by Rex Cobb, Director
The Making of a Missionary
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.
Countries or Nations?
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.
Just Teach them English
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!
Paying for the Plumbing
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!
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.
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.
Getting by With English
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.
The Price of a Bride
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.
Why America First?
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!
Don’t Leave Home Without It!
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!
Missionary, Don’t Go!
It is possible that a church that believes in the Great Commission could say to a prospective missionary, “Don’t go. Please stay and help us!”? We all say that the church’s number one priority is the evangelization of the heathen; and everyone would agree that churches should send well qualified men and woman to do just that. We say it, but do we believe it? Remember, our doctrine is what we do, not just what we profess! The following examples are true; only the names have been changed.
The Missionary Insider
The missionary arriving at his place of service looks like an outsider, talks and acts like an outsider, and he brings an outside message. Most of this needs to change. The missionary cannot change his foreign appearance, and he dare not alter the message; but he might find better methods of delivering that message, making it seem less foreign. People are more apt to receive a message from a friend than a foreigner,—from one of their own rather than from an outsider. The task of the missionary is to teach heathen people about a God who is foreign to them. Wouldn’t it be an eternal shame if the messenger was an obstacle to the peoples’ understanding?
Making it Happen
Communication is a very complex human activity. Using our speech mechanism, we convert thought into a series of sounds, syllables, and words whose meaning we agree upon. Depending on our relationship, the words might change. If I am the CEO, and you are an employee, I may use very formal speech. If we are friends and co-workers, I will be much more informal. The sounds enter your auditory system and are processed in your brain. You determine the meaning of the sounds and respond accordingly.
Technology or Toys?
I am a little overwhelmed with the rapid rate of technological advances. I admit I am a little old fashioned. The truth is I’m a technological caveman. Some call me T-Rex! It is a little disturbing when I say, “Turn in your Bible to…” and people whip out their Smart Phones. Are they ready to study the Text, or are they sending one? I must admit, however, that our modern technology is useful in reaching the world with the Gospel. We can sneak the Word of God in electronic form into places that are extremely hostile to Christians. Let’s do more of it!
Among churches of our persuasion that are involved in missions, the term “deputation” is well understood. When we say, “He is a missionary on deputation,” we mean he is visiting churches, sharing his burden, and asking for prayer and financial support. But there is more to it that we might be missing.
The command to preach Christ to every creature is given to every pastor, deacon, and church member—to you and me. But we cannot go to all these places and learn all these languages. Our inability, however, does not relieve us of our responsibility. It does show us the need to deputize others. To deputize someone means to appoint him to do a task in your stead, to represent you in a place where you cannot personally go. The missionary you deputize is sent with your authority to do the same job that you are doing here. The sheriff cannot patrol the entire county, so he deputizes others to help him.
Who Should Apply?
Any book worthy of the title “Bible” in any language must be translated with utmost care so that its promoters can honestly tell the people, “These are God’s words in your language.” In previous issues, we dealt with two vital ingredients of a faithful translation. (1) The translators and the supporters must first settle the text issue. A pure Bible is never derived from a corrupt text. (2) Because we believe that the Bible was inspired and preserved verbally, we insist on a verbal translation. (We must translate words as opposed to thoughts.) That settles the issue of the technique. The third vital ingredient in a faithful translation is the translator. What qualifications must his résumé contain?
Dynamic Equivalence or Formal Equivalence?
A Bible translation project requires at least three vital ingredients: the text, the technique, and the translator. We dealt briefly with the issue of the text in our article, “The Bible of the Martyrs” (Fall 2012 issue). For the New Testament, it is our conviction that the traditional (received) text is superior to the critical text. A skilled translator using the best technique while using the wrong text will at best produce a well-translated, corrupt Bible. The majority of Bible translations done around the world today (and for more than a half century) are done, in our opinion, using both the wrong text and the wrong technique. This wrong technique is commonly called “dynamic equivalence.” Other terms used for it are “meaning-based translation,” “cultural equivalence,” “functional equivalence,” and “thought for thought translation.”
The Bible of the Martyrs
While hundreds of languages have not one syllable of Scripture, English speakers get a new Bible almost yearly. The names change, but the New Testament versions can be put into two groups based on their underlying Greek text. One group is derived from what we call the Received Text or Textus Receptus (TR), and the other from the Critical Text (CT). The TR represents the Greek text that was used and preserved by the early churches and comprises the vast majority of Greek manuscripts, over five thousand two hundred of them. The CT was compiled in the later part of the nineteenth century by textual critics Westcott and Hort from a handful of manuscripts, numbering about forty-five; it is based primarily on one called manuscript B, or Vaticanus. Before this time, Vaticanus was hidden from the world and used only as the basis of the Catholic Bible. The reformers and Baptist-type groups used only the TR, a text viewed as vile by Westcott and Hort. The TR is the Bible of the martyrs. It was translated into many languages during the great era of missionary endeavor.
Commandments & Convictions
The work of Bible printing and distribution by local Baptist churches is proof that God’s churches can work together. For a long time, we got our Bibles from the Bible societies or secular printing companies. That all changed due to a great extent to Donald M. Fraser, founder of the Bearing Precious Seed ministry. Dr. Fraser was born August 18, 1926, in Toronto, Canada. His father, Bill Fraser, was a Scottish immigrant and an early fundamentalist who worked with T.T. Shields in Toronto and J. Frank Norris in Texas.
Tell Me What it Means!
A missionary and his native helper were translating the New Testament. The verse they were working on was not clear to the missionary, but he hoped that his helper could somehow translate it anyway. He told the helper, “It might mean this. Or maybe it means that. Or it may mean this other.” Frustrated, the helper finally said, “Look, you just tell me what it means, and I’ll tell you how to say it in my language!” The problem was that the translator had not done his exegesis homework. Exegesis is defined as exposition, explanation or interpretation.
Three Long Years
Daniel and his friends who were taken captive and carried to Babylon probably thought they were going there as hostages, but we can see that they were really missionaries. Daniel was especially used to deliver a cross-cultural message for God.
The king chose them because of their nobility, their intelligence, and their good looks. Daniel chapter one describes them, “Children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans.” The king liked them with all these outstanding qualities, but he said, “Before I will use you, you must learn our language and culture.”
The Missionary & His Bible
Missionaries are often required to fill out questionnaires before they are given a meeting at a church. The pastor wants to know, and rightly so, what the missionary believes and practices. Some important questions, however, are seldom asked: Are you and your wife prepared spiritually and emotionally for the mission field? Are you prepared to face and win the battle of the culture shock that destroyed many before you? What specialized training have you had in linguistics, and language and culture learning? Are you going to be able to learn the languages you need in order to reach the people on your field? Pastors of “our stripe” will invariably ask: What do you believe about the King James Bible? The issue of the Bible is very important to us, amen? We certainly are not interested in supporting a missionary that doesn’t know where he stands on the Word of God for the English-speaking people, right?
Love Thy Neighbor
Both the Old and New Testaments command us to love our neighbor. Jesus even tells us to love him as we love ourselves. The story of the Good Samaritan clearly teaches us that we do not choose our neighbors. The Lord defines “neighbor,” not as the person who lives near us, but as the person that needs our help. Dr. Don Fraser, founder of the Bearing Precious Seed ministry, taught us that loving our neighbor means that if we have something our neighbor needs, then we should desire that he also have what we enjoy. Of course, he was referring mostly to the written Word of God. We English speakers have the entire Bible: every book, every chapter, every word. If we have neighbors without a Bible, including those with no Bible translated into their language, certainly we should desire that they have at least a portion. We should not only desire this, we should demand it! We should do all in our power to make it happen. How could I say I love my hungry neighbor and watch him waste away while I gorge myself on rich food? This would be hypocritical love, not helping love! It has been estimated that ninety-five percent of all Bibles and Christian literature are printed for the relatively few people that speak English. There is a famine in the world, and many of us are having a spiritual feast. We toss some Christian crumbs and scraps to a few people, but can we say that we love our neighbor?
The Canary & the Fire Hydrant
The task of learning a new language has been compared to a canary trying to drink from a fire hydrant! The flood of strange sounds, together with a new culture, can be very overwhelming to the newly arrived missionary. Even familiar sounds are often placed in strange combinations that his mouth has never pronounced. Nevertheless, effective communication demands that he learn a new language, maybe more than one, and that he learn it well.
To effectively communicate the Word of God, the missionary must speak and understand the language. Since the meaning of words is bound and hidden in the culture, the missionary should diligently study the culture just as he studies the language. It is a serious mistake to assume that another’s culture is the same as ours. It never is. Another error is thinking that all we need do is proclaim truth, and our truth will somehow push all the falsehood out of the minds of our congregation. This is wishful thinking. Often our truth is only mixed with their error, resulting in pagan beliefs with a Christian veneer. We call this syncretism. There is a school of thought (a growing one we hope) that advocates applying principles of cultural anthropology in learning culture just as we apply principles of linguistics in learning speech.
Indigenous from Birth
As the young missionary outlined his plans to win souls and baptize and teach believers, he said, “When I turn the work over, it will become an indigenous church.” He has the right idea, but his use of the word become, and the mindset that goes with it, may prevent him from realizing his goal of seeing the church continue to grow and prosper without outside help.
The speaker at a pastors conference requested, “If you have a missionary from your own church who is either on deputation or is on the field, please stand.” Out of a congregation of one hundred fundamental Baptist pastors, only seven stood! And that was twenty years ago! Is something wrong when only one in fourteen of our churches produces a missionary for the foreign field? Someone said once, “We have time and money for what is important to us.” If churches do not have missionaries, it is probably because producing missionaries is just not very important to them. But suppose a church does care about its missionary barrenness—what can it do? Let me give three suggestions…
Prove Your Love
Concerning the Great Commission, the church has two problems. The first is that there are too many places and people and not enough missionaries. There never has been enough, but it is worse today. The world’s population is exploding while our missionary force is decreasing. The sad truth is we just do not have enough laborers. Matthew 9:37 is as true today as when Jesus spoke it—“the labourers are few.” Jesus told us to pray for more laborers; are we really doing that? If not, why? That answer is explained by the second problem: The church has too many missionaries. We can’t afford the ones we have (or we think we can’t); why should we ask God for more? Do you suppose Jesus gave us this important assignment, but didn’t know that it would be so expensive? Or to be more ridiculous, do you think that God has run out of money? Could it be that He wants everyone in the world to hear the gospel and be saved, but He lacks the funds to send the gospel messengers to most of the world? Or could it be that He would supply the finances for this world outreach if we would just look to Him for it?
According to the Language of Every People
King Ahasuerus had an important message that he wanted sent to every person in his vast kingdom. “For he sent letters into all the king’s provinces, into every province according to the writing thereof, and to every people after their language, that every man should bear rule in his own house, and that it should be published according to the language of every people” (Esther 1:22). The King of kings has an even more important message, one that He wants to reach “…every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;” (Rev. 5:9). He has committed that message to you and me—how are we doing at putting it in the writing and language of every people? I believe that we can learn some good lessons from a pagan king.
Why Do You Talk Funny?
The Lord has ways of humbling His missionaries. About the time they think they’re learning the new language, someone will inadvertently or blatantly let them know they talk funny. Do we really sound bad? What makes us talk with a foreign accent? Can it be avoided? Why do missionary kids speak so much better than their parents? The adults have superior intelligence and education, but language learning has little to do with these. The parents attend classes and slave over books while their children learn the language playing with the native kids. We could learn a lot from our children!
Let Me Run!
At a safe location away from the fighting, King David anxiously awaited word from Joab, his general, concerning the battle. He wanted to hear that the rebellion had been put down and also that the rebel leader, his son Absalom, had been spared. A watchman announced that a runner was approaching. He would have the message the king wanted. Then the watchman reported a second runner who had passed up the first. Furthermore, this second runner looked like Ahimaaz—well known for his speed. David was encouraged, knowing Ahimaaz to be a good man; surely he would bring good news.
English or Greek?
With our increased interest in Bible translation for the many Bibleless people groups also comes many questions about who should translate—and how. As Independent Baptists, we are very zealous for the pure Word of God and very opinionated, even dogmatic, about how it should be transferred into other languages. This position of strong conviction is a good place to begin, but to this zeal, we must add knowledge.
One question almost always comes up: Should a translation of the New Testament be based on the English King James Bible or on the Greek Text?
Stuck in Samaria
We are all familiar with Acts 1:8 in which Jesus commanded His disciples to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judaea, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the earth. This command is also a literal prediction, and we in America are proof that it was fulfilled. From Jerusalem, America is the uttermost. We use this verse today as a guiding principle for our missionary outreach. We begin in our Jerusalem and reach to the uttermost, whatever we consider that to represent.
I don’t claim to be the authority as to how this verse should be applied symbolically, but here is what it means to me: Jerusalem is my country, Judaea is other English-speaking countries, and Samaria is the major trade languages and countries. The uttermost represents the ethnic groups speaking languages that have never been reduced to writing and have no Scriptures. The focus of my thought here is Samaria and the uttermost.
The Price of a Bible
An inexpensive Bible with cheap paper and a vinyl cover costs only dollars, but if you want a nice, leather-covered Bible with thin pages, you will pay dearly for it. In Communist Europe a Bible once sold for $400.00 on the black market. However, this is not what I mean when I talk about the price of a Bible. I refer more to the sacrifice that must be made so that a people can have God’s word. For instance, what did it cost William Tyndale to give the English world the Bible? It cost him years of work done in hiding; and he was rewarded in the end by being burned at the stake!
Let Wycliffe Do It
Thirty-two years ago my wife and I were students at a newly established missionary school called Baptist Bible Translators Institute (BBTI). I was also trying to raise support to go to the mission field when our specialized training ended. One pastor was having a difficult time understanding me (maybe because I was speaking Yankee) as I explained the phonetics, culture, and language learning classes at BBTI. He said I was wasting time at this school and should just get on to the field. In desperation I asked, “Pastor, how many Baptist missionaries do you know who are translating the Bible?” He answered, “None.” I replied, “That is exactly why I need to be at BBTI!” I wish I could say that the lights came on in his mind; however, I think he stayed in the dark about linguistic training and Baptist involvement in Bible translation.
Dysentery & Duck Eggs
Cultural Fluency, Part II
We understand fluency in relation to language. But a fluent speaker, in the truest sense, not only can make the sounds correctly, but he knows what his listeners are going to understand by his words. This requires much more than a good pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. It requires cultural fluency. All missionaries say that learning the culture is important, but I’m afraid most only learn a few customs and the culture that is obvious on the surface of native society. In the same way that language fluency takes hard work and diligent study, cultural understanding on the deepest level is only obtained by digging.
Cultural Fluency, Part I
As the missionary was about to leave for the field, the board leader told him, “You have three assignments for the next couple years: 1) learn the language, 2) learn the language, and 3) learn the language.” This leader understood the importance of learning the language very well. However, if I were challenging this missionary, I would say, “Learn the language and the culture, the language and the culture, the language and the culture! Culture is the thing missionaries most often fail to understand.
Syncretism and Stoning
An understanding of the problem of syncretism is vitally important to successful missionary work. Syncretism is the blending of two distinct beliefs, thinking or pretending that they are the same.
In Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas found themselves up to their ears in syncretism. Paul had just healed a lame man that had never walked (vs. 8-10). When Peter and John did this in Acts 3, a great revival broke out; however, a revival of syncretism broke out after Paul’s miracle! Verses 11 to 13 go on to say, “And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker. Then the priest of Jupiter, which was before their city, brought oxen and garlands unto the gates, and would have done sacrifice with the people.”
The Tribal Bible
Several years ago a friend, who is a Bible printer in Wisconsin, put together an unusual “Bible” that he called “The Tribal Bible.” It consists of a cover and blank pages. The purpose of this wordless book is to illustrate the fact that no one has translated God’s Word into nearly 4,000 languages. In many churches I have set this Tribal Bible on my missionary display table. Almost always, when people look at it, their immediate reaction is to laugh. Then I ask them, “What if that were your Bible? It wouldn’t be so funny, would it?” At that point they usually get serious and say, “No, I guess I wouldn’t want a ‘Bible’ with no words.”
An Unfamiliar Solution
Most people would rather live with a problem they are familiar with than try an unfamiliar solution. This mentality is akin to the saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.
Do we Fundamental Baptists have any problems when it comes to missions? I would say we do. However, let me be quick to say I think we do more for missions than many other groups. I don’t profess to know or have all the answers, but I would like to list a few problems and suggest a solution to them: a solution that, for the most part, has not been tried by our camp.
Dare to Dream
Faustino, an Indian from the Tlapaneco tribe located in the mountains of Guerrero, Mexico, had lived outside his village among the Spanish-speaking people for several years. God in His goodness saved this young man, and he attended a Bible institute. During this time, Brother Don Fraser, the founder of the Bearing Precious Seed ministry, challenged the Mexican students to reach those who have never heard the message of salvation in Christ. God gave Faustino a burden for his family and his people and a desire to take the Gospel to them. A young missionary, George Anderson, who was especially interested in reaching tribal people, was invited to go with him. Pastor Paul Henderson, an excellent photographer from Bowie, Texas, was asked to join the group to capture on film the entrance of the Gospel into this remote Indian village. Faustino and the Americans were very well received into the village, along with the message they brought.