The role of missionaries
By David Lee
During a recent address at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri, Alan Johnson, missionary to Thailand, recalled a conversation he had many years ago with Wesley Hurst, former Asia Pacific regional director. As a young man sensing God’s call to missions, Johnson had asked, “Brother Hurst, what are you looking for in a missionary?”
Hurst’s answer was simple and direct. “I’m looking for someone who will go to a land where the church has not been planted. He will learn a language, relate to the people and plant a church.”
Today missionaries’ responsibilities vary widely. But their primary purpose can be described this way: They are committed to go, stay long-term and plant the church.
In the early years of our Fellowship, Assemblies of God missionaries left the familiarity of home and took their families to the far-flung regions of the world. They made a lifetime commitment to make the message of Christ known, assuming they likely would never return to their homeland. For the past nine decades, we have built upon this foundation — as missionaries have continued to dedicate their lives to go and stay as long as necessary to see the work of God established.
Sometimes the concept of making a long-term commitment to planting the church seems out of vogue in our fast-paced society. Instant results and immediate fruit create greater excitement. A weeklong outreach that draws huge crowds will attract more attention than the patient, persistent planting and watering required to grow a church.
In our search for “quick-fix missions,” we must not forget God’s harvest principle. Plowing, seedtime and growth take time before the full harvest is ready. Without a missionary willing to stay for the long haul and tend the field, the harvest will be lost. Certainly, short-term outreaches are beneficial — both for the overseas church and for the U.S. congregations that sponsor them. But without an established work in place, will the fruit from these efforts last?
In the last 10 years, 45 countries and territories have opened to Assemblies of God outreach. The need for missionaries in these places is critical. The church’s mission is not finished after an area opens or an outreach brings results. Instead, the work has just begun. Missionaries must stay to nurture the work and serve alongside church leaders to produce a strong fellowship.
As times change, the need for specialized skills on the field increases. National church fellowships are asking for help in specific areas of service. In response, many missionaries live in centralized locations and work in supporting roles to provide vital resources and services. While these ministries are of tremendous benefit, they do not take the place of the resident missionary who knows the needs of a specific area and shares the trust of the people they serve.
One year ago at the World Missions Summit in Louisville, Kentucky, I watched as hundreds of young people indicated their willingness to go to spiritually hard places of the world. Since then, more than 100 have applied for missionary service. Eighteen are already serving in Central Asia, and some in other regions as well. They said God used the summit, not only to confirm their call but also to fill them with urgency to fulfill that call. They want to do more than just participate in a missions program; they want to be missionaries — committing themselves to the worldwide harvest for a lifetime.
Until every nation is adequately reached with the gospel, God will continue to call people who will commit to pray, plow and plant for however long it takes to see the work accomplished. We call them missionaries.
DAVID LEE is director of U.S. Relations for Assemblies of God World Missions.
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