God's Initiative Through Movements Across History
Someone once said that the history of world missions is the greatest story never told. In some ways, this is true. But it is more a case of the greatest story never heard because often, we are too busy to listen carefully to the voice of history. More than facts and figures, beyond principles and patterns, missions is about ordinary people living out the will of God as friend of God and friend of sinners - out of a passionate love for Messiah and His mission!
In this session, "Honouring Those Who Have Gone Before," we will take a journey down missions hall of fame and pay tribute to a few whose lives stand out as friend of God and friend of sinners. Their lives are a lesson for all of us today, a legacy for generations to come. We want to re-discover the passion that fuelled their faith and fired their imagination to be the extraordinary servant-leader, for whom the world was not worthy.
ABRAHAM, friend of God. . . Jewish Patriarch with whom God covenanted to greatly bless him and make his tribe a blessing to all peoples. Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again to fulfill that promise. And since then, the Christian faith, more than any other, has shown a remarkable ability to penetrate and transform individuals and communities of any race, religion, language, and culture. By the middle of the 20th century followers of Jesus were gathered in every continent and virtually every country. And today, 2 billion people - a third of the world's population - have professed allegiance to Jesus the Messiah.
Today, we honour and lift up the name of JESUS! We celebrate Messiah, servant-King, who came from heaven to live among sinners. A man familiar with suffering, we esteemed Him not. He was pierced for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. JESUS: Friend of God. Friend of Sinners. Redeemer! Tthat's the core of world missions!
Next we honour PAUL, who called himself chief of sinners. More than his peers, Paul understood that, while God's redemptive mission is to the Jew first, it is also to the Gentiles. All peoples have the right to follow Jesus without becoming Jews! As Paul "de-Juda-iz-ed" the Good News for the Gentiles, today we must de-westernize Christianity for the unreached peoples of the Ten-40 Window. Learning from Paul, may we truly become all things to all peoples: accepting their unique personalities; applauding their distinct cultures, affirming their giftings and God-given greatness for the display of His splendour.
Yet Paul never forgot his own Jewish people. He says, "I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow provoke my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?"
As we gather here in Jerusalem for Celebrate Messiah, let us not be arrogant or ignorant. Let us not be indifferent. Like Paul, let us love both Jews and Gentiles with a passion. Friend of God. Friend of Gentiles. Friend of God. Friend of Jews.
In the first century, Paul built the bridge between Jew and Gentile. Next we wish to honour a young man of the Medieval Period who sought to bridge the gap between Christians and Moslems. In his day, the institutional Church had gone the way of crusades against Moslems, Jews, and even fellow Christians. This young man championed a non-violent approach to winning Muslims. On the 5th Crusade he crossed the battle lines and, after taking a beating, presented the gospel to the sultan of Egypt. Though unpersuaded, the sultan was deeply impressed with the testimony of this young man and honored him with a carved ivory horn. FRANCIS of Assisi: Friend of God. Friend of sinners. Lover of God. Lover of Moslems!
Inspired by Francis' example, Raymond Lull, a lay Franciscan, lived to win Muslims by love, prayers, tears and martyrdom. . . rather than by force. He practised what he preached. On his last trip to North Africa, he was stoned. In the very place where Lull died, a mass movement to Christ started in the 1980s among the Berbers of Algeria. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church! Except a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds [John 12:24]. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. Raymond Lull: friend of God, friend of sinners. Lover of God. Lover of Moslems!
Continuing on down the corridors of history, we want to honour Count Zinzendorf, outstandingly a friend of God and a friend of sinners. Zinzendorf from an early age was deeply devoted to Christ and prayer. Still a teenager, he and five friends founded "the Order of the Grain of Mustard Seed." Their creed was simple: "None of us lives for himself." He established circles of prayer in his college. People who seek the Lord seek the lost.
These were the early beginnings of the Moravian movement, which clocked the longest prayer chain in history -unbroken for 100 years. They matched their passion for Christ with a compassion for the lost. Their first two missionaries, Dober, a potter, and Nitchman, a carpenter, were willing to sell themselves as slaves to reach the slaves of the West Indies. As their ship left harbor on 8 October 1732, they sounded the cry that became the watchword of their movement: "May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering." By 1930 the Moravians had sent out 3,000 missionaries - one missionary for every 12 church members! May that same passion and priority grip our hearts for unreached peoples without access ot the Gospel.
Honouring Those Who Have Gone Before. . . Moving ahead to modern missions, we remember the under-educated, under-achieving cobbler whom history named the "Father of Modern Missions." When he proposed a mission to the unreached, WILLIAM CAREY was told: "Young man, sit down, sit down! When God pleases to convert the heathen, he'll do it without consulting you or me."
Misapplied Calvinism had convinced many that the conversion of the heathen was nobody's business but God's. Carey refused to sit down. . . except to write his "Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens" . With pen and paper, the pauper on the periphery defied the major theological barriers and excuses against missions in his day.
Crossing the line, he helped launch the Baptist Missionary Society. Crossing the seas, he set foot in India. Crossing culture, he spent the last 40 years of his life attempting great things for God. He translated the entire Bible into 7 languages and portions of Scripture into 29 others and promoted systemmatic evangelism, church-planting, and education. And against all odds, he corrected social ills such as slavery, ritual killing of infants, and the burning of widows. Carey's breakthrough helped catalyze what historians call "The Great Century"of Protestant missions. It drew the English-speaking world into missions on a large scale. We thank God for the life and legacy of William Carey, Friend of God, Friend of Sinners. Ambassador for God. Advocate for the oppressed.
Carey's example launched a new missions thrust to the unreached nations of the non-western world. But by the 1860s, most missions had confined their work to the coastlands. It was then that a young man in his 20s, by the name of Hudson Taylor, began calling for a new approach to reach the inlands. Hudson Taylor is my hero. Maybe because he chose the land of my roots, China. Maybe because the organization he founded, now OMF, is headquarted in Singapore, the land of my calling. But more than that, Hudson Taylor loved China.
Against the backdrop of foreign domination and exploitation, with China hounded and humiliated by foreign powers, Hudson Taylor stood out as a compassionate servant, bringing life and light to that great land. To identify with the Chinese peoples he so loved, he learned the Chinese language and adopted Chinese dress, hairstyle, and culture. This shocked Taylor's contemporaries, who felt that Christianity was not "kosher" unless it was clothed in Western culture. Though criticized and ridiculed, he held his ground on what is now a key missiological principle - that we should never impose our foreign culture on the peoples we want to reach.
Taylor dreamed of a new kind of agency that would blaze a trail to the unreached millions of inland China. Liek Carey, he was ridiculed: "Why start a new agency, when there are already so many? Why go to the interior if you haven't finished the job on the coast?" Undaunted, Taylor persisted in prayer in order to break new ground.
Back in England one Sunday morning, he had a bad day in church. He wrote: "unable to bear the sight of a congregation of a thousand or more Christian people rejoicing in their own security, while millions were perishing for lack of knowledge, I wandered out on the sands alone in great spiritual agony; and there the Lord conquered my unbelief, and I surrendered myself to God for this service." That was Taylor's "burning bush." In 1865 he founded the China Inland Mission which eventually sent thousands of men and women into the interiors of China. This is the first inter-denominational mission. And it was directed from within China, not England. As a result of Taylor's breakthrough, 40 new mission agencies took shape, many of them dedicated to inland missions in many other nations.
The unreached peoples today need many more tenacious advocates, who, like William Carey and Hudson Taylor, refuse to forget about them, despite a thousand contrary voices and opinions. This is the day of Good News. How can we keep it to ourselves?
Hudson Taylor was a tremendous inspiration to many others. He blazed the trail for a young generation destined to be world changers: In 1885 C.T. Studd and six other Cambridge men of distinction turned their backs on career and status to join Hudson Taylor's China Inland Mission. This caught worldwide attention and inspired the Student Volunteer Movement which placed missions squarely in the centre of American church life at the close of the 19th century.
In July 1886, D.L. Moody directed a month-long student conference on his school grounds at Mt. Hermon, Massachusetts. On the last day of the conference 100 of the 250 participants signed the "Princeton Pledge," declaring that they "were willing and desirous, God permitting, to become foreign missionaries." The Student Volunteer Movement formally organized in 1888 with John Mott as its leader. Their watchword: "The evangelization of the world in this generation." Over the next 50 years, the movement drew 100,000 students into missions. 20,000 went! The other 80,000 stayed home to build up the prayer and financial base for the movement. Their obedience made a world of difference for the peoples sitting in darkness!
Missionaries have always made the difference, evangelizing specific people groups. But the unreached people focus sharpened during the 20th century.
In 1917 Cameron Townsend was trying to sell Spanish Bibles in Guatemala when a Cakchiquel-speaking Indian challenged him, "If your God is so smart, why can't he speak our language?" Townsend realized that Spanish was inadequate for reaching He took the Indian's question seriously. But others weren't so sympathetic. "Don't be a fool," friends told him. "Those Indians aren't worth what it would take to learn their outlandish language and translate the Bible for them. They can't read anyhow. Let the Indians learn Spanish," they said.
Townsend was no fool. He eventually answered that Indian's challenge with a Cakchiquel New Testament in 1931. With that, Towsend began dreaming about other tribes. He founded the Summer Institute of Linguistics and Wycliffe Bible Translators, which has since reduced hundreds of languages to writing for Scripture translation.
Townsend's focus on linguistic barriers marks a turning point in the growing awareness of unreached peoples. Another breakthrough came when DONALD MCGAVRAN, a missionary in India, noticed that people like to become Christians without crossing barriers. The gospel travels most effectively and rapidly along the lines of kinship and friendship. Through these Bridges of God, McGavran observed, the gospel can spread through an entire people group, just like ink in water
With this new perspective, McGavran resigned as executive secretary of his mission and spent 17 years making disciples and planting churches among the mosaic of distinct people groups in India. Friend of God, friend of sinners. Motivated by the Father's deep love for the Indian peoples, he sat where they sat, stooping down to make them great! The fruit of his ministry and the movement that has outlived him has vindicated the wisdom of his principle the great commission requires making disciples of all peoples, panta ta ethne.
Despite McGavran's breakthrough, by the 1960s world Christian leaders were clamoring for a moratorium on missions, on the grounds that the gospel had spread to every land. But in 1974, at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, RALPH WINTER dropped a bombshell. He argued that, since the gospel doesn't automatically jump from one culture to the next, even the most vigorous evangelistic efforts by all existing Christians would have no effect on the billions of non-Christians living among people groups that had no churches.
Winter argued that the highest priority is cross-cultural evangelism aimed at establishing a beachhead in every unreached people group. The vision of "a church for every people by the year 2000" was soon conceived. The so-called moratorium on missions gave way to what McGavran called "the sunrise of missions." We thank God for men like William Cameron Townsend, Donald McGavran, and Ralph Winter, who awakened the 20th-century church to the reality of unreached peoples and their need to ecnounter God's love in a life-changing way.
After the 1974 Congress, the Lausanne Movement spent the next several years clarifying and drawing attention to the reality of unreached peoples. Then in 1989, the AD2000 & Beyond Movement collaborated efforts to strategically network and mobilize thousands of churches and ministries around the world toward the vision of a church for every people and the gospel for every person by the year 2000.
In 1996 the AD2000 & Beyond Movement launched Joshua Project 2000 shortlisting major unreached people groups of the world. By the year 2000, all these unreached people groups had been adopted. For this awesome achievement, we want to honour Thomas Wang, Luis Bush and the many others who gave leadership to this great movement.
The sign Jesus said would mark the end of this would be the witness of the good news of the kingdom within every ethnic-language group throughout the entire world (Mt. 24:14). After 2000 years of reaching most of the world's major peoples, the completion of this in our generation is within reach. It won't be easy.
I am convinced that much more than the strategic application of mission principles learned from those who have gone before, we, His global Church, desperately need a fresh new openness to the supernatural power of the Spirit. Not by might , not by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord. Not by institutional might, not by intellectual power, but by the dunamis of the Spirit poured out upon all flesh! OPEN HEAVENS! We desperately need to return to a fresh new passion for Christ and a fresh new compassion for unreached peoples. Then there will be OPEN HEARTS, OPEN HANDS and OPEN HIGHWAYS, paving the way for OPEN HORIZONS to disciple the nations.
Six months ago, I was on a Silk Road prayer journey in China with a team of 15 young people. Two weeks before departure, I asked the Lord for a revelation of His heart. As I prayed, I saw in my mind's eye, a large open landscape under a thin layer of misty dew. Soon misty dew became soft feathery puffs and began to drift in dance motions as if choreographed by an unseen hand. As I watched, I noticed that they were coming together in formation, in the shape of a Chinese word I recognised: 'ai' which means love. I thought to myself: Hey, what on earth is this big fat love-cloud doing on ground zero? Clouds belong in the skies, somewhere up there, not down here! Immediately, I felt this deep impression from the Lord: Love on earth
Wouldn't you believe it, during my Silk Road trip, I saw a similar picture on Chinese MTV in my hotel room. Big open landscape. Little feathery puffs of cloud drifting against the backdrop of a soft blue sky. I could not catch the lyrics, but at the end of the song, four Chinese characters appeared on screen. Lo and behold, it read: AI ZAI REN JIAN which literally means love in the midst of humanity. I exclaimed: Love on earth! In other words, Emmanuel, God with us. . . for God is Love. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth [John 1:14].
I wept. You see, my team and I were concerned about the many things WRONG with China: her longstanding sins of oppression, injustice, corruption, abuse, persecution, and control. But Father says: Yes, China is guilty. I know that, too. She deserves My judgment. But I love China. The RIGHT thing to do is Love Her. She needs My love. Pray in love for her. Speak tenderly to her. Sing of My love for her. She does not know My love. Ask, and I will give her a revelation of My love!
As you can imagine, I was absolutely undone by the power of this word. Throughout the Silk Road journey, my heart pulsated with just one theme: the Father's Love. The team flowed strongly along. We ourselves were healed as we prayed the healing grace and love of God over China. Like the Good Samaritan, we poured oil and wine in a prophetic act for China's healing. But that's not the end of the story. During the last leg of our Silk Road journey in Urumqi, Xinjiang, our Han Chinese tour guide gave her life to Jesus. She was moved by our love for her and her great nation. And guess what - her name in Chinese means 'little cloud'. What a prophetic token from heaven! Remember Elijah? After Mount Carmel, he sought God for rain. God gave a sign: a cloud the size of a man's hand! China will receive a revelation of the Father's love. Where love reigns, expect a cloud the size of a man's hand.
I returned to Singapore with one burning passion: ai zai ren jian. For me, this is what world missions is all about. God is love. God so loved the world. . . Emmanuel, God with us! The 21st century will see the combine-harvesting effect of proclamation evangelism, power evangelism, prayer evangelism, and most of all, presence evangelism. God's manifest presence among us!
As we cross over into a brand new millennium, may we desperately recover the passion of the Father: His broken heart over the lostness of peoples with no access to the Gospel. With so much already achieved by those who have gone before us, may we not grow weary in well doing. May we lavish love on unreached peoples who reject us, persecute us, slander us, and slaughter us!
The gospel is the power of God's covenant LOVE for healing and reconciliation - peace among all peoples. The same power that broke down hate barriers between 1st-century Jews and Samaritans can bring healing to the wounded, warring peoples of our world today. Together, we must proclaim Jesus' message of repentance, forgiveness, peace on earth and goodwill to all man.
Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, those who have gone before us. . . from Abraham to Jesus to the faceless, nameless champions who made a world of difference. . . let us lay down our lives, lay down our personal ambition, organizational tags and titles. Let's return to the simplicity of the Christ-life: LOVE. ai zai ren jian! Love God. Love Neighbour. Friend of God, Friend of Sinner.
To Him who sits on the throne, be honour, glory, power and praise.
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