All of my life I have been in Church and since childhood I have been aware of missions and missionaries. As it is with many people, impressions from my childhood have been lasting ones. My early impression of the mission field would always bring to mind the jungles of Africa where we sent the gospel message, food and medicine to those who were lacking in these areas. Of course, once a person is enlightened by biblical training, there is a realization that God intended missions to be to unbelievers in all nations. This I believe is confirmed by the twelfth chapter of Genesis that explains our missionary efforts or “proclaiming his plan” is the basis for receiving God’s blessings. Exodus 19 further confirms on six occasions the calling of God’s people to be missionaries as the calling to be “kingly priest” or to participate in the priesthood is made. In addition, this chapter has the element of missions which are being ambassadors and God’s portable treasure. Psalms 67 exhorts us to be a witness through our daily life style so that that earth’s harvest is reaped to the ends of the earth. The New Testament confirms the continuation of the Old Testament’s call of missions to all nations in the Great commission, Matthew 28:18-20 and Jesus’ promise of empowerment in Acts 1:8.
As the years passed I kept hearing all nations and all people, but images of the poor and indigent in far away lands seemingly stayed in my mind. Then one October day in 2007 God opened my eyes to the extent of the meaning of ALL. I am a member of the Gideons International, an international association of Christian business and professional men with one purpose, winning souls for the Lord Jesus Christ. We have two methods of accomplishing our mission, personal witnessing and placing the Word of God in different places such as hotels, motels, hospitals and several other strategic locations. In October, we generally carry out what is one of my favorite parts of the Bible distribution ministry, placing copies of The New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs into the hands of fifth grade students. It has always been rewarding as I watched young students’ eyes light up as they receive a copy of God’s word, and I have heard many testimonies throughout my thirty one years in the ministry of this being the only Bible in a home.
On this particular day in October 2007, I visited two schools in Gadsden, Alabama. The schools were Floyd Elementary and the Episcopal Day School. It had been my assignment for the past seven or eight years to distribute testaments in these schools, so this was a familiar environment. Floyd Elementary is a title one school, in the state of Alabama that is a school for children from low income families. The Episcopal Day School is quite different; it is private and has enrollments of four to seven students per grade. As you can imagine, the students from these schools are from very different socio-economic levels. I prepared myself prayerfully as always prior to a Bible distribution, thanking God for the open door to place his word and praying that his word will not return void (Isaiah 55:11).
My first stop was Floyd Elementary. When I arrived the two fifth grade classes, which totaled around fifty five to sixty students, were in the computer lab. I was led there to make the distribution. As customary, the teacher allowed me to explain who the Gideons are and our purpose. Students were then invited to come forward and take a testament from the box. As the line dwindled to the last of the students, I heard the teacher say,”I didn’t hear thank you Mr. Weaver.” The children expressed their gratitude, but a little girl named Tianna was much more expressive than the others. Tianna jumped forward and threw her arms around me and hugged me tightly and said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” When she released her embrace, she danced backwards waving her testament in front of her face as she exclaimed, “I finally got one of my own!” I left the school praising God and “floating”. After twenty-nine years and distributions in four states I had just witnessed someone receive their first Bible.
Next, I went to the Episcopal Day School, still floating. I was escorted to the fifth grade classroom, which held approximately five students and again made the presentation and distribution. As I was leaving, I passed the student closest to the door, a young boy named Jason. He said something in a low voice that I could not understand. I asked him to repeat what he had said, he replied, “This is my first Bible.” Now I was floating, two times in less than one hour.
After I was away from the school and some time had passed, the experience of the morning went through my mind again and I thought of the two very different neighborhoods, but with the exact same need. In addition, the image of Africa as “the” mission field was finally broken and the new image of ALL has since been in its place. In the absence of disease, polluted water, and hostile environment, a mission fields seems less dangerous, especially when surrounded by scapes of peaceful neighborhoods and upscale homes. But is any mission field ever void of dangers? What about the desire for upward social mobility? In consideration of this, I would like to refer to the story of Gideon in the book of Judges.
When Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land, they reveled in military victories and began possessing the land of milk and honey, which God had promised them. Prior to their entry into the Promised Land, God’s instruction to the Israelites was to rid the land of the Canaanites. Scholars have developed different interpretations of the meaning of “ridding the land of the Canaanites”. Some interpret a more literal theory of exterminating all of the inhabitants while others believe only the leadership. It is not the purpose of this article to debate or take a position on this issue. The issue at hand is that many of the Canaanites remained and the Israelites did not evangelize them as the holy scriptures confirm that Abraham’s people were to do by “blessing all nations” (or people). Instead the opposite happened; the Israelite people were evangelized by the Canaanites and began worshiping Baal with them. The attraction was so strong, Gideon’s last two pleas to God for confirmation of his calling to be deliverer of Israel involved dew, Baal supposedly controlled the dew.
What caused the attraction to Baal? First, let us take a brief look at history: God sent Moses to deliver His people from Egyptian bondage and harsh slavery; provided for them throughout their forty year journey; totally destroyed what was at the time the world’s most powerful army by miraculously redirecting the forces of nature; gave them the land of Canaan and military victories to possess it; sent them deliverers every time they called up on Him to save them. However, these were still poor nomadic Jews coexisting with the Canaanite people who were wealthier. Instead of accepting their promise from God and living with faith in Him, the Hebrew people were diverted to an existing culture that was appealing to them. In short, they were victims of lust for upward social mobility.
Certainly, upward social mobility is a much more subtle danger than what is generally thought of when considering the dangers of the mission field. This danger is also hidden in comfort and beauty and viewed by most as the “good life”. My intentions here are not to criticize upper class society, but to warn that God sends us to places that may be different and appealing to us and we must take care not to be snared by lust. (After all who would seek someone else’s poverty?) In conclusion, we are all called to serve as missionaries at some level or to some degree, but we must always be aware that in some form the fowler’s snare is always there.
Jack G. Weaver, Jr.