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Why Missions

Henry Martyn came to faith in Christ while studying law at Cambridge University in England. A brilliant student, he graduated first in his class and was offered a highly desirable pastoral position at a prestigious church. He chose instead to sail for India in 1805 to follow a call to missions. He left behind not only the opportunity for comfort and prominence but also his family, friends and Lydia Grenfell, the woman he deeply loved and planned to marry. On board the ship, he wept for days as he thought of Lydia and how he likely would never see her again.

While in India, Martyn established many schools and translated the New Testament into Hindustani, Persian and Judeo-Persian. When tuberculosis threatened his life, he heeded doctors’ recommendations to move to a drier climate to restore his health. He left India for Persia (modern Iran), where he planned to continue his translation work.

Henry Martyn was buried in the Tokat region of northern Turkey en route to England.
Henry Martyn was buried in the Tokat region of northern Turkey en route to England.
The only Christian where he lived, Martyn faced great discouragement. Suffering from frequent fevers, he finally headed home to England by way of Turkey. He died at Tokat, Turkey, never reaching England — or his beloved Lydia — again. In this faraway, unfamiliar place, strangers and unbelievers buried him. He was only 31.

What motivated Henry Martyn to endure such a life of hardship and sacrifice? He and a host of others have been compelled by the teaching and commands of Jesus concerning the greatest cause on earth: proclaiming His message and making disciples in all the world.

Three facts are inescapable:

1. Humanity Is Lost

Secular culture tries to explain away man’s sin. The plagues of immorality and violence are attributed to poverty, social injustice, and even genetics. The blame is placed everywhere except where it belongs — the sinful human heart. From the time of the Early Church, many have wishfully speculated that all people will eventually, somehow, reach heaven. But God’s Word clearly shows that all mankind is lost.

In one of Asia’s modern cities, in the midst of gleaming skyscrapers, I visited a heathen temple. Thousands of onlookers stood in an outer courtyard. Unintentionally, in the press of the moving crowd, I found myself just three or four feet away from a priest who was chanting as worshippers submitted to a demonic trance. Rows of steel hooks pierced the flesh on their backs, yet not a drop of blood flowed. Each hook was connected to a chain that stretched back to a cart of rocks. The worshippers pulled the cart through the streets in an attempt to obtain forgiveness, healing or prosperity.

Henry Martyn was buried in the Tokat region of northern Turkey en route to England.

God’s will for the lost is plain in Scripture. Jesus revealed the priority of heaven in the Parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Son. Whether they are wandering lost or willfully lost, the Father’s heart extends to all.1 Peter said that the Lord wants no one to perish but all to come to repentance.2

2. Eternity Is Certain

Our culture is increasingly oriented to the present. The demand for instant gratification dominates. Our perspective on life is naturally framed in time, but God’s perspective is eternal.

The word perish in John 3:16 and 2 Peter 3:9 does not refer to physical death or even the end of existence, but rather torment that lasts forever.

God is eternal — without beginning or end. Deuteronomy 33:27 says, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (NIV, emphasis added). While all created beings have a beginning, God’s Word indicates that once life begins, existence never ends.

Many people — including some evangelical Christians — believe that unredeemed humanity will be judged and then, like animals, annihilated. Jesus taught otherwise, saying, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire.’ … Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”3

Henry Martyn was buried in the Tokat region of northern Turkey en route to England.
Jesus contrasted suffering in this life with eternal suffering, saying, “If your hand causes you to stumble,cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.”4

Each person will face a final lasting judgment. Whatever a person’s destiny, it is eternal. Everlasting reward or punishment waits for every person on earth.

3. Jesus Christ Is the Only Way of Salvation

Jesus existed before His incarnation,5 is equal with God,6 has the power to forgive sins,7 provided the ransom for the sins of all mankind,8 and grants eternal life to all who believe.9 After living a sinless life, Jesus offered up His life as the penalty for our sin, experienced death, and conquered it.10

Contemporary culture seems to have designated tolerance as a primary moral virtue and promotes the idea that anything a person believes can be a pathway to eternal life and ultimate peace. But God’s revealed truth is clear: Only one way exists to peace with our holy Creator and everlasting life. Jesus is both the Door and the Way.  He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”11 Though many today believe that all paths lead to God, Jesus says He is the only way to forgiveness and peace with God. The wide, smooth, popular road leads to destruction, but the narrow road leads to eternal life.12

Henry Martyn was buried in the Tokat region of northern Turkey en route to England.

The issue is not religion but relationship. Forgiveness of sin and eternal life are not granted merely for believing in God’s existence and distinguishing right from wrong. Peace with God is obtained only through faith in Jesus, who brought us near to God through His death on the cross.13 In Christ’s birth, God came near to us. In His death, He brought us near to Him.14

Peter said, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”15

No one communicated the truth about eternal issues as clearly as Jesus did. While the scribes and Pharisees were grumbling about the time He spent with sinners, Jesus startled them by saying, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”16  The ratio of 99 to 1 was a striking way of giving perspective to the tragic spiritual plight of the lost.

The priority of the unreached

When the Holy Spirit led our founders to form the AG in the early 1900s, its missionary character and priority were clearly defined. In the Fellowship’s first year, our early leaders made this amazing declaration: “We commit ourselves and the Movement to Him for the greatest evangelism the world has ever seen.”

How could such a small group of Christians even consider attempting to preach the gospel in all the world? They could because they understood the eternal destiny of the spiritually lost and took seriously Jesus’ command to reach the whole world. They also were convinced of His promise that they would receive the Holy Spirit’s power to do it.17

The priority of taking the message of Christ to the unreached was forcefully expressed at the 1921 General Council when church leaders declared that “the Pauline example will be followed so far as possible, by seeking out neglected regions where the Gospel has not yet been preached, lest we build upon another’s foundation.”

Henry Martyn was buried in the Tokat region of northern Turkey en route to England.
Today within the worldwide AG Fellowship, we see an ironic reversal of the 99 to 1 ratio described in the Parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15. Those within AG churches equal just over 1 percent of the world’s unreached. Any joy over those safely in the fold is far overshadowed by the sobering reality of the 99 percent still lost and without an adequate witness of the saving message of Jesus Christ.

Why Are Billions Yet Unreached?

It is tragic and unacceptable that more than two-thirds of the world’s population has not been given the opportunity to hear the message of Christ. Because of tribal, language or social barriers, entire groups of people either do not have a Christian neighbor or anyone willing to become one to share the gospel with them. Any serious contemplation of the billions of unreached must address the reasons why.

Remote

For centuries, people in the South Pacific couldn’t receive the gospel because their remote islands were virtually inaccessible to the Christian church in Europe. Then a blacksmith, John Williams, sailed on a wooden ship to Polynesia. With his own hands he built another vessel, the Messenger of Peace, and took the gospel to other islands in the Pacific. Williams’ ministry in Samoa was so effective that within a generation virtually the entire population was Christian.

When AG missionary Victor Plymire first headed to China 100 years ago, it took almostfour months to reach his mission station. He traveled by ship from Seattle to Shanghai, then by river steamer to Hankow, followed by three months up the Yangtze River at a rate of just five miles per day. For the final 300 miles to Taozhow, he rode on horseback.

Today the challenges in missions are different. Most of the world can be physically reached within a few days. But while modern missionaries
do not face the laborious and time-consuming transportation John Williams and Victor Plymire did, they still deal with daunting challenges to reach people in remote places.

Rejected

Some people groups today are unreached because of rejection by the majority populations of their countries. They are marginalized because of prejudice and long-standing intercultural hostilities.

Henry Martyn was buried in the Tokat region of northern Turkey en route to England.

Gypsies are seen as outcasts by most Europeans. Though accessible, they are still unreached because of their low social status.

Clement LeCossec was born in western France and began ministering full time among France’s Gypsies in 1958. In 1978, Clement’s son and daughter-in-law, John and Nancy LeCossec, were appointed as AG missionaries to Gypsies
in western Europe. The work has grown, and more than 1,500 Gypsy pastors now lead 110,000 born-again Christians in France.

Recently a sovereign move of God has taken root among the Gypsy people of Slovakia. Traditionally shunned and ignored by the mainstream population, Slovak Gypsies are finding acceptance in Christ and discovering their place in His family.

The Savior is described in Scripture as “despised and rejected by men.”18 He loves us all and calls us to enter into His mission of preaching good news to the poor, proclaiming freedom for the prisoners, and releasing the oppressed.

Resistant

In 1918, young William E. Simpson, a single missionary with the newly formed AG Fellowship, carried the gospel into the barren land of Tibet. For 14 years he led a lonely life, riding on horseback through rugged, forbidding mountains to share the message of salvation. Through all his years of toil, only a few Tibetans came to Christ. At age 31, he was ambushed and murdered in a mountain pass. Nearby villagers buried him in a shallow grave.

Spiritually resistant people groups have brought great discouragement and even heartbreak to missionaries. Though God uses the arduous toil of faithful missionaries, a breakthrough of God’s Spirit is needed before a spiritual harvest can begin.

The spiritual climate of cultures is a significant factor in why people are unreached. Across Europe, Christian history and symbolism are abundant, yet many modern Europeans are resistant to the gospel. Their Christian history has seemingly inoculated them against the gospel message that can transform their lives.

The sovereign working of the Holy Spirit penetrates even the most spiritually resistant cultures. We acknowledge and depend on the Holy Spirit to empower our message so it can bear the fruit God has promised.

Restricted

Restricted-access countries are not the same as unreachable populations. God directs His servants in extraordinary ways to make His presence known. Testimonies of how this is taking place today are numerous, but often they can’t be told because of risk to missionaries and those they are working to reach.

Worldwide, the most significant barrier to reaching the billions of unreached is government restrictions to missionary activity. Still, restricted access can be transformed to creative access as God opens doors of ministry opportunity.

Human strategies and financial resources will not change spiritual circumstances. But God can. A critical need in our mission is a movement of concentrated intercession for the unreached in countries where access to Christian messengers is restricted. We must fervently and faithfully pray that He will open doors for the message, just as the apostle Paul pleaded with the Colossians to pray.19

Neither remoteness, rejection, resistance nor restriction presents an impossible task. Each circumstance can be overcome because of the promise of our Lord concerning the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. But each requires a level of commitment and sacrifice from us equal to the challenge.

Henry Martyn was buried in the Tokat region of northern Turkey en route to England.
Is it fair that some hear the saving message of Jesus again and again — when so many others haven’t heard it even once?For some to have access to the message of salvation and the hope of everlasting life while others are neglected is tragic beyond description.

In Romans 10, Paul used a logical sequence to make this poignant assertion: “‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?”20

At the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul explained the highest priority of his life: “I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation.”21

Paul’s description of unreached areas as “where Christ has not been named” makes a powerful point: People living in these places had not even heard the name of Jesus. But merely hearing His name is not an adequate witness of the gospel.

More than 4 billion lost people wait in spiritual darkness, not for the mere mention of Jesus’ name but for an adequate witness of the gospel and the opportunity to receive Him as their Savior.

If we believe Jesus is “the way and the truth and the life,”22 that “there is no other name under heaven … by which we must be saved,”23 and our Lord’s command is to proclaim His salvation in all the world, then everyone should have the opportunity to hear and believe.

Should getting the truth to those who have not heard be the priority of only the few who have the heart of an apostle? Or should it also be the priority of the church?

Why Missions?

The need is compelling.

Humanity is lost, eternity is certain, and Jesus is the only way of salvation. If Jesus died for everyone, then everyone must be told. Two-thirds of the world’s population has yet to receive an adequate witness of salvation in Jesus Christ.

The command is clear.

The Great Commission is not optional for the church. Because of our Lord’s command, every follower of Christ is responsible in some way to those who wait to hear the saving message of Christ.

The call demands a response.

For some of us, the question is this: Has God called me to go?

What compels a person to leave thecomforts and security of home, family and friends to serve Christ in a foreign land? The call. Being a missionary is not a career choice based on human ambition. Saying “yes” to God’s call means surrendering personal dreams and ambitions on the altar of commitment.

For some, the call is dramatic and unforgettable. For others, it is the steadily growing realization they have no alternative but to spend their lives taking the gospel to those who are waiting to hear.

To those He calls, what matters most is not results but simply obedience to the Master.

Henry Martyn endured great physical suffering and wrestled with discouragement during a time when no one responded to his preaching. Yet on April 6, 1807, in Dinapore, India, he wrote in his journal: “If we labor to the end of our days without seeing one convert, it shall not be worse for us in time, and our reward is the same in eternity.”

More than 4 billion spiritually lost people are waiting to hear the good news of salvation and eternal life. Jesus knows and calls each messenger personally. He knows each lost soul and longs to reach each heart ... to let each one know of His love and salvation.

RANDY HURST
 is communications director
of Assemblies of God
World Missions.

1  Luke 15:1-7, 11-32

2  2 Peter 3:9

3  Matthew 25:41, 46, NIV

4  Mark 9:43

5  John 17:5

6  Philippians 2:6

7  Luke 7:48

8  1 Timothy 2:6

9  John 11:25, 26

10  Hebrews 2:9,10

11  John 14:6

12  Matthew 7:13,14

13  Ephesians 2:13

14  1 Peter 3:18

15  Acts 4:12

16  Luke 15:7, NASB

17  Acts 1:8

18  Isaiah 53:3, NKJV

19  Colossians 4:3,4

20  Romans 10:13-15, NASB

21  Romans 15:20

22  John 14:6

23  Acts 4:12

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