This is an article from the September - October 1997 issue: The Jesus Film Project Takes on the World

Editorial Comment

Editorial Comment

Dear Reader,

A little girl, still alive, at the bottom of an abandoned well, people rushing around drastically working to get that little girl out before it’s too late, the whole community helping… Don’t you recall this?

This has happened twice in my recollection. And, in fact, the whole USA and the world looked on throughout the hours of the rescue efforts, anxiously sending thousands of dollars and everything else to help.

Or, what about the time when the whole world’s heart stopped beating for 24 hours—while three whales were freed from icy imprisonment?

Meanwhile, as you read this page, four little children die every sixty seconds in ghastly pain and suffering from malaria. And the world is simply looking the other way. Four per minute means more than two million children a year die this particular kind of horrible death!

Why is it so hard to get the world’s attention when it is needed? On other occasions it isn’t so hard!

Why do two girls or three whales get global attention and desperate rescue efforts, while two million children don’t?

Two reasons (at least):

1. You can’t cure the disease of the two million children. (But is this true?)

2. You can’t prevent the disease of the two million. (Is that true?)

Our assumption seems to be there’s nothing you can do. The two million children are going to die anyhow.

And, is it true that you can’t prevent these poor little children from getting malaria since one third of the world’s population carries the malarial parasites in its bloodstream?

And, for that matter, why does this problem even come up in an editorial in a mission magazine? Because few problems, mission or otherwise, will get solved apart from arousing people’s attention.

What are other reasons for this apparently “selective” global focus on two children rather than 2 million.

Could it be described as:

  • a trait of superficial attention?
  • the innate whimsy in human perspective?
  • the need to be entertained?
  • the media’s type of news?

Compare the wrenching moment by moment uncertainty of rescue efforts to reach a single child to the ho-hum news value of four children dying a horrible death every sixty seconds.

Isn’t this like comparing the news value of a 747 going down off Long Island every now and then to the reality of three times that many people dying every day from smoking?

Recently five “more” missionaries died in Auca country. And note how little international notice took place compared to the five deaths in the “original” Auca tragedy. Ho hum.

But can’t Evangelical, mission-minded believers think more clearly than “world opinion?”

Where DO WE put our mission money? Millions and millions of it goes for malnourished children, but not for children tormented to death by malaria.

Just how “wholistic” are we?

In earlier editorials we have asked “How far should we go in contextualizing the Gospel?” And this issue adds a major supplement to that theme.

Now I’m asking, “How wide should be the spectrum of concern in missionary endeavors?” That is, how wide is our battlefront against Satan?

Missionaries in the past, like parents of children, have always been concerned about the entire range of human need, as they saw it. Specialized relief agencies like World Vision came into being to reinforce certain aspects of that perceived range of need. The organizations in AERDO (see page 5, col. 3) began, along with the standard church-planting missions, to shift into a wider and wider spectrum of awareness. Orphans were not enough. Family care came into being. Then, relief began to be accompanied by “community development.”

But virtually all missions of whatever stripe have apparently automatically given up or never considered the microbiological battlefront. We have apparently not included evils at that level in our theologically-defined hit list. Oh, our mission medical people try to take care of people who are afflicted. But we have never really launched a frontal assault upon the eradication of such diseases.

Jesus didn’t explain in technical detail how to vaccinate children. Is that why we have assumed that we should do nothing in this area?

Have we even directed major prayer toward those very few doctors and scientists who are working on this portion of the battlefront?

How “wholistic” is a mission effort that spends millions feeding children so they can die of malaria?

I would imagine $10 million a year would speed things up significantly in the area of malaria vaccine. Suppose YWAM were to announce, “Our mercy ministry will now extend to malaria research and we need $10 million a year to hit this Satanic scourge hard.” I do not doubt YWAM would readily receive the necessary $10 million, year after year.

However, let us not overlook a major factor in this strange inattention:

How’s your demonology?

Is there another reason for “selective outrage?” Is it merely powerlessness before an unresolvable problem? Or, is it also theological blindness to a significant span of the true spectrum of our battlefront with Satan? Who else would delight in the suffering of millions of children?

R. C. Sproul quoted his Dutch professor, Berkouwer, as saying,

You cannot have a correct theology if you have a wrong demonology.

If we simply go on considering deadly diseases one of the normal features of God’s world…

If we cannot recognize the virulent evidences on every hand of evil design to destroy what God has intended…

If we do not identify as not of God those things which burden and trouble this otherwise beautiful planet…

If all this—we will then have to concede all priorities to the market forces of the world. Why? Because the people who suffer from malaria don’t have the money to pay for a cure much less for prevention.

Frankly, if we could see things more clearly, I believe we would absolutely panic at the evil we are constantly overlooking.

We may well be unaware of the fact that the average pillow harbors more than 10,000 dust mites—tiny cousins of spiders—and that our mouths are teeming with close to a half a million microbes, many far more dangerous than the mites in our pillows.

But none of this even remotely compares to the ever climbing toll of virulent bacteria. Today one-third of all deaths in the United States are due to microbial attackers. By 2020 it will be more than half. Is this the front on which Satan is winning? Do we care? Do we send missionaries out to glorify God or to put tags on as many people as possible as they are let down into their graves?

Do we allow the world to have a starkly false idea of our Creator God when we do not as Christians formally, officially, determinedly contest the massive, global microbial perversion of His creation?

Last Sunday my pastor stated that “Satan’s forces are highly organized … and he wants us to overestimate him or underestimate him.”

Just how do we underestimate or overestimate “that hideous strength?”

Satan would gladly have us apply Band-Aids rather than expose and attack the source of problems—that’s where he focuses his attention.

One commentator has pointed out that the success of Promise Keepers could make quite a dent in America’s astonishingly high poverty percentage. Why? Because most of America’s huge number of poor people are fragments of broken marriages. Yes, we can go on paying out $500 billion annually on our enormous welfare Band-Aid program. Or, we can rub our eyes and take note of the simple fact that when a nation trashes its marriage vows, and the resulting broken families derelict their functions to the State, the State will surely blunder along with those responsibilities as its single largest expense.

We could even go on to notice—look again—that where parents of parents are banished as a normal presence and social force, marriages fall apart at the drop of a hat. (Yes, those Promise Keepers need eventually to make promises to their parents too, not just to their wives and children—see box.)

But, well, why not go even further and notice that where young people are confined to unending years of school (postponing their real education) marriage is also postponed and children come late. This is why grandparents are by that time “over the hill” and out of the picture, leaving the isolated “nuclear” family scandalously fragile.

As for our insufferably long school incarceration, good news: despite literally millions of binge-drinking young people consigned to “college,” America is now in a more helpful way beginning to mix education and real life. Over half of all college students are beyond college age when maturity enables higher quality learning.

Our “World Christian Foundations” curriculum allows people to finish college on the job, while married and raising a family in close contact with their (thus-younger) parents. Fully accredited schools are now being allowed to offer degrees for such totally off-campus

studies integrated into daily life. This has never been true before. (See response cover sheet.) But, beware, schools may tend to back away from these off campus programs as the baby-boomers’ babies begin to swell again the ranks of campus students.

Challenging Conventionality

Funny. A great deal of my thinking, at my age, has to do with what you might call “re-evaluating” settled opinion, common knowledge, and conventional perspective—challenging convention on the basis of an intercultural perspective gained by being a missionary for ten years, teaching missions for ten years, developing a mission center for twenty years.

Why? Because so much of what we are taught turns out to be partial truth or even wildly amiss. We look back with horror to the time in the 1920s when our professors and doctors were urging parents “never” to hug a child lest this impair the child’s ability to stand on his own as he grew up.

Or, take the opposition of “settled opinion” my wife faced back in 1955 when she thought she ought to nurse her own babies.

One of the great values of living for a time within a non-Western society is that it gives you an “outsider’s” perspective on America; and this is often of enormous value. Even before we lived in the Guatemalan highlands, I lived in a “foreign culture” by virtue of being in the Navy during the 2nd WW. In that case conventional, civilian ways of doing things were not automatically the way things were done.

But it takes years to re-evaluate everything. To do so is not realistic, in fact. If everyone were to do this, the whole world would grind to a halt while people mused about the patterns of their culture.

However, shouldn’t a few people be encouraged to question conventional conclusions?

Take, for example, TIME Magazine’s essayist, Charles Krauthammer, and his last-page piece in the October 6th issue. He draws the perfectly logical but totally anti-cultural conclusion that it is as urgent to fight against alcohol as nicotine. His rationale, in part, is that while nicotine kills the user, alcohol kills a lot of others. Alcohol fuels half of all wife abusers plus half of all murders, almost half of all fatal accidents etc. How did he explain this?

The oddest thing about the current national crusade against tobacco is…its selectivity…tobacco is a great killer…but alcohol is a great national killer, too, and it has enjoyed an amazingly free ride amid the fury of the [crusade against nicotine]…

For 26 years television has been free of cigarette ads…Yet television is bursting with exhortations to drink…moreover, look at the kinds of people alcohol kills. Drunk drivers kill toddlers. They kill teens. They kill whole families. Tobacco doesn’t…

Still undecided which of the two poisons is more deserving of social disapprobation? Ask yourself: If you knew your child was going to become addicted to either alcohol or tobacco, which would you choose?

Good question. But I would ask: If you were a wife and had to choose between a husband addicted to tobacco or alcohol which would you choose?

My point here has to do with the power of convention: two of the three world religions (Hindu/Buddhism and Islam) agree with Krauthammer. But Christians, for that reason alone, may be less likely to agree with him! They’ll call him a Hindu or a Muslim, just as people have called (the few) non-drinking and non-smoking Evangelicals “Mormons.” But Krauthammer is not alone in challenging conventional perspective.

Nancy Chute, in U.S. News and World Report (Sept 9) points out that in addition to 10 million alcoholics there are 40 million “problem drinkers.” (Can the U.S. sustain a total of 50 million adult problem drinkers or worse?)

“Misuse of alcohol costs the nation dearly—$100 billion a year in quantifiable costs, in addition to untold emotional pain. Yet the bulk of these costs are incurred not by alcoholics but by problem drinkers, who are four times more numerous than alcoholics, are more active in society, and usually reject abstinence as a solution. Alcohol figures in 41 percent of traffic crash fatalities and is a factor in 50 percent of homicides, 30 percent of suicides, and 30 percent of accidental deaths…Heavy drinking also increases the risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke, long before people have to worry about cirrhosis of the liver, brain damage, or other skid-row ailments.”

The point is that such issues—most issues—are far more influenced by culture than reason. Missionaries soon find this out if they try to “reason” with new believers about matters that are settled customs in the indigenous society.

For example, at least 100 million women in Africa—as many as the total of all adult women who live in the entire United States—were genitally mutilated at puberty. Yet, most of these millions and millions of African women are Christians and have been for generations. Apparently neither American women nor African women can readily fight settled customs.

Yes, social re-engineering is without doubt one of the most delicate and difficult tasks.

Missionaries rarely succeed in changing major social customs unless they are dealing with a minority tribe or culture that has become eager to escape its own confines. Christianity is an excellent choice for all such minority groups, and hundreds of them around the world have eagerly accepted Christianity plus the Western world (and the English language) that comes with it. Indeed, it is often hard to tell what the main motivation for conversion actually is.

When a famous missionary statesman in India, Lesslie Newbigin, retired back to his native England, he had time to take seriously the extent to which the West is still unconverted, or even less converted than before. He wrote a book, Can the West be Converted?

I am similarly alarmed.

I don’t see how we can understand what we are doing abroad in dealing with evil resident within settled customs, if we are blind, deaf, and dumb decade after decade in dealing with virulent evil resident within our own settled customs.

Do you hear sermons against the evils of alcohol and nicotine? You may not hear such sermons until the world itself goes against them. This is a measure of the “cultural captivity” of the American church. Isn’t this just as Satanic as anything else we might attribute to him?

In this issue:

The single largest mission project ever undertaken is the JESUS Film enterprise. Feast on the facts in this issue, page 7.

The most important statement of this century’s most influential missiologist is on page 13. Understand this and half of the daunting complexity of missions jumps into focus.

That missiologist appears again in the snapshot portrayal of the the most explosive decades of all human history on page 18.

We give the most space in this issue to the follow-through of last year’s “bombshell” about Hindus coming to Christ without calling themselves “Christians,” see pages 25 to 42.

There are many other life-changing “invitations” in this issue. Don’t miss a one. Or, just write and tell us how we can be more helpful.

Promise Keepers

Before last Saturday every time PK meetings were near enough for me to attend, I had a trip out of town or a conflict I could not avoid.

Thus, I watched (on TV) with great interest almost every single minute of the Washington D.C. rally. It was immense. It was moving. It was real. It was signficant. What a great step forward!

The L.A. Times the next day begrudgingly admitted that “The gathering, which appeared to exceed any previous rally or assemblage in Washington contained large numbers of blacks and minorities…”

What a day when the largest-ever (and integrated) rally in Washington is a time of confession of sin and uncompromised Evangelical convictions…“We come not as protestors to claim our rights but as sinners to confess our wrongs.”

I was gripped along with those million men to realize afresh that God wants a lot more than a statement of faith, and that “accepting Christ” must include submission to serious family obligations.

Today, however, two days later, I am wondering what an Asian father would have thought of all those earnest, god-fearing men being urged merely to be accountable to peer friends and pastors.

An Asian husband might ask what happened to the fathers of those million men. American husbands are not expected to be subject to parents. And, “Fatherless America” goes far to explain our world’s highest divorce rate. (Most of our $500 billion annual welfare expense is due to broken families.)

In most of the world a father’s relationship as a son (to his own father) is the model and laboratory for his relationship to his own children. Peers don’t compare to parents in wisdom and experience.

How about an eighth “promise to make and to keep”—to honor and respect our parents not just our wives and children and peers?

Six Spheres of Mission Overseas

Each has its advantages and disadvantages, its pioneering leaders, strengths and weaknesses.

This diversity represents great vitality and enthusiasm but is a bit sad to the extent that these spheres are out of communication with each other and local churches are left to puzzle out their differences.

In our next issue we will try to describe each of these spheres in greater detail. Meanwhile, so you can think about them, here is a rough breakdown:

  1. Standard Missions. This the classical mission agency. It is expected to “go out there, anywhere, and do whatever is necessary, building on a foundation of evangelism and church planting.” These mission agencies are generally the older, standard, church planting agencies, whether denominational or interdenominational, Presbyterian, Baptist, or SIM International.
  2. Service Missions. These agencies “go out there and give technical support to the standard agencies.” These are the post-2nd WW “service agencies” like Mission Aviation Fellowship and Gospel Recordings, but the category would certainly include some earlier helping agencies such as the American Bible Society, Wycliffe Bible Translators, and the huge missionary radio networks.
  3. Relief (and Development) Missions. One specific post-2nd WW type of derivative mission is the “let’s go out and deal realistically with the physical needs of people on the field, with or without relationships to the standard missions.” This category is highlighted by World Vision, World Concern, Food for the Hungry, Samaritans Purse, etc. Over the years they have added “development” as a major dimension.
  4. “Native Missionary” Missions. Another derivative is the “go out there and help the ‘national believer’ who already speaks the language, and don’t waste the Lord’s money on expensive American missionaries who have never done it right and are permanently handicapped by their innate foreignness.” Here is a rapidly growing cluster of agencies, highlighted by Gospel for Asia, Christian Aid Mission, and Partners International, the latter being considerably more sophisticated in its approach.
  5. Short Term missions. These are a non-derivative type of agency—that is, they don’t depend on the previous or existing work of the standard agencies. Everyone knows about Operation Mobilization and Youth With A Mission. Young people briefly under these agencies may never even see a standard missionary or mission in operation even at a distance—-unless they are under one of the many (but smaller) short term programs of a standard agency.
  6. Congregational-Direct Missions. This kind of activity is also derivative, since much of it consists of improving upon Christian movements already existing on the field. Many “charismatic” congregations but also most “mega church” congregations are tending to develop their own mix of this kind of “direct” mission activity. It may consist of sending a lone family or even a team out there somewhere, or sending money, or sending short termers or visitors, or building a hospital, etc. Many such congregations do not want to depend on any other structure. Perhaps their gospel, their kind of church structure or ethos, they feel, is quite unique—almost a new kind of Christianity—and can only be extended directly if it is to arrive safely.

This, of course, is a very rough breakdown of the jungle of actual complexity. The “Standard” agencies, for example, could be further broken down into denominational and non-denominational, but that would have more to do with their sending mechanism than their field operations (which is the basis of this classification). For example, non-denominational AIM and SIM, both have developed thousands of church congregations within field denominations that are very similar to the field denominations developed by denominational sending agencies.

The two largest Short Term organizations, OM and YWAM are both in the process of developing long-term church planting activities, and, thus, that aspect of their ministry, could be classified in the standard category.

The Relief type of mission now has its own association, AERDO (Association of Evangelical Relief and Development Organizations), and the Native Missionary category is beginning to develop something of the sort due to the initiative of Charles Bennett who has recently become the director for one of the oldest and wisest of the that category, Partners International. If an association forms, it may refer to its activities as “the Financial Support of National Ministries.”

The Congregational Mission category already has an association, at least in the charismatic sphere, thanks to AIMS, the Association of International Missions/Services. Some standard missions are trying to cater to congregations that want to call the shots.

In this issue of Mission Frontiers I will resist the temptation to go further in comparative and evaluative comments on these different activities. I’ll merely suggest this classification as a starting point for further treatment in our next bulletin where we’ll work toward trying to understand more fully the many options mission-minded people have who want to participate in the global mission of Christ.

Meanwhile (you mission professors) it would be valuable (a good term paper?) for some student to make a table and indicate, for each of the above six categories, 1) the number of missionaries sent from USA, 2) the millions of dollars sent, 3) strong points and 4) weak points, etc. All six of these spheres by now are pretty hefty categories in one way or another. Except for the first two, they have far too little contact with one another. And, lay people are often confused. More and more mission activity is created and sustained according to the donor’s level of understanding. That is both good and bad.


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