December 12, 2017


Chuck Phelps

Our loving Heavenly Father was so missions-minded that He “sent His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). When Christians consider the matter of missions they consider a matter dear to the heart of God.

The power of the American passport and American purse is a tremendous responsibility sadly forgotten by many American Christians. “According to the 13th edition of the Mission Handbook, the ‘bible’ of missionary analysis, America ranks 16th per capita in the list of countries sending missionaries overseas. That’s right. Sixteenth! In ratio to the national population, America ranks behind Ireland, Belgium, Spain, Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, Canada, France, Switzerland, New Zealand, Norway, West Germany, Australia and Sweden” (Woodrow Kroll, The Vanishing Ministry, pp. 25–26).

Just as the student must travel to northern Minnesota to discover the first springs of the mighty Mississippi, the believer who would have a mind for missions must trace a path to Acts 13. The story begins in Antioch. “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away” (Acts 13:2–3).

The Missions-Minded Are Mindful of People

“Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul” (Acts 13:1). What an extraordinary group of people! Barnabas, a Levite from the Isle of Cyprus (Acts 4:36), was a man who sweetly sacrificed his land holdings for the work of His Lord. Simeon, the man called “Niger” or “black,” was quite possibly the man who bore the Savior’s cross (Mark 15:21). It may well be that Lucius of Cyrene was brought to Christ by Simeon who also came from Cyrene (Mark 15:21). Manaen was “brought up with Herod the tetrarch.” Historians have identified Manaen as the foster brother of Herod Antipas, the ruler who required the head of John the Baptist and tried the Lord Jesus Christ. Saul, the former Pharisee from Tarsus and persecutor of the church, also called the church at Antioch home. The people in the church of Antioch had something special. They had “the grace of God which bringeth salvation” (Titus 2:11). They knew the blessings of Christian fellowship and edification (Eph. 4:11–12).

The church at Antioch began when unnamed evangelists from Cyprus and Cyrene came bearing the gospel (Acts 11:20–21). As the number of disciples multiplied in Antioch, the Lord filled their minds with the matter of missions. It would seem only natural that their first concern was for the people of Cyprus (Acts 13:4–5). The people of Cyprus brought the gospel to the people of Antioch. Now the people of Antioch would carry the gospel to the people of Cyprus.

When Adoniram Judson, America’s first foreign missionary, picked up his quill and began to scratch a note requesting the hand of Miss Ann Hasseltine, his thoughts moved beyond the bliss of matrimony and encompassed his burden for missions. Adoniram wanted to share the believer’s benefits with those who were perishing without the gospel. After prayerfully considering the need to bring a wife with him to the field, Judson wrote,

I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next Spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure for a heathen land, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the sultry clime of India; to every kind of want and distress, to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of Him who left his heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with a crown of righteousness brightened by the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Savior from heathens saved, through her means from eternal woe and despair? (Burma’s Great Missionary. Records of the Life, Character and Achievements of Adoniram Judson, Fletcher Co. of New York, 1854, p. 39).

Ann and Adoniram were married February 5, 1812. Judson was ordained to the gospel ministry the next day. Just 12 days later the newlyweds would leave the safe harbor of Salem, Massachusetts. The Judson’s 114-day honeymoon cruise would bring them to Calcutta because they had a heart for people who were “perishing.”

If the church would be missions-minded, the church must be mindful of people. “The unreached peoples of the world are categorized into 16,750 people groups. These groups represent 59 percent of the world’s population” (Peter Wagner, Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow, p. 199). Studies indicate that less than one percent of Japan’s population claims Christianity (Kroll, p. 19). India is home to nearly one billion souls, only three percent of whom are Christians. “Europe today has been accurately described as being a secular post-Christian society. More than a third of Europeans overall do not believe in God” (ibid., p. 21). People are perishing. “How shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14). The church at Antioch saw the need to bring the blessings that they enjoyed to those who were without hope.

The Missions-Minded Are Mindful of Prayer

The mother church of the missionary movement “ministered . . . fasted . . . and prayed” (Acts 13:2–3). According to Henry Martyn, missionary to India and Persia, “the spirit of Christ is the Spirit of missions and the nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we become” (Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol. I, p. 456).

Our Lord has instructed us to “look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest” (John 4:35). But experience teaches us that the fields are only seen by those who bend the knee in prayer (Matt. 9:38) and look through the glass of the Spirit.

In 1723, Count Zinzendorf of Saxony along with another nobleman and two Lutheran pastors established the “Covenant of the Four Brethren” for the propagation of the gospel throughout the world. Within four short years, several hundred Brethren had gathered on Zinzendorf’s estate; so Count Zinzendorf and the Brethren established a community that they would call “Herrnhut” (Lodge of the Lord). Herrnhut was home to the Moravian pietists.

At Herrnhut the members of the community were divided into sections for devotional purposes, and times for prayer were so arranged for each that no intermission of petitions to the throne of grace might occur. As early as 1728 plans for missions to Mohammedans and heathen were being laid, and visits were made by members of the organization to Turkey, Africa, St. Thomas, Greenland, Lapland, Georgia and Surinam. . . . Pennsylvania was entered in 1735 (Albert Newman, A Manual for Church History, Vol. II, pp. 536–538).

“The Moravian Prayer meeting which began with the spiritual awakening of August 13, 1727, in Herrnhut . . . lasted for one hundred years, the first quarter of which saw the sending forth of more than one hundred missionaries” (J. C. Macaulay, Expository Commentary on Acts, p. 135).

Most students of the history of American foreign missions would say that America’s involvement in foreign missions began in 1812 with the sending out of the Judsons and the Newells. Though such a date would be factually true, it fails to consider that it was in a prayer meeting that the matter of missions began to matter to Americans.

One hot, humid Saturday afternoon in August of 1808, Samuel Mills led five students in a prayer meeting in a Maple Grove known as “Sloan’s Meadow,” between [Williams] college and the Hoosac River. They had scarcely assembled when a thunderstorm broke. . . . The only shelter was a haystack in a clearing in the grove; they took refuge . . . under its overhanging sides. . . .While lightning flashed and thunder cracked overhead, four of the five enthusiastically approved a proposal “to send the Gospel to the pagans . . . to the dark and heathen land” (Courtney Anderson, To the Golden Shore, p. 61).

Samuel Mills and James Richards, who participated in the haystack prayer meeting, were soon to enroll at Andover Seminary where their zeal for missions would influence Adoniram Judson, Samuel Newell, and countless others. Before going to proclaim, there will always be groaning in prayer.

The Missions-Minded Are Mindful of the Prize

While proclaiming the good news on the Isle of Crete, Paul and Barnabas encountered satanic opposition. A false prophet named Bar-Jesus withstood the work of the Lord (Acts 13:6–8). Satan’s strongholds will not yield without a struggle. Whether the messenger is on the Isle of Crete in the first century or in the streets of America in the 21st century, opposition ought to be expected. Paul “set his eyes on” his enemy (Acts 13:9). The false prophet was blinded (Acts 13:11). “Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord” (Acts 13:12). Those who are sent of the Lord will see beyond the opposition to the prize. There are souls to be won.

In August of 1999 my daughter and I traveled to Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus. At a service in a small Belarussian village the Lord taught me an invaluable lesson. Almost 30 souls gathered to sing and listen to the sermon. The evening was hot. The villagers were tired from their farm labors. We met outdoors on plank benches next to an old thatchedroof house. When the invitation was given, amazingly, more than half of those assembled made professions of faith in Christ. As the congregation began to disperse, I noticed that an elderly woman was simultaneously weeping and smiling. Approaching the dear lady, I sought the assistance of an interpreter to learn her story. I discovered that the weeping lady was 88 years of age. She was married in the 1930s. Shortly after her marriage her husband served with the Polish as they tried in vain to resist the advances of Hitler’s German Army. In 1939 the Germans seized Belarus. The soldiers fled. Her husband sought refuge in England. When World War II ended, Lenin took control of the Belarussians. Her husband knew that any return to Belarus would certainly mean imprisonment if not death. Lenin did not tolerate nationalistic fervor.

When the Iron Curtain came down a call came from England. After all these years, her husband was still alive. Sadly, he was now too aged and frail to travel. Though they had not spoken since 1939, love burned through the phone lines as husband and wife shared their joys and sorrows. The greatest joy was that the faithful wife had led both of their children to Christ. As we stood talking, the woman of God said to me, “All of my prayers have been answered! I prayed that I would hear again from my husband and God granted my request. For 60 years I have prayed that someone would come and preach the gospel in my village. Tonight, you are the answer to my prayers.” That night I came to understand that those who are missions-minded are mindful of the prize.

Dr. Charles Phelps is the pastor of Colonial Hills Baptist Church, Indianapolis, Indiana.

(Originally published in FrontLine • May/June 2000. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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