Our commitment to support missionaries has always been a high priority at Altadena Baptist Church. We take seriously Jesus’ last command before he left the earth and ascended into heaven, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). As a way of fulfilling this Great Commission from our Lord, our church has always adopted specific missionaries, serving in various countries, whom we pray for and support financially throughout their careers, and this has kept us from becoming ingrown and self-centered in our faith.
However, what it means to be a missionary has changed significantly over the past few centuries. The message of salvation is the same, but effective delivery of that message has had to adapt to the emerging realities of modern life. Here in Southern California we are often reminded of the sixteenth century mission movement, led by Spanish Catholic priests, who colonized and “civilized” tribal villages all along the Pacific coast. There is still a great deal of debate about whether the good they did outweighed the bad. Later, about one hundred and fifty years ago the “Modern Missionary Movement” began, in which heroic pioneers moved to areas where few people had heard the gospel message, mostly in Asia and Africa. Many people were converted, and churches sprung up everywhere. Unfortunately, this was often accompanied by an unhealthy Western colonialism, along with the exploitation of labor and resources.
I grew up in a church that was very strong in its missionary support. There was even a “Missionary Home” on the church campus, where missionaries on furlough could spend their time back in the States. As a kid, some of my playmates were the children of these families. I began to understand that when they were “on the field,” these families often lived on a mission compound that was intentionally isolated from the people and culture around them. But this was during the years after World War II, and old colonial empires were all collapsing. With this change came the need to reexamine how missionary work was done. I remember that it was quite exciting to hear younger missionaries talk about their vision of living intimately among the people, partnering with them, rather than talking down to them from a superior position. The goal was to help a group of local believers plant a self-sustaining church and be able to shape it to fit their unique culture. The Larsons (Coreen and Peter) and the Youngs (Bev and Dick) spent their lives as missionaries with these kinds of goals and strategies.
But it’s 2016, and the world seems to be changing faster than ever. Church-planting missionaries are increasingly coming from one third-world country to another, and they often seem to be more effective than traditional missionaries from the USA or Europe. Western Christians face real threats of terrorism when traveling into some areas they may feel called to reach with the gospel. On the other hand, the unrest and warfare in many regions have displaced millions of refugees who are in need of loving Christian ministry. Meanwhile, modern missionaries have the potential to send the message into the most isolated corner of the world by skype or some other edgy technology, without leaving their office.
What this means for our church is that we need to rethink how we are responding to Jesus’ Great Commission. The members of ABC’s Missions Committee, which is under the Outreach Department, have been wrestling with this for some time, and they have decided to challenge and redirect our thinking by adopting a new name for our worldwide gospel initiatives: “GLOBAL OUTREACH.” We believe this is a banner under which we can better see and understand our partnership with Christians all over the world in making Jesus’ salvation real and effective in our day.
In next week’s Messenger, Pastor Connie will tell us about some of the exciting shapes ABC’s Global Outreach is taking and where this might lead in the future.
– George Van Alstine