Destination Belize and a Nod to William Carey

Going to Belize

My wife and I are going with a group from our church on a one-week mission trip next week to Belize. We are both at once very excited and a bit nervous about the trip, as it will be our first and we don’t quite know what to expect. Of course, we’ve heard plenty of stories from others and received tons of advice, but as you well know, you don’t really gain a true appreciation for any undertaking until you’ve actually been a participant. In any case, though, we feel a definite calling to this ministry and I, for one, am amazed at how God continues to use me in ways that I never would have thought possible. A professor of mine used to say that God “strikes straight licks with crooked sticks.” Please pray that this particular crooked stick would completely surrender to God’s will and allow the Spirit to lead the way.

On that note, our entire group (29 of us in all) would very much appreciate your prayers this next week that God would find us as willing vessels and that the Holy Spirit would go out ahead of us and prepare hearts for the message of love and hope that is Jesus Christ. We are working with an organization called Praying Pelican Missions (http://www.prayingpelicanmissions.org/) and I am told that family and friends back home will be able to track our progress throughout the week as the group leaders post pictures and journal entries to the website. If I find out any additional details that may help you keep up with us (if interested) I will let you know. I do know from others who recently returned that there is a tremendous need in this country and Sonya and I are excited to be playing even a very small role in God’s work there.

Thank you so much and I hope to post about our Belize experience their when we return!

 

Thinking about Missions

Separately, but related…

This upcoming trip has really gotten me interested in global missions and I have been reading in amazement about the strength of the modern missions movement. When I think especially of those who have accepted the call to devote much of their lives to living in foreign lands and sharing Jesus with the unevangelized (often leaving family, friends, and modern comforts), I am simply in awe of what God has done in their lives. Thank God so much for them and the work they do in his name. Did you know, though, with all of the modern mission successes, that there was a period of time when the overwhelming majority of Christians didn’t even see this mission as the responsibility of the church? Well, it wasn’t very long ago. We’ll get to that in a minute but first let’s review a little missions history.

Before ascending to Heaven to be with the Father, the Bible records Jesus’ last words to his disciples (and by the way, we usually consider people’s last words pretty important):

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” (Matt 28:18-20)(NIV).

This was Jesus’ final direction to his followers. It is commonly known as the Great Commission and it forms the very basis for evangelism and cross-cultural missions work to this day. Today, few Christians question the message within the Great Commission and worldwide missions work is thriving. Consider a few recent statistics from Christianity Today:

In the Christian world, there are 306,000 foreign missionaries to other Christian lands. Also, 4.19 million full-time Christian workers (95%) work within the Christian world.

In the unevangelized world, there are 20,500 full-time Christian workers and 10,200 foreign missionaries.

 

So, what has been the result of missions activity? The book 20/20 Vision, by Bill and Amy Stearns says it well:

“In A.D. 100 there were 360 non-Christians per true believer. Today the ratio is less than seven to every believer as the initiative of the Holy Spirit continues to outstrip our most optimistic plans!”

 

This is an amazing display of what the Holy Spirit has done through the work of willing disciples in fulfilling the Great Commission! You will recall that the the Spirit’s work in and through people is evident from the earliest days of the church as we see in the account of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2 and consider that the willingness of persecuted Christians to share their faith with new peoples in the lands to which they fled figured prominently in the early and widespread growth of the church in the first centuries A.D.

Sadly, though, this fervor to share Jesus with the lost world has not always found a welcome home within the church. At times like these, it often takes God using a willing disciple to stir up the lukewarm church and remind them of their responsibilities as the body of Christ. It is for this reason that I want to take a moment to share with you a person who was absolutely instrumental in rejuvenating the Baptist church when they had fallen into a rather reticent state with regard to the Great Commission. His work would eventually light a fire under would-be Christian missionaries that has continued burning intensely to this very day. Maybe you already know about him but if not, please read on!

The Father of the Modern Missions Movement

William Carey was born in 1761 to an Anglican family in Northamptonshire, England. As he grew into adulthood and devoted himself to regular Bible study, though, he began to find greater theological agreement with the Baptist faith. Carey was baptized by immersion in 1783 and promptly left his previous career as a cobbler to become a Baptist preacher. During this same time period, the famous Captain Cook was often in the news and Carey excitedly read accounts of the new lands and peoples that Cook had discovered across the Pacific. As he continued his biblical studies and prayer, he often thought about these peoples and eventually became convinced that Christians did, in fact, have a responsibility to spread the gospel to those who had not yet heard its wonderful and eternal message. From this point forward, Carey’s interest and work in missions became so significant that he is now known as the father of the modern missions movement.

Carey’s contributions to global missions history were numerous but perhaps his most important was an enthusiastic and tireless effort to inspire his generation from a state of missions lethargy. You see, prior to Carey, both big business and the church itself conspired against missionary efforts. The British East India Company’s opposition to missionary work for fear of it becoming a hindrance to trade had met with little opposition in England because frankly, at the time there was little interest in missions. The prevailing view from the church was that the Great Commission did not apply to contemporary Christians. Well, when Carey became convinced otherwise, let’s just say he didn’t keep his “opinions” to himself (thank goodness)!

He began to preach fervently on this subject and it became obvious in his actions that he truly had a heart for reaching the unevangelized. As his work began to garner increasing support, Carey redoubled his efforts. In addition to his sermons on the topic, Carey put his ideas in print, publishing a manuscript in 1792 that is popularly known as “Enquiry”. With the assistance of his friend and fellow pastor, Andrew Fuller, Carey was successful in forming the “Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Among the Heathen” later that year. Thank goodness for everyone involved, they would later wisely rename it the Baptist Missions Society.

Unfortunately, the Society was initially unable to recruit a willing soul to become a missionary! What did Carey do in this situation? He unreservedly offered his own services. He quickly left for India in 1793 and, although he encountered numerous obstacles along the way, he never allowed them to halt his progress. In fact, his steadfast devotion to God and task resulted in one of his greatest accomplishments there, which was establishing an operational headquarters and allying with a local printer to translate the Bible into the Indian languages!

Carey’s enthusiasm, persistence, and effective communication of his adventures inspired countless others to emulate him, from both Britain and the United States. Numerous missionary societies were formed across many denominations and large numbers of Christians felt called to missionary careers due to his influence. Carey’s relentless passion and devotion to his calling laid the foundation for a missionary movement that proudly continues God’s work to this day.

Sometimes we Christians need folks like Carey and I thank God for his example. If called and convicted like him, would I respond with the same spirit and enthusiasm? Would I call out the church for teaching false doctrine and challenge leaders to correct it?

No, I probably wouldn’t…but if I allowed God to work through me, He would.

 

“Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”  ~ William Carey

 

References:

World Evangelism Statistics, access at http://www.epm.org/blog/2008/Jul/17/world-evangelism-statistics-and-missions-giving

Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity Volume II: The Reformation to the Present Day (New York: Harper Collins, 2010), 422.

William Carey, “ An Enquiry Into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens,” Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, ed. by Ralph D. Winter and Steven Hawthorne, (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009), 312.

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