by Arthur Mathews
Some years ago a missionary from Africa confronted me with this problem: “As a missionary returning to a field that may quite conceivably be taken over by Communists, how should I approach my task of teaching the church?”
Some years ago a missionary from Africa confronted me with this problem: "As a missionary returning to a field that may quite conceivably be taken over by Communists, how should I approach my task of teaching the church?" This question was posed to me as one who had been in China when the Communists took the country, and had been personally involved in the collision between communism and Christianity.
My remarks here are not aimed so much at answering this question, as in helping the missionary to get personal attitudes settled in his own heart. The devil’s masterpiece in evangelical circles is to sell us on some enthusiasm that will wean us away from priority claims to spend our passions on secondary causes. We throw ourselves heart and soul into causes that seem to demand our voice -and action, while we leave undone things we ought to have done.
Communism is by no means the only force in the world today at the disposal of the devil for challenging the progress of the Gospel. Violent hatred seethes under the surface in many lands. To fulfill his task the missionary will need other equipment than he can find in the training of even the best of today’s schools. Intellectually specialized semi-giants are fairly easily trained and equipped, but this species soon withers when the heat is turned up and gruelling pressure applied. Their training has left them babes in the dimension that characterized the early church as it faced, "the tyrant’s brandished steel, the lion’s gory mane." They have grown into thinking that suffering is incongruous to the administration of God.
An understanding of the role of travail in the triumphs of the Gospel is tie missing dimension in the prosecution of world evangelism. God-defiant systems yield right of way in puzzled confusion to a church that presses forward armed only with a joyous abandonment to prison and persecution.
Suffering is allowed of God by design. He purposes a twofold benefit in its disciplines. To form convictions, and also to sensitize and make pliable the heart of the sufferer. On the anvil of suffering undeveloped convictions- are first forged, then hammered and tempered to serve as the soul’s anchor in storms. Then lest we become stubborn in our convictions, the crucible of sustained trial is applied to soften the heart that yields to God’s orderings.
Let me classify my thoughts on this subject under two headings.
1. My place is His appointment.
No one would choose to move into a collision course with Communism or any other like system. To do so would be sheer presumption, and God has no promise for the presuming soul. But there are times when such a course is forced upon us by circumstances that appear to be juggled by noncomprehending and inconsiderate human leadership. If I allow myself to feel that human instrumentality has had any part in the arrangement of my circumstances, my morale is bound to crumble. Mission leaders and field superintendents, though godly men, are nevertheless fallible.
There was nothing unforeseen by God in the action of Pharaoh to overtake the escaping Israelites. God’s word to Moses was, "Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, They are entangled in the land" (Exod. 14:3 ) . The tyrant’s thought processes were known to God. His command to ?Moses to move into the trap was made on the basis of what He knew. In plain language, God was saying through the medium of His chosen leadership: "Go and put your head in the trap." Israel’s behavior then was what our behavior is now. They refused to see God in their circumstances, so they poured their scorn and rebellion on Moses.
Until I have a conviction that God, sovereign and omnipotent, is above and beyond every human instrument that decides on my case, and that He will resign neither to man nor devil His personal responsibility for the disposal of my life, I am at the mercy of my own cravenfearsand will succumb to the pressures.
LEARNED THE HARD WAY
In my own case I had to learn the hard way. A letter written by a group of men, governed in part by ulterior motives, requested that we be allowed to move to H__________ to help them. That was the instrument on the human level that took us to the place where we were to experience the violence of a collision with the Communists. This bit of paper, the vagaries of this group of men-these were the factors to praise or blame for our being subjected to several years of severe harassment. That was what we thought. It was this thinking that God changed. The conviction became ours that through all human appointments God was directing for His best will. We needed the discipline. Accepting it in this way we were then able to move forward into the unknown terror singing:
"In the center of the circle of the will of God I stand. There can be no second causes, all must come from His dear hand."
Out of this conviction grew the assurance that was our Master’s before us, when He claimed to His enemies, "Where I am, thither ye cannot come" (John 7:34 ) . I am lifted up beyond the reach of my enemies in the circle of the will of God.
When the storms started sweeping over our heads, it was natural that we should read again and again the story of Paul’s journey to Rome. Luke writes, "It was determined that we should sail into Italy" (Acts 27:1) . A casual reading would refer this decision to the ship’s captain, or the Roman centurion in charge of the prisoners, while Paul was but a pawn to be moved hither and yon at the caprice of such men. But read back further and you will hear the dominating thunder of God’s voice rolling out: "Paul, thou shalt see Rome" (Acts 23:11). The storms may come, but it was not the decision of a man that committed me to that storm, nor is it that I am deserted by God to reap the bitter fruit of some hasty word or wrong choice of my own.
Imagine then the comfort that came to our hearts when, instead of thinking we could have avoided all our suffering if such and such a letter had not been written, we accepted the fact that we were delivered to it by the "determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23 ). My place was His appointment, and His alone.
2. My commitment guarantees His commitment.
Perhaps this puts the emphasis in the wrong place. Perhaps it would be better to say, "His government assures me of His grace." Let me settle the issue of His Lordship in my life and I can depend upon the fulness of His resources for every situation. Nothing thrilled my soul quite as much as this when its implications dawned upon me.
Here we were at the ends of the earth on the Tibetan border because of our commitment to the will of God made personal in us by the constraining love of Christ, then made active by the control of the Holy Spirit of missions. The Word, the will, and the constraint of God were the only explanation for our presence in these circumstances. And I suppose Elijah in hiding by Cherith’s brook would have said the same thing if asked the reason for his being there. Our dwindling supplies were to match his drying brook. All the normal sources for securing the necessities of life were sealed off. Our finances were under police control and could only be drawn for use after an estimate had been approved by a not very friendly police chief. He saw to it that many long and nerve-wracking hours were spent in seeking his approval for those estimates. Though we were driven to all lengths to keep body and soul together, God took up the challenge of our impossible circumstances and the tempter’s taunts:
The barrel of meal empties fast, The tempter crowds close with his lies; Can God, Ahi He’s failed you at last, In the wilderness find fresh supplies?
God’s answer to Elijah was, "I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there" (I Kings 17:4). His personal care was extended to the obedient soul in the place of His appointment. We proved this, for our table though lacking in variety was never empty. Am I committed to God? Then without hesitation I may aver, God is committed to me. The wonder of this truth reached over into other areas, too.
The day came when I was compelled to go to the police station daily for interrogation. The realization that my statements and answers could have a very real effect on the wellbeing of my wife and baby daughter only served to confuse me the more. My stumbling and often misconstrued statements, as well as the bold assertions that could have brought swift recompense, were all included in the coverage of God’s majestic claim, "My servant, whom I uphold."
In conclusion, look at Omnipotence gladly surrendered to impotence: "The Lamb as it had been slain." "When He was afflicted He opened not His mouth." The cup He took and drained was mixed and prepared apart from human interference, bitter though it was. So committed was He to God’s purpose that He willingly imprisoned Himself within the limits of that will, and in taking the cup no murmur escaped Him. No escape complex was allowed to govern His attitude to His Goddirected collision course. There is a call today for recruits who are prepared to enter His school of training and discipline, and give their lives to demonstrate to the wondering world that God’s victories are often won on altars of sufferings.
The test for fitness to engage in conquest in the battlefield of today’s mission field will not be in the realm of natural endowments, technical skills, or even educational equipment; rather it will be in the proven quality of endurance that is prepared to face every form of pressure and to walk in the path of Him was who made perfect through suffering.
EMQ, Jan. 1965, pp. 28-32. Copyright © 1965 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.