by John C. Vaughn
Originally Published in FrontLine Jan/Feb 2010
Many years ago a young man came to see his pastor for counsel about his call to missions. He had told friends and family that God had called him to France and had sought the counsel of fellow church members who were on their way there. He was learning about French culture and history. In tears he explained that he was not sure that he was called to go to France.
He was ashamed and afraid. He didn’t know what to do. After prayer and discussion, he finally admitted, “I know I’m not called to France.” When asked what had caused him to think that was God’s will, he meekly answered, “I volunteered to go France because I was afraid God might call me to Africa.”
This is a true story; I was the pastor. There is no need to tell you who he is, but I have his permission to share the story. He was genuinely afraid of Africa and the thought that God might make him go there. He grew up under the influence of ideas that are as foreign to young people today as Africa was to him. Racism was widespread in culture, schools, and churches. Public television, still in its early days, pandered to prejudice. Public schools were segregated. Fear of Africa as a mission field was fed by fear of African-Americans in general. Those of us who were children in the fifties and sixties well remember the awkwardness and confusion of those days.
On Saturdays we watched old Tarzan movies on black-and-white TV. There, Africans were portrayed as childlike and superstitious, fit only for bearing the burdens of wealthy white people on safari. Frightening images of warring jungle tribes (from Saturday television) were in our minds when we were taught missionary stories on Sunday about the Mau- Mau uprising in Kenya or the horrors of civil war in what was still called the “Belgian Congo.” We heard stories of martyrdom and the hardships of missionary families fleeing unspeakable violence.
Communist tyrant Nakita Kruschev had American children waking up with nightmares of mushroom clouds while elementary schools taught children how to crouch under their desks for safety (!) in the event of nuclear attack. My friend was not the only young person who had grown up with political and racial fear. In feigned lightheartedness we joked, “Yeah, I’m afraid if I give my heart to the Lord, He’ll make me go to Africa.” As he unburdened his heart, we talked about three big fears of carnal young people in those days: waking up to an atom bomb lighting up the horizon, getting drafted and dying in Viet Nam, or getting sent to Africa. How did we respond to those fears? In the fifties we hid under our desks; in the sixties we joined the Air Force; in the seventies we surrendered to go to France even though we were not called.
Sinners fear God, not by respecting Him, but in the same way that Adam and Eve feared Him after the Fall. They hid from Him because they had not trusted His word, and their disobedience left them in fear. When a painful trial comes, Christians sometimes ask, “Is God punishing me?” We hear much today in reaction to the pressure of fear-driven Christianity, but let’s not forget the very real pain and fear that fostered it. The would-be missionary to France was genuinely afraid of Africa, but he soon realized that he had no reason to be afraid of the will of God. His fear was based on cultural concepts, but Biblical truth delivered him from his fear. He came to understand that the fear of what might happen to him was an unjustified fear of God for allowing it. He wasn’t just saying “no” to Africa; he had been saying “no” to God.
Missionary Jimmy Rose tells the story of how he saw the presentation of a missionary to Brazil. In one picture he was sitting near a fire with nationals, eating a monkey. Bro. Rose was up all night vomiting and pleading with God not to send him to Brazil—not to make him eat a monkey. Finally, near dawn, he “ate the monkey.” He told the Lord if God wanted him to go to Brazil and to eat a monkey, he would obey. He went to Brazil, spent his life there, led thousands to Christ, but never had to eat a monkey.
My other friend also told the Lord he would obey. He would go wherever the Lord called him to go—even to Africa. Because he was willing to go anywhere, God left him right where he was supposed to be, in his local church, praying for missionaries in Africa and being greatly used of God to build and lead a Bible Quiz ministry that has taught many young people thousands of Bible verses. Many of those young people are now in full-time ministry—some in Africa.
John C. Vaughn is the President of the FBFI.