My father-in-law, a 60 year veteran of active missionary service, made an interesting comment in a recent conversation. He said, “In our day missions was about geography.” I’m inclined to agree with him. Fifty or sixty years ago missions was about geographical locations. Missionaries went from church to church and presented the need for the Gospel in Africa, South America and Asia. It was about geography. This got me to thinking about our role in missions today and made me wonder if we’ve lost sight of the true purpose of missions.
So, I went back to the father of New Testament missions, the Apostle Paul. He made three missionary journeys recorded in the book of Acts. My Bible even has a map of the route he took on each journey. We read the accounts of what happened in many of the cities. And, we logically conclude that missions is geography. We go to a location, preach the Gospel, build a church and then move on to another location.
But then I read the books of Romans and 1 and 2 Corinthians. Paul is writing to established churches just like he did to the Ephesians, Galatians and Philippians. And what about the Pastoral Epistles? 1 and 2 Timothy are a pastor’s instruction manual. Most of these letters were written after he completed his missionary journeys. This was missions beyond geography. So, why the change? I mean, besides the fact that he was in prison.
Here are my thoughts. In the early years of missions in Brazil the missionaries concentrated on geographical locations because they were reaching people who had not heard the Gospel message. It had never been presented. They were starting from square one. Naturally, they chose to reach cities that had been neglected by previous efforts. In other words, it was about geography.
The following generation comes along and sees that the need for establishing new churches in a particular area is being conducted by the previously established ones that have grown to maturity and autonomy. So, what’s a missionary to do? Go home? Are we finished here? I’d like to think not. I’d like to think there is still something that can be done in these places where the Gospel is firmly planted and growing.
We’ve become creative now with our missionary efforts. We’re seeking new ways to further the Gospel efforts here in Brazil. One way is to mentor and facilitate the national missionary workers by raising funds for construction projects and encouraging them in their work. Another is by establishing a Bible institute for the men and women actively serving in our churches, but not called to full-time ministry. We serve our mission in administrative roles. We involve ourselves in camp ministry with our colleagues and area churches. We encourage and mentor the younger pastors. We partner with the churches in their efforts to reach new neighborhoods in the outlying community. We’ve gone way beyond geography.
I don’t think we’ve lost sight of the true purpose of missions, though. I believe we are where Paul was while he awaited execution in Rome. He was availing the time to encourage and exhort the churches he’d established during the geographical portion of his ministry. The advantage he had was he saw it all in his own lifetime. Many of our first missionaries have been called to Glory without seeing what their efforts have brought. It will be nice to meet up with them and tell them what we were able to do because of their desire to reach those unreached places.
However, I have to say that we have not lost sight of the fact that missions is also still about geography. As I write, a missionary colleague is house hunting in a city that has been untouched by our mission agency. Missionaries in the south of the country are attempting to reach the ever-growing populations. And we are striving to bridge a gap between two valleys that have seen the Lord’s blessing in establishing strong Bible believing churches. The cities between the valleys were not targeted for the Gospel until recently. The difference is that now the national churches are picking up the map and they are perceptive of the need. They’re also making the plans and carrying them out. What do we do? We encourage, guide, raise funds and sometimes even chauffeur them. What can I say? It’s missions beyond geography.