Drugs and Missions
"Lose vision, sell soul,"
America, you're doing it!
Ralph D. Winter
Breakthrough in the High Andes During the last two decades, an incredible missions breakthrough occurred right next door, but most American evangelicals are unaware of it. In a number of places in Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru, within the largest basin of unreached peoples in the Western Hemisphere, the 12 million Quichuas/Quechuas are turning to Jesus.
This major family of related people are the modern descendants of the ancient Inca Empire, and they include almost half of all the indigenous peoples alive today in this hemisphere. Chimborazo. Thats where the breakthrough started. It's at the upper end of the 3,000-mile Andean chain.
Memorize the name Chimborazo because maybe a book will be out soon on that story. On the other hand, lets stop for a moment right here: that book has already been written. In fact, it was completed three years ago, but no publisher will take it. John Maust, the author, is a professional writer, formerly with Christianity Today. His book is exciting and well written.
WHAT IS THE PROBLEM, THEN?
Christians are not interested in the story of Chimborazo because they are unaware of the significance of what's happening there. And you can't blame the publishers. They can make more money by publishing books which appeal to a larger market.
On the other hand, if making more money per hour is the sole criterion, then the kids in the inner city running crack are the ones who are smart. THE BASIC PROBLEM IS A LACK OF AWARENESSawareness of God and His timetable, His concerns, and the significance of what He is doing around the world.
True, Christians in America are aware of many things. We bemoan the criminal drug trade, for example, and its connections to political leaders in Panama and Colombia.
Yet, what is all this nonsense about the big, bad drug runners in Colombia, if in fact we ourselves kill FAR MORE people per year with nicotine grown right here! (Congratulations to the Southern Baptist State Convention of North Carolina that voted against their members involvement in that drug trade. Pretty daring, Id say!)
There is a parallel between illegal drugs like crack and legal drugs like nicotine. For example, how in the world did all those Cadillacs and Mercedes-Benz and BMWs begin to flood the ghetto street of our cities? (They're owned by kids too young to drive legally!) Where did those suitcases full of $100 bills come from? And those submachine guns in their hands?
That's easy! Rich kids are trading their parents money for crack. Ghetto kids (who by law are too young to get a job) are trading the crack for money. (Is this the trickle down theory?) But note: It isnt ghetto families who are drawing out their savings to buy drugs. That money comes from somewhere else, chiefly from the wealthy middle classes.
And tobacco? Wheres the parallel?
That's easy! The clue is Duke University that magnificent mirror image in the South of Princeton University in the North. Rich folks in the North pursued nicotine grown in the South. With all that tobacco money, James B. Duke tried to purchase Princeton University outright. But he was refused, so he simply rebuilt it. I was told that the immense, beautiful Duke chapel is one foot longer than its identical twin at Princeton.
In 1863, the Northern armies did not stop to realize that the real enemy in the South was not the Southern army but a nicotine industry which the North would eventually pay for with far more lives than were killed in the Civil War on both sides. No, thats an underestimate. Nicotine has drawn more Amercans to their graves than all the wars our country has ever fought. BUT HOW FEW OF US ARE AWARE OF THIS!
What a blessing that some people are getting on their high horses about smoky airplanes. But at the same time, others are poisoning their lungs with little sign of change. LACK OF AWARENESS is the problem!
A thirteen-year-old with a submachine gun, backed up by $40,000 hidden under his bed, is not your picture of perfect safety. Neither is a wealthy, well entrenched, perfectly legal nicotine industry, which to this day is subsidized with federal tax funds! But whether it is nicotine or crack (a very tiny problem compared to the former), there is big money in drugs. And whether it is notable families with high motives who profit from culturally approved drugs, or poor families in a Detroit ghetto or in Medellin, Colombia who profit from other drugs, the victims are legion.
They say that half of the hundreds of people being shot down by teenage drug runners in South L.A. are perfectly innocent bystanders. Well, half of the hundreds of thousands who suffer from the ravages of nicotine are the wounded widows, families, children left behind. LACK OF AWARENESS IS THE PROBLEM!
These are not isolated examples. A few weeks ago in Thailand I was confronted by a ghastly evil. There on that beautiful tropical sea shore are towns that buy teenage girls by the thousands from all over Thailand, to have them ready to exchange for the money American tourists and servicemen can offer them. Who pays for this? We do. We Americans. Two large American naval vessels sent word ahead and when they arrived for a ten-day stopover off-shore, they disgorged several thousand pathetic Americans who paid $10 million in those few days for this kind of pernicious flesh trade. (I am talking about a real, not a hypothetical, situation.) Do we need to wonder why the Thai government would prefer American missionaries to American tourists and armed forces?
We dont often stop to think that the entire drug tradethat monstrous, malignant, international evil, powerful enough to topple governments and corrupt the entire civil apparatuswould drop dead tomorrow if there were not just lots and lots of respectable people who are willing to pay for its services and thus fund its activities, and in effect create its existence! LACK OF AWARENESS IS THE PROBLEM!
But if we do stop and think of it, it is overwhelmingly obvious: if society will pay only for respectable things, only respectable things will be prepared for sale. There simply wont be any flourishing market for anything else. We must face the fact that the flesh trade, the mafia, the pornography industry, the alcohol and nicotine industriesas well as the other much smaller (but unapproved of) narcotic industriesare not merely to be thought of as evils in themselves, but must be understood as infallible measurements of the wayward appetites of the middle and upper classes, or if you dare, evidences of the absence of vision, worship, reality in the worlds most Christian country. As Billy Graham has said, If God does not judge America, He will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah!
BUT ALL OF THIS IS ONLY AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE MINDLESS AND TRAGIC DISSIPATION WHICH SURELY OVERCOMES THOSE WHO ARE NOT LIVING FOR AND LOOKING FOR THE LIVING GOD. LACK OF AWARENESS IS THE PROBLEM!
Where there is no vision the people perish. So lets talk about vision.
First, you will not find very many Americans who are interested in God's concern for all peoples! We have now completed our Regional Mobilizers Workshops in Pasadena, Boston, Minneapolis, and Chicago. By the time you get this we will have been to Denver, Dallas and Seattle. In every case the attendance has almost twice as high as we expected! In Boston people came from as far away as western New York and Washington DC. In Minneapolis they came from North Dakota and upper Michigan. Hundreds have participated. Hundreds in a nation of millions of evangelicals!
Apparently masses of Americans are lavishly giving billions upon billions to pernicious drugs, trivialities, or other unrewarding pursuits, while only a very tiny minority of envisioned people are excitingly and intentionally AWARE of the great things God is doing around the world, and are giving just as lavishly to this REAL cause. Yet we CAN do a whole lot about this. Huge numbers of Americans are simply paralyzed by unwise choices and prioritieswhich in many cases can be reversed! This is where Regional Mobilization begins to make very strategic sense. LACK OF AWARENESS IS THE PROBLEM!
Such a staggering lack of AWARENESS is the reason so many glorious potentialities remain devastated by the paucity of funds available for missions. (Even the churches only pass on about 1% of their income to cross cultural, pioneer, unreached people missiona few churches give a lot, most of the rest practically none.)
Meanwhile at least 35,000 young people in America today are, right now, willing to go to the ends of the earth. Yet they do not have the slightest chance of getting there so long as the number of Americans who are solidly AWARE of God (and His plans) on a daily basis is so small.
The answer is not to flail the saints who are already giving lavishly, but to assail the saints who have lost their way in the American rat race, gently and yet firmly confronting them with the brutal tragedy of their present priorities.
Many families are financially devastated simply because they have chosen the most costly schools for their children, thinking this will ensure quality results. But the results are children in debt for years to come, who can barely meet their own needs, much less give lavishly or actually go to the fields of the world.
Thats right: of the estimated 35,000 American young people who have felt drawn to a missionary commitment, at least 70% are so deeply debt-ridden that there is no obvious solution to their problem.
What went wrong? It was not that committed evangelical families wasted their money on prostitution or pornography or hard drugs. Rather, they have gotten accustomed to choosing the highest priced alternatives in education, housing, clothing, vacations, weddings, everything, and have willingly pawned their own and their childrens future for many years to come. They have opted for bondage and futility, grasping for achievement. LACK OF AWARENESS is the problem!
How, in the midst of all this colossal bogging down of the evangelical movement, can we expect very many people to think clearly about the possibility of completing the Great Commission by the year 2000? Or, to seek optimistically to discover the unprecedented flurry of evangelistic and mission breakthroughs around the world? Or, indeed the possibility that Jesus May Come Today?
How, indeed, is it possible to arouse our wayward evangelical generation, whose appetites must be measured by the kinds of books that the 9,000 Christian bookstores sell (and cant sell)? Leighton Ford has observed that more than 80% of all the books in the average Christian bookstore are focused on SELF-FULFILLMENT. Are we all Buddhists by now? That is a religion of self-fulfillment, of achievement. Where is the uniquely Christian faith that recognizes that He who seeks to save his life shall lose it, but he that will lose his life for my sake and the Gospels, will find it? How can we help more people to discover this urgent and carnality-threatening truth?
Ill tell you one pastor who is putting it straight to his people: John Piper, pastor of the Bethlehem Baptist Church in downtown Minneapolis. That predominantly young congregation is not blessed with riches and yet it has been hoping and praying for some years now to send out 90 missionaries by 1990, and they are well on their way.
But I am thinking of something much bigger than congregational-level goals, or even the new vision on the denominational level within which the Bethlehem congregation is a part.
Let us lift up our eyes to the harvest! Let us not say, We have plenty of time. God is not waiting until all social problems are resolved. In many ways things are getting worse. (Were you thinking about the spreading of AIDS when I mentioned those thousands of Thai girls? Are we proud of that kind of gift to the nations?)
It would not be patience on Gods part, but callousness, if He simply sat back and waited while things get worse. Jesus first coming was not based on some great breakthrough in social justice. He CAME to warn His people of destruction to come. Today He wants every nation warned. And that is possible by the year 2000.
It is not as though we must lay aside social problems to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Announcing the Kingdom of God is itself a call to justice. As with Paul, we are sent to bring about the obedience of faith among all nations (Rom 1:5). I just happened this morning to be reading in Isaiah 3 and 4 that judgment would begin with unjust leaders grinding down the poor, and will proceed with haughty women heaping up ornaments and costly attire. The Good News is especially significant to the poor and defenseless, not so significant, it would seem, to those rich who misuse their privilege.
We must pray daily, Thy Kingdom come, whatever the consequences may be, to ourselves, our people, our country or to any nation anywhere. His Coming will not be so much a reward for anyones good behavior as a hastening of justice. He wants all men to be saved. That is why He sends us to the ends of the earth to warn all peoples, without exception, of His Comingand to win those who respond to His Kingdom. But he is not waiting on the United Nations Childrens Fund nor any other benevolent organization to achieve its goals. He may have a more drastic (and merciful) FINAL SOLUTION to human problems. And it is not at all impossible that that DAY is at least as near as the year 2000.
Let us work while it is still day and be openopen to whatever He has in mind. Being open does NOT mean to lightly dismiss the potential nearness of the Greatest Event this side of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The apostles lived in the shadow of His imminent Coming. Are we not surely as close as they were? Measure your hopes and prayers by the events recorded in the diagram above. There, in the global arena, is the mighty work of God revealed. There is His timetable revealed. Can you see it? IS LACK OF AWARENESS THE PROBLEM?