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Tim Challies

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missions

1 year 9 months ago
There is some of the missionary in every Christian. As the Lord extends to us the ability to trust in him and as he begins that work of transforming us from the inside out, he gives us the desire to share our faith with others and to extend his love to them. Since the church’s earliest day this desire has motivated Christians to leave behind all they know and to travel to the earth’s farthest reaches. A relative newcomer on the scene is the short-term missions trip and other similar means through which Christians can participate on a part-time basis as “vacationaries.” Such ministry is the subject of Robert Lupton’s Toxic Charity.

Toxic Charity is a book about doing missions right. The subtitle pretty much lays it out: “How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It).” Lupton honors the mindset that compels Christians toward foreign short-term missions and inner-city projects at home, but believes that the church has failed to ask simple questions like these: Who is really benefiting? Who are we really seeking to serve? Is it the poor and those in need, or are we primarily serving ourselves? He contends that “what Americans avoid facing is that while we are very generous in charitable giving, much of that money is either wasted or actually harms the people it is targeted to help. …The compassion industry is almost universally accepted as a virtuous and constructive enterprise. But what is so surprising is that its outcomes are almost entirely unexamined.”

It is not the Christian’s motivation he questions as much as the unintended consequences of rightly motivated efforts. “For all our efforts to eliminate poverty—our entitlements, our programs, our charities—we have succeeded only in creating a permanent underclass, dismantling their family structures, and eroding their ethic of work. And our poor continue to become poorer. … Giving to those in need what they could be gaining from their own initiative may well be the kindest way to destroy people.” In Toxic Charity he offers “basic operating principles that distinguish wise and prudent charitable efforts from the destructive do-gooder practices currently dominating the compassion industry. After describing the problem and hearing stories of people who are modeling solutions, my goal is to provide for caring people a checklist of criteria they can use to determine which actions they should undertake when they want to help others.” The simple fact is that we like to give—to give money, to give food, to give help, to give whatever most immediately meets a need—and then to walk away. But this kind of giving is harming rather than helping.

Drawing upon four decades of urban ministry, primarily in poverty-stricken areas of Atlanta, Lupton offers a better way forward, and does so in the form of an “Oath for Compassionate Service,” a missions equivalent to the doctor’s Hippocratic Oath.

  • Never do for the poor what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves.
  • Limit one-way giving to emergency situations.
  • Strive to empower the poor through employment, lending, and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements.
  • Subordinate self-interests to the needs of those being served. • Listen closely to those you seek to help, especially to what is not being said—unspoken feelings may contain essential clues to effective service.
  • Above all, do no harm.

These are good guidelines, but something crucial is missing, which brings me to my one significant critique of the book

Toxic Charity’s great weakness is that Lupton appears to hold to an incomplete gospel—a social gospel. His is a gospel of love and service and charity, but not a gospel of Christ’s atoning death satisfying the just wrath of God and saving people from the eternal consequences of their rejection of God. He believes “compassionate people desire to see wholeness restored to struggling communities and to the people who reside there.” I agree entirely. However, compassionate people will differ significantly on what they understand by “wholeness.” Lupton’s version may include some vague kind of spirituality, and Christian spirituality even, but he never makes clear how the gospel of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection makes us spiritually whole. In fact, he never makes the gospel clear at all. He mentions in an off-hand way that he is a Presbyterian married to a Roman Catholic and that they alternate churches week-by-week, one Sunday in her Roman Catholic mass and the next in his Presbyterian service. This does not sound like a sign of spiritual strength or health, and may go a long way to explaining the weakened gospel.

This incomplete gospel leads him to propose incomplete solutions—solutions that may save people from hunger and poverty, but still leave them facing an eternity in hell. I do not counter-propose that we offer help to the poor only to create opportunities to preach the gospel to them; however, to help people economically and to offer them no gospel at all is a badly missed opportunity and a woefully incomplete understanding of our calling in this world.

Is Toxic Charity worth reading? I believe it is. Much of Lupton’s diagnosis of the issue is both helpful and convicting. The book is quite helpful as far as it goes. However, the reader will still have work to do as he applies these principles to a more complete gospel. My recommendation would be to read one other book first: When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. This book has a a holistic understanding of poverty that includes a relationship with God through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Once you have read that, you may wish to follow it up with Toxic Charity.

2 years 7 months ago
If books dealing with death are to be a regular part of my reading diet, so too are books on missions. I don’t mean missional living or the mere theory of mission work, but books describing real work on the real mission field. In Reckless Abandon, David Sitton of To Every Tribe Ministries has given us a good one as he recounts a lifetime of experiences among the most difficult to reach peoples.

While Reckless Abandon is certainly not less than a book of stories from the field, it offers significantly more than that. As Sitton recounts his experiences in Papua New Guinea, he weaves into it his own philosophy of missions, one that calls for (you guessed it), reckless abandon. He defines the term like this: “To give oneself unrestrainedly to the cause of Jesus and the promotion of His kingdom without concern for danger and the consequences of that action.” His life models just that.

That kind of recklessness and abandon begins with an understanding of the beauty and power of the gospel. He says it well: “The gospel is so valuable that no risk is unreasonable. Life is gained by laying it down for the gospel. If I live, I win and get to keep on preaching Christ. If I die, I win bigger by going directly to be with Christ and I get to take a few tribes with me.”

His life story exemplifies that level of commitment. Converted as a young man, he very quickly determined that he was being called to foreign missions, and not only that, but was being called to go where no one had gone before. He wanted to be like Paul, not building on another man’s foundation but laying the foundation himself. He soon found himself in Papua New Guinea, trekking through the jungle, approaching tribes that had never even seen even a single caucasian man before. Wherever he went he proclaimed the gospel. Needless to say, his life has not been one of ease, but the Lord has used him powerfully to save the lost and to inspire others to follow in his footsteps.

I would encourage you to read Reckless Abandon to marvel at how the Lord has used a man who, by his own description, seems to be unremarkable and no more than average in many of his abilities, but driven by a passion to see God worshipped all the way to the earth’s farthest corners. And read it to see how much work remains and how many more people are needed to take the gospel to those who have never once heard the name of Jesus. 

Written in an informal, conversational tone, it is not difficult to imagine as you read these pages that Sitton is sitting with you, simply recounting some of what he has seen and done in his thirty-four years of ministry. You will be inspired; you will rejoice.

Let me close with John Piper’s commendation:

All I have read and heard and watched inclines me to rejoice over the vision and theology and mission of David Sitton. I thank God for his Christ-exalting, God-centered, Bible-based courage to focus his life and ministry on the unreached tribal peoples. Like no one else I know, David Sitton puts his body where his mouth is. The risks are high; the reward is overwhelming. I commend To Every Tribe Ministries for your support and involvement. May the Lord of glory spread his fame through all who partner with this ministry to make a name for Jesus among the nations. 

3 years 5 months ago
Dear God, if you should give us a son, grant that he may work for you in China.” That was the prayer of James and Amelia Taylor as they consecrated their first child to the Lord, months before he was even born. That child entered the world on May 21, 1832. His parents named him James Hudson Taylor, but called him by his middle name. Hudson Taylor would, indeed, grow up to work for the Lord in China. Not only that, but he would be used mightily by God and he would transform the way missionaries worked among the people they ministered to. In his own way he would change the world.

Taylor became a Christian as a teen and was immediately drawn to China, deciding that the Lord was calling him to serve as a missionary. He spent several years studying medicine and the Mandarin language before departing on the long and perilous journey to the Far East. Very quickly he made the radical decision to adopt Chinese dress and hairstyles, understanding that such things could increase his credibility in the eyes of those he loved (even if they would make him a laughing stock among his fellow missionaries). He went on to found China Inland Mission, an organization that continues to exist today (though under a new name). The story of his life deserves a lot more attention than I could give it in just a few short paragraphs, so I will hold off and point you to Christianity Today’s brief biographical sketch.

Hudson Taylor is the subject of Vance Christie’s biography Hudson Taylor: Gospel Pioneer to China. I love missionary biographies, so I suppose I was predisposed to enjoy this book. Sure enough, I enjoyed it a lot. Christie is a talented biographer and in this book he works with a fascinating subject. In place of sharing the details of Taylor’s life, let me tell you a few of my takeaways from this biography, a few of the things I’ve had to ponder as I’ve been given just a glimpse into the life of a great man.

Called to Suffer. Hudson Taylor’s call to take the gospel to a foreign land was a call to suffer. And this man suffered very deeply, eventually burying his wife and four children on the mission field. I wrote about this a little bit more in an article from last week titled The Sweet Prattle. The call to serve as a missionary may have seemed glamorous to those who sponsored him and it may seem glamorous to us today, but in reality it was a call to suffer and to suffer deeply. Yet it is clear that this suffering was an important forming influence in his life; in many ways it made him the man he was. The Lord did not work in him apart from this suffering, but through it.

God’s Preparation. When God calls a man to serve him, he also prepares him for such service. Hudson Taylor invested a great deal of effort in his own preparation through learning languages and studying medicine. But the Holy Spirit also prepared him by granting him a great love for the Chinese people, by giving him great confidence in the gospel, and by granting him continued awakening and re-awakening. This man was equipped vocationally, but also spiritually.

God Provides. Taylor had an unshakeable belief in God’s ability and desire to provide for the work he had called him to. Where God had called, God would also equip. For that reason Taylor relied fully upon God, refusing to plead for money in the ways most missionaries did. He would even refuse to have a collection taken up after he spoke at a church, asking everyone to wait and pray about whether the Lord would have them support his work. He would rather people not give at all then have them give out of emotion.

Those are just 3 of the many lessons we can learn from this man’s life.

In Hudson Taylor: Gospel Pioneer to China, Vance Christie has given us a short but powerful account of the life of a man who was truly great in the Kingdom of God. If it has been too long since you have read the biography of a missionary, don’t miss out on the opportunity to be blessed by this one.

 

3 years 6 months ago
In the summer of 1805 a young man set sail on the long, perilous journey to India. He left friends, family and prospects behind in order to serve as a missionary in a foreign land. Already suffering the tuberculosis, the disease that had claimed the life of his mother and would soon also claim his two sisters, he forsook the prospects of a comfortable life as a minister or scholar and traveled to the far side of the world. He did so for the love of India, for the love of the gospel and ultimately for the love of God.

Henry Martyn was a brilliant scholar who studied at Cambridge and won the coveted title of Senior Wrangler which was bestowed upon the student who won the Cambridge University annual mathematics problem-solving competition, and was thus recognized as the University’s best undergraduate mathematician. While he was a brilliant mathematician, he also had a natural proclivity for languages. After his conversion as a young man his mentor Charles Simeon encouraged him to abandon his intention of becoming a lawyer and to dedicate his life to serving God as a missionary. Martyn was subsequently ordained in the Church of England and traveled to India as a chaplain of the East India Company. He was to live only six years after arriving in India, but in that time he produced an incredible body of work. He translated the New Testament, the Anglican Prayer Book and the Anglican Marriage Service into Hindustani; he translated the parables for use in his schools; he also ensured that the Persian translation of the New Testament was the finest possible, translated the Psalms in Persian and oversaw the translation of the Arabic New Testament. This translations were ultimately printed and distributed in the tens of thousands.

Henry MartynWhile he is remembered primarily as a translator, Martyn was also a pastor and preached on a weekly basis. He desperately desired to see lives changed, yet in his ministry witnessed not a single conversion. While this often left him discouraged, he took refuge in knowing that he had preached the gospel and left the listener without excuse. After his death it was discovered that several people were converted through his ministry and we can only wait until eternity to discover how many were saved by the reading of the Scriptures he translated.

Throughout his ministry Martyn suffered from poor health and often terrible loneliness. He desperately loved a woman he had left behind in England and often wished that he had been able to marry her and enjoy her companionship. Yet he labored on, finding his joy and strength in the Lord.

Thomas Babbington Macaulay memorialized Martyn as follows:

Here Martyn lies. In Manhood’s early bloom
The Christian Hero finds a Pagan tomb.
Religion, sorrowing o’er her favourite son,
Points to the glorious trophies that he won.
Eternal trophies! not with carnage red,
Not stained with tears by hapless captives shed,
But trophies of the Cross! for that dear name,
Through every form of danger, death, and shame,
Onward he journeyed to a happier shore,
Where danger, death, and shame assault no more.

It is fitting, perhaps, that the grave of Henry Martyn, a man who chose to live and die in obscurity, is nowhere to be found. The graveyard where he was laid to rest in Tokat has long since been destroyed in order to make way for building projects. Yet if one ventures to a nearby museum he will find the memorial stone that was erected over his grave many years after his death. The name has been defaced, but the inscription is still legible:

Chaplain of the Hon. East India Company,
Born at Truro, England, February 18, 1781,
Died at Tokat, October 16, 1812.
He laboured for many years in the East, striving to
Benefit mankind both in this work and that to come.
He translated the Holy Scriptures into Hindustani
And Persian,
And preached the God and Savior of whom they testify.
He will long be remembered in the East, where he was
Known as a man of God.

Henry Martyn is an inspiring figure who often reminded me of David Brainerd in his dedication, honesty, transparency and sacrifice. Like Brainerd, he made a lasting, eternal impact in only a few short years. I thoroughly enjoyed reading For the Love of India and eagerly commend it to you.

4 years 8 months ago
In 2006 Americans spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.6 billion on short-term missions. Some 2.2 million Americans were involved in one of these trips, up from just 120,000 two decades before. Such misson work has very nearly become a rite of passage for young American Christians. Many years ago I spoke to a missionary who was often asked if teams could come and visit his work in South America so they could help build a home or rebuild a church. He told me then that such trips often do more harm than good; that he actually dreads having yet another team show up, trying to help. I did not have time to ask him much more that day, but his words have long shaped my view of short-term missions. But now, having read Steve Corbett’s and Brian Fikkert’s When Helping Hurts I understand more. Too often our well-intentioned efforts to help actually hinder the work of alleviating poverty.

The title and subtitle of this book are deliberately provocative: When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself. It is difficult for us to imagine how our efforts to help can actually harm both ourselves and the people to whom we extend a hand. And yet those who work with the poor can testify to a great deal of harm done to both.

The great strength of this book is a holistic understanding of poverty which teaches that being poor is much more than simply not having money. God created each of us to have four foundational relationships: relationship with God, with self, with others and with the rest of creation. When these various relationships are functioning properly, people are able to fulfill their God-given mandate to glorify Him through their labor. But when one or more of these is out-of-place, as they tend to be in the post-Fall world, a person is unable to fulfill that calling. Because humans are so multi-faceted, we need to have a multi-faceted view of poverty-alleviation. If we address only economic needs, handing money to those who have less than we do, we do nothing to alleviate the greater poverty of spirit. “Poverty is rooted in broken relationships, so the solution to poverty is rooted in the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection to put all things into right relationship again.”

Standing in the position of the wealthy, we often feel like we know all the answers; that if the poor were just a bit more like us, they would be much better off. But “one of the biggest problems in many poverty-alleviation efforts,” say the authors, “is that their design and implementation exacerbates the poverty of being of the economically rich—their god-complexes—and the poverty of being of the economically poor—their feelings of inferiority and shame.” Or else we are too quick to act without understanding the nature of the poverty before us, without understanding whether people need relief, rehabilitation or development. According to the authors, “One of the biggest mistakes that North American churches make—by far—is in applying relief to situations in which rehabilitation or development is the appropriate intervention.” There are times when giving money is the right thing to do and usually that is the easy thing to do. But far more often, we need to give time, attention and discipleship.

This book offers a much-needed dose of humility to missions, both long-term and short-term. America has the proud distinction of being the nation that gives more than any other for the alleviation of poverty. And yet Americans may have a sense of superiority, a kind of confidence, that causes them to do more harm than good, or as much harm as good, in many contexts. The authors warn their fellow Americans against the tendency to assume they’ve got all the answers and to assume that a quick fix is a good fix. The challenges facing those who are impoverished are nearly always far more than a few dollars, or a few thousand dollars, can easily fix. This book, with its holistic view of poverty and its eye on Jesus’ power to renew and restore what is broken, offers true hope.

If you are going to go on a short-term missions project you need to read this book; if your church is getting involved in working with the poor in your community, you need to read this book; if your church is looking for involvement with missions work overseas, you need to read this book. Corbett and Fikkert tells what we’ve been doing wrong and offer solid, practical, biblical advice on what we can do to get it right at last.

 

5 years 6 months ago
“The fateful day began with deceptive normalcy at John and Betty Stam’s missionary residence in Tsingteh, China. Both the wood-burning stoves had been lit and were starting to heat up nicely, helping to lessen the chill that gripped the large old house that cold, early December morning. The Stams, along with the six Chinese who lived with them in the house, had already eaten breakfast.

“John hoped to study and get some correspondence done that morning. Betty was preparing to give their three-month old baby, Helen Priscilla, a bath, with some assistance from the amah Mei Tsong-fuh. The cook, Li Ming-chin, busied himself in the kitchen. His wife, mother, and two children similarly had begun their various daily activities.

“John and Betty had been in Tsingteh for just two weeks. They had come there under the auspices of the China Inland Mission to oversee the infant Christian work that had been established in the southern portion of Anhwei Province. There were very few Christians in the area, but the Stams were thrilled at the prospect of carrying out pioneer evangelistic work to help bring the Gospel to that needy part of China.”

So begins this biography of John and Betty Stam. In 1934 they were serving as missionaries in China, attempting to take the gospel message to unreached people. This was during the Chinese civil war and the Stams, along with their infant daughter, fell into the hands of Communist soldiers. After demanding and confiscating all of the Stams money, the soldiers took the couple prisoner. No sooner had they been dragged to prison that their baby began to cry and one of the soldiers suggesting killing the child lest she prove a hindrance. One of the prisoners who was just released asked why they would kill an innocent child, at which point the soldiers asked if he would be willing to die in her place. He expressed his willingness and he was struck down in front of the Stams.

Two days later, on the morning of December 8, 1934, John and Betty Stam were marched down the streets of Miaosheo to their deaths; the Communist soldiers wanted to make an example of the foreigners. A Chinese shopkeeper tried to persuade the soldiers to spare their lives but when the Communists searched this man’s home, it was found to contain a Bible and a hymn book. He, too, was marched to his death. John was forced to kneel and he was immediately beheaded. Betty and the shopkeeper were killed just moments later.

The deaths of John and Betty Stam electrified Christians around the world. The events of those days were widely publicized and many hundreds of people were inspired by their example to become missionaries and to support foreign missions. They spoke as loudly in death as they had in life.

In a short book of just about 200 pages, biographer Vance Christie tells the story of the lives of these two saints. Through their short lives they made an impact on the souls of many Chinese; through their deaths, suffered willingly for the cause of their Savior, they inspired many more. And even today, through books like this, they speak of the love they had for the One who had saved them. This is a very good missionary biography and one I enjoyed thoroughly.

6 years 6 months ago
Love him or hate him, it is tough to accuse Shane Claiborne of being an armchair quarterback. He is not a man who seeks to convince people to do something that he is unwilling to do himself. Instead he calls Christians to live as radicals while he himself lives in a radically counterculture way. Claiborne is one of the founders of The Simple Way, a small but increasingly high-profile ministry among the poor in Philadelphia. He lives here in poverty, choosing to spend his days with the poor and the destitute, serving them and sharing in their trials. The Irresistible Revolution is Claiborne’s biographical account of how he became the activist he is today and it is his cry for other Christians to become “ordinary radicals.”

Much of The Irresistible Revolution revolves around Claiborne’s journeys to India, where he spent several months working with Mother Teresa, and Iraq where he came face-to-face with the devastation caused by the war in that nation. As his story has been told, Claiborne has become a kind of folk hero and especially so among young church-goers. They see in his life a way of living out Scriptural principles; they are swept away by it. A skilled writer and storyteller, Claiborne uses the book to teach some foundational ways of living life and understanding the Bible. This book is a quick and enjoyable read. Much of his critique against the North American church is accurate and even necessary. He is right that the church has become apathetic and at times overly politicized. In many churches there is far more heat than light; in many more there is neither heat nor light. His concern for those who have little or no voice in society is much needed. But even though some of what he teaches is biblically sound, underlying the book are many foundational assumptions and doctrines that are patently unbiblical and that undermine the message he seeks to share. I would like to point out just a few examples.

Claiborne advocates a kind of spirituality that is far more Mother Teresa than Jesus Christ and as he does so reveals that he is willing to bend, break, stretch and pull the Scripture to fit what he needs it to say in order to support his desires. While idealistic and radical in his interpretation of the Christian Scriptures, he is remarkably naive (at least I hope it is naivite) about other religions. When in India he often heard the “mystical word namaste” whispered in his ear. He says the word means, “I honor the Holy One who lives in you” and then teaches a brand of pantheism that has more to do with Hinduism than with Christianity. “I could see God in their eyes. … I began to understand what it meant when the curtain of the temple was torn open as Jesus died on the cross. Not only was God redeeming that which was profane but God was settling all that was sacred free. Now God dwelled not behind the veil in the temple but in the eyes of the dying and the poor, in the ordinary and mundane, in things like bread and wine, or chai and samosas.” He says also, “As I looked into the eyes of the dying, i felt like I was meeting God. It was as if I were entering the Holy of Holies of the temple—sacred, mystical.” What word is there for this but blasphemy?

Claiborne is a pacifist, teaching in several places that there are is no such thing as just war or redemptive violence. That violence can in some instances lead to good is a myth, he insists. Though he is a pacifist, he often advocates a kind of civil disobedience that seems to be in direct contradiction to the Bible’s explicit teaching that all authority is God-given and that we are to submit to authority unless it commands us to do something explicitly forbidden by Scripture. Claiborne advocates a “greater good” philosophy of obedience that allows people to disobey the government or other authorities when they are acting in a way that seems unjust. Hence he will encourage homeless people to take over a building that is not theirs and stand with them against the authorities when they seek to remove them. Yet this raises an interesting contradiction. If in his worldview violence causes further violence, how can he permit and advocate disobedience as if this will not cause further disobedience? The book is rife with this kind of contradiction.

Not surprisingly, there are problems also with the message of this book. The message Claiborne teaches, preaches and models is not a gospel of salvation through the atoning death of Jesus Christ. It is not a gospel that saves souls as much as it is a gospel that brings wealth to the poor and sustains the health of the planet. These are good and noble ends, indeed, but they are not the gospel message; this is not the message Jesus came to proclaim and this is not the message of Jesus’ Apostles. It is not the primary message of Scripture. We may tend to the needs of the poor and join them in their suffering, but our foremost concern must be for their souls. And to care for their souls we must bring to them the good news that Jesus died for sinners just like them.

And it continues. The discerning reader will find here much cause for concern. Ultimately so much of what Claiborne teaches is utter folly, even if it does sound attractive. A review published just days before this one says it well: “His theology is an unbiblical and incoherent synthesis which might be described as popularized Christian anarchism for young, disaffected, middle-class Americans.” There is little that is radical in Claiborne’s message; we have heard it all before. Though we can appreciate his concern for the poor and for the destitute, we must insist that the gospel message—the message of Jesus’ atoning death for hopeless sinners like you and me—be the message that marks us as radicals in this world.

8 years 3 months ago
I remember praying for the Christian men and women who lived in the Soviet Union. During the Cold War we knew that countless Christians lived on the far side of the Iron Curtain and that they suffered immeasurably for their faith. We knew they needed prayer that God would sustain them and allow the faith to spread despite vigorous persecution. I remember hearing Brother Andrew speak at a nearby church and rejoiced to hear the incredible stories he shared of God’s faithfulness in providing Scriptures for the Russian church. I remember lists of Russian believers known to be suffering in prisons for their faith. It is a stark reminder of what seems like a different world.

God was good to answer the countless prayers of generations of Christians, for He preserved His church in Russia. Dmitry Mustafin is one of those answers to prayer and My Beloved Russia tells the story of his life. The son of a brilliant scientist, Mustafin followed in his father’s footsteps and pursued a career in science. This book describes his early days, growing up in a Communist regime. He describes his passion for his country and his love for Russia’s national heroes. He seemed to have a prolific career ahead of him. As a highly-regarded scientist, he was given the privilege of studying abroad and was sent by the Soviet Government to Italy to spend a year working there. And this is where his life changed, for it was here that he encountered an American missionary who shared the gospel with him. God graciously and radically saved him and sent him home as a Bible smuggler.

As the Iron Curtain fell, Mustafin emerged as leader of a branch of the Gideons. He has since been privileged to distribute thousands of Bibles. While he maintains a career as a scientist and professor, his passion is in bringing the Bible to his people. As Gideons do so well, he provides Bibles to hospitals, prisons, orphanages and schools. He has led multitudes to Christ, praying with them as their last days draw to a close in hospitals or even in prison’s Death Row.

Written in an almost boyish fashion that seems consistent with a person who speaks English as a second language, My Beloved Russia is a story of God’s faithfulness. It is told with humility, always giving glory to God and reflecting on his providence. It is always inspiring to hear of God’s goodness and of His answers to prayer.

 

8 years 9 months ago
I have long admired those who seem to find sharing their faith to be a simple, shameless task. I am ashamed to admit that I sometimes, and perhaps even most of the time, find it difficult and would even rather do anything but. I am not alone. Like many others, I have been taught different methods of evangelism and have found that they do little to make me more confident in sharing my faith. But Mike Bechtle has written a book that will make it easier for me. Evangelism for the Rest of Us seeks to show the reader how he can overcome the fear of evangelizing and to provide wisdom on how he can share his faith in a way that is consistent with his strengths and his personality. “The purpose [of this book] is to provide a new way of thinking that could put people who don’t witness back on the front lines. They’ll be using methods that are uniquely suited to their personality style as they encounter the people God brings into their path.”

Lying at the foundation of this book is the difference between an introvert and an extrovert. While I was less than enthusiastic about the Jungian undertones represented by this terminology, and by passing references to Katherine Briggs and Stephen Covey, I understand that Bechtle is pointing to a greater truth: there are some people who are outgoing and others who are not. There are some people for whom evangelism is much more difficult than others. “God designed us with a specific purpose in mind. The reason? So we could do what he wants us to do, in the unique way that nobody else could do it. Why should we try to do it differently? … When introverts spend time trying to funtion like extroverts, they’re doing more than just wasting time. They’re actually robbing themselves of the very tools God gave them to do his work.” The author points to an important truth: most programs designed to teach evangelism assume that a person is outgoing and confident in situations such as door-to-door evangelism and proclaiming the gospel to complete strangers in a public setting.

But, says Bechtle, “I’ve found that when I try to share my faith in unnatural ways, my fear gets larger and tends to stop me from sharing. That kind of fear almost always signals that I’m sharing out of guilt instead of compassion. But when I share in ways that fit with God’s design for me, a creative tension compels me to look for new ways to move forward. Compassion drives me to look for unique, appropriate ways to make a spiritual connection.”

Bechtle teaches that, contrary to what many Evangelicals have taught, more often than not evangelism is a process rather than an event. The job of the Christian is not necessarily to procure a decision, but to be a faithful witness and to move a person forward to “the next level of belief.” An opportunity to witness that does not end with a prayer for forgiveness is not necessarily a failure. He also says, correctly, that our job is not to force people to force people to believe in God, but to introduce our close friends to each other. “We lead people to Christ or introduce them to the Savior. We make the introduction, then act as a sounding board as they discuss their feelings about their initial encounter with God.” As Bechtle points out, this is a freeing concept for people who have never considered this before.

While there were aspects of Evangelism for the Rest of Us that were less than stellar, primarily those that seemed to be more psychological or motivational than uniquely Christian, most of Bechtle’s points were helpful and well-taken. Those of us who have quiet personalities should not feel compelled to evangelize in the same way as those who are more outgoing. While we have the same responsibility to share the gospel with those God brings into our lives, we can do it in a way that suits our personalities and is consistent with the way God created us.

8 years 11 months ago
In the summer of 1805 a young man set sail on the long, perilous journey to India. He left friends, family and prospects behind in order to serve as a missionary in a foreign land. Already suffering the tuberculosis, the disease that had claimed the life of his mother and would soon also claim his two sisters, he forsook the prospects of a comfortable life as a minister or scholar and travelled to the far side of the world. He did so for the love of India, for the love of the gospel and ultimately for the love of God.

Henry Martyn was a brilliant scholar who studied at Cambridge and won the coveted title of Senior Wrangler which was bestowed upon the student who won the Cambridge University annual mathematics problem-solving competition, and was thus recognized as the University’s best undergraduate mathematician. While he was a brilliant mathematician, he also had a natural proclivity for languages. After his conversion as a young man his mentor Charles Simeon encouraged him to abandon his intention of becoming a lawyer and to dedicate his life to serving God as a missionary. Martyn was subsequently ordained in the Church of England and travelled to India as a chaplain of the East India Company. He was to live only six years after arriving in India, but in that time he produced an incredible body of work. He translated the New Testament, the Anglican Prayer Book and the Anglican Marriage Service into Hindustani; he translated the parables for use in his schools; he also ensured that the Persian translation of the New Testament was the finest possible, translated the Psalms in Persian and oversaw the translation of the Arabic New Testament. This translations were ultimately printed and distributed in the tens of thousands.

While he is remembered primarily as a translator, Martyn was also a pastor and preached on a weekly basis. He desperately desired to see lives changed, yet in his ministry witnessed not a single conversion. While this often left him discouraged, he took refuge in knowing that he had preached the gospel and left the listener without excuse. After his death it was discovered that several people were converted through his ministry and we can only wait until eternity to discover how many were saved by the reading of the Scriptures he translated.

Throughout his ministry Martyn suffered from poor health and often terrible loneliness. He desperately loved a woman he had left behind in England and often wished that he had been able to marry her and enjoy her companionship. Yet he labored on, finding his joy and strength in the Lord.

Thomas Babbington Macaulay memorialized Martyn as follows:

Here Martyn lies. In Manhood’s early bloom
The Christian Hero finds a Pagan tomb.
Religion, sorrowing o’er her favourite son,
Points to the glorious trophies that he won.
Eternal trophies! not with carnage red,
Not stained with tears by hapless captives shed,
But trophies of the Cross! for that dear name,
Through every form of danger, death, and shame,
Onward he journeyed to a happier shore,
Where danger, death, and shame assault no more.

It is fitting, perhaps, that the grave of Henry Martyn, a man who chose to live and die in obscurity, is nowhere to be found. The graveyard where he was laid to rest in Tokat has long since been destroyed in order to make way for building projects. Yet if one ventures to a nearby museum he will find the memorial stone that was erected over his grave many years after his death. The name has been defaced, but the inscription is still legible:

Chaplain of the Hon. East India Company,
Born at Truro, England, February 18, 1781,
Died at Tokat, October 16, 1812.
He laboured for many years in the East, striving to
Benefit mankind both in this work and that to come.
He translated the Holy Scriptures into Hindustani
And Persian,
And preached the God and Savior of whom they testify.
He will long be remembered in the East, where he was
Known as a man of God.

Henry Martyn is an inspiring figure who often reminded me of David Brainerd in his dedication, honesty, transparency and sacrifice. Like Brainerd he made a lasting, eternal impact in only a few short years. I thoroughly enjoyed reading For the Love of India and eagerly recommend it to you.

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