Do we really need to send missionaries overseas?

Andy Harker

There is so much work to be done ‘at home’, people from across the world are now coming to our doorstep. It is often better and more cost effective to support gospel workers in their own countries, so should we be sending missionaries abroad? Here are four suggestions why we still need to send gospel workers across borders:

1.    Nation reaching nation is God’s strategy

Joshua D Jones points out that in Elijah’s day, when there was plenty of spiritual darkness in Israel and we might have expected God to put foreign mission on hold, God sent his worker out to Zarephath. “Elijah had no shortage of work to do within his national boundaries... Yet God sent Elijah to another nation to spend two years witnessing to one pagan woman and her son.” (Jones, Elijah Men Eat Meat) It seems that the Lord is less concerned about efficiency and cost-benefit analysis than we are. He is driving an outgoing, expansive, generous, nation-reaching mission even in the worst of times.

2.    Whoever refreshes others will be refreshed (Proverbs 11:25)

Churches who give sacrificially towards foreign missions often find that they themselves experience revival. John Paton, a nineteenth century Scottish pastor, had many people try and persuade him that he was far too valuable to the church in Scotland to risk throwing his life away in overseas mission. But he went, eventually bringing many in the New Hebrides to know Christ. But perhaps even more significant was the effect on the churches who sent him out. John galvanised churches in Australia and Scotland for a long-term missionary concern for the New Hebrides. A very large amount of money was raised from not particularly well off churches and other pastors were sent out too. These ‘sending’ churches then experienced their own revival. John writes in his autobiography, “New waves of liberality passed over the heart of [the church]. Debts that had burdened many of the churches and manses were swept away. Additional congregations were organised…” That is paradoxical gospel logic. Foreign missions sending is not a zero sum game. There is a great blessing for sending churches.

3.    Foreign missions can be a powerful means of personal growth for the missionary

God uses many means to grow his people, and that includes overseas mission. An African mission leader in West Africa told me that all the guys he knows who are continuing faithfully long-term in gospel ministry have one thing in common – they have all been out of the country. That is what has grown in them the spiritual strength and godliness and perseverance for the long haul. There are a few reasons for this: 1) Leaving your home country and people forces you to come to a greater understanding of being an alien in this world. 2) Going into a foreign culture where you are unable to express yourself clearly, unable to do simple things without help and constantly make mistakes is a humbling experience that can lead to a greater understanding of being a little child in the kingdom of God. 3) The increased risk and uncertainty forces you to rely on the Lord. Even if the destination country is quite safe and secure, it won’t feel as safe and secure as your homeland, and there is the particular vulnerability of possibly being deported. 4) You come to understand more clearly the sinners that we are. All the unique stresses and insecurities of moving abroad tend to be effective means of revealing the depths of your own heart. 5) You encounter other expressions of Christian faith and so are forced to re-examine your own thinking and living and what is genuine Christianity. In this way your convictions about the really core, trans-cultural, vital things in your faith hopefully get clearer and firmer. 

4.    We need each other

The ideal for the global church is not independency but interdependeny. Like the circulation of the blood in the body – it is healthy for there to be a circulation of Christians around the body of the church. Each part of the body will be simultaneously strong and weak in different ways - the goal is mutual encouragement (Romans 1:12).

Some mutual learning can happen at a distance but there is nothing like actually being with and working together in gospel ministry. Much glory goes to God and much growth occurs and much learning happens as people of different cultures interact and serve.

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