Cairo is dirty. It is a city of ten million people, many of them unemployed, and there is much poverty. Garbage is collected by fifty thousand people who recycle it and live on it. Many of these are little children.
Germany, on the other hand, is scrupulously clean. While I was there, I saw a truck with a mechanical brush scrubbing the white posts along the highway; then I saw a man scrubbing a stop sign.
In both of these countries, the spiritual darkness is oppressive. It forced me to modify my view that physical cleanliness was the result of being spiritually clean. I still think there is a relationship, but not one of direct cause-and-effect.
There seem to be two extremes concerning methods of evangelism: 1) Too much identification with the attitudes of the local church. 2) Too little identification with the culture of the local people.
Japan and Egypt are examples of the first. The church in those countries has a survival mentality rather than an attitude of “give me this mountain” (Josh. 14:12). In Japan, the culture is accepted as something the gospel cannot penetrate except in little ways. In Egypt, fear of the Muslims and fear of the government makes people hesitant to witness. When missionaries identify too much with the local church, they are also affected by these attitudes. Consequently, there are relatively few conversions.
Secondly, many missionaries depend heavily on dispensing the truth by mass literature distribution without taking time to love the people. In an endeavor to reach the whole, they take a shortcut. This truncates the truth by presenting it without the power that is part of the gospel. They trade quality for quantity, but there are few real conversions.
A biblical example of the power of the gospel mixed with love is found in 1 Thessalonians 1:4–8:
“For we know, brothers loved by God, that He has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it.”
I have had much fellowship with people in mission work—everything from long-term missionaries involved in solid church planting to hit-and-run evangelists. Their biggest problem was not the difference in method, but the difference in relationships, mostly within missions and within families. I visited missionary children in Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, and France, and found much bitterness towards parents. As a corollary to that bitterness, I also saw some rebellion.
Many mission boards and the missionaries they send out think that the Great Commission is primary, that it is more important than personal godliness and more important than loving time with their children. Many of them also consider an American cultural Christian education more important than keeping the children with the parents. These two false priorities cause many families to be unnecessarily separated.
*Excerpted from Weapons & Tactics. To purchase, visit ccmbooks.org/bookstore.