by Dick Hillis
When I visited East Berlin I had to go through a four-way examination at “Checkpoint Charlie.” Going East I was first examined by the Americans and then by the East Germans. Upon my return I was re-examined by both sides. Like playing a serious game of chess, there was check and doublecheck.
When I visited East Berlin I had to go through a four-way examination at "Checkpoint Charlie." Going East I was first examined by the Americans and then by the East Germans. Upon my return I was re-examined by both sides. Like playing a serious game of chess, there was check and doublecheck.
In these days of rash Christian activism on the one hand and indifference, lethargy and failure on the other, Christians must use some kind of a check system on themselves to avoid the disaster of throwing their lives to the winds. As a mission director I am faced with missionary failures. Some would never happen if the missionary would take time periodically to go through a spiritual "Checkpoint Charlie."
The Apostle Paul urged the believers in Corinth to check their Christian performance: "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves" (2 Cor. 13:5). To the Galatian church he said, "But let every man prove his own work" (Gal. 6:4). The repetition of this order makes it imperative for missionaries to conduct regular self-examinations:
Language. You may have been an A or high B student in English before you left the United States, but have you lowered your standard on the field? Have you felt it less than necessary to master the language? Is the language really on your priority list? Remember, if you are going to have an in-depth understanding of the people, you must master their language. Without the language you will never comprehend their thought patterns. If you fail to understand the way they think, your communication of the gospel will be foreign and will be rejected by many. You have the greatest message in the world. Should it not be explained in the clearest way possible? Does Christ’s perfect salvation deserve less than perfect presentation?
Orientation. To know a people you must also know their history. It is important to be acquainted with their ways, their music, their art and their national pride. This means you must read, read, read.
Too often missionaries seek to maintain their own nationalism rather than becoming like the nationals. They transplant methods that won’t grow in the foreign climate to which they have gone. They put up their own flag and go through the "God Save the Queen" or "America the Beautiful" bit. England’s great missionary to China, Dr. Hudson Taylor, said nearly a hundred years ago: "In everything not sinful be Chinese that you might win the Chinese." He was simply telling his missionaries to forget their own nationalism and become like the nationals.
The Apostle Paul expressed the same thought when he wrote, "I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (1 Cor. 9:22). If a missionary is really going to win the hearts of the people, the last thing he dare do is go on being a North American.
Culture. The culture of every country is different but that does not make it wrong. The sooner that simple fact is learned, the greater fruitfulness the missionary will enjoy. Being on time for an appointment in California is very important but quite unimportant in Calcutta, India or Cali, Colombia. In some countries the missionary needs to practice being less clock conscious. In Baltimore or Boston you may walk your guests to the front door and after a farewell close the door. In Bandung or Bagdad, not to accompany your guests to the front gate is considered an insult. So one makes it a practice to escort visitors to the gate.
In Memphis, Tennessee, you are free to tell your guest that every bedroom is full and he leaves unoffended. In Medellin, Colombia, if you do not at least offer him a mattress on the floor of your front room, he will leave convinced that you really don’t care for him. Does this seem trivial? It isn’t! Because every blunder the missionary makes takes from the effectiveness of his witness.
Then there is that rather hideous phrase too often used, "Now in America we . . ." The words reek with pride. They suggest unfavorable comparison. Each time they are used they deeply cut the national the missionary hopes to win. Don’t go through the years being a North American . . . become one of the people. Leave your foreignness at home. If you must shed tears about being away from your homeland and your loved ones, do it before you get to the field. God has called you and you have no right to hold a martyr complex.
Ministry. The needs of any field are overwhelming. The opportunities are often so great you may become frustrated and do nothing. Or you may throw yourself into the work with such fervor you fall apart physically before time for furlough. True, there are not enough workers, but the Lord of the harvest doesn’t expect you to do all the work. The situation simply calls for the not-too-simple act of separating the urgent from the important. You must learn to wait upon God until priorities are fixed. To help discover such priorities questions must be asked:
Why am I here?
Did God send me to build an organization or an organism?
Am I to construct a church edifice or edify the believers?
In what stratum of society am I to work?
Who are the people most likely to be used of God to win or influence their people or nation for Christ?
What is the existing church’s greatest need?
Am I prepared to become a servant of the national church?
What is my spiritual gift and how can it best be used to strengthen the whole Body of Christ?
Spirituality. No one will question that Christians around the world are hungry. They want something more than head knowledge or a repetition of what you learned in seminary. The life you live must be real, vital and fresh. They can quickly distinguish between a missionary who is Spirit-filled and one who is empty. A knowledge of the Word is important and the national Christian will know if it is missing. Also, the Word must be incarnate. The missionary is being watched whether or not he likes it.
Paul was aware of this and dared to say to the Corinthian believers, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (1 Cor. 1 I :1). In the great apostle, the Corinthians not only heard but saw Christ. This must be true of the missionary. The spiritual tone must be noted not only in a man’s ministry but in a missionary’s home. As husband, father and missionary you must constantly remind yourself of the words of our Lord: "Without me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5). Even the ordinary mundane things of everyday life cannot be accomplished as they should be without him.
Love. Too often this ingredient is missing. Intellectualism is in the forefront. Knowledge shows up clearly. Academic attainment puts initials besides the missionary’s name. Zeal is apparent. But love is missing. If a national makes a mistake he is wiped out. Ii a Christian does not do what he is supposed to do, he is harshly judged.
Have you forgotten, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love . . . I am nothing" (1 Cor. 13: 1, 2)? The Apostle Paul reminds us that no matter how well the missionary is trained, if the love of God is not shed abroad in his heart nothing else is of any value. The apostle said, "Yet shew I unto you a more excellent way" (1 Cor. 12:31). It is imperative for the missionary to walk that "way" without which witnessing and preaching become mechanical and theoretical. Instead of every contact being an avenue of service, many contacts become an area of irritation. Lessons taught from books become more important than lessons taught from daily living. Doctrinal truths become mere theory unless they point the way to the ultimate fullness of the life walked in the Spirit.
To the believers at Colosse, Paul said, "Ye are complete in him" (Col. 2:10). There is no completeness outside of Christ. Thus, Christ must be presented in all his completeness by your living Christ in all his completeness.
This is only the start of a "Checkpoint Charlie," so take it from here to discover how you stack up. You may be disappointed in what you find, but you will be a better man because you checked on yourself.
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