falling. The darkness was unnerving. K suggested we pray. We had to do this, of course, with our eyes open. While one of us at a time offered a whispered prayer, the other two kept watch to see if anyone was coming our way. One time two men came walking by, I saw them first and gave word for Gary to end his prayer. Once the men passed, Gary continued.
After prayer, we agreed on a compromise. We would rise early in the morning, eat our own snacks we had brought with us, and see if we could accomplish everything in time to catch the last bus out of town tomorrow evening.
Until then, our instructions from K were very simple. Say nothing. The room was probably bugged. We returned to our quarters. Life had suddenly become very serious.
Gary and I went to our room, and scooted in front of the door a small end table. I guess we somehow felt this would at least slow someone down if they decided to enter our room. We said not one word to each other. We were so afraid that we might say something amiss that we opted not to say anything at all.
Gary took off his shirt and jeans and crawled into bed. I left all my clothes on. I had an unsettling feeling. I wanted to be prepared, I don’g know for what, but I just wanted to be prepared.
A huge drinking party was going on in the government guest house. I was terrified at the thought of being found out in a place filled with drunken officials. Their revelry continued on unabated for hours. The thought of a drunken brawl, with Gary, K, and me as the entertainment, had me paralyzed with fear.
At midnight the noise abruptly stopped. In an instant everything became deathly silent. All I could figure was that curfew had fallen. The remaining events of the evening continue to be a frightening chapter in my life. I do not visit there often. It pains me.
After a while of silence, I heard loud steps coming closer and closer to our room. They stopped outside my door. I was totally paralyzed, unable to move a muscle. A man began pounding on our door and started barking out words in a language I could not understand. I literally could not move, and within seconds I heard the footsteps quickly and loudly leaving.
Before long, I heard the footsteps again, this time there were two men coming. They were talking loudly, and the sounds of their steps seemed to be coming right to our door again. Again, the steps stopped outside the door. Again, someone pounded on our door and began yelling. This time, all I knew to say was, “Who is it?” I yelled it fairly loudly, hoping not to send a sound of fear in my voice. In the meantime, Gary had jumped out of bed and was trying to get his shirt and jeans on.
In the tense moments that followed, Gary and I heard the two men talking to each other. They then walked away.
As best we can remember, the time was about 2 a.m. I spent the next four hours in unceasing prayer. I can never remember being so scared. At the far end of our room, high up on the wall, there was an uncovered window. For the rest of the night I kept staring at that window. I don’t know why, but for some reason I felt if we could make it till dawn, we would be okay. I had no reason to believe that, but did nonetheless. I can still vividly remember when the first light of day began to appear in that window.
Once the day broke, and we heard people mulling around in the lobby, Gary decided he needed to go check on K. We had no way of knowing how she was. I stayed in the room while he quickly ran down the hall and knocked on her door. She was fine. No one had bothered her.
Since we were awake anyway, and had decided we would get an early start on the day, we went ahead and got dressed for the day. We went to the museum and left a gift for the proprietor there. We next went to the school and talked to several people in charge. K could tell things had changed. Their attitude was not nearly as open as it had been in the past.
It was interesting to be in a town when a worker found out her their work there was finished. We were receiving some intense training regarding some of the trials and troubles people experience on a hostile field.
We secured the jeep taxi driver, who installed his battery, and headed up into the mountains to see a village. I remember the trip well. Tea fields were stretched out as far as the eye could see. A travel agent was with us, in addition to the driver. She sang for us love songs used in courtships by her people. I couldn’t help but wonder if she was singing them for our driver as much as for us.
Gary and K were excited about this trip up the mountain. They wanted to see their unreached people group up close. All I could think about was getting back down the mountain in time to catch the bus out of town. The objective of the trip was rapidly becoming crystal clear–get home safely and quickly.
As we approached the village, we disembarked from the jeep, and walked the last several yards. All I could think about was that I had now seen an unreached people group village. I was glad this was all the Foreign Mission Board would expect of me. Get me out of here. I want to go anywhere but here.
An then I had another God-thing happen. As we began to see some of the people in the village, I happened to turn and look at Gary. I think I was going to congratulate him on reacing his destination, but when I looked into his face, I had a sinking sensation which made words impossible to speak.
When I saw the look on his face, the look of a pastor whose heart was inextricably connected with a people he had never seen before, I knew immediately I would have to return to see my own people. Everything in me seemed to scream no. If I never came back again it would be too soon, but the dye was cast. I knew, up there on that mountain, that I would have to come back with my people group connection and visit a village of my people.
The trip down the mountain seemed less stressful. I guess once I decided to come back that I was thinking, oh well, if they don’g kill me this trip, they’ll just get me next time. The fact I had decided to return seemed to relieve some of the tension. Our travel agent asked us to sing a song. K, obviously feeling she had nothing to lose in this area, started singing “Amazing Grace.” Gary and I joined in. After the song, K gave the agent an English name, “Grace.”
We made it to the bus station on time. I was grateful. That town is now behind me forever. I cannot say I have ever wanted to return there.
Later, in a large city so choked with smog that we could barely see or smell, we observed the Lord’s Day alone in a motel room. To make sure we were not overheard, we gathered close to one another and took turns whispering the book of I Thessalonians. It’s an applicable book when read in terms of unreached peoples. I couldn’t help but think of my church back home, where the worship service would be loud and free. Church in that motel room wasn’t like church back home, but it was church nonetheless.
Along the way, we met a few of K’s associates, others who secretly do what she is doing. I could say much about them, but my most vivid memory entails the way they prayed. Early in the trip, when one of them would say we ought to pray, Gary and I thought they meant we would stand in a circle, hold hands, sing Kum by yah, and then go to bed. Wrong! When these people pray, you have to clear your calendar.
They put all their notes and books away, and find a place where they can sit comfortably for a while. Then they begin to pray. I had never heard prayers like these before. They cried out to God for people groups I had never heard of before. They claimed promises from Bible verses which I had only casually read in the past. I remember one praying that God would loose the government’s grip, her reasoning being that the Christians of their country had suffered enough persecution to where they would be willing to invade the Muslim countries with the Gospel and be willing to die for it.
When it came my turn to pray, I always felt very uncomfortable. My years of pastoral praying had never prepared me for this. I felt myself a child among giants.
I had one more scare before arriving home. Our undercover people wanted someone to risk carrying letters home for friends and loved ones. I had done the best job of packing among those who went on the trip, and since I had the least amount of luggage, it was decided I was the logical one to put the letters in. I found that to be a strange reward for having done something well. Since I was good, I would be the one at risk. However, since none of our bags had ever been opened, I was not overly concerned.
Well, guess what? You guessed it. Only one suitcase was opened at the airport from which we were leaving the country. Something on the x-ray showed up in my suitcase. The authorities grabbed my suitcase and asked me to step with them to a nearby table, where they ordered me to open it. I do not know what they were looking for, but I watched as they rummaged through my things. In plain sight, visible for all to see, were about one hundred letters from people whose work would be in serious jeopardy if they were discovered. I watched the guards literally run their fingers through those letters, looking for something else. Not finding anything suspicious, they then told me to close my suitcase and proceed.
My transition from solely a local church growth mentality to a kingdom growth outlook has been painful for me. I have had to leave my comfort zone often. Each time it has been hard on me. Local church growth does not cause our doors to be pounded in the midnight hour, nor does it cause our suitcases to be searched. Along the way, I was learning that expanding my ministry would come at a cost. Few things of significance come easy. Progress almost always requires a willingness to run the risk of pain. When Jesus told us to take up our cross, He meant it.
Trip number two
Upon my return to the USA, I underwent several months of emotional healing. Culture shock, memories, fear of another trip, etc. all played heavily on my mind. I was a mental and emotional basket case. I had truly been traumatized. If I tried to discuss the trip, I would break down and weep. My emotions were totally out of control. Yet, at the same time, I knew I was doing exactly what God wanted me to do. I knew I had to go back.
For the second trip, I had two advantages working for me. My wife and some church members would be with me. Our connection with our people group would be back in country.
Our church graciously decided to send Ruth, my wife, with me on my second trip. I think the people realized I would need the emotional support. Also, I personally needed Ruth to go with me for her to better understand this new love and commitment for missions that was pulsating through my system.
Ruth and I have had an idyllic marriage. If there was ever a match made in heaven, we’re it. The obsession I began to feel for missions was something Ruth had not seen coming. She was watching my transformation with questions. It was the first thing of consequence that had come into our lives that we had not shared together.
Sensing this tension in Ruth, I had decided to consult a lady who would maybe have been in a similar situation. On my first mission trip, Johnny Hunt and his wife were among my fellow travellers. Johnny’s church, Woodstock Baptist near Atlanta, is light-years ahead of most of us in adopting a world missions philosophy. Near the end of the trip, I asked Mrs. Hunt why she sometimes went on trips with her husband. Her response helped me immensely. She said when he started going on these trips, it was the first thing in Johnny’s life which she had not been a vital part of. She said she had to go in order to better understand why he felt the way he did. Those words convinced me I had to bring Ruth next time.
When I told Ruth I had to go back, she was not thrilled. However, she was not about to let me go back without her. She heard my stories, and sensed my emotional tentativeness, and decided she would not let me go back into that situation alone again.
Ruth and I then let it be known to our congregation that we would be returning to the foreign land, and this time we would visit our unreached people group. We made no high pressure sales pitches. People should go overseas solely because God leads them to. Dangers and high costs should keep us from trying to force anyone to go. Some things are our responsibility, others belong to God alone.
Five people, at great financial sacrifice to themselves, decided to join Ruth and me for the trip. Marilyn Murrow and Pam Patterson are elementary school teachers. Elsie Boatright is a senior citizen, a widow who once lived in Taiwan with her on a military detail. After her husband died, Elsie committed herself to travelling the world, doing short-term volunteer mission projects. When her children expressed doubts and surprise at her resolve, she asked, “Did you think I would sit at home and quilt?” When they replied affirmatively, Elsie stood up, held out her hand, and said, “Well, shake hands with your new mom!” Elsie was from the first of the trip our inspiration. David Cavender is an engineer. He handled all currency exchanges for us and provided much of the background knowledge we needed for the trip. Bob Cirtin is an expert in detective work. He is a college teacher who also owns his own private investigating firm. His quick wit and seeming fearlessness in every given situation often proved a calming influence for our group.
We met our connection in a coastal city and the eight of us then took off for the interior of our country. We crossed two flooded bridges which no bus driver in the USA would ever consider crossing. We had to climb by foot over a dangerous mudslide and find another bus on the other side to rent to finish our trip.
We stayed overnight two nights in a government guest house. We were able to rent a Volkswagen mini-van to take us the last few miles of our trip. Finally, on a rainy day, we reached our destination, a village of our unreached people group. It may sound corny, but it’s true nonetheless, I felt I had arrived at home. I had carried these faceless, nameless people in my heart long enough for them to become mine–my daily prayer objects, my responsibility.
We gave the children teddy bears we had carried from home. We bartered with the sales people. Women and children were all around with wares to sell. We were ushered to the heart of the village where we were given a full song and dance presentation. It was uncanny how similar it was to what one would see at a traditional celebration by Native Americans.
As far as we know, our adopted people group is the least evangelized group of its size in the world. Of over three million people, only ten are believers. People in other restricted areas usually have exchange students which come to the West and become believers. Our group, though, is totally isolated and insulated within the confines of their nation. They are a minority which receives little or no consideration from the people group which dominates their country. The Gospel, for all intents and purposes, never gotten to these people.
By God’s grace, our church hopes to change this sad fact. We have decided to translate the Jesus film in their language and to pay for the translation of the New Testament in their language. We already sense a moving of God among these dear people. Other countries have sent in helpers. Efforts are already afoot among five or six entities to place the Gospel in these people’s hands.
I looked into one of their idol cages and prayed that someday these false gods would someday be replaced with a Bible, with a Bible paid for by Second Baptist Church. As we were leaving the village, Y pointed to the only white building in sight, and said, “That’s the wall I plan to show the Jesus film on someday.” Again I thought, “. . .paid for by Second Baptist Church.”
The seven of us have touched, seen, smelled, smiled, bartered, and walked among people who have never heard the name of Jesus. These people have never heard of New York City, or Bethlehem. They know nothing of the USA or Israel. They worship evil spirits which they dread.
We seven who stood among our people group will never be the same. Marilyn Murrow had felt a call to foreign missions when she was a teenager, but the years and circumstances had made a response difficult. The renewed missions emphasis at our church and this trip overseas were “stirring the slumbering chords again.” Some old repressed memories are re-surfacing. She is returning to our people group to teach English as a Second Language next summer. She is taking her daughter and a close friend along. Marilyn also feels God may be calling to full-time service among our people group.
Pam Patterson, who had never been outside the USA, was frightened by the trip even before we left. She suffered the most culture shock of any of us on the trip. It was emotionally hard on her. After the trip, she returned to our church choir, and in rehearsal one evening was singing along with a song which says I’ll go, cross the rivers, cross the mountains, etc. She had to stop in the middle of the song, and say to herself, these people don’g have a clue as to what they are saying. Pam has already been involved in another mission trip from our church.
David Cavender, the engineer, is studying water projects, land use efforts, and construction needs as possible ways of helping keep our foot in the door with our people group. He stays in constant touch with Y about possible projects of this nature.
Bob Cirtin developed a heart of compassion for Y. He has taken it upon himself to make sure we are doing all we can to meet her needs. We are paying for her to be able to fly home to spend Christmas with her aged father. We are also paying for her to fly here to be with us for a couple of days to discuss strategy for our people group.
The culminating event of our first two years of missions renewal was a world missions conference called Global Impact. This event was scheduled under the leadership of Global Focus. We brought to our church some 25 missionaries from every part of the world to meet with our people.
Global Impact is a totally new creation. It is not a world missions conference in the traditional sense. Missions Conference tend to be times when missionaries come to a church, share a few testimonies, and then head back to the field, with the church people responding by giving direct offerings of support to them or increasing giving to the denomination’s mission cause. The latter is an aside in a Global Impact Conference. In Global Impact, the missionaries are brought in to bond with small units in the church. Out of these small groups, which for us was Sunday School departments, partnerships are encouraged. A particular group becomes responsible for partnering with a given missionary. For instance, at Global Impact, each missionary received no honorarium from our church at large. They all received money and gifts from their given Sunday School class. The guests stayed all night in people’s homes and partied and prayed with class members. Already we have people designating gifts for the mission work of their particular missionary.
Out of some of these partnerships there will grow church-wide efforts, maybe prayerwalking teams, construction workers, backyard Bible clubs, Vacation Bible Schools, revival teams, English teachers, etc. The possibilities almost seem endless.
On the first evening of Global Impact, we had a worship service in which every country represented by a missionary or by a group our church had been to in the last year was represented in a parade of flags. It was an emotional moment for “our seven” as we marched in under the flag of our people group’s country. Instead of being on the platform watching my people enter under the various flags, I was one of the people, myself coming in as one who had become involved in missions.
On the final night of Global Impact, thirty-one of our people surrendered to full-time ministry. Our people also pledged to give over twice as much to missions next year than they had ever given in any year before.
Size doesn’t matter
You may have noticed I have never referred in this story to the size of my church. That is intentional. Size does not matter. The Great Commission was given to every church, large and small. Not every church can do ten or twenty mission projects a year. However, every church, without exception, can do a mission project every year in their Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and uttermost regions. In fact, every family and every individual can do this.
People want to obey their Master. They know they have a missions responsibility to the whole world, beginning next door. They simply need help. They need for their pastors to catch a fresh new vision for the whole world, to see the possibilities laid out before us.
These are the most exciting days in the history of Christianity. More people are converting to our faith now than ever before. We have a duty to alert our people to what is happening and to provide resources for them to tap in to.
At Second Baptist we like to use a visual image to portray what has happened among us these past two years. We tell our people we are setting the table for them. We are going to put on the tablecloth, prepare the silverware, put on the dishes, and even set the food before them. We are determined to take away from them every legitimate excuse for not doing missions. If they don’t do it, it is solely because they don’t want to. We must make sure the blame for their inactivity is totally theirs.
After using this metaphor for months, we had an interesting climax to it. At Global Impact, one of speakers was Mike Stroope, a man who trained hundreds of our undercover workers in our denomination. Mike, not knowing of the metaphor we had been using, told the story of the time his daughter went forward in a public invitation. When Mike asked what she had done, the daughter said, “Dad, I’m putting my yes on the table before God even asks.” Amen. Our people must be willing to put their yes on the table. We pastors must set the table.
Two years ago I felt I was in the bleachers, far away from the action down on the field. The commissioning voice of Jesus was but a faint echo. Today, though, I feel I am standing on home plate. I easily pretend Jesus is again giving the Great Commission. I hear Him saying, “Peter, you go one way; Andrew, I want you to travel this road; James, go another way; John, head this way. . .” And then I feel I hear Jesus say, “John. . .,” and I know He is talking to me. “John, take the Gospel where it has never been before.” I’m no longer on the sidelines, I’m now in the middle of it all, on the cutting edge of the Great Commission. Right when I should be experiencing a mid-life crisis, God has placed a surge of enthusiasm in my life. Ruth and I are not slowing down, we are putting our feet on the accelerator and pushing harder and with more excitement than ever before.