First, Tony and Barbara Hynes came and told us about their work in the south of France, one of the most barren and discouraging mission-fields in the world. France, like Britain, is a post-Christian society, dominated by secularism and spiritual apathy. But in Britain you will at least find an evangelical church in almost every sizable town. In France, by contrast, you can drive for hours without finding any gospel witness. Tony and Barbara’s story is one of plodding obedience over many years, with little encouragement, seeing few conversions and little growth.
Then Trevor Baker came to us to talk about the work in Albania. What a different story! For forty years, Albania was a closed country ruled by the most hard-line Marxist regime in the world. All places of worship were closed down and all religion banned. Every child growing up in Albania was indoctrinated with atheism and the teaching of evolution. But in 1991 the Marxist government fell and Albania became an open country. Missionaries flocked in and found people hungry for the truth. Churches were planted almost overnight and grew quickly. Trevor told us of churches planting daughter-churches which in turn have planted grand-daughter churches. That initial explosive growth has slowed down now, but the opportunities are still endless. The great task for missionaries now is to teach and build up the churches, and to train Albanian Christians for future leadership. The Albanian church is so young! Remember, its most experienced members have been believers for no more than twelve years.
Next, Naphtally Ogallo spent a Sunday with us. We were sorry he couldn’t preach as planned. But at least he spent ten minutes in our evening service talking about the situation from which he comes. We can’t call Naphtally a missionary. He is simply a pastor, leading a church in his own country, Kenya. But that church (Trinity Baptist Church, Nairobi) was planted by a missionary, Keith Underhill back in 1978. And, using that church as a base, Keith is still involved in planting churches in many parts of Kenya. Like many African countries, Kenya is a place where the majority of people have some religious interest. A large majority call themselves Christians. Keith and his colleagues can travel to a town, let it be known that they intend to hold a service, and hundreds of people will gather to hear the gospel preached. Dozens of new churches are being established under the oversight of Trinity, including some in areas that have never before been evangelised. Again, the opportunities – and the needs – are limitless.
Our final visitor was Paulo Nunes from Seixal, Portugal. Like Naphtally, he’s not strictly a missionary but a pastor serving in his own country (though supported, in part, through the European Missionary Fellowship). Paulo reminded us that the Protestant Reformation never touched Portugal. The country has been dominated for hundreds of years by the Roman Catholic Church. 99% of the people would still call themselves Roman Catholics. But things are changing. The grip of the RC Church on minds are hearts is being loosened. Many people are turning to secularism and materialism. But others are open to the truth. Evangelicals are free to preach the gospel in a way that has never been true before – on the radio and TV, even in schools. Paulo told us the story of how he attended the funeral of a Roman Catholic relative – and how willing the priest was that he should stand up and preach for a few minutes at the graveside.
Four very different situations. We as a church have had the opportunity to listen, to learn, to pray, to show our concern for them all. And then there’s all the other situations in which we take an interest: Turkey, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Colombia… and others besides.
Why is it important that we maintain an interest in the cause of the gospel overseas? Do we need to spend time listening to reports from our missionary friends? Don’t we have enough to do here at home? Millions of people in our own country have never heard the true gospel. Can we afford to put time, energy, resources, prayer into supporting Christians and churches across the world?
Let me give you four reasons why we must maintain this global concern.
1) The Lord Jesus commands it. Before he left this world to return to heaven, Jesus said to his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). So the duty of the Church, till the very end of history, is to go to all nations with the gospel. And if we ourselves don’t go, surely the very least we can do is to support those who go on our behalf. Again, Jesus told his disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Yes, they had the responsibility to evangelise the place where they themselves were living – Jerusalem. But their concern mustn’t stop there. They had to make sure the gospel reached first Judea, then Samaria – and then even the remote places about which they knew nothing: the ends of the earth.
2) Until all nations have been reached, the Lord Jesus cannot return. “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). Do you long for the return of Christ? Then you must take an interest in the progress of the gospel throughout the whole world.
3) We owe a debt of gratitude to the missionaries who first brought the gospel to the British Isles. There was a time when Britain was thought of as the final frontier. (It was only conquered by the Romans in 43 AD). Brave Christian missionaries crossed the Channel and risked their lives to preach the gospel to our ancestors. If they hadn’t done so, there would be no Church in Britain today. We would still be without hope and without God in the world. Those first missionaries could have said, “Well it’s not our responsibility – there’s enough for us to do back home”. Thank God they didn’t. Thank God for the churches who sent them, prayed for them and supported them financially. Freely you have received. Freely give.
4) It is God’s will that the Church throughout the world should think of itself as a single community – one body in Christ. We need to be in contact with Christians and churches throughout the world for their good and for ours. They aren’t complete without us and we aren’t complete without them. The apostle Paul was determined that the Gentile churches he planted all over the Roman Empire, and the Jewish churches in Jerusalem and Judaea, should be joined by bonds of love and mutual support. He laid down the principle: “Your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.” (2 Corinthians 8:14). We need the prayers, the encouragement, the example of churches overseas. We can learn from the fresh zeal of the first-generation believers in Albania. We can be challenged by the perseverance and faithfulness of missionaries in France. When we are tempted to think that the cause of the gospel is declining, we can be encouraged by the extraordinary growth of churches in Kenya or Nigeria. If we don’t keep in touch with the global picture, we can become selfish, inward looking, blinkered. We’ll become preoccupied with our own little hobby-horses and forget God’s great purposes for the world. We need things that only our friends across the world can give.
And they need the things that we can give. Relatively speaking, we are wealthy. Christians in Kenya need our financial support. Churches in Albania with no experienced leaders need our men to give teaching, take conferences, train pastors. Christians in lonely isolated places need our letters and e-mails. Christians everywhere need our prayers.
I’m glad there are Christians and churches all over the world who stay in touch with us, take an interest in our work, pray for us, support us. And I’m glad that God has allowed us, in some small way, to return their kindness.