Feature Articles

Feature Articles

by Rex Cobb, Director

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).





There are nearly 7.5 billion souls alive today but only a few thousand missionaries on foreign fields to tell them of Christ. If ten thousand Bible-believing missionaries were evenly spaced throughout the world, each missionary would need to reach nearly a million people. This would be like one preacher trying to reach the entire population of Ft. Worth, Texas. We simply need more laborers, thousands more! Unless some terrible world-wide catastrophe occurs, the population is only going to increase. And unless a spirit-ual awakening occurs, the number of missionaries will decrease. Many of us are praying for revival in America; God knows we need it! But shouldn’t that revival result in the evangelization of the world? After all, that is the task that Jesus left us here to do. No one would disagree that we need more missionaries, but missionaries don’t spontaneously appear. They must be developed. Though ultimately it is God who must work in a person’s heart to get him from here to the mission field, there is a very definite part that we play in the making of a missionary. The old adage “we must work like everything depends on us and pray like everything depends on God” surely applies here. Following are some things to consider when evaluating our mission endeavor.

The very first priority of a church should be the Great Commission. A church’s record of missions giving shows us a lot, but a better reflection might be seen in the youth of the church as they move into adulthood. How are they spending their lives? If my church is producing missionaries, we are doing well. But if no one from my church has gone to the field in the last ten or twenty years, we need to consider what we might do to change. Can we say that missions is our priority if we have not taught our youth its value and challenged them to consider giving their lives to it? Do we expect them to work as mechanics, musicians, medics, Marines, or morticians, but not as missionaries? We declare them successful if they do well in any one of these honorable professions, but are they? Someone said, “Failure for a Christian is success at doing anything that is not the perfect will of God.” An unsaved, spiritually dead man can fix a car, fight a war, dispense medicine, or embalm a corpse; but he can’t preach the gospel. Jesus told a young man, “Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.” We must work on our priorities.

Next, we must honestly ask ourselves if we really want missionaries. James 4:2 tells us, “…ye have not, because ye ask not.” Is anyone, from the pulpit to the pew, earnestly asking God to raise up missionaries from our church? We eventually get from God what we need and a lot of what we want. Where are the       answers to our prayer for laborers whom the Lord of harvest can send? Are we failing to obey Christ’s command to pray for them? (Matt. 9:38).  We must work on our prayer life.

Assuming that we are serious about producing missionaries, how do we do it? Like all important issues in life, it begins in the home. Parents can influence children toward missions in many ways. Read them missionary stories and biographies, holding missionaries up as heroes. Make prayer for missionaries a daily activity; one idea is to keep prayer cards at the table and pray for one or two at each meal. Teach about people and places; prepare and eat Asian food with chopsticks, Mexican food with tortillas, and Indian food with fingers. (Sure it would make a mess, but it would also make memories—and maybe a missionary!) Parents can help their children find ways to earn money for missions; the celebration of any special occasion could include sending love gifts for Jesus’ work to a missionary. They can make missions personal to children by entertaining missionaries in their home; they may even make missions more real by a visit to the mission field with their children. This training of children to think of others takes time and effort, but teaching them basic Christian character qualities like compassion, godliness, honesty, moderation, and a good work ethic are a must. A person can come from a wicked home and still become a missionary. A man in jail can get saved and then go to the mission field when he gets out (or be a missionary there in jail). But how much better when a child desires to be a missionary from a very early age! We must work on our parenting.

The pastor also plays a key role in producing missionaries. He can place a yearlong emphasis on missions, not just at mission conference time. His preaching, praying, giving, and going will demonstrate his level of concern for Christ’s Great Commission. He can preach, plead, challenge, and try to persuade everyone, especially the youth, to consider missionary service. Posting missionary prayer letters along the hallway is great, but doesn’t ensure they get read. It would take a few minutes of valuable pulpit time for someone to read excerpts from these letters and pray over them, but it would show that missions has top priority. Here’s an idea—we have over two hundred church services in a year, and there are nearly 200 countries in the world. Someone could prepare a brief report of a country for each service, and then pray for laborers for that country. These reports might also be used as bulletin inserts. There are many innovative ways that pastors can keep missions before the congregation. We need to work on our pastoring.

Jesus commanded us to pray for laborers whom the Lord of harvest can send into His harvest. Only He can send them, but He cannot send them if they are not surrendered and prepared to go. We must get their preparation right. Father, help us all to do our part to produce missionaries that You would be pleased to send. into your harvest field. Amen.






Our Lord Jesus made it very clear that He wants every person on earth to hear His gospel (Mark 16:15). It is humanly impossible for a few missionaries, or many, to speak to over seven billion people. But Jesus also gave us a strategy to reach this goal and obey His mandate. It is “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations…” (Matthew 28:19). If a few people from each nation are won to Christ and grounded in a local, self-propagating church, that church could then evangelize the rest of the group.

Jesus did not say to teach all countries but rather nations. We use these two terms interchangeably, but there is a difference. (If we speak of the Navajo Nation, we are speaking of an ethnic group of people living within the country of the United States. They have their own land, language, and cultural traditions.) There are 195 countries in our world today, but there are thousands of nations, or ethnic groups. Perhaps our failure to fulfill God’s Great Commission is due at least in part to our view that countries are nations.

Some churches have the worthy goal of supporting a missionary in every country. As good as this sounds, it may not accomplish the goal. Traditionally, our approach has been to reach the cities and hope the gospel filters down to the rural areas or preach in the major language and hope that the message somehow filters down to the ethnic languages. For the most part, this has not worked. It’s time to target the people groups and languages within each country.

Consider the eastern African country of Mozambique. The official language is Portuguese. A Baptist missionary sent there will need to learn this language and there are language schools to help him. But Portuguese is spoken as the first language by only seven or eight percent of the people. Thirty percent understand it only to varying degrees. However, there are forty-two other languages spoken there. We should send at least forty-two missionaries to Mozambique with the goal of learning the Portuguese trade language (to deal with government officials), and also one other language (thus targeting each language group). This strategy is being used by some missionaries, but is seldom practiced by Baptists.

Three words explain why we Baptists don’t usually apply this strategy: ignorance, inability, and impatience. First, some may be ignorant that there are so many nations and languages. They do exist! Furthermore, we fail to understand people’s need to hear heart matters in their heart language. (We heard the message in our language; why demand that others learn of Christ in a language they only partially understand?) Thank God, our ignorance of these truths is dissipating.

Secondly is the problem of inability. It’s not that we cannot; we simply have not learned how. Bible colleges fail to adequately prepare the missionary. Check out the websites of our Bible colleges and you will rarely find courses dealing with language learning or linguistics. Missing also will be culture learning, Bible translation principles, literacy training, and other skills needed to communicate to the nations. As a rule, Americans begin as students. We can  learn material only if there is a class to sit in and a teacher to direct us. But among the ethnic languages and people there are usually no schools, teachers, or books. We need missionary learners, not students. A student, when given specialized skills and a new prospective, can be converted into a learner who knows how to undertake the study of new cultures and languages (even unwritten ones).

The last obstacle in reaching the nations is impatience. The missionary naturally desires to reach his field quickly, and so he should. Pastors and churches also expect him to get there quickly. Even if the missionary is told about specialized, pre-field training, he is usually too impatient to take the time for it and fearful of what his churches will say if he does. He may have a burden for a ethnic group, but without linguistic skills, he can only attempt to reach them in the ineffective trade language. Most of his supporters have never learned a new language or communicated the gospel cross culturally and grossly underestimate the enormity of the missionary’s task. Some expect glowing reports of conversions, baptisms, and churches established; this probably will not happen quickly with the ethnic group. In frustration, the missionary may move back to the city where the trade language produces better results. The folks back home won’t notice or care as long as he is still in the country; they will be happy with results.

If we are to reach every creature, we must reach each nation. It has been nearly two millenniums since our Lord gave us the assignment, and there are still well over seven thousand of them that are unreached.  We must give top priority to them.

Other groups are doing it; we fundamentalists can do it, too! We just need to make some changes. We must eliminate the ignorance and replace it with a clear vision of Christ’s plan. Our inability must be conquered with specialized training. Impatience must be replaced by an understanding of the complexity of the task and the willingness to take the time to do it well. Otherwise, the unreached nation continues as it has always been—unreached. And the Great Commission is still the Great Omission!


When the need for Bible translation is presented, well-meaning Christians sometimes ask, “Why not just teach people English and give them an English Bible?” After all, we have a perfect copy of the scriptures. It works for us; shouldn’t it work for the rest of the world, too? But the teach-them-English method is inconsistent with Christ’s mandate. Jesus said to teach the Gospel and to teach them to observe all things. He did not tell us to teach them English!

The teach-them-English approach is impractical. There are language groups consisting of millions of speakers that have no scriptures. But let’s just consider a smaller group of fifty thousand.  Suppose we had fifty English teachers willing to teach them. (Although supposing is a big waste of time. If we can’t find one person to go as a missionary, how are we going to find fifty dedicated people to go as English teachers?) These fifty thousand people live in many different villages, some of which will be very inaccessible to foreigners. It is more practical to give those fifty thousand people the Bible in their own language. The printed Word  has no limitations; it can go anywhere at any time.

With the teach-them-English method, you face the unrealistic task of motivating the people to learn English. The first thing you would have to tell them is “Listen you guys. If you want to know God’s message to you, be in your seats every day at our English school for the next three or four years.” Can we really expect them to abandon their crops and animals and let their family suffer so that they can learn a new language? Surely, at least one of the pupils would ask, “Hey, how come God loves you so much and gave you a Bible, but He doesn’t love us that much?”

Anyone that would propose giving people an English Bible, planning to teach them to read and understand English, must have never learned a new language himself. Even if the foreigner could learn some English, it is going to take him several years to learn and understand a book as deep as the Bible. The following experiment will show you what I mean. You probably studied French, Spanish, Latin, or Greek in high school or college. Try doing your morning Bible reading in that language. You will probably find it inadequate and reach for the Bible in your heart language.   How, then, can we expect other people to read a Bible they only partially understand?

Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. And the second is to love our neighbor as our self. The Good Samaritan story teaches us that our neighbor is the person we see in need. Brother Don Fraser, founder of Bearing Precious Seed, taught us a practical application of this story. It means that if we have a Bible and our neighbor doesn’t, we should be compelled by love to give him one. Love demands we go the extra mile to give people what we enjoy—an understandable Bible. To do otherwise would be very insensitive.

Forcing people to learn a new language and read a foreign Bible is ineffective.  A person’s worldview, what he knows and believes, is stored in his mind and expressed in his first language. He may learn a trade language such as English for communication with outsiders, but his concept of spiritual things stays in his heart language and culture.

It is true that someone must learn a new language and culture. But is it the responsibility of the native or the missionary? Has God commanded the lost to come to us on our terms, or are we commanded to take the message to them? A missionary can study linguistics, culture, and Bible translation, invest time learning the native language and culture, and effectively teach the people God’s Word in a language they understand. Anything less than this is irresponsible. The native church, equipped with their own Bible, can perpetuate the work long after the missionary has gone. But with the teach-them-English way, the work ceases when the missionary or English teacher leaves.

The policy of withholding God’s written word from people in their native tongue was the practice of the Roman Church, not that of the church of Jesus Christ. Rome didn’t kill John Wycliffe for translating the Bible in the language of his people, but it did show its hatred forty years later by digging him up, putting him on trial, and then burning his bones. What did Rome do to William Tyndale for translating the Bible into English? It hunted him like a criminal, forcing him to translate outside of his country. Thank God he completed the New Testament and smuggled it back into England. But a so-called friend, a loyal papist, betrayed Tyndale, and he was strangled and burned at the stake. These men suffered to give us a Bible in our language; shouldn’t we be willing to do what it takes to give it to others in theirs?  There were German and Spanish Bibles long before the King James Bible was translated, but aren’t you glad Martin Luther or Casiodoro de Reina did not say, “Teach them my language and give them my Bible”?



Someone once said, “The water is free, but someone has to pay for the plumbing.” The water of life is absolutely free, but the “pipeline” to deliver it to the entire world as Jesus has commanded is very expensive. Would Jesus leave us an unfunded mandate?  No, God pays for what He orders—and He has ordered world evangelism!

World evangelism is expensive! A missionary has the same expenses that we have here in the U.S.A. plus many expenses that we don’t have. He might walk days through the jungle to reach his home or preaching place, or he can arrive in a few minutes by air. Do you suggest walking or flying? Remember that he has a wife and a few kids! Flying costs hundreds of dollars in a fixed-wing plane and at least double that in a helicopter. Another missionary may pay $2,500 a month rent and $7 a gallon for gasoline.

There does not seem to be enough money to meet the need. It is taking some missionaries four or more years to raise the support needed to live on the foreign field. If they could raise support in one year, the rest of that time could be better spent on the field learning the language and culture. (This would make the missionary a much more effective communicator of the most important message on earth.) Also, churches could save the money spent on meals, motels, and love offerings for the missionaries during those three extra years of deputation. Missionaries on the field are often times scraping by; lack of funds might lead some to leave the field temporarily or permanently. Many are forced to spend their entire furlough on the deputation trail to raise more support, and when they return to the field, they are as tired as when they left it!

Most churches do give to missions, but we need many more giving much more. Some churches give a small percentage of their income to missions. Though good, that has definite limitations, and it does not involve individual giving. There’s a better way. The One who ordered the Great Commission is helping many churches to support many more missionaries by a practice commonly called faith promise giving. Some prefer calling it grace giving. Whatever name you use, it involves individual church members seeking God’s will about a specific amount for missions and trusting Him to provide it. In recent years, this faith promise plan has been promoted by Oswald Smith, Clifford Clark, Charles Keen, and many others; but it goes back at least to the Apostle Paul. In the 8th and 9th chapters of II Corinthians, he explained the principle and showed how a group of poor, persecuted believers in Macedonia gave more than was humanly possible. This principle is illustrated by the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Jesus put the burden of feeding 5,000 plus people on His disciples. They looked at their resources and concluded that it could not be done. Jesus told them to seat the people and promise them a meal. You know the rest, but we need to see that Jesus gave the bread and fish to the multitude through the twelve. They got the blessing of giving, and He got the glory! Jesus will put money into our hands when we promise to give it to send missionaries. Even as the disciples made several trips between Jesus and the rows of hungry people, so must we be faithful to give and then return for more. Jesus had plenty for all, and the disciples faithfully served the back rows, too!

A book could, and maybe should, be written about the people and churches that practice faith promise today. A church in Decatur, Texas, that has half of their approximately 120 Sunday morning attenders giving to missions, is supporting 112 missionaries at $80 per month (they want to increase it to $100). The pastor reports that when the people got a burden for missions, their church was revolutionized. The people did not rob Peter to pay Paul. The general fund did not suffer; to the contrary, it grew tremendously. The church is completely debt free. They recently built a fellowship hall and a new parking lot costing $640,000, and it was paid for within seven months! They have sent out their own missionary family, and others will probably be sent soon. A country church near Paradise, Texas, with an attendance of 200 has also caught on to faith promise giving. Traditionally, they gave 15% of the church income to missions. Over time, as their desire to obey the Great Commission grew, they raised that amount to 25% which amounted to a very respectable $60,000 per year. In 2008, the pastor suggested, “Let’s give 25% and also begin faith promise giving.” The first year they gave $120,000. Last year they gave $180,000. They divide each month’s mission offering between sixty-four missionaries, giving each one an average of $234 per month. God has also blessed their general fund beyond measure.

If time and space would allow, hundreds of examples could be given of people—even poor people—around the world that follow the example of the churches of Macedonia. They love Christ and want to make Him known to all. They have compassion for perishing souls without the knowledge of Christ. They first give themselves to the Lord and to His mandate. God puts money in their hands, and they faithfully give it. The need of the hour is not more churches doing what they can do; it is rather letting God do what they cannot do!



Barnabas and Saul were sent from the church at Antioch and took with them John Mark as their “minister.” They had not gone far when John decided, for whatever reason, to return to Jerusalem. The Bible does not give the reason for his premature departure; no doubt it was justified in his mind.  Maybe John felt that he was not really needed. Perhaps he was homesick. He was probably unprepared for the fierce spiritual warfare they encountered. He was no doubt shaken by the harsh response of Paul to Elymas, and the sudden blindness that struck that false prophet.

Premature departure from the mission field is still a serious problem. A pastor friend in Bowie, Texas, recently stated that his church has lost twelve missionaries in the last three years. In two years (2007 to 2009), thirteen Fundamental Baptist missionaries left Romania. It is our opinion that specialized pre-field training in language and culture learning, such as is available at BBTI, helps the missionary learn the language and adapt to the culture. Being able to communicate well and enjoy being with the people makes missionaries feel at home and decreases their temptation to leave.

Sometimes departure from the field is unavoidable. Missionaries die or become seriously ill. Advanced age may cause them to leave. Some are needed at home to care for aging parents. Political strife can force a missionary from his country, but does he have to return to America? Why not go to a nearby country with the same language where his message is also needed and where he can wait out the political upheaval in his country? Avoidable or not, his departure may leave a group of people without a gospel witness. It is especially lamentable if the departure was preventable.

According to William Taylor in Too Valuable to Lose (1997), 47% of our missionaries leave the field within the first five years. Of this number, 71% leave for preventable reasons. He found that 49% of departures are caused by relationship problems. In other words, the missionary had an unresolved conflict with the nationals, with other missionaries, or with his sending church or agency. The conflict might be between spouses. The stress of living in a new culture will exacerbate marital problems, and there will be no pastor or counselor nearby to help. Any type of defect will be revealed under the pressure of missionary service.

Another preventable cause of premature departure is immorality. If we think pornography and sexual allurement is prevalent in our country—and it is—it’s even greater in other places. As desperately as we need missionaries, we don’t need those with shaky marriages or moral weaknesses!

Probably the most commonly given reason for departure is health problems. Nobody wants a missionary to suffer for lack of medical care, but some questions are in order: Is the local medical service really so inferior that he must leave his field? Could someone be sent to help the family while they take advantage of good, affordable medical care in nearby places like Bangkok? Is the sickness really that serious, or is it exaggerated by culture stress? How can we better prepare the missionary to cope with that stress? When a family coming home for health reasons does not return to the field after the patient is well in a few weeks, should we not help the missionary deal with any further issues that are keeping him home?

Perhaps more careful screening should be done before sending out a new missionary. It would reduce the number of missionaries sent, but it may reduce premature departures.  Consider the words of BBTI graduate and veteran missionary John Allen:  “[We cannot overemphasize] the importance of the home church, and especially the pastor, being personally involved with the missionary he sends. In our experience, missionaries are sometimes sent with the approval of their church, but the pastor and church actually don’t know them well. The missionary may have a boatload of problems that are neatly covered up in the veneer of his appearance at church on Sunday and Wednesday. But what is his home like? How is he spiritually? What issues does he struggle with? To whom is he accountable for those issues? When things go all helter-skelter on the field, it will be the pastor who should be foremost in giving counsel to the missionary because he knows his missionary. A missions degree and BBTI training don’t make up for a home church pastor not knowing his people; and if he is sending those people half-way around the world, he better know them well. The mission field will bring out and magnify every flaw, fault, sin, failure, and lack of character.”

“Too valuable to lose” describes a missionary. Two thousand years ago, the harvest was plenteous and the laborers were few; that situation has only gotten worse. There are too many places with no missionary. People are perishing with no hope. We need every Bible-believing missionary we have—and thousands more. It is a tragedy to lose even one, especially if it is preventable.






Satan, as is his custom, was in a good place, disrupting a good plan, and causing strife between good people. Paul and Barnabas, two mature, experienced, Spirit-filled missionaries, had such a disagreement that they disbanded their very successful evangelistic team. The separation didn’t result from one of them falling into doctrinal error or immorality, nor was there disagreement about the mission. The issue seems trivial to us—it wasn’t to them. “And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city … And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark … And Paul chose Silas … (Acts 15:36-40).

Preachers ask, “Who was right and who was wrong?” My short answer is neither and both! What we should be asking is why it happened and how   missionaries should deal with such conflicts today. The enemy did not want the missionaries to visit the new converts throughout Asia Minor, and he still actively opposes the work of missions today. He doesn’t want missionaries to go out, he doesn’t want them to stay where they are desperately needed, and he doesn’t want them to return to the field after furlough. Many problems bring missionaries home prematurely, and interpersonal conflict is one of them. What happened in A.D. 52 still happens today.

Paul might have said, “John Mark is a quitter. God’s work requires dependable men, and he failed us once before. We need Christian soldiers, not boys who run home to mama the first time we face the enemy! I can’t believe Barnabas is practicing this type of nepotism, showing favoritism to his nephew. Barnabas is too soft. He should have learned better after all the hardships and hard cases we have dealt with. Mark really hurt our first journey when he abandoned us. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me!”

Barnabas was never this passionate about anything before. Now he was questioning the wisdom and will of the great Apostle of the Gentiles. Perhaps he said, “Paul, you care only about the work, not people. You won’t give anyone the benefit of the doubt or a second chance. Mark has potential, but you are writing him off because of one little failure. Well, if John Mark doesn’t go, neither do I!”

The argument must have gone something like that. But why did it happen, and why did God record it? Both men apparently forgot that “Only by pride cometh contention,” and “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” When a disagreement occurs among missionaries, they should immediately ask themselves, “Am I being proud? Must I get my way this time?” They must give “soft answers,” remembering that anger may be an invitation to the enemy. “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil.” They must discuss without demanding.

God recorded this embarrassing occasion to teach us. Teamwork is a wonderful but fragile thing. Both men had strengths and weaknesses, and together they made a good team. But this day, each man’s strength became his weakness!

No doubt Paul assumed that Barnabas would follow his leadership as he always had before. Barnabas may have grown tired of Paul assuming and getting his way. Barnabas wanted some respect for once! He may have said, “Paul may have power to perform miracles, he may write letters under the inspiration of God, but where would he be without me? I introduced him to the church at Jerusalem when everyone was afraid of him. I went to Tarsus for him and got him involved in the church at Antioch. The Holy Ghost called me just as much as him; I left my position of leadership, too. I faced the same dangers and deprivations that he did. It’s about time Paul listens to me and values my opinion! After all, I was making great sacrifices for Christ when he was still persecuting Him.”

There was contention, not communication. They stood their ground, instead of kneeling on the ground. They spoke their opinions, but they did not seek God’s. They ignored their own teaching, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” Neither did they ask counsel from the pastors in Antioch. There was both divine and human help available, but Paul and Barnabas did not take advantage of it.

The sharp contention did not end Paul’s and Barnabas’s missionary careers. Instead, two teams were formed—a good thing, but a poor way to go about it. Paul and Barnabas kept going in spite of the interpersonal conflict; today’s missionaries often don’t. Sometimes one or both leave the field. And where does that leave the young converts and the heathen they were sent to reach?




A new missionary going to a Pacific island country told me that the missionaries there get by with English. I said, “Brother, God has not called us to get by but to communicate!”

Missionaries, like anyone else, usually look for shortcuts. Let’s face it; we don’t like to do things the hard way. Learning a new language and culture is uncomfortable, frustrating, embarrassing, difficult, and it takes a lot of time. Since many people in foreign countries are learning English, doesn’t it make good sense for the missionary to avoid all the hassle of language learning and get by with English? Isn’t quicker better, especially when it comes to preaching the gospel? Wouldn’t it be wise for the English-speaking missionary to simply begin to minister in English upon arrival in his host country rather than spending untold months learning a new language? When dealing with the uneducated or older members of the group, he could hire a translator to interpret his message. The quick and easy get-by-with-English approach may appeal to many; but it might very well be the biggest mistake a missionary will ever make!

The question to ask is not how well the native person speaks English, but rather, how well English speaks to him. English is becoming a universal trade language. Some foreign countries are even conducting their education in English. But this can be deceiving. A missionary from Africa noted, “The people here learn English in school, and when they leave the school, they stop speaking it. They only speak English to foreigners when they have to.” Does the missionary want to remain a “foreigner” among them forever? A recent BBTI graduate on a short-term mission in India was told, “You aren’t a foreigner; you are one of us.” This is probably because she is trying to learn their language and culture. A missionary unwilling to give up his language in favor of the native one,  may be sending a message that he considers his language superior to theirs. This arrogant attitude, whether real or perceived, will not ingratiate him to the people.

All a missionary needs to do is listen to the people. Are they speaking to one another in English? If so, then English is their language. However, if they speak their own local language among themselves, then he should learn that language, if for no other reason than to be more accepted and respected by the people. But there is a better reason to refuse to minister in English.

The formation of a person’s worldview (his knowledge and beliefs about spiritual matters) begins at a very young age and is developed in his heart language and culture. The vocabulary he uses to discuss his beliefs is spoken in his heart language. His views and feelings abide in his mother tongue, not in the trade language, no matter how well he has learned it. When deep spiritual concepts are presented to him in a trade language, it is like eating soup with a fork or a straw. Too much is lost and not enough gets through. Misunderstanding and syncretism often occur. The missionary who cannot understand the heart language is probably unaware of this confusion. He may see some response from the people. They may attend church services and even bring the Bible he gave them. (Whether or not they read it at home is questionable, especially if it’s written in their second, third, or fourth language.)  The missionary that doesn’t know the local language doesn’t understand what the people are saying about his teaching. He knows what he has said, but what the people understand could be very different. And he remains blissfully ignorant.

If the message is as important as he says it is, and if he loves the people as much as he says he does, then the missionary should seriously consider taking the time and enduring the discomfort to learn the new language. Or, he can avoid all that and get by with English.



A missionary planting a church in a new culture is faced with decisions concerning which native practices can stay and which ones must go. The truth of the matter is, there are three cultures involved in missionary work: the culture of the missionary, the culture of the people, and the culture of God. May the Holy Spirit give the missionary discernment to know the difference!  There will be practices on the field that the missionary does not like. These practices may be wrong in American culture, but he must determine if they are also contrary to the Word of God. The bride price is one example.

In many places in the world, a young man must pay a certain price—often a high price—for his bride. (A dowry system, in which the groom and his family receive money or things of value from the bride and her family, is probably less common.) Is this practice of buying a wife a bad thing? Perhaps greedy men are abusing it. Should the missionary try to outlaw it among the people he reaches for Christ? Does it not seem something like slavery or buying cattle? Does it not denigrate the woman, making her like property?

Suppose an American missionary has a group of new converts, and he learns that the people have the bride price system. To him it seems un-Christian and degrading to the woman. He demands that his group stop this practice, and he succeeds in forcing the people to conform. Perhaps they adopt the missionary’s conviction, but more likely it’s because of the strong influence of the American. They might think their salvation depends on conformity to the rules of this new God. Just as they lived before trying to please and appease the spirits, they now want to please this new God. Or maybe they see obedience to the missionary’s rules as the way to receive the blessings (stuff) from the missionary’s God. But whatever the motive, they stop paying the bride price. The young man might be happy because now he gets his wife free, and the missionary sees it as real spiritual growth.

Now let’s consider some possible results that the missionary didn’t foresee. The new wife becomes the brunt of gossip, ridicule, and perhaps ostracism by the women because she was not worth anything as a bride. The other women feel valuable because their husbands paid a great price for them. This Christian bride feels cheated and devalued. She may even despise this new religion she felt forced into. The status of a woman in her village has always depended on the price that a man was willing to pay for her. Even worse, this new Christian marriage may be looked upon by the community as no marriage at all. In the culture of the missionary, a marriage is legitimate because of a piece of paper called a marriage license. Here laying down the bride price in a public ceremony may constitute a marriage; thus the union promoted by this new, little group called “Christians” is seen as nothing more than fornication. Then what does this make the children born of the “Christian” union? Bastards! Another problem may also arise. Usually, if the bride is unhappy and goes home to mama, the groom’s family must repay the price paid for her. They certainly do not want to do that! Therefore, they will help the couple stay together, even pressuring the man to treat his wife better so that she will stay. Without the bride price, would new Christian marriages last?

Any missionary will be faced with  questions of right or wrong. The problem is that he thinks his answer must be either “yes” or “no.” But there is one other possible answer: “I don’t know.” None of us like this answer. We want it to be yes or no, right or wrong, black or white. We Americans believe that our cultural rules are biblical, and many of them are. However, when confronted with another culture and its rules, we are quick to judge the new culture in   light of ours. If things are different, we tend to judge them to be wrong. On deputation, every American missionary will say, “I’m not going there to make the people Americans but Christians.” But he proceeds to do everything in an American way and oppose all that does not seem right according to his culture.

Is the bride price wrong according to the Bible? Its practice was not condemned in the Old Testament. Perhaps the coins in the story in Luke 15 were a type of bride price. But there is one very important bride price that was paid in the New Testament. Jesus bought His Bride!  “For ye are bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20).

Obviously, the missionary is confronted with practices that are evil and must be opposed. But in questionable cases, like the bride price, it would be wise for him to gather more information. Here are a few  suggestions: 1) Obtain pre-field training in linguistics so he can learn the heart language of the people. That’s where the culture resides and is discussed. 2) Study cultural anthropology before going to the field, and then dig deep into the cultural norms of the group. 3) Refrain from speaking against questionable practices until he thoroughly understands them and what the Bible says—or doesn’t say. 4) Consider that he might be doing serious damage by removing important cultural practices. 5) Do not remove anything from the culture until it can be replaced with something better.


God tells us clearly that He is no respecter of persons. But is He a respecter of countries? Does He love some countries more than others? Is the United States of America His favorite?  No one can question that ours is a unique country, and we have seen the hand of God on it from its conception. We have been blessed; there is no doubt. There is only one country that God has blessed more than ours—Israel. While the future of America is questionable, the future of Israel is sure. God has blessed America, no doubt, because we have blessed Israel. God help us if we stop!

But why, then, do we think of America first when it comes to the gospel ministry? Why is she our first concern? Why is most Christian literature printed in English for an American audience? Why does most of the religious money stay here? Why do we keep almost all of the preachers? When a man feels the call of God to preach, why does he envision a place of service within, and almost never without, the borders of the United States?  Why does he automatically think about preaching at home without even considering a foreign place and language? Does God want America to be first, and almost exclusive, in our thinking?

There is a great disparity between the need and the disbursement of resources. A pastor friend in north Fort Worth stated that within a five-mile radius of his church, there are fifteen other Independent Baptist Churches. Bowie, Texas, a town of about 6,000, has around ten Baptist churches. (I haven’t counted them this week.) A BBTI graduate on deputation told me that he stayed at one church and presented his work in ten different churches without driving more than five miles to reach the other nine! Yet, 42% of the world’s people groups are unreached. That is 3 billion people! And we are commanded to preach the gospel to every creature. We ask a missionary, “Why are you going? Are you sure you are called to go?” Should we not also ask the pastor, associate pastor, youth pastor, music pastor, and everyone else in the church, “Why are you staying? Are you sure God has called you to stay?”

Recently I visited three solid, mission-minded, fundamental Baptist colleges. I asked every student that would stop at my display table what  they plan to do with their life. Some students told me they were majoring in missions. Most said that they wanted to be pastors, evangelists, or youth workers.

It was probably not appreciated, but I would often say something like this: “Oh, you plan to be a pastor; that’s great! A pastor is a shepherd. There are billions of lost sheep in Asia that need a shepherd. Have you considered going there?” Or, “Oh, you want to be  an evangelist. Wonderful! What does an evangelist do? He is supposed to evangelize, right? Who should he evangelize? Shouldn’t he go to the unevangelized? Where do we find the most unevangelized?” Or, “Oh, you want to be a youth director. God bless you; young people sure need direction! Did you know there are young people in every country of the world? For instance, Ethiopia has about 84 million people, and 44% are under the age of fifteen. What about all the young people in Thailand? Shouldn’t they have  a trained youth leader to lead them to Christ?” (I’m not saying every Christian worker should go to the foreign field. But everyone should make themselves available.)

Charles Spurgeon said that not all men should be missionaries, but all men should struggle with it. Maybe my calling is to help men struggle with it! I fear that far too few of us are struggling with it today. Friends remind me that I am not the Holy Spirit.  They say that it is not my job to call people. That’s true, but maybe He would use me to challenge them about their willingness to go! Perhaps even our pastors, evangelists, and youth workers need to do a little struggling and really question: Why America first?

We sometimes hear from the pulpit, “If God is calling you to the mission field, you need to surrender.”  But is that what we should be saying? God simply says surrender! Every Christian should surrender to go to anyone anywhere and to do anything; then he must let God be the One who dictates what, where, and to whom. We must be very careful  not to send a message that only a few special people have a responsibility to consider the mission field.

Since billions of people living outside our borders have never heard the gospel, shouldn’t we almost expect God to send us somewhere else?  Isn’t it the God-given responsibility of every preacher to help people struggle until they surrender? Shouldn’t he inform his congregation about unreached people groups that are perishing with absolutely no hope? Shouldn’t he plead on behalf of the thousands of groups that have no Scripture? Shouldn’t he lead his people in earnest prayer for laborers for the foreign field? Shouldn’t he ask, “Who will go for us?” Shouldn’t he examine how much money his church spends in and for America in comparison to the rest of God’s world?  Shouldn’t we all be asking: “Why is America first?”


A well-known credit card company advises us, “Don’t leave home without it!” Leaving home without something means we are going ill-prepared. A missionary, of all people, should never do this. That is because he carries a message that must be understood by a people who have never heard it before and who may never hear it from anyone else. He must not fail to deliver this message clearly. He must speak it, using sounds that he has never spoken before. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were a small device (perhaps a computer chip implanted in his neck) that could connect his brain to his speech organs, causing him to flawlessly produce the sounds of the native language? Now that would be something he would not want to leave home without!

Although no such technology exists, there is a tried and proven linguistic skill that the missionary can learn and take with him to accomplish this marvelous function. This skill is Articulatory Phonetics.  It cannot be purchased, but it can be learned. No one argues the value of speaking a new language accurately in its grammar, its pronunciation, and its inseparable culture. The better we speak, the better we communicate. Why, then, do 99.9% of our Bible-believing missionaries leave home without this basic language-learning skill? Here are a few answers: 1) They do not know that such training is available. 2) If they have heard of linguistics, they do not understand how it relates to the missionary. 3) They are in a hurry and decide that the benefits of pre-field preparation are not worth the time it requires.   4) They don’t realize that failure to prepare is often preparation for failure. 5) They may think that the missionary theory classes taken in Bible college and a foreign language school are all they need. (Though a good language school can really help, many missionaries pass the course with an A but leave sounding like a tourist from Toronto.)

Articulatory Phonetics deals with human speech sounds. Speech is really quite simple; it consists of only one    ingredient—air. But there are scores of ways to modify this air, producing literally hundreds of distinct sounds. The English-speaking missionary without an understanding of phonetics is limited to the forty-four sounds of English. His new language will have its own set of sounds that are very different. The missionary phonetician can do four things: recognize, record, reproduce, and recall any sound that any human being can pronounce. When he hears the first word of the new language, he begins to recognize the exact sounds and distinguish them from other similar sounds. For instance, do you know that when we say words such as “eye,” “arm,” “inch,” or “us,” we actually begin these words with a consonant? It is called an “initial glottal stop.” The vocal cords begin closed, and the air builds up behind them. When we say the word, the air (a voiceless consonant) is released before the vowel. We do not hear this consonant, so it is irrelevant in English words. Not so in some languages. In a language of the Solomon Islands, that little sound can make a big difference. The initial glottal stop before “ai” means “woman”, and “ai” without it means “tree.” The sound that is inaudible to us, they hear clearly. The missionary phonetician can recognize this sound and hundreds of others.

An untrained missionary has twenty- six English letters to work with; the trained one, using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), has hundreds of symbols with which to record all the sounds he hears. Every sound has its symbol. He can also reproduce all the sounds because he understands what the native speaker is doing to produce them. The BBTI graduate has spent 150 literal classroom hours learning and practicing these sounds and many additional hours listening to recordings outside of class. Finally, he can recall the sounds. Having accurately heard the sounds and recorded them, he can reproduce the sounds (even after a long period of time) exactly as he heard them by reading his phonetic transcription. Phonetic skill is so valuable in preventing miscommunication that, I think you will agree, the missionary should not leave home without it!

There are three possible undesirable results of poor pronunciation: 1) the word will make no sense at all, 2) the word will mean something other than what is intended, or 3) the speaker will have a strange accent. An English speaker without phonetic training normally makes seven errors when pronouncing the vowels and consonants (not to mention mistakes in tone and stress) in the simple Spanish phrase “tu pelo” (your hair). But by knowing and applying phonetic principles, he sounds like a native, not a gringo from Greenville.

No missionary should attempt to learn a new language without first studying phonetics. In other words, don’t leave home without it!