January 19, 2018

We Can Make Excuses, or We Can Make Disciples

John C. Vaughn

Many years ago I had the opportunity to go soul winning on board a merchant ship docked at Hampton Roads near Norfolk, Virginia. The man who invited me on board does this full time. Over thirty years ago he had already seen the wisdom of reaching foreign nationals who come to our shores even briefly. I learned that although the ships are registered in various countries, there may be merchant seamen from those or other countries making up the crew. My friend went prepared with Bibles and literature in many languages. Today his converts are pastoring churches in their native countries.

Pointing to a man who identified his language in words I could not understand, this unusual missionary handed me a Bible and told me just to find the verses and point to them. To this day, I do not know the language the man spoke, but I could count the books in the table of contents until I found Romans, then opened the Bible to the chapters and verses and pointed them out to the man. I will never forget the emotion of seeing the realization first of sin, then of hope, in that man’s eyes during this unusual encounter. I learned a lesson that day that I have never forgotten: language is a barrier, but it is not an insurmountable barrier. Sure, we need to be able to communicate the truth, but let’s not forget that God has already communicated the truth.

Missionaries struggle with the languages of the people to whom they are called. Pastors struggle to communicate ideas to darkened minds in the language they share. But, too often, pleading ignorance of the language is an excuse for not loving a soul. I knew a missionary, with the Lord now, who went to a Pacific island without a written language. He couldn’t speak the language of the people, and no one there spoke English. He pitched a tent (a literal tent) under the trees and set up housekeeping. When a local man came, he sat on his heels and stared. My friend sat on his heels and stared back. After a while the man said something, and my friend repeated it. The man said something else, and my friend repeated that.

Then, the missionary picked up the nearest object and pointed to it. The man said a word and the missionary repeated it. Eventually, he learned the language, reduced it to writing, taught the people the Bible, started a church, and trained a pastor. One hundred years ago, his story would have been in all the newspapers and the man would have been hailed as a national hero. Now, hardly anyone knows his name—except the One who really matters.

We are faced with a choice right now. Our response will affect the history of Christianity in America. We can join the crowd who complains, “If these people are going to come to America, why don’t they learn to speak English?” or we can find a way to get the gospel of Jesus Christ to a culture that may some day send missionaries to our grandchildren. America doesn’t have an immigration problem so much as it has an evangelism problem. The Hispanic population in the United States is growing more rapidly than most Bible-believers realize. With that growth in population comes an incredible growth in opportunity, and therefore, in obligation.

We must rejoice at this opportunity and prepare ourselves to meet it. Most Hispanics believe in One God; most have a commendable loyalty to family and a disciplined work ethic. (Can you remember when this country used to believe that if a man would outwork another man for less money, he deserved the job?) Our experience has been that when a Hispanic man comes to Christ he is zealous about bringing his friends and family to Christ. There is a “first generation” Christian mentality in Hispanic church planting. I pastor in a city where it is easy for Christians to complain that no one wants to hear the gospel, or everyone claims to believe it. When we started a Spanish-speaking ministry twenty-five years ago, Hispanics weren’t interested in learning the excuses— they just went to work. They have been busy winning souls, planting churches, sending Spanish-speaking evangelists back to the countries of their birth, and otherwise fulfilling the Great Commission.

The man who wants to get the gospel to another man will find a way. The missionary who wants to find and train a leader to leave in place will get over the barriers. The church that sees the opportunity that has been laid on our doorstep will seize it while there is time. We can make excuses, or we can make disciples.

John Vaughn is the President of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International.

(Originally published in FrontLine • January / February 2006. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

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