by Francis Rue Steele
What a heart-breaking tragedy to have fine young men wiped out at an advanced post by enemy fire simply through lack of artillery support or ammunition.
What a heart-breaking tragedy to have fine young men wiped out at an advanced post by enemy fire simply through lack of artillery support or ammunition. What a tragic loss of lives because of neglect or carelessness. You can be sure immediate steps will be taken to correct such a situation in the army; perhaps punitive action will be taken also. Yet scant notice is taken of the host of missionary soldiers scattered across the world who fight on doggedly in spite of inadequate spiritual help from home. It is only when a beleaguered soldier is sent back broken and defeated that sympathy is aroused; but then it is too late.
The most serious lack today in the campaign for missionary advance is a shortage of earnest, committed Christians who maintain a powerfully effective ministry of prayer. The main reason for this default is that most Christians do not know how necessary and wonderful the privilege of prayer for missionaries is, either because they have never heard of it, or because they are sometimes hindered by unnecessary administrative barriers. Or else they just don’t care enough to make the effort.
The vital link between Christians at home and missionaries on the field-which alone can provide the all-important support and supply of spiritual artillery and ammunition-is largely absent through ignorance, frustration, or indifference. This situation can be corrected if missions and missionaries alike are convinced of the urgency and are sufficiently concerned to make the effort. It must be corrected if we are to see the flow of power that is "mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds" resulting from genuine, consecrated cooperation between home and field.
Uncommitted Christians can be reached by convinced missionaries, so that the ignorant are informed by a process of education and the frustrated are guided past the numerous yet needless institutional barriers to a warmly personal relationship with an individual missionary. The indifferent will only be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit melting their hearts in love for the Lord Jesus so that they will discipline themselves to maintain a faithful vigil for beloved missionary brothers and sisters on the battle front. This ministry of education and inspiration depends for its effectiveness upon the strength of conviction of missionaries themselves. Therefore, missionaries and people at home must be convinced that personalized prayer is necessary. Then they can be instructed about present hindrances and advised about corrective procedures.
Surely there is no need to point out the importance of prayer support as a basic constituent element in all Christian service. Not only are there abundant scriptural examples of this fact together with frequent exhortations to prayer made by the Lord Jesus; there is also the supreme example of our Lord’s own prayer ministry in behalf of His disciples while He was on earth, and most of all, His present ministry of intercession for all believers.
However, even though there is general agreement that prayer support is needed by those engaged in the Lord’s work, there is much confusion about the practical aspects of establishing connections between praying friends and needy workers. We should note, then, the two factors preeminently demonstrated in the Lord’s prayer ministry for us that are vital to effective prayer support for a missionary: an intimate knowledge of the person, and a detailed knowledge of his needs. The first will supply the necessary motivation of love; the second, content for specific requests.
The one-to-one personal relationship is the key, the fundamental element in effective missionary prayer; we must start here. Even if ample information is available and a program for prayer has been set up, without the stimulus of loving concern for a specific individual that the personal tie affords, it is difficult to maintain a ministry of fervent believingprayer. Programs can be moving and facts compelling, but it is impossible to become compassionately concerned for a budget or an organization. It is a psychological principle that people are interested in people more than in events or facts. Therefore the foundation of effective prayer is to link people together in direct personal fellowship.
It is not enough to assign a missionary to a group. Large or small, church or Sunday school class, this is still an impersonal institutional relationship lacking the warmth and vitality of the family tie. On the other hand, if the praying partner at home is so intimately linked that he feels a direct personal responsibility for his missionary (to such an extent that for him to neglect prayer might result in the missionary’s spiritual or personal harm or danger) there is a far greater likelihood that his prayer ministry will be maintained faithfully. Nothing can compare with this personal link, not only to establish prayer and support, but to increase them. There would be far less need for the frenzied annual missionary conference with all its promotional techniques designed to stimulate or renew commitments, if more Christians were permanently linked by the Lord to a personal representative overseas.
The major obstruction to personalized prayer for missionaries is the largely impersonal character of the relationship between the missionary and his supporters or supporting church. Usually a committee accepts the missionaries for the church to support and assigns gifts from members of the church as it sees fit. The individual church member watches from the sideline, contributing to the missionary fund and receiving reports from time to time about the church’s missionary budget; rarely does he feel a genuine personal tie with any particular missionary.
This procedure is defended on the ground that a personal link between missionary and donor leads to designated giving, and it is much easier for the missionary secretary of the church to handle a collection of undesignated gifts than to keep the detailed books required by individually designated support.
My answer is that just because it is easier does not mean it is best. Technical simplicity is not necessarily practical efficiency. For example, it would be easier for the minister to install an automatic dial-a-message counselling service and dispense with pastoral calls. But I doubt if ailing or bereaved members of the congregation would conclude that that was the right way for a pastor to tend his flock.
It is also said in defense of the unified missionary budget that it prevents a selfish, divisive attitude on the part of individual donors that designated giving supposedly fosters. To this I simply reply, "Have you ever tried it?" And the answer is, usually, "No. If God has joined a prayer partner with His missionary representative and the partnership is carried out in His way, there is no place for such carnality as selfishness or divisiveness. I am personally acquainted with scores of people who have received rich blessing from a person-to-person relationship with their own missionary. Indeed, it has often served as the basis for the family altar and has stimulated marked spiritual growth in those participating.
The best way to establish this loving tie is by having the missionary or missionary family visit the home of a Christian interested in missions. Life together and the enjoyment of fellowship and prayer for a week or a month will bind hearts together in mutual loving concern and intercession that is well-nigh indissolvable. What might have been an administrative assignment becomes a family tie. The praying Christian has just received a new brother or sister from the Lord into his heart and home. This is the basis for real power in prayer.
Interest once aroused must be nurtured. The desire to participate in missions through prayer must be fed with information. Themissionary must send interesting, up-to-date reports regularly. There should be a prayer letter at least every six or eight weeks. More frequent communication is even better; sending less than six letters a year reduces the currency of information and discourages prayer interest.
I once heard a missionary proudly point out that he sent two letters a year to three hundred people. But I was not favorably impressed. Rarely do more than a hundred people use the camp missionary letter in faithful, daily prayer. In formation six months old is hardly fresh. Some North Africa Mission missionaries send two different letters: a bi-monthly letter to their entire mailing list and an additional letter on the odd month to a more deeply interested inner circle. Details vary, but be sure your serious prayer partners are currently informed.
The content of the letter is also very important. Sermons and travelogues are not necesary: specific personal data isabout yourself, your colleagues, and your contacts. Take time and prepare with prayer. Mark the date the letter is due on your calendar and get it off on time. Keep a notebook of requests God lays on your heart as you pray and keep the record tip to date. If you have asked prayer for a certain event or person, give a report later on of results. There is nothing unscriptural about being organized and orderly in the Lord’s work. Your prayer letter is not extra-curricular; it is a vital part of your service; give it its proper priority.
Format is more important than you think. A full page or two of almost illegible mimeographed material with virtually no margin or paragraphing is hard for even your most interested friends to use. Make the effort to make the letter more useful. Moderate expense and common sense will do it. Sometimes reasonable arrangements can be made for offset printing, which allows occasional use of pictures and always has a clear, sharp appearance. Many missionaries have prayer secretaries who take the responsibility for putting out the prayer letter, including the mailing list. This is a very helpful ministry for a missionary which should be recommended more widely to friends at home. Such a direct link helps to get out news of emergencies with dispatch.
Pictures and tapes also help to provide deeper understanding of the heart and character of the work overseas. Here too wisdom must be exercised so that the end result is sound information rather than distracting entertainment. A series of black and white photographs of your station, its environs and your associates, will provide an excellent visual background that makes experiences subsequently described in letters far more meaningful. A good combination of carefully selected slides and an accompanying tape is the next best thing to a personal visit to the field for your praying partner. By your voice you guide your partner around the station and through a day’s work, introducing him to people for whom you have asked prayer. This can be tremendously useful; don’t abuse it.
Avoid the temptation to major on sensational animal shots or nauseating hospital scenes. Remember, you are supposed to be stimulating prayer, not shocking people. Diseased or healthy, naked or clothed, illiterate or educated-without Christ they’re lost; the need is salvation not sophistication. Tapes and pictures work both ways, however. Your praying friends can give you a real boost by sending pictures of scenes and friends at home with taped messages to remind you that they are faithfully remembering you in prayer.
One other vital step remains. The personal link has been established, the flow of information is operating; now the time and place for prayer must be set and kept. It sounds very simple, yet often it is at this point that the whole scheme breaks down. Time must be made for this ministry; it will ;not be found. Nothing can be allowed to interrupt. The prayer u partner holds the spiritual lifeline for the missionary.
The first and most important need of the missionary is prayer for his personal spiritual life. He is depending on faith1 friends at home to pray that his devotional life before the Lord shall be unbroken and blessed by fellowship in the Word ‘and prayer. Missionaries are wonderful people but, after all, vulnerable to fleshly and satanic temptations.
The missionary task looms larger than ever before us. Multiplying needs and challenging opportunities confront us. However, let us not forget that it is not so much that we need more of anything but better. Not more men and money; not even more prayer as such, but effective intercessory prayer. If Christians presently interested in missions would spend time regularly in fervent, believing prayer, the whole complexion of the campaign would be altered. No longer would there be an attitude of "something, somewhere, somehow, I hope." Instead, there would be a demonstration of the glory of God in the name of our blessed Lord Jesus by the power of the Spirit.
EMQ, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 136-137. 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.