I wonder about the future of the American missionary. When we are asked about our plans for future terms and career paths I wonder how much we really know about where things are headed. Do you see what I see?
The year is 203AD and a small group of professing Christians are rounded up and put into house arrest. If they deny Christ then they will be set free. In response, they hold a baptismal service. For their profession of faith displayed publically in Baptism they are thrown in prison and sentenced to death in a coliseum by wild beasts such as leopards and bulls. A young woman named Felicity is among those sentenced to death. An ancient document writes of her saying, “She was pregnant when she was first arrested, and now she was in her eighth month. As the day of the show drew near she became deeply distressed. She feared her swollen belly would delay her martyrdom because it is against the law to publicly punish pregnant women. And so, two days before the games began, they (the imprisoned group of Christians) joined together and poured out their prayer to the Lord in a single united groan. Immediately after the prayer Felicity’s birth pangs came on strong.” Her miraculous answer to prayer allowed her to be killed as a martyr alongside the other Christians because she wasn’t pregnant anymore. In fact, together they hoped that in their beatings beforehand they might be whipped because they wanted to share in the same sufferings of Christ as he experienced during His journey to the cross.
Over 1,500 years later, the year is 1743 and David Brainerd is not your average colonist. At a time when the colonies were just beginning their revolt against Britain, Brainerd took the Gospel to Native American Indians scattered across the Northeast. He traveled in and out of communities preaching and establishing Christian communities. The writings of David Brainerd have influenced generations of future missionaries. At the young age of only 29 Brainerd lost his life to illness. During his decline in health he wrote of his death saying, “I have never been frightened; but, on the contrary, at times much delighted with a view of its approach.” He was a man on a mission and his entire focus was given over the work of the Kingdom of God. Brainerd was commissioned and sent out by a Church passionate about pushing the light of the Gospel into the untouched forests and fields of their infant country.
I wonder where we are today. We’ve come from an early Church that matured in the blood of her martyrs. We were strengthened by centuries of sacrifice, steadfastness in the faith and the enduring of suffering and persecution. We stand on the shoulders of missionaries and horse-riding preachers who took the Gospel to every corner of our country. We are planted in the soil tilled and nurtured by authors and thinkers and Godly leaders who lived for Christ alone. Who are we today?
I wonder about the future of American missions.
My mind is full and my chest is churning as I admire the work of all those who came before me. I’m intimidated and impressed by them. God has used their lives to write an incredible story. I want to contribute something to that very story. I want to add a letter. A comma. Something. I want to scratch something on its surface if only to contribute the thinnest thread or the smallest stone to the Kingdom of God. I’m proud of the work my family has been a part of so far. I’m happy with it. I’m excited about it. I look at other missionaries and I’m excited about their work too. I’m proud of them. And then I step back and think about where the Church is today and where we are going and I wonder what is to come of the American missionary. I wonder if I was born just in time to watch the end (or maybe the beginning of the end) of the great American missions movement. I watch great missionaries struggle to stay funded enough to even stay on the field. I watch them come to the field without the money to stay a full term and then I watch them leave early. I watch incredible projects shut down from lack of interest and funding. I cringe at my own family’s difficult road of fundraising in the midst of so much public excitement. Missionaries compete with coffee, movies, cars, loans, purses and whatever else is found on Amazon or a store shelf. Organizations gather missionaries regularly to discuss strategies for fundraising. Strategies! A Church that was born from martyrs now struggles to send missionaries if they don’t have the right strategy. Are you seeing what I’m seeing?
I’m not sure what to tell my kids when they say they want to be missionaries, too. I’m not sure what to tell my organization when they talk about career paths or future goals. I’m not sure what to tell you when you ask me how long we plan to do this. I wonder about the future of the American missionary. Maybe we will be fine. Maybe the next decade will bring great revival. I hope so.