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.
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.
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!