by Marten Visser
As a church planting missionary, I have made a remarkable observation. Lost people, without Christ and without hope in this world, have a much better chance of hearing the gospel of saving grace from a missionary if they live near an international school.
As a church planting missionary, I have made a remarkable observation. Lost people, without Christ and without hope in this world, have a much better chance of hearing the gospel of saving grace from a missionary if they live near an international school. This is true on a macro-level; countries which have good international schools are more likely to have missionaries than in other countries. This is true on the meso-level; within a country, a high proportion of missionaries live in cities with international schools. And this is true on a micro-level; in big cities, many missionaries are found in close proximity to the international schools.
This is bothersome. I am starting to think that we in the missionary community often do not have our priorities straight. Are we focusing and relying too much on education and not going to where the pressing needs are? I understand that it’s possible to present the pressing needs of the area that happens to have an international school. For that matter, it’s not hard to talk up the pressing needs of the community where your or my home church is located either. But church planting missionaries are called to honestly assess where their pioneer ministry can make the most difference. Often that will not be close to an international school. Are we allowing the Holy Spirit to point us in that direction? Or do we confine his leading to within driving distance of our preferred schooling option?
At this point some readers will probably start to feel uneasy. Don’t let me stop you. That’s why I am writing this article. Some may be thinking, “But if we move to an area that has almost no churches and missionaries, my children won’t get the best education I can provide for them!” I could point out that home schooling has shown to lead to outstanding academic results. Or I could point out that missionaries of previous generations were willing to go wherever the Lord sent them, even if that meant sending their children to a boarding school. But I don’t want to do that. The most important question is: “Since when do the perceived schooling needs for our children take precedence over serving God to the best of our ability?”
In March 2005 George Barna researched what the most important issues were to parents living in America. According to Barna, “By far the top-rated outcome was getting a good education. Four out of every ten parents (thirty-nine percent) listed [education] as a critical outcome they were committed to facilitating” (Barna 2004). This was mentioned far more often than helping a child to feel loved, providing a firm spiritual foundation or making the child feel happy. Even among the Christian “born-again” population (admittedly a very broad social category), most parents valued a good education over the salvation of their child. In our next contextualized version of the Bible we can maybe change that very old-fashioned “What good will it be for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul?” (Luke 9:25). Instead, we can address the felt needs of today by asking, “What good will it be for you that your soul is saved if you don’t have a masters degree from a prestigious university?”
My hope is that missionaries have not gone that far in assimilating to the values of this world. However, this Barna survey shows the exaggerated importance education has in our Western culture today (this is even more so in Asian cultures). And for better or worse, we as missionaries are influenced by our culture (even in the area of over-valuing education). We need to be asking: Are we getting our priorities right? Are we really doing our children a favor when we show them that our concern for their education, which is basically a concern for how well they will be able to compete in our society, is bigger than our concern to serve God? Education is not that important. Let’s seek the Lord to find out where he wants us to serve. Let’s be willing to go wherever he sends us. And let’s trust him that when we are obedient, he will take care of our children. Perhaps his care might not include what we see as the best education. So what?
Barna, George. 2004. Accessed July 30, 2004 from ww.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?
Marten Visser and his wife are church planters in Bangkok with OMF. They have two children. Their daughter is in an international school and their son is in a Thai kindergarten. By the end of 2006 they hope to move to Isaan, a less-reached area of Thailand where their children will probably be home-schooled.
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