Our Generation Theology

The other day, I was reading a missions blog that bothered me.  Here is the phrase that stuck in my craw!  “Have you noticed that people in our generation want to make a difference in this world?” What the author seems to be inferring here is that previous generations did not have the same passion.  I wouldn’t have picked up on this except I keep hearing this phrase “our generation” in the context of missions.  As I mull this over, it seems to me there is this “belief” that the present generation is somehow unique to past generations and seems to have formed this view as part of their theology.  So I call this “our generation theology.” It seems to dismiss all the efforts and accomplishments of past generations. 

I Object! 

To be honest, this type of messaging makes me a bit angry.  When we truly understand the church and the mission of the church, we understand that each generation builds on the next.  One generation passes the torch to the next; and without a previous generation there is no torch to pass on.  We don’t stand alone as “twenty somethings” or “sixty somethings.” The foundation is Christ and our roots run deep to the book of Acts where the torch of missions was first lit.  It seems to me that when we belittle those who have gone before we do so at our own peril.  I appreciate the passion of those called to missions and to evangelism.  I appreciate the enthusiasm of youth; however, I object to the idea that they are the only ones who have such a passion.  What they seem to be forgetting or overlooking is that without those who have gone before they would have no roads to follow.  I think they need a history lesson in modern missions.

Let’s begin with the father of modern missions: William Carey (1761-1834)

William Carey was called by God to take the gospel to India.  He arrived in 1792.

At the time of his passing, he had spent 41 years in India, not returning to his homeland.  He had some seven hundred converts. He also created several Bible translations into Indian dialects as well. If anyone felt like the previous generation had neglected the gospel imperative, it was William Carey.  He was pretty much told to sit down and shut up about evangelism because if God wanted to reach the pagans of India God could well do it. God did reach them through William Carey!  He set the pattern for modern missions.  He passed the torch to D.L. Moody in America and Hudson Taylor in England, who went to China. 

D.L. Moody (1837-1899) was an American evangelist who reached thousands with the Gospel here in our own country.  He also was instrumental in founding a Bible College in Chicago, Moody Bible Institute, which has in turn produced thousands of pastors and missionaries over the decades, who in turn have shared the Gospel with countless numbers of people over the years. 

Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) went to China and changed missions by blending into the Chinese culture rather than being aloof from it.  He founded the China Inland Mission as well as many schools. Some twenty thousand professed faith in Christ under his ministry.  He spent fifty one years there! 

These men, and many others like them, had a passion for the lost and passed the torch to the next generation.  Women like Amy Carmichael. 

Amy Carmichael (1867-1951) who served in India for fifty-five years without furlough. She is well known for the books she authored about missions.  She gave her life to missions.  She passed the torch to the next generations, to men like William Townsend.

William Townsend (1896-1982) founded Wycliffe Bible Translators.  How many thousands have come to Christ because the Bible was translated into their own language?  The passion for the lost didn’t end there.  The torch was passed on to men like Jim Elliot and Billy Graham.

Jim Elliot (1927-1956) lost his life while trying to take the Gospel to the native peoples of Ecuador.  He wrote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” His widow, Elizabeth, carried on the passion and became a prolific author of Christian books.

Billy Graham (1918-2018) was the last of the great traveling evangelists.  Who could deny  Bill Graham’s passion for reaching the lost! 

People like Jim Elliot and Billy Graham were heroes to my generation growing up.  They passed the torch on to people like Martin and Gracie Burnham. 

Martin Burnham (1959-2002).  From Gracia’s web page: “For 17 years, Gracia and Martin served with New Tribes Mission in the Philippines where Martin was a jungle pilot delivering mail, supplies, and encouragement to other missionaries, and transporting sick and injured patients to medical facilities. Gracia served in various roles supporting the aviation program and also home-schooling their children– all of whom were born in the Philippines.

On May 27, 2001, while celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary at Dos Palmas Resort off Palawan Island, the Burnhams were taken captive by a militant group of Muslims called the Abu Sayyaf Group. In addition to the Burnhams, the group seized several more guests and took them to Basilan Island, an ASG stronghold.”

In the ensuing months, some of the hostages were killed, but most were set free. From November 2001, only the Burnhams and one other hostage remained in captivity.

For more than a year, and under the total control of their captors, they were constantly on the move living in primitive conditions in the jungle, evading capture from the Philippine military, enduring gun battles, and witnessing unspeakable atrocities committed by the men of Abu Sayyaf Group.

Soon after the events of September 11, the news media took a greater interest in Gracia and Martin’s plight and kept their story in the national headlines.

On the afternoon of June 7, 2002, over a year since their abduction, the Philippine military attempted another rescue. Tragically, Martin was killed during the gunfight. Wounded, but alive, Gracia was rescued and returned home under a national spotlight.

Since that time, Gracia has authored two books, In The Presence Of My Enemies, and To Fly Again.

To not know the history of missions is a tragedy.  Possibly the problem lies with American churches that have not given missions the proper focus it deserves and so a whole new generations has grown up not knowing the place of missions in generations past.  Shortly after I was called to Faith Community Church, I came up with a plan to hang all our missionaries’ pictures in the back of the worship center in prominent view for all to see.  I especially wanted the children and young adults to see these people called of God to reach the lost.  They need to know the history of missions generally and locally. 

The passion and the enthusiasm is alive and well.  The torch continues to be passed on.  Let us not be arrogant about what we are doing, but rather rejoice in what God has done and will do.  Let’s do this together for the glory of God!

The Dresser Family

Hidden in these drawers was a family we had never met!

An interesting thing happened on the way to refinish a dresser, we discovered a family we didn’t know. Let me explain.  We have a used dresser that we purchased after we moved to Lynden, and Kathy wanted to refinish it.  As she took it apart, in one of the drawers under the liner was a potpourri of memories from the family that last owned it.  There was a silhouette profile of a little girl named Ann made in 1966 at Disneyland.  She was eleven. There was the “King’s Herald” magazine from King’s Garden in Seattle dated July 1961.  There were three cards, one get well, one Mother’s Day and one thank you.  There was a poem about Thanksgiving written by Kelli in 1974.  There were six personal letters, eight photos, and one receipt for a used gramophone dated 1972.  There were five newspaper clippings and two Western Union telegrams congratulating David and Norma on their wedding day dated February 5th, 1942. 

Quite a collection! 

Our first hint as to who owned the dresser was that written on the back of it was “Sept. 1960, Norma.” Now we had the wedding telegrams for her and Dave from 1942 so obviously this was their family dresser and memories.  The letters revealed Norma’s maiden name to be and that she and Dave once lived in Bellevue.  We also surmised that they had three children, Louis, Steven and Ann.  We learned that they were members of the Swedish Tabernacle Church.  I’m assuming that the “King’s Herald” was a publication connected with their denomination.

Of the letters, three were from the children to Dave and Norma.  Louis wrote in February of 1964 from College.  Evidently his parents were unhappy with him about something and he explained why he hadn’t been home in a while because he felt disconnected from the family.  I wonder what he meant.  I did some research and found his obituary.  He passed away in 2011 “into the arms of his higher power.”  I am assuming that he was connected with A.A. because of the use of the term “higher power” and by the fact that after his retirement he worked in the chemical dependency field.  According the obituary he was sober for the last twenty eight years of his life! Steve wrote home in September of 1967 from Hong Kong where he was serving with the military.  We learned from Louis’ obituary that Steve had passed away earlier, but we don’t know how or why.  Then we have a letter from their daughter Ann writing from Alexandria Louisiana dated June 1976. Evidently she and her husband are on vacation. 

So laying before us was the remnant memories of a family.  I found Norma’s obituary on line.  A few words to summarize a life: Norma Age 89 of Mercer Is. passed into the arms of the Lord at Covenant Shores on Oct. 2, 2010. Norma was born Aug 4, 1921 in Selah WA. Retired from the Bellevue School Dist. Food Service, she was a longtime member of Highland Covenant Church. She was famous for her Swedish rye & cardamon bread. Norma was preceded in death by husband Dave and son Steve. We would like to thank the staff at Covenant Shores for their care and support.

I was able to find Ann’s Facebook account and sent her a message that we had all of these bits of memories from her mom and wondered if she wanted them back.  We have had no response so far, but it may be that she actually doesn’t go on Facebook. 

So I wonder about this family. Are they still connected?  It bothered me that in Louis’s obituary nothing was said about his mom or dad, brother or sister, only his immediate family. I wonder why?  I wonder do they still have faith? Do David and Norma’s grandchildren and children have faith in Jesus?  I wonder! 

This was just a reminder to me of how important it is that we pass our faith along to the next generation.  Proverbs 22:6, Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. The key here is what does it mean to “train up?” That same word in the Hebrew is often translated “dedicate.”  When we dedicate something we give it over, we give up ownership.  It seems to me that the thought here is more than just following rules and dictating lifestyle, it seems to be giving over our children to God and modeling true faith before them.  Deuteronomy 4:9 helps us here.  “Only take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and your grandchildren.”

When we get to Deuteronomy 6:6-7 we have similar exhortation. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.”

We need to live out our faith before our children and grandchildren!  It only takes one generation for faith to be lost, and we are seeing it happen before our eyes.  Did it happen to the family whose memories we stumbled on?  I hope not, but the discovery and the process of trying to find them reminded me of how precious faith and family are.