by Jim Reapsome
During the early stages of the Iraq-Iran war, civilians on both sides were fed a steady diet of “glorious victory” films on TV.
During the early stages of the Iraq-Iran war, civilians on both sides were fed a steady diet of "glorious victory" films on TV. When reporters got into some of the cities close to the front, they found people who weren’t fooled by government propaganda. Whatever the news from headquarters, the truth was to be found only on the dusty streets of Basra, for example.
Reading headquarters communiques requires discernment. Important questions go beyond, How is the battle going? People need to know what the battle is all about. What are we fighting for in the first place? Why did we get into this particular battle at this particular time?
There are certain parallels in both the missions communiques from headquarters and the questions missionaries ask. By "headquarters" we mean the sources of strategic pronouncements about the battle, whether they be one board’s analysis in a letter from the president, or those from the generals who preside over scholarly pursuits and other investigative techniques. The cause of missions does not suffer from a paucity of such communiques; it is a temptation, however, to suggest the cause suffers from too many of them. But, this is the age of research, and sound judgment is dependent on facts.
But which of the communiques shall we believe and act upon? Here are a few judgments about the progress of the battle:
"Restructuring of missions organizations is needed" . . . "the number of missionaries has not gained" . . . "new kind of missionaries are needed .. . . . .. hermeneutics is the biggest problem" . . . "theological challenges, socio-political challenges, challenges of strategy emerging Third World missions must not blindly follow Western patterns" . . . "commit 5 percent of present personnel to newly identified unreached people groups by 1985" . . . "become more involved in reaching Muslims" . . . "relief and development agencies can carry out a holistic ministry" . . .
One thing is strikingly clear: there is no single missions frontline and no single battle. The front is all over the world and the battles are many. The challenges are both simple and complicated: reach the unreached, of course, but what about hermeneutics and linguistics, and what about economics and politics, and how can missions get the highly trained "troops" they need to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities? And what about the continuing duty to train the "reserves" -the churches young and old all over the world-from which must come the fresh troops to be thrown into the multiplicity of battles?
To think about the global ramifications and what strategies should be pursued is to expose oneself to the temptation to discouragement, and worse, to quit. What missionary hasn’t thought about a nice little church somewhere, where life is simple and you can concentrate on studying the Bible and preaching a few sermons each week? Why bother with hermeneutics and the, homogeneous unit principle? Because if missionaries don’t, the battle may be lost, or, in some cases they may find themselves fighting the wrong battle in the wrong place.
The world of missions is going to get more complicated and more confusing, not less. This is not a time for people who want to stand on the street corner and pass out tracts. This is the time for asking if tracts are a good weapon, and if we think they are, why do we think so, how do we know for sure, who reads them, with what results, and how can we make them better? If tracts were the weapons of the 1950s but not the 1980s, forget them and find a better weapon. The same questions must be asked regularly about every phase of the missionary’s duties. We can think of few tragedies worse than giving one’s life for something that didn’t count. When that happens, it may not be entirely the fault of the missionary himself; it may just as well be the fault of the general" who threw him into the wrong assignment.
Missionaries must do the brain-demanding work of sifting through the communiques. If they are too busy to figure out where their place is in the battle, and whether or not they are contributing something toward capturing the enemy as he is today, then they should come home and regroup. They cannot wildly chase every foe, but they can by intelligently pursuing carefully defined objectives, find the satisfaction of destroying the enemy’s strongholds. They can begin by asking, Why am I here and what am I doing? and answering those questions in the light of the big issues, whether they be hermeneutics or penetrating a remote tribe, culture and language.
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