The World Evangelized by 2000— But At What Cost?
We can rightly be encouraged about the present expansion of the Kingdom of God in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Never has the world seen the likes. This is especially true for Evangelical/ Pentecostal/Charismatic streams of Christianity. For the first time in history there is now a possibility that in our generation we could see the completion of the evangelization of the world. We have Christian strategists speaking of “closure” (i.e., the job done), and “the World by 2000.”
Of course we need to define what we mean—and do it with reference to the clear instructions of the Lord Jesus. These are: (1) Every one on earth should have the opportunity to hear the gospel (Mark 16:15-16). This is the evangelizing commission; (2) Every ethnic group should have redeemed representatives to stand before the Throne of the Lamb (Matthew 28:18-20). This is the discipling commission; (3) The whole counsel of God should be taught to all peoples (Luke 24:45-49). This is the teaching commission.
This does not mean that all will be converted or that the majority of any ethnic group has to be discipled before the task is done—though we want to win as many and win them as thoroughly as possible!
However, I have a deep concern. The remaining unreached peoples of the world are progessively harder to reach; the political, cultural, religious, and spiritual barriers to be surmounted are ever more difficult. Are we willing to pay the cost of closure, the price of penetration? Can we avoid the cross?
In the darkest days of World War II when Britain faced invasion in 1940, Winston Churchill could only offer his people “blood, tears, toil and sweat.” For all our slick strategizing, smooth management techniques, statistical juggling, electronic networks, there is going to be a terrific cost to pay.
Are We Willing to Pay the Price?
Why are the unreached still unreached? Because there are not yet enough people prepared to pay the price—in groaning prayer, hurtful giving and a loving not our lives even unto death! We face the toughest challenges to world evangelization in winning the hard-core lands of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. These spirits will not go out but by prayer and fasting—this was how Jesus challenged the impotent disciples. It sometimes seems to me that the more we study and theorize, the less we do that actually liberates Satan’s captives!
What Is the Price to Be Paid?
The Spiritual Price
The Scriptures are full of references to the need for pruning, cross-bearing, weeping, and suffering as the normal lot for the harvesters. It is said of the Lord Jesus Christ himself: “… for the joy that was set before him endured the cross….” Can we be any different than the Master?
There is the basic principle that there can be no blessing without bleeding, no crown without a cross, no life without death. We must glory in these truths, for they are an essential part of the winning of the world.
There is a basic denial of self and willingness to embrace all the implications of discipleship which flies right in the face of 20th-century culture. Unless we are willing for this, we will never get the job done. I fear many are using other ways that avoid the cross.
Why is it that we have such a short- term mentality—of trying it for a bit, and if it does not work out, try another career? Where has that lifetime commitment to getting the world evangelized gone?
The Physical Price
The early missionaries who evangelized the coasts of West Africa rarely lived long enough to learn local languages—let alone to return for a second term. A coffin was an essential part of their equipment. The 20th century has been more peaceful and healthy for missionaries in many parts of the world, but this is now changing. Missionaries are now soft targets for international terrorists, drug-runners, robbers, and even humanistic anthropologists too! The health risks have radically increased over the last decade— virulent and resistant forms of malaria, hepatitis, and now AIDS in Africa. We have no supernatural guarantee of a healthy old age if we serve the Lord in another climate and land whatever our theology of healing may be!
The Mental Price
The new generation of first-term missionaries is more likely to go to the field married. Are such willing for both themselves and their children?
How simply are missionary families prepared to live? In a tin-roofed little house on the edge of the Sahara with temperatures reaching 50 degrees Celsius? Far from the conveniences of education and companionship of children of the same culture? Willingness for long separations for husband and wife, parents and children for the sake of the gospel? Are we going to find enough pioneers who are prepared for the mental anguish that comes from seeing our families apparently suffering because of the calling God has given?
I remember standing at the graveside of a little girl in Sumatra, Indonesia; one of our missionaries had left their little daughter’s body in a distant land for Jesus. I am not hereby speaking against marriage and family life on the mission field, nor do I agree with the principle that we sacrifice our families for the ministry. What I want to stress is that if we are going to see the world evangelized, the will of God must come first whatever the implications for us, our comfort, or our loved ones; but wonderfully, God’s will encompasses all these, too!
The Cultural Price
We are the “instant” generation. We look for quick solutions. Yet for his three years of ministry, the Lord Jesus had to earn the right in 30 years of manhood. Without some being incarnated into other cultures and becoming as one of them, how will we ever earn the right to communicate the Good News?
It takes time. I reckon that it takes seven to ten years for a missionary to begin to flow smoothly in a new culture. Some never last that long; others never make it in more years. Sacrificing our way of doing, being and living is hard. When I was a missionary in Africa, some Africans would say, “That missionary loves us, but those others don’t.”
We have a further complication today—the internationalization of the missionary force of the world. Praise God for this; but it introduces a further cost to the ones who take the gospel. Many of the newer sending countries have to spend long years learning a transition culture. It often takes two or three years for a Korean missionary to learn adequate English to relate to other missionaries and also learn target languages.
Multi-national missionary teams are a reality. In our own mission we have over 100 non-Western missionaries; our team in Gambia numbers 38, but they come from nine nations and four continents.
How can one survive the smell of black beans, dried fish, or kimchee, or live with differing cultural values for cleanliness, time, money, leadership expectations, and methods of resolution of conflict? Yet if we are not willing to make a go of this, how can we claim that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all races? We must be a living demonstration of the unifying power of the gospel.
Some believe that the ideal would be to have national missionary teams, but then there is the danger of exporting one’s own culture, and sooner or later the fellowship with Christian workers from other lands will have to be faced. There is a price to pay!
The Financial Price
We get too hung up on money and fund raising. Yet funds are important. The cost of the missionary enterprise is far higher than a home ministry. The cost is little different for a trans-national missionary from any part of the world. It may be different for cross-cultural missionaries operating within their own political country unit. The airfares are similar or often worse for Brazilians or Fijians than for Westerners; most foods cost the same; the problems of children’s education are not solved more cheaply.
It is wrong to generalize and say that Third World missionaries can be more “cost-effective”! One of our missionaries shared her deep agonies over the fact that to live as basically as possible in Italy she needed as much money as ten workers doing the same in Brazil, her homeland. We will need to see a far greater concern and commitment of funds for the spreading of the gospel than we have ever seen if the job is to be done. I am amazed at the na•ve and thoughtless attitudes of the average Christian about the origin of mission funds. I wonder how much more would have been achieved for world evangelization if the money poured into church towers around the world had been sent to mission causes?
Praise God, we are actually speaking of finishing the task. It could happen; but my plea is that we be realistic about what it is going to cost me. We will never reach our goal without a concerted mobilization of the people of God around the world and on an unprecedented scale. May we go right against the selfish, materialistic culture so prevalent in the West, and increasing in other continents, and be willing for the price that must be paid if the world is to be finally evangelized!
Patrick Johnstone is Deputy International Director and Director of Research for WEC International. This essay is excerpted from an article by the same name appearing in the May-June 1989 issue of World Evangelization, the magazine of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization.