I posted this the other day over at SBC Impact.
Facebook is a funny thing. Not only do you get to get back in touch with old friends that you had hoped to leave behind but you also get to see the weird conversations they are having with their other old friends. The other day a conversation popped up on my screen from a friend of mine who pastors a church. He is also a trustee for our International Mission Board and had requested prayer for the meeting he was about to go to. One guy (obviously not a Christian) commented that the very idea of a ‘mission’ agency was deceptive and evil and we should ‘help’ ‘those’ people instead of cramming religion down their throats. Ok, well I expect this from those outside the Kingdom. But then a person who was apparently a church member commented that we should not spend any money overseas and that all of our money should be spent right here on the poor at ‘home’. Wow. I forget the battles you guys face at home. I am sorry that I forget and so, to make amends I am posting the ammunition you need to face such battles as these as we approach our Lottie Moon Christmas Offering- or is that the Lottie Moon ‘Holiday’ Offering? I am so behind the times.
First of all, let me say that your response to non-Christian guy should be the Gospel. In the context of what he was saying about being ‘deceptive’ and ‘cramming’ religion down other people’s throats I plead not guilty. I understand where he is coming from and I know the guys he is talking about but we is not them. Back in the early 1990′s we escalated greatly the accessing of what was called ‘closed’ countries. I know facts and figures are boring but to be blunt we used to work in around 90 countries and now we work in them all. No, I am not speaking in hyperbole. We are now accessing all the countries of the world with the Gospel in one way or another. Your money is paying for some pretty darn creative, brave, and obedient people to get the Gospel everywhere the Lord has commanded us to go- which is everywhere. We have done this in many ways. One way has been to do what I do; set up a humanitarian aid agency in order to get a visa. Fifteen years ago that sometimes meant that guys would go out, say they were helping poor people and then just pass out tracts. Some of us (me included) thought that was deceptive and wrong. Today the situation is very different. Many of you are thinking that perhaps if you fund a secular agency, or a christian agency that just focuses on relief and not church planting then your money will be more effective in relieving poverty. You would be wrong.
Major concept to get your head around: People are not poor because they don’t have money. People are poor because they have broken relationships and people have broken relationships because they have a broken relationship with God. (That is a slight paraphrase from Brent Meyers’ excellent book, ‘Walking with the Poor’). For 15 years I have been learning about indigenous church planting, avoiding dependency issues, being culturally appropriate and relevant, doing things in a reproducible way, letting the locals have ownership, etc etc. A couple of years ago I went to a big humanitarian aid meeting sponsored by the UN. All these secular guys got together and started talking about all the same concepts for their humanitarian work. The upshot of the downside was that they all agreed these concepts were essential but they couldn’t implement half of them. Why? Because they have to impress the donors. Look guys, you don’t hear alot from me about all the great work that I have done and now the funds for my work are drying up. I am sorry for the lack of communication here but it is essential. I can’t take credit for the work I do because we are giving the credit to everyone else. So here is the deal for Mister Athiest who thinks we should be doing good. We are. People are being fed, getting fresh drinking water and even getting housing. I have built seven villages since I have been out here- except, I haven’t. They built their own villages and even provided much of the materials. I taught them to work together, to trust each other. I gave them a few things they didn’t have but mostly they did it themselves and I am proud of that. They didn’t need money as much as they needed forgiveness and a right understanding of who God is. The Gospel makes all the difference.
Secondly, for Mister Atheist who thinks we shouldn’t be shoving religion down people’s throats, tell him I agree. I have no interest in going to a Muslim people and telling them that my set of rules is better than their set of rules. I never criticize Mohamed or Islam. There is no point and no need. The people we work with are fed up with the status quo which keeps them in bondage and brokenness and are looking for something else. They are excited to find out that God is not some powerful vindictive spirit who is out to get them. We present Jesus and that is always received well even by those who do not ultimately accept Christ. Persecution comes and it is vicious. It comes to the new believers who are persecuted by a community that does not understand. I have more to say on this but that is for another post.
Now, for Miss Shouldn’t We Just Stay Here I have this to say. No we should not. First of all, and most of you reading this blog are up on this, Christ commanded us to go so, we should go. End of story. But more than that can you not see how inconsistent that is? Most of our Church members are Republicans who think that our going to Iraq was a great thing. They think that going out and interacting with the world directly benefits us at home. Well? Does it not make sense then to send me? Who is more effective at changing society and relieving poverty the Gospel or a gun? All right, I had better answer the question because in recent years some of you have gotten confused. The Gospel! I have a friend who when he speaks at churches back home apologizes to our military for them having to shed their blood in Afghanistan and Iraq because we were too lazy to go there fifty years ago. I have not decided if he is right but he goes on to point out that all of our places of greatest conflict today are places we have failed to take the Gospel. He says we should have gone fifty years ago and lost a couple hundred martyrs so that today thousands would not be dying. Again, I don’t know if I agree completely or not but you see his point.
Secondly, for Miss Shouldn’t We Just Stay Here we also need to address her further concerns- and these many of you might also have. Are we not wasting our time? The Muslims are hard soil, should we not put our resources into the harvest fields and wait till later for these difficult places? We need so much here at home should we not spend more at home and get ‘over there’ later when we have more? I consider these questions a slap in the face to the Spirit of God. God is not poor. His resources are not limited and neither are ours. I know, I can hear you “But, But but, but, but…’ But nothing. Is the soil hard? Yes it is. It has hurt my family for us to stay here for 15 years and the vast majority don’t last nearly that long. Is hard soil of any consequence to Almighty God? Not one bit.
When we first came out we had to learn about security. We had to learn that there were groups, organizations, and whole countries who wanted to stop what we were doing so we had to be secretive. Our media folks back at the home office threw a fit. How could we not tell the most exciting story to happen in the last 2000 years of mission work? Well, we haven’t. Even I don’t know everything that has happened over the last 20 years. I have thought long and hard about just telling you what I know and name the countries and all in this post but I can’t do it. As far as you are concerned I am Strider in Middle Earth and it has to stay that way. So, let me be as general as I can and still be helpful. Here where I live there were two known Muslim Backround Believers (MBB’s). We use MBB’s to differentiate majority population people from the local minority traditional Christians that you find so many places. For instance, the Coptic Church is there in Egypt and Ethiopia and such places but when we are looking to reach Egyptians and Ethiopians with the Gospel we are trying to do something new and we use MBB to differentiate this new work from those Churches that have been there for centuries. So, as I was saying there were two known MBB’s in Gondor in 1990. By the year 2000 there were over 2500. In a couple of Countries to the north of me they went from two to over 12,000 and two to 30,000. Rohan, a brutal Christian persecuting dictatorship next to me has seen the church go from zero to untold thousands. But this is not the whole story- not even a small part of the story. I wish we would stop counting baptisms and count numbers of alcoholics who have stopped drinking, numbers of wife beaters and child abusers who are now loving fathers and husbands. I wish we could count on our forms the number of fearful and oppressed who now stand up bravely in the face of certain persecution. I wish I could tell you about the martyrs who have given their lives willingly for the cause of Christ. There are many and you don’t know about them. I am truly sorry about that. But the story of what God is doing goes on and on. To the south and east of me are some of the most hostile areas to the Gospel in the world and you know what? Not thousands but millions are coming to faith in Christ. I am just talking about the Muslim world here!
But some of you might say, ‘Hang on Strider we didn’t do all that! There were lots of different agencies involved.’ Yes, but what is your point? Lots of different agencies have not done any of this. God has done it all and what I am telling you is that in every case there has been an IMB worker who has been faithful and has pulled together with lots of people from all over the world. We have been the primary catalyst to see all of this happen and I don’t think you will find many who will disagree with me on this. When you start talking about defunding the IMB and sending your own teams you are- in my opinion- talking about leaving behind the most important organization for unified mission on the planet. I know the word cooperation terrifies some of you but believe me, we have led the way in many places around the world and the Kingdom of God has been greatly expanded by this.
Finally, there is one last criticism to be dealt with. Is not our IMB a huge and expensive organization? Are we not wasting thousands of dollars on this dinosaur? With respect, no. Our recent reorganizion has been an unmitigated disaster. We have 17 vice-presidents. Nuff said. But even with all of that we are more efficient than any agency I know about. The Trustees just voted on next year’s budget, 308 million dollars. If you divide that out by 5000 missionaries on the field (we have more still but by the end of 2011 that is where we are meant to be) that comes to around 62 thousand dollars per missionary. My salary and benefits comes to about 42 thousand dollars. So, that not so much per missionary to cover medical expenses, pay home office salaries and expenses, do actual ministry like print Bibles and such, and a host of travel, not mention the ever increasing platform budgets to pay for humanitarian and business offices all over the world. For all our faults we are doing pretty well.
If you kept reading this far you deserve something special. All I have to offer you is what you should already know. God is on the move in this world. He is opening doors that have been closed for centuries. He is bringing people to faith in places that even if I named them you would not know where they were. I have gone places with nothing but a New Testament where are US Military are not willing to go even with air support and many of my colleagues have gone to really dangerous places and what we find when we get there is that God has already been and is bringing a people to himself. I urge you in the strongest possible terms to be a part of that.