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Advance Along the Whole Line

A layman at a country church was winding up a prayer meeting and asked if there were any other items to cover. One lanky man in the back row stood and said, “We’ve got some missionary letters here to read.” With a reluctant sigh and a stomp of the foot, the leader drawled, “Well... I guess we’ll have to read those.”

Jesus’ last commandment to his disciples to go into all the world and preach the good news seems to be the last one many want to obey. Missions is, for some, a homeless beggar man, a nuisance. What to do with him? Toss a few coins into the hat and pass on by?

I called a local Christian radio station broadcasting over a large area of the state. When I asked about the possibility of them interviewing a different mission organization or missionary for one hour a week, they declined. “We could never sustain an hour’s program. People would find it boring and turn us off.”

Accounts from the print media are equally discouraging. I heard recently that one Christian magazine regularly runs articles on missions—not because the readership wants to read them, but because the editors know it’s good for the Christian public.

Mark Galli in the September 9, 2002 issue of Christianity Today quotes evangelical publishers, “Evangelicals no longer read books about things that happen overseas in funny-sounding places.” But they do plunk down money for end-time thrillers, romance novels and self-help books.

The situation in some churches is no brighter. One church bulletin urged: Please pray for the missions conference. Others, knowingly, asked me to pray. I wondered too late over the specifics for my prayers. The weekend came and less than a tenth of the congregation showed up. On Sundays, the most time some churches will offer a missionary now to present his or her work is a disappointing five minutes. It feels sometimes like a tip of the hat as they scurry past.

When I was a teen in the 1960’s my church put on lavish missions conferences, parading the nations down the aisles in flamboyant native costumes with flags waving. Faith promise cards gathered in sums that swelled our hopes of touching the world for God. Ladies of the church met on Tuesday mornings in homes, kneeling around couches and actually crying out to God for the needs of the world. Without a doubt, those experiences warmed my heart for overseas service.

The need to stoke the fire for missions apparently is not a new phenomenon. I just finished reading a 400-page book called The Foreign Missionary by Arthur Judson Brown. It was first published in 1907 and revised in 1932. He wrote, “Our task is to interest the uninterested and to get them to help. At a critical moment in the battle of Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington issued the order: ‘Advance along the whole line!’ Prompt obedience won the battle. The Church will win, when it responds with like unity and promptness to the order of its Commander.” (p.224)

Thank God, there are thousands of Christians today whose hearts are racing to obey this command. But there are thousands more who are investing their time, passion and finances in another kingdom. We must not be discouraged. Laymen may refuse to read missionary letters. The TV and radio may not call for interviews. Christian magazines and book publishers may decline to print missionary accounts. Your church may yawn at them too. Maybe even your pastor focuses on other challenges. But you, you whose heart cries out for the needs of another country or a far-away people or even your neighbor, let us obey our Divine Commander and advance together along the whole line. God will give us the victory!