by Jim Reapsome
It’s postmortem time – the time every three years when, after an Urbana missionary convention, we look around and wonder when we are going to see a groundswell of young missionary candidates applying for service overseas.
It’s postmortem time—the time every three years when, after an Urbana missionary convention, we look around and wonder when we are going to see a groundswell of young missionary candidates applying for service overseas. Your spine tingles when you see students surging forward at Urbana, declaring their willingness to go. You suffer a relapse when you realize that for the last dozen years we have seen no appreciable increase in missionary personnel.
You ask yourself, "Is there a bubble in the line?" Is there some inherent blockage we are too dumb to recognize? What could possibly be the reason for something less than the full, dynamic flow of missionary recruits going overseas.
Before we look at our machinery, we need to examine our theology. The field is the world; the field is ripe; the laborers are few. Jesus Christ is lord of the harvest. He calls people to himself. He calls his own to be fruitful disciples; he calls people to go. You would think the churches would be swamped with volunteers, but they aren’t.
We are compelled to confess disobedience, unconcern, privatism, affluence, self-indulgence and hard hearts. Jesus saves…us, period. I go to church, period. Theologically, we are out of touch with truth.
But there are those who say, "Here am I, send me. " What about them? Back to Theology I. Ever here the parable of he sower and the seed? How many of those who heard (they all heard) did anything? What percentage of the "soils" (people who heard) produced fruit?
Primarily the parable refers to hearing and doing the gospel, but the principle is valid when applied to enthusiastic missionary volunteers. Many respond to the command, the appeal, the urgency, even the excitement of missions, but few last. They don’t stick it out because of the enemy of the harvest (who delights to pluck away the good seed of missionary zeal). They don’t stick it out because of persecution (what a waste of your life to be a missionary, say older and wiser heads, including some parents and pastors). They don’t stick it out because they’re choked by weeds (cares, entanglements, enticements of secular money, careers and love affairs).
Next, consider the actual mechanics of getting from Urbana to the mission field. See how many roadblocks you can find. (It helps to imagine you are a 20-year-old engineering student wandering in a daze around the missionary vendor stalls at Urbana, with your Intercristo vocational /geographical /mission agency printout in hand).
What can I do overseas? What career preparation and training do I need to do it? Who will send me? Who will pay me? Career choice is a persistent plague on young people. Getting answers to questions like these is a terrible chore. We have to recognize that a lot of missionary enthusiasm goes down the drain at this point.
To make matters worse, there is no straight, paved road of preparation. Stop at one stall and a nice man says, "Sorry, you better quit engineering, take some liberal arts courses, and go to seminary." At another stall, an equally nice man says, "Sure, we can use engineers. We’re building an irrigation dam to help the poor farmers in our area."
Another damper on Urbana excitement– after the kids find out there is more to missionary service than strapping your guitar on your back and hopping a jet to Mexico City-are the realities overseas. I mean, why bother, when churches are growing faster in Africa and Latin America than here? Why bother, when overseas Christians want to run their own show and aren’t too keen on having us Westerners anyway? Why, some of them are sending out missionaries themselves! Why bother when that brother I met from Uganda is light years ahead of me spiritually?
Look again overseas and what do yu see? Great pools of security and political stability? Kids go home from Urbana and start to watch TV and scan newspaper headlines again. Every day it seems a government topples somewhere. Why change career course now and wind up wasting my time preparing to be a missionary in some country that will go Marxist any day now? And the flames of missionary passion flicker and go out.
Wait a minute! Just suppose those thousands of Urbana missionary volunteers do negotiate the tangle of career choices and preparation possibilities. Suppose they are not enticed away by Satan. Suppose they survive persecution and "choking weeds" of worldly cares. Suppose they get satisfying answers to their hard questions about political and church realities overseas. Then what?
There’s yet another "bubble in the line" -support money. My board tells me to raise so much and my church elders go through the roof. "Twenty thousand dollars to be a missionary!"
There you have it, folks-a few reasons why the Urbana floodtide of missionary enthusiasm becomes a trickle. Must it be that way? No, but it will be, unless:
* Pastors, parents, youth and missionary counselors appreciate the scope and depth of the problem, theologically and practically- and look at the "bubble" from the perspective of youth and the enormous pressures facing them. Many of them remain to be convinced that serious help is on the way. Simply commanding, "Go, go, go! " isn’t what they need.
* Sending agencies cooperate much more extensively in developing unified standards (who they accept and with what qualifications) and recruiting policies. The confusion of counsel at Urbana missionary stalls is appalling. An excellent first step toward correcting this situation would be for mission boards to get behind Inter-Varsity’s "Urbana Onward" follow-up conferences.
Missions and churches get their financial acts together. For example, if individual support and deputation have outlived their usefulness, admit it. Why must we keep banging our heads on the ceiling of inflation and currency exchange rates?
Solutions won’t come easily-they never have when the objective is unleashing "divine power to destroy strongholds." Paul said it well and accurately: "We are not carrying on a worldly war." To capture and conserve the fruit of Urbana will require much more than a one-time fusillade.
Copyright © 1980 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.