I Will Do a New Thing
The Continued Story of the U.S. Center for World Mission
Roberta Winter in her books Once More Around Jericho and Will Do A New Thing has captured the amazing moving of God to establish this center for world mission. The following new excerpt brings us up-to-date. (Share the vision with friends: Order several copies of I Will Do A New Thing on page 31.)
1988 and 1989
"TO WHOM MUCH IS GIVEN..."
(Luke 12:48 KJ)
Shortly before the Victory Celebration on January 16, 1988, Ernie Heimbach.formerly Home Director of the Overseas Missionary Fellowship in the U.S. and a longstanding USCWM staff member on loan from OMF, came to morning prayers with what he strongly felt was a word from the Lord to our community.
He reminded us that after the victory at the Red Sea, the Israelites started off across the desert and almost immediately started complaining and threatening Moses because of unexpected disappointments they were going through. Ernie warned that this would be the next attack of the Enemy against our community. He said that we would be tempted to complain, to be critical of leadership, and to forget all the miracles God had done for us in light of the present difficulties that we would face. He urged us to keep up our prayer lives and to remain yielded to God, especially now, right after a victory when we would be most likely to let up.
There is another passage in the Bible which perhaps even more pointedly paralleled our situation right then. Moses had been dead many years; the battles for Canaan had been fought and won. Now Joshua was about to die, and he was afraid of what would happen after he was gone. Knowing that the victory they had won had been from God, he spoke to them in God's name, saying:
/ sent the hornet before you
which drove them out from before you...
but not with your sword or with your bow.
I have given you a land for which you did
And cities which you did not build and
you dwell in them;
You eat of the vineyards and olive groves
which you did not plant.
Now therefore .fear the Lord, and serve
Him in sincerity and truth... As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
God had been very gracious to us since we had claimed this property in faith eleven years before! He had driven out a cult which had also occupied several buildings. He had given us both a campus and 82 residential properties. We neither had to pay for these ourselves, nor did we have to build them. On our scattered properties, we even had the fruit of which these verses speak—apricots, oranges, lemons, plums, avocados, grapes, persimmons, pomegranates, guavas. We had not planted them. They were there when we came. There were so many that many a morning a box of excess fruit would appear in the mailroom for other staff to help themselves.
I knew that our staff would "fear the Lord and serve Him." But past experiences warned me that Ernie was probably right, and I wondered if we were spiritually ready for the battles still ahead. Also, all of us were tired and deserved a rest But not everyone could go on vacation at the same time.
The Real Challenge Begins!
As Ernie had foreseen, it wasn't long before we began experiencing the Enemy's attack against our community. Instead of being able to focus entirely on ministry goals, we found ourselves bar-raged with personnel problems. A number of us became sick or found ourselves in desperate financial situations. Several went through the worst marital crises they had ever had. Little festering problems which had been eclipsed by the campaign began to surface. Inevitably, certain leaders were blamed, and within months two couples left in bitterness and anger because they felt unappreciated.
Then, at the end of April, Ralph was suddenly struck with a paralyzingly severe pain in his neck, so severe that I had to fly home early from a board meeting in Louisville. He was not completely over that pain before, two weeks later, he had what the doctor felt was a minor stroke, even though subsequent tests revealed nothing. Although only 51 when we started the U.S. Center for World Mission, he was now 63, the age when his father had had a major stroke.
The whole episode was rather strange. Ralph wasn't sure what had happened, nor when. He only noticed that all of a sudden he was unsteady on his feet and his speech was a bit slurred. His handwriting was unsteady, and it took more time and concentration for him to sign the diplomas for the university graduation.
After going through a series of CAT scans, he began to experience a significant loss of hearing which lasted for several months. This episode was far more troubling to Ralph than the possible stroke, which worried me more. Finally, after a lot of inconclusive tests and a lot of prayer, all his symptoms eventually tapered off.
During this period, it seemed as if we were suffering one blow after another, all of them affecting the morale of our staff. Several times Ralph reminded us that there was little value in owning the property if Satan was able to debilitate us with internal problems. It was very possible that we could win the war and still lose the peace. "Do you suppose that now that the campaign is over, our wonderful prayer supporters are not praying for us so much now?" I asked Ralph. "Oh, I hope not!"
All along Ralph had been convinced that God had two purposes He wanted fulfilled through the campaign. The more obvious one was to bring in the $8 million we needed. The other, more important purpose was to create a nationwide network of volunteers able to mobilize the church to penetrate every unreached people group by the year 2000.
During the months of the campaign, Wes Tullis, Chairman of our Mobilization Division, kept praying and planning how we could use this network of volunteers once the campaign was over. His team put together a very detailed notebook to equip regional "mobilizers" for spreading the vision of unreached peoples.
Wes also pressed forward on the materials fora 12-month, video-based, educational program about the unreached peoples which we could offer local churches. We hoped this "Year of Vision," as we called it, would produce long-lasting mission fellowships with vibrant vision for unreached peoples. We felt such fellowships were absolutely necessary if a church were to become a truly mission-minded church.
For some years we had also talked about an "Adopt a People" program for local churches. All during the campaign, in addition to campaign work, Wes had been plugging away at this also. As designed, it encouraged churches to adopt a specific unreached people group as their own personal responsibility, and to do this in cooperation with a mission agency that already had plans to begin work with that group.
Early in February, just two weeks or so after our Victory Celebration, Wes announced that he was ready to move ahead with the Regional Mobilizers' Workshops. There he planned to introduce all these new materials which he hoped would mobilize a church for new mission outreach.
Although every one of us would agree that this was something that should be done. I'm sure that to Wes, who had been dreaming and planning about these workshops for at least a year, our response must have seemed rather apathetic. Most of us simply were not ready to plunge into a new campaign of any sort. Each meeting of the Director's Advisory Council Wes would ask somewhat plaintively, "Isn't mobilization supposed to be our biggest thrust right now?" But his plans called for energy and money, two items which were rather low in supply just then.
Ralph essentially agreed with Wes. we don't move quickly," he said, "we' lose the enthusiasm and help of all those wonderful volunteers who worked fori so eagerly during the campaign. That would be a real tragedy!"
A Billion A Year for Missions
Perhaps the difference between a leader and those who follow is that he keeps mind on the whole picture. Both Wes a Ralph were like that. During those fire weeks of the campaign, most of us wen only thinking and paying about the cat paign. Certainly Ralph was concerned about its outcome, no doubt more than anyone else. Yet he was also constantly thinking about the larger goal of mobilization and about the next step we should take, once the property was secure. As early as December 7, 1987, he had told our staff:
"There was a time in this country, between 1906 and 1913, when there were 3,500 local groups of workers who wen promoting the cause of missions, and those people in a four-year period quadrupled the giving to missions....
"I hope you don't think I'm being crazy here, but do you realize what our goal really are? Our goals are not just to raise $8 million, but to generate an additional billion dollars a year for missions. The thousand workers who have joined us fa the campaign could readily increase the flow of money to missions by that mud through their mobilization efforts....
"I almost think God is saying to us, 'Look, I tricked you. You thought I wanted you to go after $8 million, while I really wanted you to go after a thousand local workers. You tried every other scheme to get the $8 million, and you were finally forced to go and recruit a thousand local people. That's what I was really after, but I didn't think you'd have the faith to do if"
I say that playfully. But God's ways are higher than our ways, and we don't al ways know for sure what His plan is. We have to be very, very open day by day to the nuances of His will as we understand them.
He was essentially talking about mobilization—doing whatever had to be done in order to get the Church worldwide so concerned about the unreached peoples that all Christians would give it their best effort, so to speak. He had always said that an abundantly adequate missionary force would be possible only as the result of a mobilized church back home, one that was just as determined to see God's kingdom come as those who had gone. Even buying the campus he saw as part of this mobilization effort because the sheer visibility of a large center would make the Church more aware of what it would take to Finish the Great Commission.
From the very beginning of the USCWM, all our methods of fundraising had been done with ah eye to mobilize. The earliest we called the "grapevine" letter because it depended on each donor photocopying the letter to which he had responded, adding a personal note and then sending it on to friends, asking them to do the same. We followed this plan, or some modification thereof, for ten years even though we were sometimes ridiculed for trying to raise $15 million from $15 gifts. Eventually even our own staff and board became frustrated and irritated at Ralph's seeming fixation on that basic plan. But to him it was far more than an admittedly poor fundraising technique. For many American Christians it provided the first realization of the scope of the unfinished task of evangelizing the world.
Now that the "Last $1000" Campaign is over, we can see that this simple plan was not as foolish as it seemed, not even as a fundraising technique. Unless we had followed a grass-roots multiplication system like this, we would never have reached so many people with our vision. When the final crunch came, we already had 65,000 on our mailing list, all of whom were receiving our materials and had already given at least $15 to us.
The Fund for the Kingdom
I am afraid that most of our staff simply ignored Ralph when he at times commented that once the property was paid for, we would again set in motion the one-time, small-gift plan again. Why would we do that?
For one thing, we had called all the $1000 gifts given us during the campaign "advances" because we expected eventually to either pass them on to other mission agencies or return them to the agencies and churches which had given them. We knew that would only be possible if these larger gifts were replaced by a huge number of new $15 gifts. [An additional $.95 was added to cover the postage of materials sent back in response.]
Then, we valued highly the mobilizing effect of the small gift plan. It is still true that at least a million Christians need to pray and support new missionary outreach before the task of reaching the unreached (now estimated at 12,000 ethnic groups) will be Finished. Although many have responded to this challenge, the American Church is largely caught up in its own affairs. There is still a large job of mobilization to be done.
Thirdly, Ralph has dreamed of what he calls "The Fund for the Kingdom" that would be used as revolving funds to help various "neutral-crucial" mobilization-related projects get started. The U.S. Center and the Zwemer Institute of Muslim Studies, for example, are both agencies of this type, whose whole purpose is to serve all mission boards by doing research for them, or lending them computer expertise, or helping to raise funds for them, or writing mission-mobilizing materials for them. In essence, there is a lot of work that needs to be done that doesn't necessarily fall under the speciFic mandate of any one mission-sending agency. But if some "neutral-crucial" agency would pick up that responsibility, all missions would be greatly beneFited.
Part of out "Last $1000" Campaign plans involved setting up this fund with replaced $1000 gifts that had not been speciFically designated to an already existing agency. We look forward to the day when we can begin to do this. It will only happen when those who know us motivate others who now know nothing about the unreached peoples to give $15 and they, in turn, recruit a few others to do the same. If enough people participate, we can very quickly return or reassign the $1000 "advances" we received during the campaign. If such a response becomes widespread, it would very quickly create a mission movement capable of establishing a church movement in every people group by the year 2000. But that is still in the future. Meanwhile, the eight Mobilizers' Workshops began in March and ended in August, 1989. All those who came seemed excited by the "Mobilizer's Handbook," the "Year of Vision" materials and the "Adopt a People" notebook which Wes and his team presented. Nevertheless, it was obvious people weren't as gripped by the urgency of the mobilization opportunity as they had been by our Financial crisis. Back at the Center, we also had settled back into an attitude of simply maintaining our basic obligations, now that the Financial crisis was past.
Ralph was afraid that this might happen and had coined the phrase, "It is easier to believe a danger than an opportunity." He warned that if we didn't move quickly, we would lose the momentum that had taken months (even years) to build up. He was especially concerned that we not lose contact with that wonderful network of volunteers but would, instead, immediately galvanize them into a task force to help with mobilization by passing on the vision of the unreached—indeed, the vision for which God had given us the campus in the First place.
For a quite different reason, Todd Johnson, our youngest daughter's husband, also fretted at the seeming dullness of spirit after the campaign was over. All that summer he spent researching the Student Volunteer Movement at the end of the last century and the aborted efforts of leaders like A. T. Pierson to mobilize the Christians of that period to finish the job by 1900. "We are perfectly able to do it," Pierson said repeatedly. But by the time other leaders had stopped rebuking him for excess enthusiasm, or checking his statistical calculations, or insisting that a world-wide awakening had to happen first, the window of opportunity had passed. It was not just one generation that was lost as a result; it was four!
In one sense, we are back to the starting line again!
This time, however, we have tremendous technological advantages as well as a greatly multiplied force of potential harvesters. We also understand a little better just what "completing the Great Commission means." The task of missionaries (and they come today from all over the world) is to get a strong church movement established in every unreached people group. Our task, as Christians on the homefront, is to mobilize—to pass on the vision, to stimulate concerted specific prayer, to motivate some to go and others to support them with their prayers and finances.
God help us if we win the war of finances and lose the peace of mobilization for the greater war. The war is not yet over! There is much yet to do.
The Command of Closure
With Todd's research on what happened at the end of the last century, our appreciation of the importance of the Year-2000 milestone deepened. The first worldwide recognition of the end of a millennium seemed like just the thing that God might use to launch a final thrust of obedience to his purposes.
For several years Ralph had urged mission leaders to think in terms of closure—that is, finishing the job of pioneer missions to the last unreached people group—and he urged them to believe that we could do it by the year 2000. In September, 1988, Ralph was asked to give the keynote address at the annual meeting of the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association in Toronto. For months he had been immersed in the tragedy of the missed challenge of the 1890s, and his heart was aflame with what might---or might not—happen in our time.
I vividly remember how he challenged the 200 mission executives in Toronto to not be like the ten spies at the Jordan, who simply would not believe God would give them victory. Like Joshua and Caleb so many centuries ago, Ralph admitted that to complete the job by the year 2000 might seem almost impossible. "But we can do it!" he insisted. "We really can!" And he put up on the screen statistic after statistic from mission agency after mission agency, delineating in some detail just how it might possibly be done, under God. Some of the executives were a bit skeptical, as could be expected. But many received the challenge with a great deal of excitement
Others agencies, not at that meeting, were also thinking in those terms. Two months later their top leaders met together in Dallas to discuss the possibility of closure. Then, in January, 1989, Thomas Wang, director of the Lausanne movement at that point, convened a meeting of "Year-2000 thinkers" in Singapore. In his keynote address, he pointed out that if they all worked together, they could plant a viable church movement in every unreached people group by the year 2000. "But we must be unified in our efforts," he insisted.