Monday, October 5, 2009

The Clarion Call of the Great Commission - Part II

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."Matthew 28:19-20
The last words Jesus spoke to His disciples before He ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father would become the clarion call for thousands of Christians missionaries throughout the years. Many, like Stephen, would die a martyr’s death while others would work in obscurity never to be remembered but by Christ Himself. Regardless of their success, they would all follow in the footsteps of the greatest missionary of them all; like Paul of Tarsus they would spread the gospel to the four corners of the world. Last week I touched on the missionary movements of Asia and Africa, today I will attempt to do justice to the missionaries that spread the gospel to the Indians of the American West and the jungles of South America. 

From the days of Columbus and Cortez, the Roman Catholic Church has dominated the missionary movements of South America, but they never made headway with the Indian tribes in the Jungles and for the most part they never really tried. When the Protestants began sending missionaries to South and Central America, they stayed away from evangelizing to the masses in the cities because of the dominant Catholic faith. Most Protestants missionaries felt that converting a Catholic was tantamount to calling them non-Christian, so most of their missionary work was done mainly with the native Indians in the inland parts of the continent. This is largely the reason that the Catholic Church is still so dominant throughout South America. However, there have been success stories among the protestant missionaries laboring in the jungles and mountains of the continent. One of these great success stories was with the Waodani Indians that lived in the deep heart of the jungles of Ecuador. A great movie, “End Of The Spear” is a true testament about this tribes conversion and how God takes the evil of men and turns it into good.
Probably the largest influence the Protestants were able to exert in South America came about from James Thomson and the British Foreign Bible Society that was able to distribute Spanish Bibles in Argentina, Cuba, Mexico, and Chile. Through most of the twentieth century the Scottish Presbyterians and the London Missionary Society worked in obscurity, but by the 1980s their work began to show fruit as the Protestant faiths began gaining ground throughout South and Central America. There has also been many souls won for Christ by the Protestant missionaries in the last 50 years with the many Indian tribes who still live like their ancestors did thousands of years ago.
It has been said that the American foreign missionary movement is in many ways an extension of the frontier parson of the expanding American West. After all, before Americans sent many missionaries overseas they were busy sending them west to tame and civilize the mountain men, cowboys, and Indians. In Kansas alone there were over 30 missionaries working with the settlers and the natives to bring God to the plains. The first of many was Thomas Johnson and his wife Sarah, a Methodist Missionary who established the first Shawnee and Delaware tribal school in the Territory of Kansas. Like other missionaries of the plains, Thomas and his wife would minister to thousands of Indians and even settlers who came through on their way west when Gold was discovered in California.
With the discovery of Gold thousands of young men headed out to make their fortunes, and it only made sense that ministers and missionaries would follow suit. Instead of looking for gold and wealth, these men were like the circuit riders and the frontier pastors who had been migrating west for decades and they brought their treasure with them. Bringing the gospel of Christ to California, these ministers wanted to make sure that Christianity became firmly established in the hearts and minds of the many who headed west. Such men as Joseph A. Benton, William Pond, James Woods, and even Darius Stokes, a leading black minister of the African Methodist Episcopal church, all came to California with hopes of spreading Christianity and civilization to the far reaches of the American continent. After a few years in California, Woods would tell friends and relatives back East,
“Unparalleled in the history of the world is the march of progress in California . . . . Instead of being a remote, and almost unknown, and uncared for portion of the globe, with but a few scattering and degenerate sons of Spain, a few enterprising adventurers, and a few tribes of wretchedly degraded Indians, it now in the short space of two years has become a central spot of earth, where almost all nations of the world have their representatives congregated.”
Throughout history Christians have had to rely upon private donations from Christians like myself and others to spread the word. But considering Christ called all of us to be involved in spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth the donations are minuscule in comparison to the rewards. Through the years, the many different missionary groups realized they needed to work closer together, rather than against each other, so they have put their minor differences aside for the good of the movement. More and more, denominations have begun sharing expenses and facilities in order to reach the needy, establish schools and hospitals, and improve the living standards of the locals. It is worth adding that in many of the areas women would be the largest contingent of volunteers while helping in all areas including preaching the word.

As an aside I must also make the point that, by having more freedom to be in charge then they would back home, many women would return with a desire to be more involved in more areas like they were in the mission fields. This experience of greater equality would help contribute in small ways to the women’s suffrage movement in America when the returned home.
We can busy ourselves with all the knowledge of the theology of Christ and the history of how we got where we are until we are blue in the face. And I firmly believe that we are called by our Lord to do so, to supplement our diet with meat, so that we may be forever prepared to help others grow in truth and knowledge. However, we are ultimately called to spread the word to those in the dark, and it is those in the missionary field who do battle on the front lines from the concrete jungles of the big cities to the jungles of Africa, Asia and South America.

The great evangelist, Johnathan Edwards, never let his listeners forget what was promised in Habakkuk 2:14 that the knowledge of the Lord would fill the earth like the waters of the sea. He knew that when the gospel of Christ was spread to all corners of the world, to all men of all races and nationalities, that Christ would then return. Other than Jesus when he met the woman at the well and the townspeople of Sychar believed, Phillip had the first missionary success when he went to Samaria. Acts 8:5-8 Now, only Christ knows what area will be the last to be reached by the gospel.
"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."Matthew 28:19-20
I pray that those who have ears to hear, will hear what the Spirit says to the churches, and call upon His name. Amen

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