Recently, I returned from the Far East after another blessed ministry trip. As I journeyed home, I began to muse on the incredible opportunity which the Lord had given me. What a world we live in! Thinking back on the history of Christian missions, my teaching trip was extraordinary.
Compare my journey with those of William Carey or Adoniram Judson. They took months of travel to reach their chosen fields and had to labor in places where the gospel had never been heard. On my trip, in less than 30 hours, I had traveled halfway across the globe to minister in another culture to a group of men eager to learn what I had to teach. I met with established Christian leaders who grasp the rudiments of the gospel but desire a deeper level of training that would allow them better to serve the needs of their kinsmen.
For the most part, the days of rugged pioneer missions such as those of Carey and Judson are history. They took years to cross language and cultural barriers just to gain a hearing for the message. The Scriptures had to be translated, foreign governments had to be satisfied, diseases had to be overcome, and hardships aplenty met them at every turn. Both lost wives and children in the process of carrying the gospel to points unknown. Of course, there are places here and there where such sacrifice is still needed. But the opportunities that abound in the 21st century for Christian missions are astounding!
Judson and Carey had to go to the field without any idea of what they would be facing. Today, men and women can visit the mission fields of the world to get a taste of what life in a particular culture might be like. A short term visit can be had for comparatively little expense. For just over one thousand dollars, I flew into and out of a large country—with another flight in between two of its major cities! Hotels can be booked online, visa information is a mouse click away, travel details fill the world wide web. The unknown is knowable now more than ever!
Moreover, the web is filled with a plethora of good missions websites that discuss unreached people groups, limited access countries, creative entrance opportunities, and everything anyone who is considering missions might want to know. Even in these very difficult nations, the unknown is now more fully known. Forty-two years ago, when I was a freshman in college (in the B.C. era—before computers), travel was more expensive and less accommodating, while opportunities were harder to come by. Sometimes, when I see what is available today, especially to our younger generations, I wish that I were young again to take advantage of some of these great possibilities.
Are you serious about finding God’s will for your life? Take your summers while in university and invest them in your future. Find a missionary your church supports and plan an internship. Then find another one for the next summer. Find a church planter, an inner-city ministry, or some other Christian ministry that could use your help and spend time testing your existing gifts and developing others new to you. You never know just how the Lord might lead you.
About four years ago, I casually (or providentially) said to one of my students, “Hey Marc, do you want to go with me to Africa this summer?” After a moment’s reflection, he replied, “Seriously? I just might.” And he did—as did his wife! Today they are serving the Lord in the place they visited. Just one brief visit to see what God was doing turned into a ministry interview of sorts. Marc and his wife saw the needs and opportunities and envisioned how they could fit the team. Today they are on the team serving the Lord. And all for the price of two airline tickets and ten days of their time. Ten days and a few thousand dollars: what is this to investigate the possibilities for a lifetime of ministry?
Generally, I am not overly enthusiastic about mission trips for teenagers or church members. They can be difficult to orchestrate, expensive to carry out, taxing on the resident missionary, and sometimes do not serve the purpose for which they are intended. But for a college or seminary student, such a trip can launch a lifetime of ministry. They can be catalytic in determining God’s will for one’s life. I went to Canada after college graduation because I had been there in the summers of my senior year and the first year of grad school. I saw the possibilities, the opportunities, and the challenges. I envisioned myself there, serving the Lord. When graduation came, “I being in the way, the Lord led me!” (Gen. 24:27). One door led to another which led to another and now thirty-five years later, I am profoundly grateful for the journey God has given. I worked on an Indian reserve, planted a church, pastored for eight years, and now have taught for twelve with numerous opportunities annually to teach overseas.
But, oh, the opportunities available to students today! Countries that were closed to the gospel forty years ago when I started out in ministry are open today in ways never imagined: teaching English in the world’s largest country, serving on a team with educational work in Africa, entering limited access countries with creative access methods.
Recently, my family listened to Through Gates of Splendor on a trip to California. Though I had read the book more than forty years ago and knew the plot, I was thrilled to hear again the story of these young men, ages 28-33, who gave so much to reach so few. Through their sacrifice, our vision of what can be done looms large before us: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Oh, to be young again and have another life to live for Christ. The possibilities, the opportunities, the world which lies before us. Now more than ever, the ways to serve the Lord are endless. Only one life ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last!
This essay is by Jeff Straub, Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
O Jesus, Manifest Thy Grace
Augustus Toplady (1740–1778)
O Jesus, manifest Thy grace,
Scatter Thy mighty darts abroad;
Constrain the unbelieving race
To fall before a wounded God.
Thy hands, Thy side, Thy feet were pierced,
The most unholy to restore:
Thy blood was shed to heal the worst,
And save the poorest of the poor.
Then let them taste Thy saving grace,
Be cleansed and glorified by Thee;
And in the sacrifice of praise,
Employ a blest eternity.