Summary: Our missions committee asked me to write a sermon in response to the question "How is foreign missions relevant to our church?"...this is the result.
How then, do we see “missions”? And how are we being obedient to Christ’s command?
LESSON # 2: It’s Relevant if we can look beyond Ourselves
As the story of Acts and the early Church proceeds, we know that the disciples waited in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit. When he did descend and filled the disciples they spoke in tongues and Peter preached a powerful message where 3000 were added to their number. And then what happened? The Church enjoyed a time of growth and amazing breakthroughs…in Jerusalem. But just in Jerusalem. Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth were relatively untouched.
It is not until Acts 8:1-4 that the gospel spreads from Jerusalem, and that by default. (Read 8:1-4). You might say that the only reason the believers left the mega-Church of Jerusalem is because they were forced to by persecution. I remember a metaphor in Bible College that described this event as a blacksmith smashing a red hot iron and watching the sparks fly. God allowed persecution to get them out of Jerusalem. Then the Word spread to Judea and Samaria.
Our Mennonite ancestors left Russia because their right to religion, nonresistance and self-education were being taken away. In 1874 they came to Canada, but not to do mission work. Do you know what the prevailing attitude of the EMC was in the 1930’s? “No mission involvement.” Some said, “The only real mission work is done with a milking stool and pitchfork…” meaning our work is here. Gerhard Thiessen, a missionary to China, was mocked at the time by some who said, “He went to China as a missionary because he was too lazy to work…”
Sue Barkman wrote in Ever-Widening Circles, “Basically the Kleine Gemeinde membership had little understanding of a Christian’s responsibility toward the unsaved and this was the reason for their feelings. Some felt that if God wanted to convert the unsaved, then he would see to it himself. The concept of most people was that the ‘heathen’ were not really lost, so it was better to leave them alone rather than give them a chance to reject Christ.”
Shall I go on? In 1943, Ben Eidse told his dad he wanted to be a teacher. His dad responded, “Oh no, not a teacher; I don’t want you to be a public servant. Not a teacher.” Later while attending what is now SBC, Ben was convicted that he should be a missionary. His dad replied, “A missionary? Then I’d rather have you be a teacher.”
And so it went. Do you know who changed the minds of the Conference in those days? The young people. They began meeting and studying the Bible and singing together. Soon the Holy Spirit revealed to them that it was their responsibility to obey Christ’s command to “go into all the world.” Young people, the idealistic ones who in their youthful passion said “Forget bureaucracy, forget tradition, forget all this garbage…let’s do this thing.”
The lesson of Acts 8 and our own history is that we must look beyond ourselves. I do not want to go back to that attitude that the lost don’t need us. That is the attitude where foreign missions is irrelevant. Jesus said “go” and we must go and be witnesses, or we will be a stagnant social club that only takes care of itself.