1132) Church Growth in Nepal

By Eric Metaxas, May 12, 2016 at: http://www.breakpoint.org 

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Christians in the United States and Europe are often discouraged by what they see as a church in decline, with a decreasing number of professing Christians and a shrinking influence in Western culture.  But in many parts in the world the church is seeing astounding growth, as we see in this article from Breakpoint.

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     If you were asked to name the places where Christianity is growing the fastest, you might respond “Africa” and/or “China.”

     And you’d be correct.  The explosion of Christianity south of the Sahara is so great that a colleague of mine is surprised whenever he meets a West African immigrant who’s not a believer.  Christianity in China is growing so rapidly that, by one scholar’s estimate, there will be more Christians in China than in any other country by 2035.

    But there are other, less-known places where the Good News is being heard and received.

     One of these is Nepal.  When Americans think of Nepal— if they ever do— what comes to mind is an exotic blend of the Himalayas, “wind-swept prayer flags,” and temples, lots and lots of Hindu temples, with a few Buddhist stupas thrown in for good measure.

     Until recently, that would have accurately summed up Nepal’s religious scene.  In 1951, Nepal’s census showed no— that would be zero— Christians in the country.  Ten years later, it showed just 458.

     Forty years later, the number had risen to 102,000 and ten years later, in 2011, it had risen to 375,000.  What’s more, according to a report by the International Institute for Religious Freedom, Nepalese Christian leaders believe that this last figure underestimates the number of Christians by a factor of six:  instead of 375,000 Christians there are closer to 2.3 million.

     That would put the percentage of Christians at nearly 10 percent and rising, as opposed to the government’s claimed 1.5 percent.  While Nepal is officially a secular country, it has an overwhelming Hindu majority that, historically, has tolerated a small Buddhist minority that poses no threat to the country’s Hindu identity.

     By way of protecting this Hindu identity, Nepal’s interim constitution states that “no person shall be entitled to convert another person from one religion to another and shall not take actions or behave in a way that would create disturbance in another’s religion.”

     This of course effectively outlaws evangelism.  Yet Nepalese are converting to Christianity in large numbers.

     Part of the reason is that the law is difficult to enforce.  A larger part is that Christians have stepped into areas of need that neither the government nor the Hindu majority can or even will serve.

     As is the case in India, many of the converts to Christianity come from the lower castes.  Even though, as in India, discrimination on the basis of caste is illegal, centuries, if not millennia, of custom and practice aren’t reversed by the action of a parliament sitting in the capital.

     What makes a difference in the lives of these people is other people whose own faith not only rejects the idea of caste but also insists that in ministering to the “least of these,” they are ministering to God himself.

     In yet another parallel to India, Nepalese Hindu activists aren’t pleased by the results.  So much so that they may be willing to manipulate census figures.

     What’s happening in Nepal is good news, indeed.  It’s also a reminder that Islam does not have a monopoly restricting religious freedom, especially when it comes to Christians.  Recently, a Lutheran pastor was found murdered in the Indian state of Jharkhand.  His death is believed to be a part of a larger pattern of anti-Christian violence by Hindu nationalists.

     So, in addition to thanking God for the spread of the good news to unlikely places, please keep these vulnerable brethren of ours in prayer.

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Psalm 22:27-28  —  All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lordand all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.

Isaiah 45:22  —  Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.

Matthew 28:18-20  —  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

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O God of all the nations of the earth, remember the multitudes who, though created in thine image, they have not known thee, nor the dying of thy Son their Savior Jesus Christ; and grant that by the prayers and labors of thy holy church they may be delivered from all superstition and unbelief and brought to worship thee; through him who thou hast sent to be the resurrection and the life to all men, thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Francis Xavier, Missionary to India, Japan, and Borneo (1506-1552)

895) “If We Didn’t Know Jesus, We Would Be Cooking and Eating You”

Christian missionary efforts have often been criticized for destroying the unique cultures of indigenous peoples.  Old photographs of native people in steamy jungles dressed in black suits and ties for worship do indicate that mistakes were made.  However, in many places some cultural practices did need changing, as we can see in this story from the 19th century.

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     H. L Hastings recently related in the Church Missionary Society’s Gleaner that an English earl, who had become an unbeliever and seemed to take particular delight in deriding Christianity and in throwing obstacles in the way of its progress, had occasion to visit the Fiji islands.  While there he saw many scenes that gave evidence of an advancing civilization that had the presence of a strong moral force at work, subjugating the evil passions of that once savage and cannibalistic race, and making it possible for civilized people to visit those islands with absolute safety.  This radical change in the whole moral, intellectual, and social texture of that people was, of course, the result of the persistent, indefatigable labors of the Christian missionaries.

     One day this English earl happened to meet an old Fijian chief, and at once engaged him in conversation concerning the marvelous changes that had occurred in the land.  He was unwilling, however, to admit that Christianity had in any way contributed to these changes, and addressed the chief in the following words:  “You are a great chief, and it is really a pity that you have been so foolish as to listen to the missionaries who only want to get rich among you.  No one nowadays believes in that old book which is called the Bible, neither do men listen to that story about Jesus Christ.  People know better now, and I am sorry for you that you are so foolish.”

     When he said that, the old chief’s eyes flashed, and he answered:  “Do you see that great stone over there?  On that stone we once smashed the heads of our victims.  Do you see that native oven over there?  In that oven we roasted human bodies for our great feasts.  And now you talk like that?  If it had not been for these good missionaries, for that old Book, and the great love of Jesus Christ, which has changed us from savages into God’s children, you would never leave this island.  You should thank God for the Gospel, because if we had not heard and believed it, you would be killed and roasted in yonder oven, and we would feast on your body.”

     This Christian chief of the Fijians had experienced in his own soul the power of God unto salvation.  He knew nothing of metaphysics, or of modern philosophy, or of science, and not much at all of theology.  But he did know that once he and his people were steeped in degradation and vice and superstition, and every form of sin and wickedness; that cannibalism had prevailed everywhere upon those islands at one time, and that many missionaries had suffered the most excruciating deaths at their hands.  All this he knew.  He knew also that the power that transformed him and his people and had made them civilized and Christian men and women, came not from the explorers or merchant, or the warships of civilized nations, but from the power of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  These people had realized its truth, and had felt its transforming power, and were now ready to witness to both, and to defend the cause that gave them light and life.  

The Spirit of Missions:  A Monthly Magazine of Church Missions at Home and Abroad (1899), volume 64, page 336; Published by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA.

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Pre-Christian Fijians preparing a feast

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English missionary Reverend Thomas Barker (1834-1907), the last known victim of cannibalism in the Fiji islands.

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Ezekiel 20:4b-5  —  (The Lord says), “Confront them with the detestable practices of their ancestors and say to them:  ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:  On the day I chose Israel, I swore with uplifted hand to the descendants of Jacob and revealed myself to them in Egypt.  With uplifted hand I said to them, “I am the Lord your God.”’

Isaiah 66:18-19  —  (The Lord says), “I… am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory.  I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations— to Tarshish, and to the Libyans…, to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory.  They will proclaim my glory among the nations.”

Isaiah 42:10  —  Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you islands, and all who live in them.

I Peter 2:9-10  —  You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

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O God our Savior, who desires that all people should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth; prosper, we pray, our brethren who labor in distant lands.  Protect them in all perils by land and sea, support them in loneliness and in the hour of trial; give them grace to bear faithful witness unto thee, and endue them with a burning zeal and love, that they may turn many to righteousness, and finally obtain a crown of glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Scottish Book of Common Prayer, 1912.

810) The Worst People on Earth (b)

     (…continued)  Two messages from this amazing story.  First of all, this is an extraordinary story of forgiveness.  Every day the news is dominated by accounts of death and destruction in the Middle East, where centuries old disputes go on and on and on with revenge upon revenge.  Without forgiveness, the cycle of violence never ends.  The Waorani themselves were disappearing as a people, destroying themselves because they knew nothing of forgiveness.  The story of the forgiveness given by these grieving missionary families, and the impact that had on the tribe that inflicted the pain, is an illustration to the whole world of the power of forgiveness.  These missionary family members did not seek revenge, but instead still desired to serve the Waorani.  In doing so, they gave them tangible proof of the truth and power of the message of the Gospel which they proclaimed.  This transformed the entire tribe; changing their beliefs and their whole way of life.

     The second message in this story has to do with how those five men died, for it was how the missionaries responded to the attack that eventually prepared their killers to be receptive to the Gospel.  You see, those five missionaries had guns along that day that they were killed.  The jungle is filled with dangerous animals, and you don’t want to be there without a gun.  But not one shot was fired at the attacking Waorani.  Five men with guns could have certainly put up a fight against any number of tribesmen armed only with spears.  They all could have probably even survived the attack and escaped with their lives and returned to their families.  But they did not use their guns on the Waorani, because all five had decided ahead of time that they would not.  Why?  Because, as they had explained to their families, they, the missionaries, knew Jesus and were ready for death.  The Waorani, however, did not yet know Jesus, and were not ready to die.  So they did not use their guns.  They did not defend themselves and faced the spears of the attackers, perhaps even praying as Jesus himself prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

     This had an impact on those vicious warriors.  Not only that, but the attackers learned later that they were lied to by their own tribesman, and that the missionaries had not done anything to provoke the attack.  At this point, the Waorani were not yet Christians, and so they promptly killed that member of their tribe that lied to them.  But something about how those missionaries died made them receptive, and not violent, when the other missionaries came to stay.  They had enough contact with the outside world to know what guns were for and what they could do.  They were fearless, and carried on the attack despite the presence of guns.  But it startled them that the guns were not used, and they wondered about what kind of men these were that they killed.

     On one level, there is something crazy about not defending yourself.  One might even say it was unloving and uncaring to leave those five wives as widows and those many children fatherless.  But in all I’ve read about this story and these families, I’ve never seen any hint of regret.  Sadness, of course, but no regrets or second thoughts.  As married couples, those missionaries had gone to Ecuador with some eternal goals in mind.  Their goal was not just an interesting and exciting and long life here, but they had in mind doing something that would make an eternal difference in the lives of those to whom they would bring the message of Jesus.  They could have fired their guns that day, and they could have saved their own lives.  And they could have no doubt ended the lives of Mincaye and the others with him.  But then those Waroani would have been dead and lost, and it would have been a long time before any other outsider could have gotten close.  But by willingly giving up their lives, those men opened up that entire tribe to the message of Jesus; and in the last 60 years, their sacrifice has led to the salvation of thousands of the Waorani.  In addition to that, tens of thousands of people around the world have been influenced and inspired by this story.  The story is well known among missionaries, and it is said to have inspired a whole generation of new missionaries in the 1960’s and 70’s, and yet today. Only in heaven will the effects of that sacrifice be fully known.

     Jim Elliot, one of the five men who were killed, prayed for six years for the salvation of the Waorani, and all that while, it was impossible for him to even get close to them.  And then, he was killed the very first time he did make contact.  But it was then, even though he was dead, that his prayers began to be answered!  

     Elliot knew the risks involved in his work, and he knew he could be killed by these dangerous people.  But he wanted the Waorani to learn about Jesus.  Acknowledging the possibility that he could lose his life, he once wrote: “He is not fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”  This life cannot be kept anyway.  Our eternal salvation cannot be lost by dying here.  Jim Elliot needed to obey the call of God on his life.

     We may not have the same calling as Jim Elliot and those he died with, but we have that same promise, and can have that same eternal perspective on life and that same hope.

     Elisabeth Elliot was the wife of Jim Elliot.  She was one of the women who went back to live with and serve the Waoroni.  She is the one who took her five year old daughter along into the jungle.  After leaving the Waorani, she was the one that told this story to the world in two books; Beyond the Gates of Splendor, and The Savage, My Kinsman.  Elisabeth Elliot died June 15th at the age of 88.   

     The Bible teaches the faith and inspires faith in many ways– sometimes by proclaiming promises, sometimes by teaching theological truths, and sometimes by telling us how we ought to live.  But the main way the Bible teaches and inspires faith is simply by telling stories of the lives of faithful people– Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Noah, Daniel, David, Mary, Joseph, John, Peter, Paul, and so many more.  And we can teach the faith and inspire faith by telling more stories of faithful people– people like Nathan Saint and Jim and Elisabeth Elliot and even Mincaye, the former murderer.

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The 2006 movie.

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“We acted badly, badly, until they brought us God’s carvings (the Bible).  Then, seeing His carvings and following His good trail, now we live happily and in peace.”

–Mincaye

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“What the Waorani meant for evil, God used for good.  Given the chance to rewrite the story, I would not be willing to change it.”

–Steven Saint

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Mincaye and Steven Saint

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Genesis 50:19-20  —  Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

John 15:12-13  —  (Jesus said), “My command is this:  Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Luke 23:34a  —  Then said Jesus, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

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Loving Lord and Heavenly Father I offer up today all that I am, all that I have, all that I do, and all that I suffer, to be Yours today and Yours forever.  Give me grace, Lord, to do all that I know of Your holy will.  Purify my heart, sanctify my thinking, correct my desires.  Teach me, in all of today’s work and trouble and joy, to respond with honest praise, simple trust, and instant obedience, that my life may be in truth a living sacrifice, by the power of Your Holy Spirit and in the name of Your Son Jesus Christ, my Master and my all.   Amen.

–Elisabeth Elliot

809) The Worst People on Earth (a)

     Anthropologists have called the Waorani tribe of Ecuador one of the most violent groups of people ever discovered.  A magazine article one time called them ‘the worst people on earth.’  This tribe, which only recently began to emerge from the stone age, was on the verge of extinction in the 1950’s.  About half of all Waorani tribe members that reached adulthood died at the hands of other Waoranis.  If you were a Waorani, it was almost certain that you had a close family member who had been speared to death by other Waorani.  They had only the most primitive tribal government, and disputes were not handled by courts or even by chiefs.  Rather, if someone felt wronged they would simply kill the other person.  If the family of the murdered man or woman felt the killing was unjustified, they would seek revenge by killing the killer, and the cycle of revenge would continue.  To do anything but seek revenge was to show yourself to be weak.  Sometimes, these individual killings would erupt into attacks by entire villages on other villages.  This tribe was so remote and so feared that they were seldom approached by outsiders.  They were far from any control by the government authorities, who were simply allowing them to kill each other off.  By the mid-1950’s there were only a few hundred living members.

     And then, in 1956 some missionaries risked their lives to contact these murderous people.  The Waorani, like almost every people on earth, had a belief in God, but they did not know much about God.  The missionaries told the Waorani that God had a son named Jesus who visited our world; and Jesus told people that God did not want them killing each other, and so it was wrong for the Waorani to do so.  Eventually, the Waorani believed the missionaries and they obeyed what Jesus said, and, they quit killing each other.  And now, there are about two or three thousand Waorani, six times as many as in the 1950’s.  Sometimes, a Waorani will kill another Waorani, just like sometimes a Minnesotan will kill another Minnesotan.  But it is rare there, as it is here.  And on Sunday morning in Ecuador, just like here, many of the Waorani are in church, hearing the Word of God, and praying to Jesus.

     Missionaries not only risked their lives to reach these people, but several died in the effort.  The first five missionaries who made contact with this tribe in their own territory were killed the very first day they made contact.  These five men were in their 20’s and 30’s, and all were married and had children.  They had been dropping gifts by plane, and had reason to believe it was safe to land.  They did land on a sand bar on the river near one of the villages, and the initial contact was friendly.  Then something went wrong.  One of the tribesmen that had been with the missionaries on the sand bar, ran back and told the rest of the men of the village some lies about what had happened.  Then, the men of the village ran to the river, attacked, and killed all five men.  Days later, soldiers went in to recover the bodies. The story was featured in Life magazine.

     One would think that would be the end of the story.  One would think everyone would certainly leave the Waorani to themselves now, allowing them to continue to kill each other.  

     But this was only the beginning of one of the most amazing stories in the history of Christian missions.  Not long after the deaths of their husbands, some of the missionary wives began talking about how they might still reach these people.  They were, after all, missionaries, and they were there to tell these people about Jesus.  And who needed to hear more about the love of Jesus than the Waorani?  And who could better show them the power of forgiveness better than the wives of the men that had just been killed?  Of course it was dangerous, but they did not think that the tribesmen would kill unarmed women and children.  So some of the wives and children and other family members went up the river to contact, and then, to live with the Waorani.

     One of the women, an unmarried sister of one of the slain men, stayed for almost forty years, until she died of cancer in the early 1990’s.  Another, the wife of one of the men killed, went with in with her five year old daughter, and stayed two years.  Others, came and went over the years.  The Waorani built for them primitive homes like their own.  The missionaries brought medical supplies, matches, metal knives and axes, pot and pans, and other miracles from the modern world.  And, they brought the Gospel.  In time, a large number of the Waorani came to believe their message.  One of them, Mincaye, eventually became a missionary, and traveled around the world telling his story.  He traveled with Steven Saint, the son of Nathan Saint, the missionary pilot were brought the five men to that river bank where they all died.  Mincaye himself killed Nathan Saint with a spear in 1956 when Steven was just seven years old.  Mincaye died just a couple years ago, but had become like a father to Steven and like a grandfather to Steven’s children.  (continued…)

Nathan Saint on the sand bar where he was killed later that same day.

Steven Saint and Mincaye, the Waorani who killed Steven’s father.  See and hear them at:

http://www.epm.org/resources/2010/Mar/29/mincaye-walk-gods-trail-video/

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Romans 5:8-10  —  God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

2 Peter 3:9  —  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Psalm 33:8  —  Let all the earth fear the Lordlet all the people of the world revere him.

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Prayer of Jim Elliot, one of the five missionaries killed by the Waorani in 1956.  He was 29 years old:

I seek not a long life, but a full one, like you Lord Jesus.

807) Abraham and Adamou (part two of two)

Robert Pindzie

Adamou, one of Abraham’s spiritual descendants, now ‘as numerous as the stars in the sky.’

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     (…continued)  Thirty years ago, the congregation I was serving sent money to help in the construction of a church building for a congregation in the African nation of Cameroon.  Two years later, I met Adamou, the pastor of that congregation, who was then doing graduate work for three years at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.  He spoke at my church a few times and we became good friends.  He then went back to Africa to teach in a seminary and we lost touch.  Twenty years after that, he was again in Minnesota.  He called me, and we got together and renewed our friendship. 

     Adamou is from a remote village in the middle of Africa.  His father, Monga, was the village chief, and was raised in the traditional tribal religion of his ancestors.  Monga converted to Islam in 1920, and the whole village was converted with him.  That often happens in Africa, where such decisions are made as a community.  

     In the area of the jungle where Adamou lived there were 35 villages, but only one village had a public school.  Education is not a government priority there like it is here.  However, there were Lutheran mission schools in all 35 villages, schools financed and staffed by Lutheran missionaries.  Parents, eager for their children to receive an education, would send them to these Lutheran schools.  Muslim children were welcome, but it was made clear that the children would hear stories from the Bible.  

     Adamou started school when he was six, and he loved to learn.  He especially loved the Bible stories.  His favorite story was the story of Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph.  At first he loved those stories like school children love stories of Daniel Boone or Laura Ingalls Wilder; as interesting stories of other times and places, but without religious significance.  He, like his father, was a faithful Muslim, praying five times a day, and fasting at all the proper times.

     But when he was 14 years old, Adamou heard something that would change his life.  What he heard was John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  This promise of eternal life had a profound impact on Adamou.  Life was hard in his primitive village, and death was always a threat.  Six of his eleven brothers and sisters died in childhood, and he wanted to know more about this assurance of eternal life in Jesus.  There was no such assurance in his Muslim faith, in which he had to just do his best and then accept his fate from Allah.  There was no assurance of going to heaven.

     Adamou already knew and loved the Bible’s stories, but now he read the Bible for faith and assurance.  Eventually, he came to believe in Jesus as his Savior.  But now what could he do?  His father was the chief of the village and a Muslim, and there was not one other Christian in the whole village.  For several weeks, Adamou said nothing about his new faith, and continued in his daily prayers to Allah.

     He finally decided he could no longer pray to Allah, so he ended his prayers and all other the religious duties and practices of Islam.  His father saw this, and called him in for a talk.  The old chief, old enough to be Adamou’s grandfather, did all the talking.  “Son,” he said, “I see you are no longer praying to Allah.  I know you are going to that Christian school, but I do not see you praying to or worshiping in that way either.  Be careful, son.  No one should live without God.”  That was all he said, and Adamou took that as permission to become a Christian.  The next Sunday he walked ten miles to go to worship at a Lutheran missionary church in another village.  Muslims and Christians live together peacefully in his area, and his conversion was accepted without any trouble.  Many other conversions soon followed.

     Later on that same year Chief Monga died, and Adamou’s older brother became chief.  A few years later, that brother died, and now Adamou is the chief of his village.  He is also a respected member of the council of chiefs, and a good friend of the Muslim king of the entire Bamoon tribe, a tribe of over a million people.  Adamou’s work as a pastor and seminary professor means that he must live in the big city, but he often returns to his village for his duties as chief.  45 years ago when he became a Christian, he was the only one in his village.  Now, his village is 75% Christian.  That is the kind of church growth that has been happening throughout Africa.  The Genesis 12 blessing upon Abraham continues to reach around the world.  Abraham, and then his descendants, were “blessed, so that they could be a blessing.”  All over the world, in places far from the land that was promised to Abraham, his family of ‘spiritual descendants’ continues to grow.

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Matthew 28:18-20  —  Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Galatians 3:26-29  —  So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, and heirs according to the promise.

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PRAYER FOR AFRICA (www.educationforjustice.org):

O Lord, Creator of the entire world,
O Loving God,
This prayer is for Africa.

Bless the plains, rivers, trees
And all the African lands.
Bless the birds, fish and animals
That bring beauty and abundance to Africa.

Bless O Lord,
Your children in Africa.
Dry their tears,
Bring hope into their hearts,
Health and safety to their lives,
Food and water for their nourishment.
Bring peace to their countries
And still the guns of war.

Bless us, O Lord,
And heal your continent of Africa.
Renew the land, renew the spirit
Of all those who are wounded in any way.
May justice roll down like water
On the parched ground of your beloved Africa.  Amen.

806) Abraham and Adamou (part one of two)

“Your descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky, and all the nations on earth will be blessed through you.”

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Genesis 12:1-3…6  —  The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you….”  Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Genesis 22:17a  —  (The Lord to Abraham)  “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.”

Romans 4:16  —  Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring– not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham.  He is the father of us all.

Romans 4:23-24  —  The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness– for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.

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     Arabs and Jews have been having a major disagreement about who has a right to live on a narrow strip of land on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea.  Ever since 1948 when the United Nations set aside that land for the Jews, many Arabs have been attempting to eliminate the Jews from that part of the globe.  The Palestinians say, “You can’t just give them that land.  We were here first; long before 1948.”  But the Jews say, “No, we were here first.  In fact, God gave this land to our ancestor Abram, later called Abraham, almost 4,000 years ago.”  They point Genesis chapter 12:1-3 where God himself said to Abraham, “Go to the land that I will show you,” and God led him to the land that is now Israel.  But Arabs say, “Not so fast.  Abraham is our ancestor too.  We are descended from his other son, Ishmael, who also got a piece of land way back then (Genesis 17:19-21).”  And then many Christians (not all) say, “You are both wrong.  God’s promise to Abraham no longer has anything at all to do with property rights, but now has to do with something much bigger.  God’s promise was extended to all the people of the world through Abraham’s descendant Jesus Christ, who was the fulfillment of what was promised in verse three where it says, ‘all the peoples on the earth will be blessed through you.'”

     Three of the five great religions of the world trace their ancestry back to this man Abraham and the call of God to him in Genesis 12.  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all believe in one God, the God who called Abraham to leave his country and his people and his father’s household and go to a new land.  After that, there are many significant differences between those religions, the most important having to do with what each says about Jesus Christ, “The way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).  But all three start here, with this story, and the one God, who calls the one man, Abram.

     I cannot here even begin to deal with this whole story and all it means.  And, I will not get into the question of who has the divine right to the land.  That, after all, is more of a Jewish and Muslim concern.  Christians are not very interested in that, because we read the story of Abraham through the lens of the New Testament.  Paul said in Galatians  3:29, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendant,” and, “those who have faith are the children of Abraham and are blessed along with him.”  The descendants of Abraham are now spiritual descendants and not by nationality, said Paul (himself a Jew).  And Jesus himself renewed and revised the promise made to Abraham.  In Genesis 12:3 God said to Abraham, “All the peoples on the earth will be blessed through you.”  In Matthew 28 Jesus said to his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and I will be with you always, to the very end to the age.”  Christians aren’t as interested in deciding the short term questions on the inheritance of these property rights in the Holy Land.  We are more interested in Jesus and his promise of the inheritance of eternal life in heaven for all who hear and believe the Gospel.  

     There is a clear progression in the call of God to Abraham in Genesis 12.  It begins with a specific call of God to one man to leave his homeland and move to a new place.  Then the Lord begins talking about blessing other people– first, a whole nation that would descend from Abraham, and then, how that blessing would be extended to the whole world.  Even way back then it seems to be about much more than property rights.  This is not only a call to a new land, but primarily a call to a new faith– faith in a promise that Christians believe was fulfilled Jesus Christ.

     Ever since the day that God called Abraham, that call to faith has been reaching outward around the world and down through the generations.  In the 8th century it reached my ancestors in what is now Germany.  Forty-five years ago it reached my friend Adamou in the middle of Africa, one of Abraham’s descendants, now ‘as numerous as the stars in the sky.’  (continued…)  

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Merciful Father, your kindness caused the light of the Gospel to shine among us.  Extend your mercy now, we pray, to all the people of the world who do not have hope in Jesus Christ, that your salvation may be made known to them also and that all hearts would turn to you; through Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, page 45

798) New Life for an Old Church

 

Adapted from the June 10, 2015 Breakpoint blog at http://www.breakpoint.org, The Growth of Christianity in the Muslim World, by Eric Metaxas

       Even while the West turns its back on the faith, Christianity is growing by leaps and bounds.

     A Washington Post article tells the story of a tiny Baptist church near Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  The congregation had dwindled to just fifteen members.  With bills stacking up, Deacon Larry Montgomery told the congregation, “We’re just not going to make it.”

     Montgomery then told the people of Scenic Drive Baptist that there was a congregation who might want to buy the church.  This congregation had been meeting in homes and had a pastor whose business card quoted John 4:35:  “Look at the fields!  They are ripe for harvest.”

     Montgomery approached the pastor, who then called his flock to pray about it.  His prayer began “Abuna Semawi, nashkurak.”  That’s Arabic for “Heavenly Father, we thank you.”  The pastor, Egyptian-born Raouff Ghattas, a nuclear engineer by training, had attended a Southern Baptist seminary with a view to becoming a missionary.  He and his American-born wife, Carol, share a mission:  “Never rest until you tell every Arab about Jesus.”

     For two decades they served in places like Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Tunisia.  But when they returned to Carol’s hometown of Murfreesboro, they found that their mission field had come to them.  The town even had a mosque.

     So they went to work telling local Muslims about Jesus, and ‘Scenic Drive Baptist Church’ became ‘Arabic Baptist Church,’ a place where Arab Christians and non-Arab Christians can worship together.

     In every sense that matters, Scenic Drive Baptist did “make it.”  It just did so in a way that suited the moment we are living in.

    Here’s a statistic that will – or at least should – blow your mind:  More than half of all Christians who have ever lived are alive today.  The Gospel is being preached all over the world, and people are saying “yes.”

     This includes the Islamic world.

     In a recent “Breakpoint This Week” broadcast, my colleague John Stonestreet spoke with David Garrison and Paul Filidis about the upcoming “30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World,” which starts on June 18.

     Garrison traveled more 250,000 miles around the Islamic world chronicling what is probably the most under-reported important story of our time:  waves of Muslims converting to Christianity.

     His book, A Wind in the House of Islam, documented nearly 70 movements of Christianity in the Islamic world in the past two decades:  movements being defined as “1,000 Muslims receiving Christian baptism, a public statement of their faith in Christ.”

     In fact, Garrison estimates that these 70 “movements” represent more than 80 percent of all such movements in Islam’s 1,400-year history.  As he put it, Muslims all over the world “are falling on their knees, finding that this is the living God who has come into the world— God with us, God among us— who is bringing them salvation that they were never able to find” in Islam.

     The “30 Days of Prayer,” which coincides with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, is one way we can participate in this great work of God.

     Come to BreakPoint.org and we’ll link you to John Stonestreet’s broadcast on the month of prayer for the Muslim world.  Also see:

http://www.30daysprayer.com

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Acts 4:8-12  —  Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them:  “Rulers and elders of the people!  If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel:  It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.  Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

John 14:6-7  —  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.  From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

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Lord Jesus, you are the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Without the Way, there is no going.  Without the Truth, there is no knowing.  Without the Life, there is no living.  You are the Way which we must follow, the Truth which we must believe, the Life for which we must hope.  Lord Jesus, may all come to know you as the Way and the Truth and the Life.  Amen.

–Adapted from The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis

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Pastor Raouff Ghattas of Arabic Baptist Church:

777) Does the Money Really Get There?

 

     I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say they didn’t like giving money to overseas missions, because, “How do we know the money gets there?”  Here’s how I know.

     When I was a child in Sunday School, our mission offerings went to the African nation of Madagascar.  Kids today have heard about Madagascar because there have been some really funny animated movies made about it; you know, the one with the I Like to Move It, Move It song.  But I remember Madagascar because there was always a big map in my early Sunday school rooms, and the island nation of Madagascar was highlighted.  I could find Madagascar on a map before I knew where Wisconsin was located.  Each week we would bring our nickels and dimes and quarters for the Sunday School offering, and our teachers would tell us how those offerings went to help the poor children of Madagascar.  It was for food to feed them, for missionaries to tell them about Jesus, and for teachers and books so those children could go to school.  I was inspired by that, and it felt good about being a part of something big like that way over on the other side of the world.

     Fast forward four decades.  I’m not five years old any more, but in the second part of this story I am forty-five.  I was at a missions conference, and one of the speakers was a pastor from Madagascar.  His speech was about the tremendous growth of the church in Madagascar over the last several years.  He told about how missionaries and teachers from the United States came to Madagascar with the Gospel of Jesus, and how there are now thousands of churches and millions of Christians in that small nation.

     This man was about my age, so I was very interested in his message.  I talked to him later in the conference.  I told him about our Sunday School’s focus on Madagascar missions all those years ago, and how we especially heard about the Christian schools there.  He said he went to one of those schools and that was where he heard about Jesus.  He described how happy he was to be freed from his old tribal religion that was filled with fear and hopelessness.  His whole tribe was converted, and because of that, and the many other changes brought by the missionaries, life is much better in his village.  It was a joy to talk to him, and to realize that when I was a child in Minnesota, faithfully bringing my Sunday School offerings, he was a child in Madagascar learning about Jesus because of those offerings  And now, back in the United States, our church conference was being blessed by his powerful story and teaching.

     I look forward to many conversations like that in heaven where we will have plenty of time to meet all kinds of people.  My present congregation helps support a congregation, orphanage, and school in Haiti.  The leader of that ministry is Pastor Widelson, who I met when he visited our congregation last year.   Sometime here on earth, or more likely in heaven, I might have a conversation with someone from Haiti, and Pastor Widelson’s name will come up.  They will say, “He was our pastor,” and I will say, “Yes, I met him when he was at our church in Hanover.”  And they might say, “O yes, St. Paul’s in Hanover.  We heard much about your congregation.  You helped us, and because of that help I had a place to live after my parents died, and I received an education, and I came to know Jesus as my Lord and Savior.  Thank you.  You helped me have a good life.”

     I think this is at least a part of what Jesus meant when in Matthew chapter six when he talked about storing up for ourselves treasures not on earth, but in heaven.  What better treasure could there be than a life made better here on earth, and a soul in heaven forever?

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Matthew 6:19-21  —  (Jesus said), “ “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 28:18-20  —  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

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O God of all the nations of the earth, remember the multitudes who, though created in thine image, they have not known thee, nor the dying of thy Son their Savior Jesus Christ; and grant that by the prayers and labors of thy holy church they may be delivered from all superstition and unbelief and brought to worship thee; through him who thou hast sent to be the resurrection and the life to all men, thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Francis Xavier, Missionary to India, Japan, and Borneo (1506-1552)

692) Bruchko and Jesus (part one of two)

          Bruce Olson was born in Minneapolis in 1942.  He grew up in the Lutheran church and learned in Sunday School how much Jesus loved him, that Jesus died for him on the cross, and, how important it was for him to believe in Jesus.  He also learned that God wanted everybody in the whole world to know about Jesus.  He decided that he would do his part to make that happen by becoming a missionary.  He had heard about the fierce Motilone tribe in the jungles of Columbia and Venezuela that had not yet been reached by anyone, so he chose to go to them.

     If you want to become a missionary, the first thing you should do is go to a school that specializes in preparing people for the mission field.  Or, you might go to any college to get some education; and then, at the same time, be in touch with a mission agency about applying with their organization to receive sponsorship, salary, training, and a base to work from.  The mission agencies then would have their own procedures which would include language training, cross-cultural awareness courses, education about the nation and the tribe to which you will be sent, necessary medical precautions and preparations, and so forth.  The mission organization will also help you with all the paperwork and red tape involved in going to do long-term work in another country.  Preparing to be a missionary can take a long time and require a lot of work.

      But Bruce Olson was an energetic 19-year old and anxious to get going.  So he decided to bypass all of the preliminaries.  He did, at first, apply at a few mission agencies, but they rejected him as unfit for service.  So, he decided he would just get a plane ticket to Columbia, South America, arrange for passage on a commercial steam-boat upstream as far as he could go, and then paddle by canoe the rest of the way to get to the Motilones.  

     This tribe had quite a reputation in Columbia.  Up to that time (1961) they had killed every white person who had ever set foot in their territory.  Bruce Olson knew that, but still was determined to go to them.  He had no training, no experience, no sponsorship, no money, and he did not speak the language.  He would just go to them, live with them, and see what happened.  His Norwegian Lutheran parents in Minneapolis were not pleased with this decision, but what can you tell a 19 year old?  He felt God was calling him to the Motilones, so off he went.

     Olson almost died even before he got to his destination.  With no organization to help him prepare medically for the trip, he came down with a very serious illness on the river.  This happened not long after he took off on his own.  He kept going as long as he could, but after a few days, he was too sick to move.  He set up camp on the river bank and just laid there, waiting to either get well or die.

     Olson was found by some men from the tribe that he had gone out to find.  Had he been healthy when they found him, they would have immediately put a spear through his heart.  But fierce as they were, this tribe was too proud to kill an animal or an enemy that was sick.  They would have just left an animal, but they did not want to leave a man who might get well and make trouble for them.  So they carried him back to their village, fully intending to nurse him back to health; and then they would kill him.

     It is a long story, but by the time Olson got well, the people in the tribe had grown fond of him.  They were intrigued by this fair skinned man and by some of the fascinating gadgets that he had brought along.  They could see that he meant them no harm.  So the Motilones let Bruce Olson live there, and called him Bruchko.  He stayed with them for most of his life.  He works with them still, though he no longer lives with them full-time as he did for over 50 years.

     Bruchko went to the Motilones to tell them about Jesus, and almost all of the people of that tribe are now Christians.  They have churches and schools and hospitals.  Many of their children are now university graduates, and they don’t kill white people anymore.  Most of them have remained in their jungle homeland, but they have undergone a tremendous transformation.

      Bruce Olson accomplished all this by giving his life to them; first, by being willing to die in even going there, and then, by living among them from then on.  He did not die, as he might well have, but he did give up whatever life he could have had with his own people.  He has given his whole life to live among this primitive tribe, all so that they might know Christ.  He moved in with them, lived like they did, learned their language, ate what they ate, and, at first, took with him none of the comforts of civilization.  Later, when he began to introduce some pills and medical cures, he did this through the local medicine man who had become his friend, allowing the medicine man to grow in respect, rather than be defeated and humiliated by a more successful cure from this outsider.  Olson fit in wherever and however he could, except where he would have to compromise his faith.  He would not do that, even though he did seek to learn all he could about the present beliefs of the tribe.  After taking years to earn their confidence and trust, he began to tell them about Jesus.  He did so by seeking connections with what they already believed in, and then building on that.  The Motilones did believe in a creator God and in the presence of spirits.  Olson showed them how Jesus completed their faith and their lives in ways their own beliefs never could.  Their beliefs were limited to a fear of unseen forces.  Bruchko showed them that God loved them and came to earth for them.  In time, they came to believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  (continued…)

Bruce Olson/’Bruchko’

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Ruth 1:15-17  —  “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods.  Go back with her.”  But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you.  Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.  Your people will be my people and your God my God.  Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.  May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”

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 Oh God, you have created me to do for you some definite service; you have committed to me some work to do which you have not committed to another.  I have my mission.  You have created me a link in a chain, a connection between people.  You have not created me for nothing.  May I do the work you have given me to do and do it well.   Amen.

–John Henry Newman  (1801-1890)

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To read more of this amazing story go to Olson’s website at:

http://www.bruceolson.com/english/english.htm

Listen to him tell his story at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kox54SLxFk

Or, read his book:

675) How Missionaries Have Changed the World

John Stonestreet blog at < http://www.breakpoint.org >  February 3, 2014, “The Truth About Missionaries”

Missionary teaching African children to read, 1964

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     For the last several generations, missionaries have gotten a lot of bad press.  They’re called cultural imperialists or tools of colonial oppression, and in the pages of books such as The Poisonwood Bible, or, for an earlier generation, James Michener’s Hawaii, they’re presented as paternalistic, ignorant enemies of glorious indigenous cultures.

     Even many supporters of so-called “native missionaries” in Asia, Africa, and Latin America suggest that Western missionaries should just “stay home” and “let the nationals do it.”  But a funny thing happened on the way to missionary irrelevance:  Ground-breaking, peer-reviewed research reveals that the presence of Protestant missionaries is the greatest predictor of whether a nation develops into a stable representative democracy with robust levels of literacy, political freedom, and women’s rights.
     Yes, you heard that right, and you can read all about it in the painstaking work of Robert Woodberry, whose work on the global spread of democracy has turned scholarship on its head.  Woodberry discovered that you can trace a direct link between the presence of 19th century Protestant missionaries and a country’s economic and social development.
     Why, for instance, does a seminary in the West African nation of Togo have almost no books for its students, while in neighboring Ghana the schools are full of reading material, including much that is written locally?  As summarized by in a Christianity Today article by author Andrea Palpant Dilley (see below), “British missionaries in Ghana had established a whole system of schools and printing presses.  But France, the colonial power in Togo, severely restricted missionaries.”
     This contrast is replicated across the world, from Botswana to India.  Woodberry’s conclusion is sweeping:  
Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.
     
     And these aren’t just any missionaries, but the ones labeled as “conversionist”—that is, those who call others to faith in Jesus Christ—in other words, the very ones who have been decried for so long as cultural imperialists.  Loving Jesus and the people to whom they were sent, they fought injustice, stood with the local people, planted seeds of political freedom and economic growth around the world.
 
     A key part of this was teaching local people to read so they could read the Bible.  As Dana Robert of the Center for Global Christianity and Mission at Boston University says, “If you look worldwide at poverty, literacy is the main thing that helps you rise out of poverty.  Unless you have broad-based literacy, you can’t have democratic movements.”
     Protestant missionaries may have gone to “the field” to point people to heaven, but it turns out that they did a pretty good job being salt and light for the here and now too.  As Woodberry says, “I feel confident saying none of those movements would have happened without non-state missionaries mobilizing them.”
     
     This truth about missionaries is not what many academics were expecting, of course.  “I’m not religious,” says Robin Grier, professor of economics and international and area studies at the University of Oklahoma.  “I never felt really comfortable with the idea of [mission work]; it seemed cringe-worthy.  Then I read Bob’s work.  I thought, Wow, that’s amazing.  They left a long legacy.  It changed my views and caused me to rethink.”
     
     The work of Robert Woodberry is changing a lot of minds.  It’s also a powerful reminder that when a people’s worldview changes toward the Kingdom of God, so does their life, for the better.  Hillary Clinton said it takes a village to raise a child.  Well, to change a culture, maybe all it takes is a missionary.
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Based on:  Christianity Today, January 8, 2014, The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries, by Andrea Palpant Dilley.

For an article summarizing Woodberry’s work see:

http://www.academia.edu/2128659/The_Missionary_Roots_of_Liberal_Democracy

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If the Gospel is just the way of understanding religion which is meaningful for me, which helps me and comforts just me, then I have no right to interfere with others who have their own versions of reality, their own ways to such peace and security as men can hope for.  But the Gospel is the TRUTH, and therefore, it is true for all people.  It is the unveiling of the face of Him who made all things, from whom every person comes, and to whom every person goes.  It is the revealing of the meaning of human history, of the origin and destiny of all people.  Jesus is not only my Savior, He is the Lord of all things, the cause and cornerstone of the universe.  If I believe that, then to bear witness to that is the very stuff of existence.  If I think I can keep it to myself, then I do not in any real sense believe it.  Foreign missions are not an extra; they are the acid test of whether or not the Church believes the Gospel.

–Lesslie Newbingen, Is Christ Divided?, 1961

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A missionary is a person who leaves their family for a while, so others can be with their families forever.

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Matthew 28:16-20  —  Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

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O almighty God, we ask You to guide and bless all who have gone forth to preach the gospel.  Endow them with the gifts of generosity and concern.  Send your Holy Spirit on them, that He may strengthen them in weakness, comfort them in trials and direct their efforts.  May He open the hearts of their hearers to receive Your message.  Let Your revelation enlighten all minds for the salvation of souls, and let Your love heal every heart and body for the happiness of each person.  May all people consciously acknowledge You and serve You by living the teachings of Your Son.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.