Heroes on the Home Front
Gordon & Sherri Aeschliman
MF: Gordon, we know you were born In South Africa. but you're an American citizen. Explain that to us.
Gordon: My parents went as missionaries to South Africa two years before I was born. I was actually born in the jungles of Zululand in South Africa. And I lived there till I was 17.
ME: What kind of work were your parents Involved In there?
Gordon: Initially they were Involved In church planting and hospital administration. More recently they started and now administer a Bible Institute. This work Is now under the auspices of the national church in South Africa.
ME: So you come by your interest in world evangelization quite naturally, then, as a result of your parents' ministry.
Gordon: No, not really. I trace my personal vision for missions to my student days at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. I had always had ideas about being involved with missions, but not a real clear understanding of it. though.
We had a one month special class In missions in 1977. Our school chaplain, Evan Adams. gave a special lecture on "Discipling the Nations." He started in Genesis and went right through Revelation. showing how God's heart was focused on winning all the nations to faith in Himself. That was probably the most significant hour of my life at least as far as my own commitment to missions is concerned.
MF: Once you began to understand that God's priority is to reach the world, it seems that your primary concern, even more than going yourself as a missionary, became to help others catch the same vision you had.
Gordon: I'm not sure I would have expressed It in those exact words. In fact, after hearing that lecture. I felt confident that I would go as a missionary, and began to make plans to go, possibly to the Muslim world. Actually, in January 1979 I almost left to go to Egypt as a missionary. But I didn't take that option. It just became more obvious that help was needed to Influence others, so it was more process in my own thinking that led me to consider mobilizing others rather than going overseas myself.
MF: It was obviously the right thing for you to do at that that?
Gordon: That's right. The more I got involved, the more I realized the real vacuum there was to help people be effective as senders or to actually get people to become missionaries to other people groups.
MF: What are some of the specific things you areinvolved in right now?
Gordon: The major commitment I have is World Christian magazine. A buddy and I. while in college, realised a lot of our friends were getting the vision for discipling all the nations. But then they would go back home, and things would cool off for them quite a bit, and they were without the kind of help which had kept them excited about things God was doing around the world. Their tendency was to settle down, get a "respectable" it, and begin to forget about the radical things they had learned in school.
We were influenced at that point by two magazines which called people to definite commitment to Jesus Christ. So we decided at that point that we wanted to start a magazine which would be contemporary, colorful and aimed at the young adult population, and that we wanted the magazine to do two things. First, it would call people to commitment to Jesus Christ, and be known for that kind of "all sold out" Christianity. But in addition, it would also help people to become involved effectively and totally in the world's needs, so they could be encouraged, not only in school, but also as home and in the church and in other fellowships.
Right now we have subscribers in every state, and in about 40 to 50 countries around the world, although we really think of ourselves as a North American magazine primarily.
Recently we have been expanding our products and services to take on other projects. We have had a tot of readers write in and ask for materials that just don't exist, so we have taken it on ourselves to develop many of these things. We are halfway through completing an adult Sunday school curriculum that will be available for use in churches. We are producing an eight part video series, featuring international evangelist Luis Palau, to help adults catch and maintain a vision for the world. Were halfway through completing a curriculum for Christian schools (grades I and 2) that they can use to help give students world awareness. This is complete with songs, games and other activities.
MF: It sounds like you're doing more than recruiting new missionaries.
Gordon: Absolutely. All these materials say. "God's heart is toward reaching the whole world. You have the responsibility before God to determine exactly what part he wants you to play." There are so many ways for people to become involved. They can pray, or give, or go, or raise up volunteers. And all these things can happen in many, many different ways.
MF: Gordon, If we could took 'down the road five or ten years. where would we find you and what would you be doing?
Gordon: My wife (Sherrie) and I just recently made a commitment to stay home for another five to ten years because the mobilizing need it so great in the United States. We were getting pretty close to taking off to be missionaries, but we realized the crucial nature of this next five to ten years as far as mobilizing is concerned. For example, we recently completed a marketing study among a number of different groups of Christians and discovered that, among all she groups, the one most resistant to the term "missions" was church educators. Overcoming this kind of prejudice and stereotype is certainly a great challenge.
Another new and exciting area of involvement for me is that of influencing leaders who work with students. Sherrie and I are committed to leading another organization called she International Student Leaders Coalition for Frontier Missions (ISLCFM) That has been growing for the past three years. We now have contacts with potpie in about Se countries who are vocal in sharing the burden for evangelizing the world's frontier people groups. We feet that the need for leadership development is most crucial among this group. So we are doing alt we can so schedule workshops and other training events to help people mobilize more effectively.
MF: Over the past sir years you've gone through quite a personal process. How would you express today your own central concern for the Body of Christ? What is most crucial to the evangelization of the world?
Gordon: Obviously, we need a lot of prayer, warm bodies and money. But as I look at the United States, one of the biggest obstacles is lack of contemporary organizations working to influence younger adults. Our generation tends to be cynical of structure and organization. We at World Christian have tried to be the means for them to relate to sending agencies and the whole world of missions.
A lot of people in our generation have attended universities where they hear that missionaries tend to be people who destroy culture. They attend churches where the perspective on missionaries is that they are 'old fashioned." almost detached from reality, and filled with negativism. So I've really seen the need to be involved in helping young adults, especially in the United States, to gain a fresh understanding of God's heart for the world, and helping them realize that it is a contemporary, not an oldfashioned, thing. And also I want to help them understand they can have an effective rote in that.
Greg & Nancy
MF: How dots Caleb fit into the frontier missions movement?
Greg: You go into any church and ask how many, when they were children or teenagers, wanted to be missionaries. And you'll be amazed at how many hands will go up. Why is that? Why are there so many people that have felt at call some nudging of the Lord into missions and yet never went? Well, we feel that part of the reason is that our culture is set up to keep people from going. Caleb Project fits into the frontier missions movement because we are creating an environment for students that will keep them on track toward Involvement in missions.
We don't say that everyone needs to go. In fact, we figure the best we can shoot for would be that one out of five who make a lifetime commitment to be involved In reaching the unreached would actually go overseas. And that seems like a reasonable figure. It takes at least four, with equal commitment, to support one that would go.
MF: Whet are the pieces of the Caleb Project that make It work?
Greg: Well, the fundamental part of the Caleb Project Is the Caleb Declaration, which is a statement of a lifetime commitment to be strategically involved In the Great Commission. And to follow up the Caleb Declaration are five Caleb commitments, which include such things as a willingness to go to another culture or stay In this one.
Each Calebite (person signing the Caleb Declaration) commits himself to share his vision within his own sphere of influence, within his denomination or his college group or whatever. The last commitment Is the reporting structure. Each Caleblte agrees to fill out a report monthly which they send to our office. We compile those reports into a newsletter and we send that back out to the entire constituency.
There are about 450 Calebites now. We're increasing at about 50 a month, and Caleb Project is on about 105 campuses now. Caleb Project Is not a movement, and I want to make that clear. If there's a movement, it's because all we do is help students follow through on a commitment that they make in school.
MF: What evidence do you have that a Caleb commitment becomes a lifetime Interest, beyond graduation?
Greg: This is a question that we've begun to ask. Of course. because of our growth the majority of Calebites are still students an campus. Perhaps the best evidence that I can give is the number of Calebites who marry Calebites. That would indicate that the decisions Calebitas are making effect their lives to the point where they want to marry someone who has a like mind.
MF: Tell us how you got Involved in frontier missions.
Greg: I was involved In missions long before I was aware of the frontiers. In 1974, I went to Honduras, although I mostly did that for a thrill. But in college I started leading Teen Missions teams. Then we had an experimental Student Conference on World Evangelization (SCOWE) at Penn State in the spring of 1950.
It was at that point I first heard the statistics concerning the world situation. Dr. (Ralph) Winter and Greg Livingatone (then of North Africa Mission) challenged us strongly with the fact that the world had such large groups of people without any gospel witness. I felt that there was nothing I could do more valuable than to be involved, with a lot of others, in seeing that these peoples were reached with the gospel.MF: How else did that conference influence your life?
Greg: It was through that SCOWE conference my senior year. and the Institute of International Studies course which followed it. that my heart got burdened, completely, with this concept of reaching the unreached. There were others at Penn State who were like minded end we started meeting together for prayer.
It was at that time that Calm Project actually started. because we knew that once we left Penn State, our chances of continuing to be strategically Involved in the Great Commission would greatly diminish. So we set up an accountability structure to keep in contact with each other, almost Identical to what Caleb Project is to this day, with a declaration that we would sign to demonstrate our commitment.
MF: What did you do after Penn State?
Greg: Even as we were signing that declaration, we were following through on a challenge that Greg Livingatone had given us to see a team go into Libya. to demonstrate the feasibility of taking the gospel there. We would thereby demonstrate that it's possible to take the gospel anywhere, because Libya is one of the most antagonistic countries in the world toward Christianity and toward Americans. So in many people's eyes, it was sort of a foolhardy thing that we were attempting to do. Yet I and three others from Penn State eventually ended up teaching English in Libya for over a year.
MF: Did you think that you might stay in Libya? Did you think you Would be Involved in Caleb Project as much as you are?Greg: No. I expected I'd come back from Libya, be around for a short time, and go back over. In fact, to my surprise, Caleb Project was still alive when I got back to the States in January 1982. We had a meeting at my house, and Karen Meehan and Patty Aker (now Silver) and I were more or less commissioned by the group to continue to work with Caleb Project full time.
MF: What are your long term goals as a couple?
Greg: We desire very much to go overseas and work among an unreached people group. We feel that God has given us strengths that we would be able to use in that capacity, in fact, we were 'planning on going overseas this spring, but have postponed our departure date because it seems "The motivation for staying is the Great Commission," that the work that we're doing now is more strategic than what we would be doing if we actually went. We're very interested In continuing the relationship that I've had with Greg Livingstone over the years by going out under the "Frontiers" mission board (the successor to NAM Associates). But probably we won't actually be going now for at least a couple of years, until we can replace ourselves within the Caleb structure.
ME: What Is your motivation for staying? Is It just for the sake 01 Caleb?Greg: The motivation for staying is the Great Commission, if we go. I think Nancy and I could be part of a team that could effectively minister among an unreached people group. But, that would only be one of some 16.000 unreached people groups that need to be reached. We feel the Lord would have us stay during this time because by staying, maybe we can see others, even hundreds, helped by the Caleb structure in their pilgrimage to actually go to work with an unreached people group. "It's difficult to communicate the need to have senders."
MF: What do your home churches think shout your staying here?
Greg: We've had a very mixed response on that question. In fact, recently one church has discontinued supporting us, essentially because we're staying and there's no category within their church budget that we fit into. And so they needed to drop our support. Another church is also having trouble finding a niche in their church budget, and they also may be dropping us, there have been other churches that have seen the importance of us staying at this time and are willing to support us while we're here. And we're glad for that.
It's a difficult thing to communicate the need to have senders. It's obvious, when we lay out the statistics, that there is a need for people to be going oversees. But It's hard to communicate that, unless a few stay who are very committed to reaching the unreached, there probably won't be enough, ever, that will go. That's something that we're dealing with now, trying to communicate to our churches that it's important for some to stay for a while.