Story Of Missions
Delivered at Founder’s Week Conference, Moody Bible Institute.
If, after reading the twelfth verse of the second chapter of Romans, and comparing it with John 3:16, you fail to see that the heathen are lost without Christ, that they are really perishing without the Gospel, you are not fit to be a missionary either to the heathen, so called, at home or to the heathen abroad. You have got to know that there is only one way of escape for all the world before you will ever get a missionary heart charged with the compassion of Christ and become a goer after souls.
The story of missions during the past forty years is of thrilling interest. It is a romantic story, and not the least interesting one is the African chapter. The African chapter is one of sustained interest, showing God at work opening that land of night to Gospel messengers. Forty years ago in a great part of central Africa was an unknown jungle. Thirty years ago, when I entered West Africa I had the privilege of walking paths never trodden before by strangers. You young men may settle in a coast town if you will, and take the second best, but God may give you the privilege, if you seek it, of reaching places where Christ has never yet been named. God began to work mightily during the late seventies [1870s] in answer to the prayers of His people. God did His part, and the doors of all the heathen world were battered open. Notwithstanding the fact that a great harvest of missions is being gathered in now, the doors are gradually closing on their springs against missionary effort, and this is notably true since the outbreak of the war.
Forty years ago God’s people were upon their faces pouring out their souls, and this was the burden of their cry: “Oh God! Open up the unreached fields, the places where Christ has never been named; break down the barriers.” And God broke them down in a remarkable way, but the Church did not respond, and the doors are closing. Look at Africa! How much territory has been closed to missionaries since our great war. Look at all the other fields and see conditions which have arisen and are closing the doors. They were wide open.
Don’t you see God in mission history? There in Africa was a great tackles wilderness, teaming with a population of lost souls. God wanted to reach them. See how He did it. Henry M. Stanley was canoeing down the Congo, fighting awful fevers; fighting hostile natives; forcing his way at great peril to the discovery of the mouth of that mighty river. At the same time over in London was a man named Arthington, who had plenty of money and who was looking to God for a place to invest it. At the same time over on the west coast of Africa was a missionary, Comber, dissatisfied with the outlook in the Cameroons, feeling the urge to untouched Congo. Now we see one on the west coast, one in the heart of Africa, and one in London, three men desiring to be greatly used, and God planning and God’s people praying. They are brought together and the sun begins to glow in the land of midnight. In 1877 the first steps had been accomplished. This called for sacrifice. In China they had one form of sacrifice. In India another way to show loyalty, and Africa was entered through great physical hardships.
It all called for real sacrifice. The sacrificing bunch are in the minority among God’s people. Roughly speaking, there are two great classes among professing Christians, divided like this: Those who are passing the bread and those who are “passing the buck.” Now, for the sake of out-of-town visitors who may not understand the language of Chicago, “passing the buck,” as near as I can explain it, is something like this: You have your cord of wood to saw and I have mine. Here’s a bucksaw and a sawbuck. Instead of sawing your cord of wood you simply pass the bucksaw over, and I do it for you while you take a vacation.
Whoever told you there was enough to do at home? Where is home? Whoever made a division between the home and foreign field, and where is the boundary line? One says, “I am a home missionary.” Another says, “I am a foreign missionary.” If you are a missionary, then you are a missionary wherever you may be. And until you have the missionary heart that bleeds for a whole lost world you will never be a true missionary in any part of the world.
But it is all a matter of viewpoint, after all, isn’t it? One chilly gray African dawn, under dripping forest trees, amid sordid surroundings, at the side of a swirling, tossing rivulet which had become a raging torrent over night, I was there in the wet with just dry wood enough, after careful searching, to start a bit of fire to make a cup of tea. Along came a caravan of traders. Here was an opportunity not to be slighted. We had a preaching service after which I talked to them in small groups as they squatted on their bundles waiting for the flood to subside.
As I sat there with a cup of tea in hand, a man came up to ask a question.
“I have been interested in what you are talking about,” remarked he, “but what do you do?”
“Oh, I am a missionary.”
“Yes; a missionary.”
“But what do you do for a living?”
“I am a missionary,” I patiently explained. “I live at Vungu, and I visit villages far and near traveling over miscalled roads to tell folks about Jesus.”
“Yes,” he insisted, “but that isn’t what I want to know. What do you do?”
“I have told you my business, and what I do.”
“Well! Well!” he concluded enviously. “Is that all you do?”
It is all a matter of viewpoint. Depends on how you look at it. To him, I was a rich lord who had everything his own way, a great pocketbook about three feet long and one foot high, a tin trunk full of all kinds of fishhooks and brass tacks and buttons and beads, spoons and knives and all such things. Goods to buy with and men to carry my bundles for me. I was about to pity myself on that cold, dreary morning, but then I changed my mind.
We had very little in those early days, as our money went into our work. It went to open new stations, to build up and develop the old ones, and the need was so great that nothing was regarded as a sacrifice. My wife made my pants out of awning cloth, used in barter, with stripes as broad as my hand. Why, I could mention almost everything and put behind it “didn’t have.” My wife cried once. We ordered from Europe a pair of shoes for a six-months-old baby. When they came at last, baby was eighteen months old, having grown some in the meantime. He couldn’t get his toes into them, and it was hard on the baby.
It all demanded much of just that kind of hardship in Africa. Opening the land demanded that some men and some women cast aside the refinements of civilization and forego all the pleasures of communion with other Christian people and go live Christ in the wilderness. God called for such sacrifice then, and in answer to the prayers of His people has given wonderful results. It would take a long time to tell about the results. God gave results—wonderful, splendid results. But I must sit down now as my fifteen minutes are up.
The story of modern missions is of heart-stirring interest and in the place where we lived and labored, where we toiled and where we cried in agony of heart at times because of the hardness of the hearts of people, God has given a harvest such as has not been excelled in any other part of the mission field, even in Africa, the great harvest mission field. My prayer this afternoon is that God may raise up from your midst some young man who will say, “I will go as I am, unmarried. I will go to open up some unopened country. I will go to sacrifice, if need be, and live in the jungle if God wills. Here am I, Lord, send me! I will go to be a pioneer missionary.”
There is still room for pioneer missionaries. At this time there are yet fields untouched. There are great tribes of people and many, many languages into which John 3:16 has never been translated. They don’t know from the Word of God that they are perishing and that He so loved the world that he gave Jesus to be their Saviour, that they “should not perish but have everlasting life.”