Heroes in mission: William Carey

William CareyWilliam Carey was a poor Northamptonshire shoemaker who is better known today as the ‘father of modern missions’.  Despite his humble origins he was an intelligent though uneducated man, who taught himself several languages, acquired skills as a craftsman, and became a schoolmaster and a Baptist minister by the time he was 25.

His studies lead to him becoming convinced that the mandate to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:20) was binding not merely on the original 11 but on all subsequent disciples of Jesus.  In support of this argument he published in 1792 his influential essay An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, a powerful apologetic which challenged the received wisdom that God was perfectly capable of saving unbelievers without the help of his followers.  This discussion led to the foundation of a mission society which later became BMS World Mission.

Despite his bad health, low social standing, and rejection by the British authorities in Calcutta which forced him to move inland to live and work in a Danish colony, he was a determined plodder who achieved a great deal simply by working hard and keeping going.  Yet he was also a man of faith, and his maxim “Expect great things from God.  Attempt great things for God.” continues to be popular.

Many of the attitudes and values pioneered in the mission field by Carey have formed the bedrock of missionary practice over the last two centuries, such as:

  • Campaigning against cultural practices that harm people such as the caste system, suttee and child sacrifice;
  • Establishing educational establishments to help people out of poverty;
  • Language and culture acquisition as a means to sharing the gospel in a relevant way;
  • Bible translation and printing as a means of propagating the word of God;
  • Promoting agricultural development to improve people’s quality of life.

However, one practice of Carey’s which has remained largely unemulated by subsequent generations of mission workers is his willingness to support himself financially.  Carey worked for a living, earning money from planting indigo while also translating the Bible into a number of Asian languages for the first time.  The practice of mission workers taking employment to support themselves is only recently taking off again.

Hard-working and modest, one of Carey’s actions towards the end of his life indicates the quality of his character.  When disputes within the mission he had founded proved to be irreconcilable, rather than become dictatorial and contend with those who disagreed with him, he walked away, leaving the mission and continuing his work independently.

Among his great legacy to the world of missions, one that stands out is the words that he and some friends wrote together in the founding statement of their mission society.  They echo his wholehearted service for God and stand as a challenge to the values of mission workers to this day:

 “Let us give unreservedly to this glorious cause.  Let us never think that our time, or gifts, our strength, our families or even the clothes we wear are our own.”

Featured Ministry: Open Doors

hist_beetle_driveIn 1955, a young Dutchman went to a youth congress in communist Poland carrying hundreds of Christian tracts to distribute.  During his visit he discovered an isolated evangelical church struggling to retain its morale in the face of communist persecution.  The young man, now known throughout the world by the name ‘Brother Andrew’, embarked on a life travelling to difficult and dangerous places, smuggling Bibles to a needy church, inspired by the words of Revelation 3:2 –

Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die.

Driving his battered VW Beetle all over the Soviet bloc, Brother Andrew smuggled Bibles into communist eastern Europe.  But his exploits did not stop there.  He pioneered work into China, and then the Middle East and parts of central Africa.  Open Doors, the organisation he founded, has gone on to print Bibles, broadcast the Gospel by radio, coordinate international prayer ministry, keep the church informed about persecution  and become well-known for delivering practical support to the suffering church.  They also advocate on behalf of the oppressed, and their annual World Watch List is a must-have for Christians seeking information about how to pray for countries where Christians are oppressed.

60 years on from Brother Andrew’s first journey, Open Doors has become a worldwide agency working in over 60 countries through nearly 1000 workers – most of them national partners, because in the places they work people who are obviously foreign can’t always be effective.  Many of them work in challenging and dangerous places, training up new generations of church leaders and equipping the church to survive in the most hostile places on the planet.

All this is true to the adventurous spirit of Brother Andrew, who is famous for pointing out that there are no countries which are closed to the gospel.  There are of course countries from which it may be hard for Christians who preach the gospel to come back alive, but Brother Andrew has proved throughout his escapades in places like Palestine, Iraq, China and the Soviet Union, that God really can shut the eyes of the authorities and open doors.

Today tens of thousands of suffering Christians are supported and encouraged by Open Doors’ campaigns of aid and encouragement.  You can read more about these on their website, where you can find more details on how to pray for them and to join in the ministry.  As the UK CEO of Open Doors, Lisa Pearce said at a recent celebration of 60s of Open Doors’ ministry:

There isn’t a persecuted church and a free church – there is one church.

Or as St Paul put it: “If one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).  Let’s be inspired by the example of Brother Andrew and his many colleagues to relieve the suffering and pray for the parts that suffer.

Heroes in mission: St Andrew

andrewSt Andrew may not be the most obvious choice for a missionary hero.  Eclipsed by Peter, his more famous brother, often left out of the Gang of Four (Jesus, James, Peter & John) but occasionally included, without significant participation in the gospels, he’s not the most obscure of the disciples, but he is certainly not prominent.

Yet what is unique about him is that every time we are told about him in the gospels, he is bringing people to Jesus.  First, and most significantly for church history, he brings his brother Peter (John 1:40-42), using a phrase of unparalleled faith so early in Jesus’ ministry: “We have found the Messiah”.  Then, it is Andrew who finds the boy who gave Jesus his lunch (John 6:8) – and we know what happened after that!  And after that Andrew is found introducing some Hellenistic Jews to Jesus (John 12:22).  Later on, tradition tells us, he preached the gospel in eastern Europe, including in what is now Ukraine and Russia, both of which honour him as their patron saint.  He is also credited with founding the Patriarchate of Byzantium.

What can we learn from Andrew?

  • As already stated, he is regularly bringing people to Jesus. In all that we do, we must not forget that this is a key objective, whether we do it directly ourselves or facilitate others doing it.
  • He does not appear to have sulked. As one of the first disciples to have followed Jesus, he might have had a claim to be part of the inner circle, but when he wasn’t, there is no evidence of him becoming upset, and he certainly didn’t walk out.  He just got on with the job.
  • He wasn’t afraid to go beyond the boundaries of his world. Although Greece, Thrace, Byzantium and Romania would have very different cultures from what Andrew would have been used to in Judea, they were at least part of the Roman Empire.  As he worked his way round the Black Sea and up the Dniester River as far as Kiev, and possibly even going as far as Novgorod, he would have been in the territory of ‘barbarians’.

Legend tells us that Andrew when he was crucified, he asked to be tied to a diagonal cross, as he was unworthy to die on the same sort of cross as Jesus died.  May we also be as passionate about serving, representing, and (if called to) dying for Jesus.

Heroes in mission: Robert Thomas

Robert Jermain Thomas (1839-1866)

Robert Jermain Thomas (1839-1866)

On the face of it, Robert Thomas has to be one of the world’s worst missionaries (sorry Jamie!).  He had hardly set foot in the country he was called to before he was martyred, while according to some accounts, pleading with his murderers to accept Christ.

Christianity had come to Korea, been accepted and then harshly suppressed a couple of times before Thomas, a Welsh Presbyterian serving in China felt the call to Korea, then a closed country, and embarked with a consignment of Bibles on the General Sherman, a heavily-armed US trading ship which was hoping to open up trade (by force, if necessary) with the isolationist Korean kingdom.  As the ship sailed up river towards Pyongyang, Thomas apparently threw Bibles ashore to the Koreans.

Accounts differ of what happened next, and who started shooting, but an incident flared up and the US ship was set on fire.  The fleeing crew were fired upon but Thomas stayed on board till the last minute, still throwing Bibles ashore.  Leaving at the last minute, he was killed as soon as he swam ashore, while offering a Bible to his killer.

The Thomas Memorial Church

The Thomas Memorial Church

A local Korean took the Bibles and used them for wallpaper.  Some years later other mission workers brought Christianity once again to Korea, and local believers discovered the wallpaper and flocked to the house to read it.  The church continued to grow steadily and in 1932 Korean Christians built a memorial church on the riverbank near where Thomas died, but it was later destroyed during the communist revolution and the site is now part of the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.

Today it is not known how many Christians there are in North Korea, but they are the victims of the most anti-Christian government on the planet.  Most of the believers are in labour camps.  South Korea, on the other hand, has embraced Christianity.  Nearly a third of the population are Christians, the highest proportion in Asia, and they are one of the world’s leading missionary sending nations.

What can we learn from Robert Thomas?

  • He was keen to open new frontiers to the gospel.  Even though there were so many unevangelised Chinese, Thomas was led to go to a closed country where he knew the risk.  Today, when there are so many unevangelised countries in the 10/40 window and 41% of people who have not heard the gospel live in the thousands of neglected people groups, many British mission workers go to safe countries which already have strong indigenous churches. (You can read more about this in our blog Is it time to move on?)
  • He was zealous to propagate the gospel even when his own life was threatened.  In our risk-averse world, how many of us would even have gone to Korea, let alone offered a Bible to the soldier about to kill us?
  • There are dangers of being too closely involved with non-Christians.  If Thomas had not gone with armed traders, his reception may have been different.  We need to be wary of joining forces with those who do not share our aims and values.

Today, many thousands of South Korean pilgrims visit Wales to visit the birthplace of Robert Thomas in Rhayadr and the manse which was his childhood home.  The Christians in North Korea cannot, of course, even leave their prison camps leave alone their country.  Please pray for them.

St Patrick – the man who saved Civilisation?

st patricksToday is St Patrick’s Day.  A visitor to this planet could be forgiven for thinking Patrick is the patron saint of green wigs and black beer, but the Irish national festivities bring colour to a celebration of the life and work of a highly influential missionary without whom the history of Europe might have been very different.

Little remains in verifiable fact about Patrick’s life.  He was born in late fourth century in Britain in the dying days of the Roman Empire, though the date and location are unclear. Even his given name is uncertain – Patrick may actually be a nickname given him by his captors – ‘posh kid’ – as in the Roman Empire a patricius was the opposite of a ‘pleb’, a commoner.  Nearly all of what we know about him comes from two documents which are believed to have been written by him, one a ‘confession’ which was written towards the end of his life.

Despite this, modern mission workers can draw inspiration from this brave man who was so used by God:

ShamrockCross-cultural mission.  One legend is that Patrick used the shamrock as a means of explaining the Trinity, its three-lobed leaves representing the godhead with each lobe distinct but part of the whole.  In fact, the shamrock was already a sacred symbol of rebirth in Ireland, and the Morrigan was portrayed as a ‘trinity’ of goddesses in pagan Irish religion.  He picked up on features within Irish culture which would help him communicate his message.

The role of suffering in our lives.  When he was 16, Patrick was captured by pirates and taken to Ireland where he was sold as a slave.  He spent six years there before escaping and returning home.  He later claimed that this experience was critical to his conversion to Christianity.  Although he grew up in a Christian family, he had never personally accepted Christ.  He felt that through his capture was God disciplining him for his lack of faith, and as a result he became a Christian while working as a shepherd.

A sense of calling.  Having returned home, Patrick writes in his confession that he became a missionary in response to a vision calling him over to Ireland, rather like Paul’s Macedonian vision.

Perseverance in adversity.  As a foreigner, Patrick did not enjoy the protection of Irish kings like some other British missionaries did.  As such he knew beatings, imprisonment and theft.  He also was accused of financial impropriety by other Christians, possibly jealous of his success, and he also felt lonely.  He commented “How I would have loved to go to my country and my How_the_Irish_Saved_Civilizationparents, and also to Gaul in order to visit the brethren and to see the face of the saints of my Lord!  God knows that I much desired it but I am bound by the Spirit.”

Patrick planted churches, baptised thousands of converts, and as bishop appointed church officials, established councils, founded convents and monasteries, and laid the foundation for Christianity to take root in Ireland.  He was also, notably, the first great celtic missionary, unlike others at the time who came out of a continental catholic background.  As such he was the direct ancestor of that great missionary movement which came out of Ireland to take the gospel to the Scots and from there to the pagan Anglo-Saxons.  And as we all know, the Irish missionaries didn’t stop there but went on to save the whole of Civilisation .

Heroes in mission: David Livingstone

Livingstone

David Livingstone (1813-1873)

On this day (10th November) in 1871 Henry Morton Stanley walked into a small African town, found an elderly white man and uttered the famous words “Dr Livingstone, I presume?”  Or at least he may have done – there is some suggestion that his story of the encounter was subsequently embellished.

200 years after his birth, the Scottish missionary doctor David Livingstone remains an icon to many despite much recent criticism of him as an ineffective evangelist or a lackey of colonialism.  It is true, that during his lifetime he did not make many converts, but neither do most mission workers, so that accusation does not really hold much water.  He did through his exploration pave the way for later colonialism, but that does not take account of the full picture.  In fact, Livingstone was missiologically 150 years ahead of his time in that he engaged with the socio-cultural environment rather than simply preaching the gospel.

Livingstone's travels in Africa

Livingstone’s travels in Africa

As a mission worker wanting to take the gospel to the African interior, Livingstone became aware that the greatest challenge to the gospel was the slave trade, which broke up families, caused conflict between tribes, and impoverished many of the survivors.  But simply abolishing it would also cause poverty – as many of the African chiefs benefitted from it.  He concluded that trade with Europe would bring prosperity and stability in the aftermath of abolition, and create a more positive environment for the gospel to flourish.  This inspired him to take up exploration in a search for suitable sites for European settlers.

While Livingstone may be seen in the west as a precursor to colonialism, many Africans see him differently.  They love him for treating Africans with respect and courtesy, for not forcing his way into their territory with soldiers, for playing a huge role in the abolition of the slave trade and for bringing them Christianity.  Many millions of Africans owe their salvation directly to his pioneering ministry which contributed to the demise of the slave trade and gave significant impetus to Christian mission to the continent’s interior.

The most eloquent testimony to the respect that Africans have for him is that in the immediate post-colonial era, when names like Leopold, Victoria, Speke and Rhodes were being systematically obliterated from  the map of Africa, the name of Livingstone still remains commemorated by cities, mountains, waterfalls, parks, streets, schools and colleges.

Slavery is still widespread today.

Slavery is still widespread today.

Yet the quest to abolish slavery still continues.  It is frequently cited that there are more slaves today than at any time in history.  They include:

  • child domestic workers
  • forced labourers on construction sites
  • people trafficked into the sex trade
  • agricultural workers growing cash crops like cotton, coffee or cocoa for western consumption
  • miners of jewels and precious metals
  • waste reprocessors
  • manufacturers of beauty products
  • sweat shop workers

Many are kept in debt or in physical custody to prevent their escape.  Others choose not to escape because of threats made to their families.  Millions more may not technically be ‘slaves’ but are held in bondage and deprived of basic human rights by poor wages and lack of opportunity.

What can we do about it?  We can campaign or protest through organisations like Abolish Slavery,  Anti-Slavery International, Save the Children, Stop the Traffik, and the Fairtrade Foundation, but the simplest thing most of us can do is vote with our money.  Author and educator Anna Lappé commented:

Every time you spend money, you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want.

A child in DRC sifts through broken rocks to find copper.

A child in DRC sifts through broken rocks to find copper.

While ethical trading still has its issues, it has demonstrated the power of consumer choice.  As little as ten years ago, many of us had to search around for fairly-traded products or buy them from specialist retailers.  Now ethically-traded tea, coffee, sugar, chocolate and bananas are available in every supermarket.  This is now extending to clothing, staple foodstuffs, gold and even mobile phones.  We now need to be asking our suppliers ‘Where did this come from? Who made it?  Why isn’t it Fairtrade certified?’

Many of us Western consumers may find it hard to afford the premium on such products, but despite our financial challenges we are probably still significantly wealthier than the people who produced them.  It is now 200 years since David Livingstone was born, and 80 years since the UK officially abolished slavery, but every time we shop we still need to be asking ourselves

How might I be enslaving someone today?

You can find out by clicking this link how many slaves work for you.