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Many of God’s people lament the moral decline in America and are petitioning the God of Heaven to send revival to our land; no one would deny that we desperately need it! Some admit that revival is theoretically possible, but are skeptical that it will ever come. They say we have gone too far away from God. But surely, America has not gone farther downhill than Nineveh. Our perverted society is only a step behind Sodom, but Sodom would have repented if Jesus would have performed His mighty works there as He did at Capernaum (Matthew 11:23).
What results are we praying for? What will revival look like or accomplish if it comes to our country? We hope revival will yield spiritual benefits. We hope it will bring an increased church attendance, separation of church members from the world, more prayer, more love for the Bible, more souls saved in our churches and in our community, better offerings, more churches planted in America to replace those that have gone liberal or died, and more young people training for and entering the ministry. (At a large Christian college, the last graduating class of nine hundred eighty students contained only eight or nine mission majors. I have been on that campus twice and found these fine young people preparing to stay in the United States and be good, upstanding Christian nurses, businessmen, engineers, policemen, lawyers, doctors, teachers, graphic designers, computer scientists, and so forth. Few, however, are planning to be ministers in general, and fewer still intend to be missionaries and take the Gospel to where it has never been.)
We anticipate that revival will benefit our society. We hope that revival would greatly damage the liquor and drug business, close down abortion clinics, and generally bring some old-fashion decency to our country again. We probably would not say it out loud, but we may hope that revival would produce more American patriotism and converts to our political view. Yes, by all means, we should be praying for revival in America! At the same time, however, is not our prayer somewhat selfish and short-sighted?
Why hasn’t it occurred to us to pray for revival in Malaysia, Morocco, or Moldova? As far as I know, they have not experienced revival in Bulgaria, Bangladesh, or Benin in a long, long time. How many churches have been planted recently in the Netherlands, Niger, or North Korea? And what about Germany, Gabon, or the Republic of Georgia? Don’t they need revival as well? Church attendance and soul winning are needed in Lebanon, Lesotho, and Lithuania. Although devoted, separated people are praying in Afghanistan, Algeria, and Azerbaijan, they, for the most part, are not praying to our God. And talk about converts, their religion is getting them! It is adding to its number in our country, too! (We failed to evangelize them where they live; now they have come to proselytize us here!)
As worthy as our request for revival in America is, and at the risk of sounding un-American, may I remind us that Jesus did not command us to pray for revival in America. Rather He commanded us to lift up our eyes upon the fields. He said, “The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2). And, where is the harvest the greatest? Where are the harvesters so few and so desperately needed? On foreign mission fields!
Are we really praying for missionaries to be raised up and sent out by our churches? We pray for enough money to meet the budget and support the missionaries we have. We may even ask God for new ones (to come to us from other churches) to replace the ones that have died or left the field in recent months. It seems that for many churches the best they can say is, “We are holding our own.” For the most part, we are not praying for missionaries to come from our church or our family. I hope someone somewhere is praying that God will send out missionaries from his church, but I have rarely heard it. Maybe we doubt that it can happen, or worse yet, perhaps we really don’t want it to happen! (We think we can’t afford it, or we don’t want to be separated from those we love.) We pray for what is important to us, and we usually get what we pray for. “…ye have not, because ye ask not” (James 4:2d). Then is our lack of new missionaries a reflection of our lack of prayer for them?
Should we stop praying for revival in America? Absolutely not! It would be wrong to not pray for America! “Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you:” (1 Samuel 12:23). However, if our prayer does not include a sincere, fervent begging for God to send laborers to the other one hundred and ninety-four countries, to the other seven thousand ninety-six languages, and to the seven thousand plus unreached people groups, then our prayer is short-sighted at best and selfish at worst. (I almost added “sinful.”)
Maybe God would be pleased to answer our prayer for revival if it included His entire harvest field. My Bible does not say, “For God so loved America…” It says that God gave His Son to die for every sinner in the world. If we were infused with God’s love and desire for all the world, doesn’t it stand to reason that He would be more willing to answer our prayer for revival in our own country?
“And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him” (1 John 5:14-15). Yes, we cry out for revival and all the blessed results that it will bring to our homes, our churches, and our country; but the number one result of real, God-sent revival must be complete obedience to the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ!
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The story is told of the farmer who didn’t plant corn for fear of blight, he didn’t plant beans for fear of drought, and he failed to plant wheat for fear that a fire might burn his crop just before harvest. He told a friend, “No, this year I’m playing it safe!” A BBTI graduate in the world’s most populous country just wrote, “Pray for more laborers; we sure do need them.” Missionaries never say, “Don’t send any more missionaries; we have more than we need.” And the heathen, in their own way, are pleading, “Come over and help us!” Meanwhile, many, realizing the seriousness of missionary service, are playing it safe and staying home.
Millions, yea billions, if we could only hear them, are crying out, “Stop playing it safe and come over and help us!” The heathen seek happiness in intoxicating substances, illicit sex, material possessions, education, sports, and vain religion. They are left empty and disappointed. But we know the One who gives abundant life and eternal satisfaction! They live in bondage to evil spirits, always trying to manipulate or appease them to receive their blessings and avoid their curses. But we know the Spirit who can make them free. They bow to idols that have hands that cannot help, ears that cannot hear, and eyes that cannot see. But we know the all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent Creator whose ear is always attentive to our prayers. In vain the heathen look for help from shamans and priests who offer them forgiveness of sins if they will do enough good works, say enough prayers, do enough penances, and of course, give enough money. But we have God’s promise of free forgiveness without any of the above dead works. If they knew we have what they need, they would beg, “Stop playing it safe and come over and help us!”
Why are there thousands of cities and villages with no gospel-preaching church? Why do thousands of languages still have no Scriptures? And why are literally thousands dying every day having never heard the name of Jesus Christ, let alone a clear message of salvation? It is not for lack of a command to tell them. Jesus made it perfectly clear that He expects us, His church, to give the Good News to every soul on Earth. They will not all accept it, but they all have the God-given right to hear it. God desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth; He wants none to perish. The God of truth wants no one to live and die ignorant of the Gospel. Jesus who tasted death for all men wants all men to know it! Are we being too careful, playing it too safe, about who goes to tell them?
Ask one hundred young Christian men why they are planning to stay here and not planning to go to the mission field? Almost all of them will say that God has not called them to be a missionary. And so, we usually drop the subject and don’t challenge them further. But if we dare ask them how they know God has not called them, they can only say that they just don’t feel called. (So then, the eternal fate of the heathen depends on how we feel?) Ask them what this call would feel like, and they probably cannot tell you that either. Ask them for two New Testament verses that show them if they are called or not, and my bet is they will not find even one. Ask them if they have ever surrendered their lives to serve God on the mission field. Ask them if they have volunteered and asked God to let them go tell the heathen about Christ. The prevailing thought is that God will give an overwhelming emotional experience, a special supernatural revelation, to those He wants to serve on the mission field; otherwise, they should stay home. Unfortunately, this play-it-safe mentality often takes precedence over God’s command to go. And aren’t we inadvertently blaming God for not calling enough laborers to reach our world?
Some say that God hasn’t called them as a pretext; they wouldn’t go if He did. Others, however, have heard misleading rhetoric that has convinced them to play it safe and stay home: “Don’t go unless you are one hundred percent sure that God is calling.” (But they are given no scriptural instruction on how to be sure.) “Don’t confuse a burden with a call.” (No scriptural explanation is given to explain the difference, and the heathen won’t care if the message comes from someone who is called or burdened.) “If you can do anything else, God hasn’t called you.” (And our young people can find a hundred things they’d rather do than preach to the heathen.) “Wait until God calls you.” (While we wait in comfort, the heathen wait in despair!) “We have too many mama-called daddy-sent people.” (Oh no, I wouldn’t want to be accused of that! Better stay home and play it safe.)
My friend, withholding the Gospel from the lost is a much bigger sin than going to the mission field without a special call! We hear over and over about the call to go. When is the last time you heard preached the command to go? The call is subjective and ambiguous; the command is absolutely clear. I tell young men this: “In light of Christ’s command, you better go or have a good reason to stay!”
How many potential missionaries have stayed home because they have always heard and believed these warnings to play it safe concerning the mission field? Wouldn’t it be much better to risk sending three or four people to the mission field that really should have stayed home than have three or four thousand stay home that could have and should have gone? And lest you fear that unqualified missionaries will go, wasting our precious mission funds, remember that God has provided a safeguard. He has given the church the responsibility to determine who should go or stay.
As one brother said, “If you are not called, why not go and stand in until a called missionary gets there?” The heathen man who gets saved and goes to Heaven probably won’t care who it was that brought him the Gospel. For the sake of the heathen and the glory of God, let’s run some risks. Let’s ignore the religious rhetoric. Let’s hear the heathen’s desperate plea, “Stop playing it safe; come over and help us!”
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“There is no price too high to pay for proper preparation.” This is the conclusion of veteran missionary Jon De Rusha, Asian Field Administrator with Baptist Missions to Forgotten Peoples. He goes on to say, “We first arrived in the Niger in 1971. We, along with two other families, were there to reach the Taureg people of the Sahara. To our knowledge, the Gospel had never been preached to these people. At first, we did not know they even had a script of their language, Tamachek. Later, we learned there was a script but very few of the Tauregs could read it. We went with a minimum of French language study, no linguistics, no proficiency in Hebrew or Greek, no understanding of translation principles, etc. At that juncture in the history of Independent Baptist missions, I am not sure how much awareness existed among us as to what preparations were necessary to accomplish the objective. Once we were there, we realized quite pertinently just how unprepared we were.”
No doubt the testimony of Brother De Rusha is that of hundreds of other missionaries before and after him. Two years after he went to Africa, the Baptist Bible Translators Institute began offering specialized preparation for Baptist missionaries. It continues forty-six years later with an even better Advanced Missionary Training (AMT) program. Often, we hear missionaries on the field, retired missionaries, or those who have left the field prematurely say, “I wish I would have known about BBTI before going to the field!” Some admit, “I knew about BBTI but didn’t want to spend nine months preparing.” When explaining our AMT to a new missionary candidate, he will invariably say, “Yes, that sounds good. I know it would help me, but I can’t take the time.” The missionary knows it takes time to prepare financially, but he needs to realize it also takes time to prepare linguistically. There is a price of time to pay for preparation. But no price is too high if it enables you to survive and succeed in your mission.
It is estimated to cost $350,000 to $500,000 to train a single Navy SEAL or Army Ranger. Nevertheless, our government believes the mission is worth the price. We want our soldiers and sailors to survive and succeed in the mission. No price is too high to properly prepare them. Each year, over 20,000 US students begin medical school. If they earn the MD title, they could spend over $2.5 million dollars, approximately $50,000 each year! And they will probably graduate with a student load debt of $170,000. We all want the best possible doctors; we believe that no price is too high for their preparation.
So, what about the preparation of those who are expected to do a work a thousand times more important than that of a doctor or a SEAL? How are we preparing the missionary who does the most important work on this earth? A missionary receives a few Bible classes, some courses in missionary history and theory, and maybe a year in language school; and we think he is prepared. Brother Jon De Rusha had all this, and he considered himself unprepared.
Consider the need. There are over 7,100 languages spoken today, and Jesus expects His Gospel to be preached in all of them. There are probably 6,000 of these languages that have no language schools. Many of them are unwritten, meaning they have no grammar books, teachers, and certainly no Scriptures. The BBTI graduate has training to learn any of these languages and cultures. He knows how to develop an alphabet and write the language. He knows principles of Bible translation. He has training to help others become literate. His mission is the establishment of a truly indigenous, Bible-believing church. With proper preparation, he has a good chance of survival and success.
No price is too high to pay because of the value of the sinner. We may doubt his worth, but God doesn’t. Jesus shed His blood for every single sinner. We believe in Heaven; we must also believe in Hell. We believe that without the new birth, a person will not see the kingdom of God but will be cast into the lake of fire. The heathen are lost, and the Gospel of Christ is their only hope. They are not going to be reached by the unprepared missionary who is unable to communicate in their language and culture!
No price is too high to pay because of the value of the servant. He is literally one in a thousand. A thousand other young people have not surrendered their lives to serve on the mission field; but he has. A thousand others will avoid missionary service at all cost; he has chosen it! The Army Ranger has chosen to risk his life and serve for a few years on a foreign field; the missionary choses to do this for a lifetime. The least we can do is send him well prepared. To send an ill-prepared family to the field is unnecessary and unfair. It is unnecessary because training is available. It is unfair to the missionary, to the churches that send him, and especially to those who are so desperately in need of his message!
No price is too high to pay because the Saviour is worthy. The goal of missionary work is the glory of God. He is not glorified when people live in ignorance of Him. He is glorified by lives changed by the Gospel. He is glorified when people turn from idols and serve Him, the true and living God. People won’t understand the Gospel, be converted, and glorify God if the missionary’s message is unclear. The missionary is an ambassador of God. He owes it to God and to his people to go to them with the best possible preparation. Unwillingness to pay the price necessary for proper preparation might reflect lack of dedication to the mission.
It is especially necessary for the pastor to educate himself and know exactly what training is needed and where it is available. He must not allow a precious missionary family to leave without it. Proper preparation should not be a suggestion but a requirement. The mission is too important. Lost souls are too valuable. The missionary is priceless. And God is worthy of our best!
The Good News of Christ is by far the most important message that one human can give to another. Thank God for anyone who makes a great sacrifice and goes to a foreign country to preach the Gospel! Upon arrival, the missionary makes a critical choice: whether he will struggle to learn the language now and preach later, or whether he will begin preaching now through an interpreter and learn the language later—maybe. Surely a message is more clearly understood and better received if delivered directly in the heart language than one that is delivered through an interpreter. That should settle the issue. However, some may argue that quickness is better than clarity and expedience is preferable to effectiveness. I will declare emphatically that time and effort invested first in language and culture acquisition is a minor sacrifice when compared to the value of a clear message. Also, the effectiveness of the words delivered from the mouth of the missionary to the ear of the recipient without the middleman trumps any reason the missionary may give for relying on an interpreter.
Does your pastor speak to you through an interpreter, or does he speak English? How long would you attend a church where the pastor could not teach, preach, and converse in your tongue? Is there anything that makes an American more deserving of this blessing than someone on the mission field? And suppose you and your wife were having marital problems and needed counseling. Would it be okay if an interpreter relayed your problems to the pastor, and then his advice came back to you through this middleman?
How many friends do you have that cannot speak your language? Shouldn’t the missionary be a friend to his people? Shouldn’t he build strong, personal relationships with them, gain their confidence as a friend, and then win them to Christ? The missionary who cannot speak the language will not be pestered by people coming to his house asking questions or just hanging out, but this avoidance is not good. Communication should occur in the parlor as well as in the pulpit. The missionary who uses an interpreter to say, “I love you,” may be implying an unwanted message. The people may think, “Then why don’t you learn our language?” We often hear it said about immigrants in our country, legal or otherwise, “If they are going to be here, they need to learn English!” Salsa for the goose is salsa for the gander!
If an interpreted message is acceptable, perhaps the missionary could simply email his sermons to the interpreter on the field each week. A missionary may not be required at all; a pastor could do this. Thousands of dollars could be saved by not sending an American to live on the foreign field. For a little extra, the interpreter might agree to go door to door in the place of the missionary and witness to the lost.
A missionary to Mexico felt that he was too old to learn Spanish, so he hired an interpreter. After some time, he discovered that the man in the middle was of the Church of Christ religion. He was turning the message of salvation by grace into one of works and water! The brother decided to learn Spanish! This is not an isolated case; many good messages are lost in the translation.
If the message goes out in our words, it is also going out in our American way of thinking. American thinking may not translate well. Even if much of the message is understood, the people are not as likely to relate to it because it is still a foreign message.
In the early 90s, when the Iron Curtain came down, an American missionary to Mexico decided to move to Poland. He spoke perfect Spanish, but that was of no help in Europe. Upon arrival, some fellow missionaries told him, “Peter, we have a guy here who knows English. He can interpret for you, and you can get right to work.” Peter said, “No way, José. I won’t preach until I can preach in Polish!” Within six or seven months of diligent language study, he began preaching in Polish without an interpreter.
Suppose it took longer, maybe a year or two, before a missionary could preach in a new language. Is that too big a sacrifice to make for Jesus and for the people he loves? It is predictable that if he begins with an interpreter, he will never wean himself away. Many have said, “I will just use an interpreter for a little while so I can start winning the lost, and then later I will learn the language.” That is like a young person saying, “I won’t smoke cigarettes forever, just for a little while.” Once you start using cigarettes or interpreters, it is hard to stop.
Real communication involves not only a message going out, but also feedback to the speaker. When your children played church, you probably heard some bad doctrine. The little preacher may have said, “You need to be good so you can go to heaven when you die!” (I hope you know that is bad doctrine.) You got this feedback because you understood your children’s language! Children will have some error in their thinking, and hearing the error shows where more teaching is needed. So, during family devotions, you teach again the truth of salvation by grace. The missionary that does not learn the local language does not get feedback. People may be talking about his teaching, but the discussions are always in their language. Therefore, the missionary is unaware of any misunderstanding and cannot correct it.
Related to this lack of feedback is the very common problem of syncretism. This is a mixing of pagan beliefs with Christianity, resulting in a religion with a Christian façade but little change in core beliefs. A person may do Christian things like attend church services, carry a Bible, recite prayers, etc. without having a real conversion.
What is the advantage of a missionary leaning on an interpreter instead of learning a language? He does begin to preach more quickly, and he may avoid the embarrassment of bilingual bloopers. But there is always a middleman between the missionary and his people. Wouldn’t everyone be better off without him? Let’s cut out the middleman!
The status quo, or the state of affairs, concerning world evangelization may be acceptable to many, but is it acceptable to God? After all, it is His work; He allows us to share in it. We may be content for things to continue the way they are, but is God’s will being done on earth as it is in Heaven? Alexander Duff (1806-1878), missionary to India, said, “We are playing at missions.” He said that about his generation; what would he say about ours? He might say, “The status quo must go!” If the status quo is not working, then God help us to do things differently.
No honest observer could say that we are fully obeying the command of Christ to preach to the nations. There are thousands of ethnic groups that are still unreached; many of them are totally unengaged. Paul strove to preach where Christ had not been named (Romans 15:20). That was two millennia ago. Surely, there could not be people today who have not heard the name of Jesus! But there are. Jesus said that we are to preach His gospel to every creature, and still there are billions that have never heard it. The way things are is not the way things should be. God help us when the Coca Cola company has put their product in almost every community in the world, and we have not preached the Gospel in these places! Our status quo preaching needs to go!
The number one priority of a Christian should be the Great Commission of Christ which is, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations…” But is it? We have rhetoric such as, “Christ’s last command is our first concern.” But is it? Is the average church member reminded from the pulpit what his priority is supposed to be? Churches are busy with programs, and pastors have many topics to deal with. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, but the missionary wheel doesn’t usually get much grease. It needs to be a big wheel and it needs to squeak loudly! Our low-status quo missionary priority needs to go!
Low missionary priority is reflected in our lack of prayer. When was the last time you heard a prayer request for God to send out missionaries from your church? It’s not wrong to pray for the sick, but that gets most of the attention. Occasionally someone will request prayer for lost souls. That’s good, but what about praying for lost sheep without a shepherd in India, Siberia, Albania, or a few hundred other countries? Jesus did not suggest that we lift up our eyes on the fields; He commanded it (John 4:35). He did not suggest we pray for laborers, He commanded it (Matthew 9:38). A church prays for a pastor, and soon God sends one. It prays for a new van, and before long one is in the parking lot. The church might even go to the throne of grace for funds to build a multi-million-dollar family life center, and God provides! So, why isn’t God sending out missionaries from our congregation? We aren’t asking Him to! Our status quo praying needs to go!
God commands us to go. But the status quo says to wait for God’s call. God says to present your body a living sacrifice, and then you will know His perfect will (Romans 12:1-2). The status quo says little about surrender or presenting our bodies. It says, “Do what is in your heart to do, what you want to do.” (Our generation seems to be comfortable with this.) It also says, “Be very careful not to go to the mission field unless you are 100% sure you are called of God.” Ask any young person, even one at a Christian college, “Why don’t you go to the mission field?” The answer, almost without exception, is, “I’m not called.” The young person cannot give you a scripture verse, and he cannot tell you how he would know if he were called. He simply doesn’t feel called. He will probably add, “I’d be willing to go if God wanted me to.” Would we be out of place to ask, “Have you presented your body a living sacrifice? You say you are willing to go; have you told God? Have you asked God to let you go?” The status quo says to wait for a call and then surrender to it. God tells us to first surrender. Our status quo of presenting our bodies must go!
Jesus never told us that paying to take the Gospel to the regions beyond would be easy. Sending missionaries to the field and keeping them there is expensive. How much expense is too much? What did it cost to rescue those boys in that cave in Thailand last year? The cost was not a consideration. Nobody said, “They aren’t worth what it is costing us.” The status quo mission giving is very low. Status quo Christians have money for what they consider important. Many churches do not even teach or encourage personal missionary giving. The church may give a small percentage of its income to missions, but the people themselves give nothing directly to send missionaries. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34). It may take a missionary three or more years to raise needed support. Some give up from discouragement and never reach their field. Many go to the field under supported. Our status quo paying needs to go!
Finally, the status quo missionary preparation needs to go. We are sending missionaries with little or no special training in language and culture learning. A missionary does not have to speak with a distracting foreign accent. He should never bypass language learning and resort to using an interpreter. Lack of specialized training limits the missionary to the few languages that have language schools and leaves thousands of languages untouched by Baptist missionaries. Our missionaries, with very few exceptions, do not translate Bibles because they have no training in linguistics and Bible translation principles. Archilochus wrote, “Men do not rise to the level of their expectations; they fall to the level of their preparation.” Advanced training is available; the problem is that the missionary and his pastor either do not know of its existence and importance, or they do not want to invest the time and effort to get it. Our shameful status quo missionary preparation needs to go, too!
The Bible has led the best-seller list since its release. Someone has always wanted it and has, at times, been willing to pay a very dear price for it. It is said that a hand-written copy of the Wycliffe Bible cost the equivalent of a year’s labor! Can you imagine anyone spending $60,000 for a Bible today? Throughout the world, people without a Bible vastly outnumber those who have it. You may have three or four Bibles! There may be more Bibles in your house than in some entire cities!
There are multitudes who have not even a verse of the Bible simply because no one has ever translated it into their language. The number of speakers may be ten thousand or ten million, but nobody quotes John 3:16 in it! Languages have diversified since the tower of Babel until today they number 7,100. No one has paid the price—admittedly a high price every time—to put God’s Word into approximately 4,000, or 56%, of these tongues. Someone must translate it for them. Why have the hundreds of thousands of gospel-preaching churches in the world not produced 4,000 Bible translators to accomplish this task? Perhaps these churches have never been informed of the need or challenged to meet it. Oh, but this ignorance and lack of concern could not possibly exist in the fundamental, Bible-believing, missionary-minded churches of America, could it? Let’s find out. With your pastor’s permission, take a survey of church members and ask how many languages are spoken today and how many of these languages have at least some part of the Bible. Ask how often they pray for laborers for the unreached, Bibleless people groups of the world. To further test your church’s concern level for Bibleless people groups, check to see how many of your missionaries are in some way involved in Bible translation or what percentage of the mission budget goes to Bible translation. To further prove the pathetic priority level given to Bible translation in our circles, contact every fundamental Baptist college you know and ask them if they have courses in linguistics and Bible translation. Either we change the way we do missions, or 56% of the world’s language groups will live and die without the Bible and the salvation it offers.
Another category of Bibleless people are those with languages that have small portions of scripture and a work in progress. Workers involved in the translation know that such a thing as a Bible exists, but the group, as a whole, knows nothing of it. The people do not, for the most part, have God’s Word, but they have hope of getting it. Unfortunately, (in our opinion) most of this work in progress is being done by people translating from the Critical Text using a method known as dynamic equivalence. The result is usually a paraphrase more like the Living Bible than a formal translation such as our Authorized Version. Let’s pray that more works will be established by Bible-believing missionary/translators using the correct text and method and an adequate number of trained native helpers.
Some languages have a well-translated Bible, perhaps translated two hundred years ago. However, it is not in use and is probably out of print. The language may have changed so drastically that the grammar, vocabulary, and orthography would not be recognized or accepted by its speakers today. The people may not even know of its existence. These are also Bibleless people. However, they are not completely hopeless. Someone could learn this language in its modern form, and using this antiquated Bible as a basis, produce a good, usable revision. Not everyone can endure the hardships of pioneer Bible translation work, but surely someone could handle a project such as this. Can the Lord find ten righteous people out of ten thousand Independent Baptist churches to go after ten such languages?
There is another very large group of people living and dying without the Bible, but they do not have to. Their languages have the Scriptures, but they don’t. Many of them don’t know what a Bible is or understand why they need one. There is likely no where to buy a Bible, even if they could afford it. Theoretically, there is hope for these people; practically, they are not much better off than the native who speaks an unwritten language with no Scripture. If, however, someone would pass by their houses, distributing Scriptures, they would no longer be Bibleless. Around 1970, God began raising up local church Bible publishing ministries. Missionary representatives raise funds from churches to purchase paper and equipment to print Scripture portions. Missionary printers put God’s Word on the paper—whole Bibles, New Testaments, or John-Romans booklets. If the ministry has sophisticated equipment, it binds, trims, and boxes these portions. Otherwise, this work is done by volunteers. The cost of supplies is great, as is the cost of shipping the Scriptures to the foreign field. On the field, there must be a like-minded man who is willing to receive and distribute them. The portions are free, and most people, even many Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Communists, Catholics, etc., would gladly receive a Scripture portion. These portions must be smuggled into some places, but the honorable ministry of Bible smuggling has been practiced for centuries. (It would be wonderful if there were someone in every place to teach these scriptures; hundreds of thousands of workers are needed.) Local church Bible publishing is a wonderful ministry in which many churches can cooperate. Unfortunately, this work is being done in a very small number of languages. With enough men and money, this could change.
Yes, most of the 7.5 billion souls on this planet are living and dying without the written Word of God, and it is not God’s will (1 Timothy 2:4)! The question is whether you and I are personally doing something about it. Could you live among a remote tribe in Indonesia, learn the language, reduce it to writing, and then get a Bible translation work in progress? Could you learn a new language and then guide a group of workers in revising an archaic Bible? Could you put your time and resources into a local church Bible ministry and raise funds for paper or join a group that is distributing Scripture portions on the streets of a foreign country? Wouldn’t you like to go to Heaven knowing that you put the world’s most precious treasure in the hands of a Bibleless soul?
What are you going to be when you grow up? Do you remember being asked that question as a child? (If you are forty and still being asked that, you might have a problem!) A child dreams of becoming a hero: cowboy, fireman, doctor, nurse, sports superstar, astronaut, etc. His dream changes often; as he moves into adolescence, the dream becomes more serious. The young person may even begin to prepare to make the dream a reality. This is certainly not a bad thing. We encourage young people to study and work hard to follow their dream, to become something and someone useful to society.
If the young person is a Christian, he may conclude that his desire (dream) comes from God and is God’s will for him. He may even proclaim, “This is what God has called me to do.” After all, he is going to use his honorable profession to provide for his family, to help others, and to support the work of God. He may even give to send out missionaries.
Some of us can’t help but question if God would call so many to be doctors, lawyers, truck drivers, builders, oilfield roughnecks, computer programmers, car salesmen, pastors, police officers, and a hundred other things, but call very, very few to preach Christ beyond our borders. As the world population expands, our missionary force shrinks. That God would not call enough missionaries seems strange. The dreams of his children are being realized, but the desire of the heathen for a better life now and for Heaven when they die is not being realized. The problem must be with God’s people, not with God. It may be that most of God’s people are not listening for a call or expecting one. Would they even recognize it if it came? Perhaps some have been given a distorted view of the call. They see it as some supernatural, spine-tingling, irresistible, overwhelming, emotional experience that irrevocably propels a special, super-spiritual Christian to the regions beyond. Since it doesn’t happen to them, they conclude that God has not called them to be missionaries. They may honestly believe they have good reason to stay home.
A common attitude seems to be, “Lord, if you want me to go, make me.” Why not rather, “Lord, if you don’t want me to go, please stop me.”? It could be that God simply is not going to show His will to a Christian who is unwilling to sacrifice his personal desires and do His will. I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. God shows us His will after the sacrifice and transformation. Our thinking is backward; we want to know His will first so we can decide if we will surrender to it or not.
The time has come for young people (and some not so young) to lay their dream on an altar and go to the mission field for the glory of God and the salvation of the lost! What dream or desire is too wonderful to sacrifice for Jesus? What goal could possibly compare to preaching Christ to those who have never heard His name and the joy of seeing them one day in Heaven? What profession could compare to translating the first Bible in a Bibleless language?
You may say, “I would not feel comfortable in a foreign country.” Well, sacrifice your feelings and your comforts along with your dream! You say, “I don’t know if I could be happy away from family and friends.” There is room on the altar for your happiness, too! Sacrifice your happiness and God might give it back to you. Missionaries are not unhappy, miserable souls that hate the place God has sent them. They become comfortable and enjoy new people, languages, and cultures. Speaking of happiness, Jesus died for all and desires their eternal happiness. Don’t you think all should hear about it?
Perhaps you say, “What if God doesn’t want me on the mission field?” Maybe He doesn’t. But you will never know until your dream is nailed to the cross. God can close the door to keep you from going or show you clearly that He has something else for you at home. Say with Isaiah, “Here am I; send me.” Or with Saul of Tarsus, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” God is still accepting volunteers! “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross,[and sacrifice his dream] and follow me.” The heathen sit in darkness and perish in Hell while we pursue our dreams. Meanwhile, we have a perfectly clear command: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations.”
The missionaries you meet all gave up their dreams. Very few of them dreamed all their life of being a missionary. They don’t go to another place because they have nothing else to do with their life here at home. Anyone who can learn a new language and communicate well in another culture could surely make it big in business or politics. Anyone who can endure the hardships of deputation and the foreign field could succeed in just about any profession. (And earn a lot more money!) The missionary sacrificed his dream; would you sacrifice yours, too?
In time of war, soldiers put their dreams on hold or give them up forever. Brethren, we are in a battle to liberate souls that Satan has taken captive at his will. The call (or command) to arms has gone out. The pagan who trusts Christ couldn’t care less if the messenger was a draftee (called) or a volunteer; he just praises God that someone finally brought him the Gospel! (But, oh that the messenger would have arrived before his mother and father died!)
A man once told Jesus that he would be a disciple, but only after he cared for his aging father and collected the inheritance upon his father death. (Some of that is found between the lines.) Jesus told him, “Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.” We might say it like this: Let the world do what it can do, and you do what the world cannot do–preach the Gospel. In other words, let the world chase its dreams; you sacrifice yours!
Missiologists such as the late Dr. Tom Brewster make a distinction between students and learners. The words are synonymous to most, but we at BBTI stress the difference. A student enrolls in a school and is dependent on a teacher. A learner takes responsibility for his own learning and finds ways to get the information he needs. A learner mindset is quite an asset in mission work.
From kindergarten through college, we are students. We sit in a classroom and a teacher directs us. He tells us what is expected of us. He approves or disapproves our progress and gives us a passing or failing grade. This system works well in most areas of life. But it has disadvantages and limitations, especially in the work of missions. It is not bad to be a student. Students usually work hard and should be commended. A learner usually begins as a student but can be taught to be a learner. A learner can go further linguistically, culturally, and geographically.
A missionary with a burden for a certain indian group with an unwritten language once told me, “They are uneducated and cannot teach me their language.” He is a student with the mindset of a student. He did not evangelize this group, but rather moved to a different field. A learner would never say what this brother said, especially a learner equipped with good linguistic and culture learning tools.
A student is limited to languages where there are language schools or teachers. He needs books and someone to explain the language. There are nearly 7,100 languages spoken today. Dr. Brewster estimated that 5,000 of these do not have language schools. (I would guess the number to be even higher.) Jesus commands us to teach all these groups, not simply those with language schools. Thus far, with student mindsets, we have not reached them. Unless we somehow convert our students into learners, there is little hope that we ever will. We know what a student is; we have plenty of them. Learners are rare and not well known.
The learner begins with a certain mindset. He may use a school or teacher, but he sees the language as his responsibility, not the teacher’s. He has the mindset of an adventurer, an explorer, or a pioneer. He is not afraid to leave the safety of the well-traveled missionary path, even when criticized for it. He risks being criticized for trying new methods when he sees that the traditional ones are not producing the results he desires. He may even borrow methods from others outside of our camp. (That is what George Anderson did when he spent two years learning from a non-denominational, new-evangelical group so that he could begin BBTI, a school for Baptist missionaries.) The learner is not a rebel, but he may be branded as one. The learner is more concerned about the message and the recipients of it than about those who are sending him. He chooses his methods accordingly. He should seek to communicate his mindset and explain his methods to those who send him, but he risks being misunderstood.
Both student and learner want to obey the Great Commission and teach all nations (people groups), but they face a great obstacle: the group may not understand the trade language or may have a very limited understanding of it. The student who studied the trade language in a school says, “I will speak to them in the trade language. Maybe they will understand.” (They probably won’t.) He may say, “I will use an interpreter.” (A risky practice!) And, sadly, he may give up and say, “I’m going to the city where people will understand and respond!”
The missionary with a learner’s mindset will look at the same group and say, “I can learn this language. My mouth and tongue are made just like theirs. I can make these sounds, too.” He knows that the trade language is ineffective. It would cause syncretism, the blending of Christian and pagan beliefs. He reasons, “If I don’t understand the language, I won’t know what people are saying about my message; I won’t get feedback.”
When the student sees a word with the letter (symbol) ‘t,’ he pronounces the sound with an English ‘t.’ That’s all he knows to do. It might work. The people might understand (and they might not). But even if they do understand, he will probably say the word with an accent. The learner, on the other hand, ignores the symbol. He listens to the sound, and he sees, like a deaf person reading lips, the sound. He does not say, “That is a ‘t.’ Rather he asks, “What kind of a ‘t’ is it?” Using his tool (skill) of phonetics, he asks: “Is it an alveolar, a dentalized, a palatalized, or a retroflexed ‘t’? Is it aspirated or unaspirated, is it fortis or lenis, and finally, is it released or unreleased? Using this tool of phonetics, he knows exactly what the native speaker does to produce a sound, and he can reproduce it. He learns new speech habits and speaks without a distracting accent.
A learner also approaches culture differently than a student. A student doesn’t consider what people already believe; he simply proclaims what the Bible says. He naively thinks his truth will drive out false beliefs, but it won’t if it is not explained and illustrated in terms the people understand. When a student hears a false belief, he is quick to tell people they are wrong; they may outwardly change. The learner, however, with his tool of cultural anthropology, digs deep into all areas of culture, especially the worldview. He learns what the people believe and why. When a false belief surfaces, he says, “That’s interesting, tell me more.” He asks questions and when he gets answers, he asks more questions. Now he knows how the people think. His teaching uses cultural comparisons and contrasts, is understood by the people, and is more likely to produce an inward change.
A learner understands that in order to produce a strong church, there must be a Bible in the heart language of the people. He may take years to translate it. The learner way is slow, but it works! Wouldn’t it be better to send learners, rather than students, to the mission field?
Were we to survey a group of serious adults and ask them what is the greatest book ever written, I would expect the answer to be “the Bible.” However, there is really no such thing as “the Bible” except the one settled in Heaven (Psalm 119:89). So, we must clarify which Bible. Which Bible has touched and changed more lives over the centuries than the Authorized King James Version, given to the English-speaking world in the year of our Lord 1611? Which Bible has brought more revivals and literally shaped more nations? Which Bible has gone further, carried by holy hands, and turned on the light in so many dark places? Thousands have taken it to the foreign field; or has it taken them there? This Bible traveled 238,900 miles and was read on the moon! Can anyone, friend or foe, deny that the King James Bible is the greatest book ever written?
Even those who dislike and criticize it must admit that no other book has even come close to changing the world. It is the crowning work and the finished product in the line of blood-bought Bibles that came out of the Protestant Reformation. In a relatively short time, it gained acceptance as “the Bible” by English-speaking Christians, maintaining that status for the next three and a half centuries. It standardized the English language and made truly great nations of those who revered it. Unfortunately, as its influence wanes, so does the goodness and greatness of those nations.
Just think, I don’t have to view the world’s greatest book through thick glass in a museum or search through manuscripts in some dark, depressing monastery. I have a copy in my house, written in my heart language. Of the 7,097 languages spoken today, relatively few have all the scriptures—but mine does! I can understand the words of my Bible or easily learn them. I’m on speaking terms with the Author and ask him for help with the deeper meaning of words! Some argue that the Authorized Version is too archaic. I challenge you to open this Bible at any place and begin reading. See how many pages, chapters, and maybe even entire books you read before you find the first truly archaic word. Of course, you will find some words we don’t commonly use. What book of any value does not have some unfamiliar words that expand our learning? Even archaic words are no problem; there are books that give their meaning. It is amazing; I read a book written more than four centuries ago and it still works just like new! It instructs, convicts, comforts, rebukes, exhorts, and guides. I feel absolutely no need for anything newer! Some suggest that we need a newer version without thou, thee, ye, thy, and thine. In five minutes or less I could teach you that thou is the second person singular subject pronoun, thee is the second person singular object pronoun, and ye is the second person plural subject pronoun. (You is the second person plural object pronoun.) Thy and thine are singular possessive pronouns. (Your is the plural.) Without these forms, we have a less precise translation of the Greek and Hebrew scriptures and are left with an incomplete understanding of some passages.
Someone might say, “What about the inspired original autographs, aren’t they the greatest book? Granted, we would not have our Bible without them, but they were never in one book. They were probably read by very few. And certainly, the autographs did not last as long as the King James Bible has.
Longevity in itself does not make the Authorized Version great, but what other Bible has been loved by so many for so long? How long did the English Revised Version maintain its popularity, or was it ever popular? Do you know anyone that still uses it? It was followed by the American Standard Version, and God’s people, with few exceptions, rejected it, too. How about the RSV, the NRSV, the NASV, the NIV, the NKJV, the ESV or any other? Which Bible will change the world, bless God’s people, produce godly fruit, endure four hundred years, and replace the Authorized Version as the greatest book ever written?
The greatest book ever written is great because it was produced by the greatest group of translators who incorporated the greatest source texts and used the greatest translation techniques in the history of writing!
I ought to daily praise the God of Heaven for giving me a copy of the world’s greatest book! I should thank him over and over that I can have it in my house without fear of being killed! Those who read the Tyndale Bible did so under the penalty of death! I ought to honor the memories of Erasmus, Luther, Tyndale (who was burned at the stake), Coverdale, Rogers (who was burned at the stake by Bloody Mary), Reina, Valera, and many others who sacrificed so much to produce great Bibles in our languages. Thank God for those today who dedicate their lives to the work of Bible translation! Thank God for people today who sacrifice to buy paper, ink, and equipment to produce these precious treasures and even assemble them with their own hands! Thank God for churches that give Bible translation and publishing top priority.
“…For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: …” (Luke 12:48). May God help me if I, having the greatest book in the history of mankind, fail to open it. God help me if I have no pity or compassion for the billions who have little or no scripture. God help me if I buy a nice, new Bible every year or two and give nothing to send Bible translators to the mission field. Shame on the church that spends millions on buildings and nothing on producing the word of God for the heathen! Shame on the ministerial student who claims to desire the perfect will of God but is unwilling to consider the mission field, much less a Bibleless people group. Would to God that the world’s greatest book would produce greater obedience to the Great Commission!
Periodically, every missionary needs a furlough from their field of service. Normally, they spend four years on the field and then one year in the home country. Some today take six month furloughs every two years. As the missionary prepares to leave his field of service, the neighbors and new believers wonder why he is going to take a year-long vacation. They also wonder if their missionary will return. Even a supporting pastor might not appreciate the missionary’s furlough. He may say, “I can’t take a year vacation away from my church. Why should you?” Is the missionary furlough an unnecessary luxury or a legitimate need?
There is seldom a good time for a furlough. If the work is young and fragile, the missionary doesn’t want to leave it. If it is doing well, he wonders what will happen during his long absence. He certainly does not want to leave the work unattended. If he is fortunate, there will be another missionary or trained national pastor to take his place during this time. Or perhaps a nearby missionary can occasionally “look in” on the work. Maybe a somewhat mature brother in the group can take charge, but there is always a danger that the Mormons, Pentecostals, or some other heretical “brethren” will move in and take over.
So why risk a furlough? The missionary family needs rest. Jesus took his disciples aside for a rest from their extremely hectic schedule, but rest eluded them (Mark 6:31-34). Furlough is a very busy and demanding time, and rest for the missionary is likewise hard to get. Though he will benefit from a change of scenery, people, and activities, some relaxation is needful. Churches can help the missionary by providing some peaceful place or activity. It would be good to plan something special or unusual, especially for the children. Furlough should include some time for recreation.
The obvious purpose for furlough is to report to your church. The missionary is your representative, or deputy, on the field. You should be interested in what he has done there in your stead. He wants you to see how God has used his family. The devil is telling him that he has done very little, and therefore, shouldn’t return to the field. He needs to hear you say, “Well done.” Furlough should be a time of reassurance.
Only God knows what the family has been through the last few years. The mission field is hard on the body and the mind. A time of recuperation is needful. The military calls it R & R. (That is rest and recuperation, not rush and rush!) R & R could also stand for revival and restoration. Maybe the marriage needs some encouragement, as well as the parent-child relationship. No doubt their financial support needs some restoration as well! If furlough will get the missionary soldiers in shape to return to the front lines again, it is time well spent!
Furlough is also a time of recruiting. The missionary knows better than anyone how many areas on his field are still unevangelized, and he knows how desperately laborers are needed. There are potential missionaries sitting in the pews, but they may not even realize that they should get up and move out. Their eyes need to see the field, their hearts need to be broken, and their ears need to hear the pleading of the heathen on that missionary’s field!
A major reason for a furlough is for the missionary kids (MKs) to get reacquainted with home. MKs often have an identity crisis, and furlough helps them adjust to their own culture. Otherwise, they may return to the homeland to attend college or seek employment and have trouble functioning in a culture they are expected to know. Remember, they had no say about going to the mission field in the first place. When they become of age, they often cannot (and probably should not) stay with their parents. If they want to raise financial support and return as missionaries to the field where mom and dad serve, that would be wonderful. However, they should not return to the field just because they have trouble adjusting to the home culture. If a few furloughs during the childhood and adolescent years can help produce normal, well-adjusted young adults, then furloughs are worthwhile. Furloughs are a must for the children; the home pastor should require them!
The missionary must plan and save for his furlough needs: housing, transportation, and new clothes. There will be expenses for the church too: meals, lodging, love offerings, etc. Furlough should not be seen, however, as an expense but rather as an investment. As the missionary tells of the difficulties and challenges on the field, the church learns to pray more effectively. As he tells of the blessings and successes, the church is encouraged to become even more involved in the Great Commission.
When the missionary family arrives for their vacation, meet them at the dock (or airport) with banners and a brass band! They went off to war in your place; welcome them back as the heroes they are. Then after a year or so, send them back in the same way for another tour of duty!
Jesus and the disciples saw a man who was born blind, and Jesus made this a learning experience for His twelve missionary candidates. Throughout their lives, the disciples had been locked in one culture. To succeed as missionaries, they needed to expand their thinking. This is true of missionaries today. Actually, a missionary must consider three cultures: his culture, the native culture, and most importantly, God’s culture. He knows his culture well. But his culture is sometimes a problem because it is not necessarily God’s culture (although he probably thinks it is). Some of our western culture is based on the Bible (and thus is God’s culture) but much of it isn’t. The missionary must distinguish between his culture and God’s, and then attempt to pass on to the native audience only God’s culture.
Seeing the blind man, the missionaries-in-training thought that congenital blindness is always a result of sin, but they wondered whose sin it was. They asked Jesus, “. . . Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). Their culture gave answers to important questions, but some were wrong answers. In their minds, it was clear this man was being punished for sin. Everyone, including the Pharisees who were the recognized religious experts, believed this. Later in the chapter, they told the formerly blind man, “. . . Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out” (v. 34).
According to the Jewish cultural beliefs of the day, God will punish certain sins. The more egregious sins receive greater punishment—perhaps having a child born with a severe deformity such as blindness. It is difficult for us to understand how a man could sin before birth and then be punished at birth. But what seems strange or unbelievable to us can make perfect sense to the people we are trying to reach. The Jews reasoned that since God knows the future, He could see that the man would later commit a sin worthy of this punishment. God simply sent the punishment before the man committed the sin; either way the man or his parents deserved it.
This account is a good example of what missionaries encounter. People believe things that are unbiblical. He can overlook or delay dealing with some errors, but some false beliefs must be corrected in order for the people to be saved. The sad fact is the devil has really corrupted man’s culture. Fortunately, Jesus came to undo the works of the devil. “. . . For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). God wants to use his missionaries to destroy the works of the devil in the places where He sends them. The task is very difficult but not impossible. To succeed, the missionary must recognize the error in the native culture and then teach the truth of God’s culture.
The task of pointing out and correcting error is complicated by the fact that the messenger is a foreigner, and the people did not ask him to come and educate them. The missionary will have a much better chance to communicate truth if he and his message appear less foreign. He dare not change the message, but he can make himself less foreign by speaking and acting like the people. He can also make his message less foreign by presenting it with illustrations from the native culture and by using native teaching methods.
It is always better to learn a language and its culture from childhood. The missionary, learning as an adult, is greatly disadvantaged. Pre-field training in language and culture learning, however, can make a world of difference and help to overcome the difficulties of adult learning.
When confronted with a false belief, such as we see in John nine, the missionary without specialized training might simply say, “What you believe is wrong. The Bible says so. Now stop believing what you have always believed and believe what I am telling you.” The better prepared missionary wants the same change, but he goes after it differently. He might say, “That is interesting; tell me about this. Do you have stories about people who sinned and then were punished by having a child born blind? What other sins are bad enough to deserve this punishment? How often does a person need to commit these sins for this to happen? Are these sins equally bad for both men and women? Are there spiritual beings that are offended by these sins and must be appeased? Is there any remedy or sacrifice that can prevent the punishment or gain forgiveness for the guilty? Who must perform this ritual? What does it cost? Is a person punished for sin only in this life, or will he also be punished after he dies?” Answers reveal the people’s worldview and social control.
Now, equipped with a vast amount of cultural knowledge, the missionary can reason intelligently with the people. He doesn’t agree with much of their beliefs, but at least he understands what they believe and why. He can be sympathetic and respectful as he patiently teaches them the difference between what they believe and what God says. It will help tremendously if he translates God’s Word into their language rather than try to prove his point with a foreign Bible.
Just as Jesus dispelled blindness that day (both physical and cultural), God will dispel spiritual blindness when the glorious gospel of Christ is preached and understood! “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:” (2 Corinthians 4:3). God help us to not inadvertently hide the gospel of Christ by our cultural ignorance.
Throughout the history of Christian missions, women have played a very important role. Some have been single, but most have gone to the foreign field with their husbands. We would all agree that a married woman’s first responsibility on the mission field, or anywhere else, is to her husband and children. However, if her ministry stops there, the missionary husband is missing half of his team. In many cases the wives have been overlooked, and their contribution has not been properly recognized. (If you enjoy this publication, it is due to the tireless efforts of a missionary wife!) This article is dedicated to the other missionary—the wife who never clamors for praise.
Her Ministry: At least half of the world’s population is female. Jesus died for every one of them and desires that they all come to Him and be saved. A good, well-adjusted missionary wife serves in many ways. In the Muslim world, for example, it is totally inappropriate for a male missionary to speak to a woman or minister to her in any way. Only another female Christian can reach her. Also, people all over the world need to see what a good Christian family is. Love and respect between spouses may not exist. Child discipline may consist of screaming at the unruly child or throwing a stick at him. The missionary wife’s instruction and godly example are needed to teach women to be good wives and mothers (Titus 2:4-5). Churches on the foreign field often know nothing of ministry to children. Children run in and out of the church service and learn absolutely nothing! Mr. Missionary cannot deal with them; he’s busy teaching the big folks. But Mrs. Missionary certainly can reach them!
Her Language Learning: The above mentioned ministry will be non-existent if the missionary wife cannot speak the local language. If she doesn’t, she unintentionally sends a negative message. Women in the community expect the missionary wife to speak to them and will feel her to be stand-offish or unapproachable if she doesn’t. They will not be drawn to her influence. We all understand a woman’s need to talk. If she doesn’t talk with the women around her, who can she talk to? (We recently heard of a missionary wife who Skypes to her mother back in the states eight times a day!) If a missionary wife’s social needs are not being met by the people around her, she does not bond with them and her heart remains back home in the good old USA.
We know men are more intelligent than women—I’m just kidding—but for some unknown reason, women are usually better language learners. But they must be given a chance to learn. Sometimes financial support is lacking, and the man decides to attend language school alone. Brother, stay on deputation a little longer. Raise or save enough money for your wife to either attend classes with you or to hire a tutor. Pay someone to help care for the children and perform household duties. (God is not broke!) Your wife needs to learn the language just as much as you do. Learn it together; help one another. Then effectively minister for many years together!
Her Cultural Adaptation: Her language acquisition must include culture learning. Just as she needs to recognize and use new sounds, she must also adapt to a new set of cultural norms. For some missionaries, the cultural adaptation comes fairly easy; for others there is a struggle to adjust. We call this struggle “culture stress.” It is a mixture of irritation, fear, uneasiness, and uncertainty. It may cause a missionary wife to withdraw to her house. (Her husband may be going through the same stress, but he’s a missionary; he must get out and act like one. She, however, may use her role as mother and wife as justification to stay inside and avoid people.) If not overcome, culture stress can develop into culture shock, causing or exacerbating physical or emotional ailment. It can result in early departure from the field or a very miserable and unfruitful existence on the field. Understanding the culture is the first line of defense against a culture crisis.
Her Pre-field Preparation: The couple’s preparation for the field may consist only of a class or two of missionary theory in Bible college and perhaps a week or two of candidate school. Although helpful, these can hardly be considered sufficient preparation. Since the number one missionary activity is talking, specialized training is needed. Communication in the new language doesn’t just happen because the missionaries are spiritual—God is not giving the gift of tongues today. Failure to prepare is preparation for failure! It is regrettable when a missionary does not know about helpful training programs available to him such as BBTI’s Advanced Missionary Training. It is inexcusable when he knows but thinks he doesn’t have time for it! At BBTI, the missionary wife receives exactly the same specialized training as her husband. Her children, regardless of age, are well cared for just down the hall during school hours. Is it difficult for a mother to be in class when her heart wants to be home with her children? Yes, it is. Regardless, more than one of our student wives has been heard to say that she can’t imagine going to the field without knowing the things she is learning. Every possible consideration is made to ensure that she graduates with all the linguistic and culture-learning skills available to her, giving her a much better chance of a fruitful ministry on the foreign field.
The missionary and the other missionary, his wife, are a team. “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour” (Ecc. 4:9). Together with the Lord, they are “a threefold” team that “is not quickly broken” (v 12).