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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Access: Shouldn't Everyone Have a Chance?

By Randy Hurst
May 1, 2011

Why should missionaries cross the sea when their next-door neighbors don’t yet know Jesus?

Missionaries go — because they are sent.

But why would the Lord call people to leave their homeland when others around them are still lost?     

It’s about access.

I was one of those missionaries the Lord called to cross the sea to the other side of the world.

The Samoan Islands, where I served, are in the center of the Pacific Ocean. They also have a significant place in missions history. When missionary John Williams landed in Samoa in 1830, there were no Christians. But only nine years later, it could be said fairly accurately that there were no unbelievers. Literally all of Samoa had turned to Christ.

From the very beginning, John Williams taught Samoan believers to set aside a portion of their livestock as offerings to support Samoan missionaries to other islands. Samoa became a missionary base from which other island groups of the Pacific were evangelized.

More than 130 years later, in my first year as a missionary, I sat with a group of Samoan church leaders and shared with them my burden to take the gospel to several island groups nearby where the Assemblies of God had no church. On a clear day, one of those island clusters was visible from the island of Tutuila where we were gathered.

One of the leaders asked me, “Why should we go plant churches there when we have villages here that have no church?”

At first I was a bit startled. I told him that we had cities in America with more people than the entire population of Samoa that still had no Assemblies of God church. If the American church had followed this thinking, no missionaries would have come to Samoa.

Thankfully, two churches were planted on those islands about a year after our conversation.

Reasoning similar to my Samoan friend’s prevails among many people. But the simple fact is this: The Heavenly Father’s compassion extends to His lost children everywhere, and He sovereignly calls those He chooses — to go where He wills.

To enter Christ’s eternal kingdom is extremely simple. When the apostle Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost, he quoted the prophet Joel:

“In the last days ... I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind ... and it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”1

If salvation is simple and Jesus is the only way, then everyone must be told.

Years later, the apostle Paul quoted the same text in his epistle to the Romans: “For ‘whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”2

Paul went on to explain the challenge and responsibility faced by the Church, saying:

“How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?”3

The desperate need of people who have never heard the gospel is clearly evident as Paul shares from a missionary heart. How can the lost believe in Christ unless they hear about Him? And how can they hear unless someone tells them? They can’t.

The desperate urgency of those who have never heard and the divine compulsion to tell them determined Paul’s mission. The simplicity of salvation, the urgency of proclaiming the gospel, and the plight of those who had never heard formed the course of Paul’s life and what he believed to be his future ministry. He told the Romans:

“From Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation; but as it is written, ‘They who had no news of Him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand.’

“For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you; but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you whenever I go to Spain — for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while.”4

Paul fully preached the gospel in unreached regions, not wanting to “build on another man’s foundation.” He was compelled to take the message of Christ where it had never been proclaimed. 

For many years he had longed to go to Rome, but his commitment to take the gospel to unreached areas had prevented him. Even then, he hoped to see the Romans one day just “in passing.” His goal was Spain — a region where Christ had not yet been named.

When he said that there was “no further place for me,” he did not mean that every person in Asia Minor had been reached. He had, however, established communities of believers who could reach them. The people now had access to the gospel.

Many years ago, I heard an unforgettable sermon by missionary Morris Plotts. He referred to the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 and posed an alternate scenario. What if the disciples distributed loaves and fish to the first few rows and never went beyond them? The front rows continually wanted more food, so the disciples stayed at the front while completely neglecting the people in the back of the crowd. Finally, those in the back rows began to call out, “What about us? We don’t have anything!”

Of course, the truth is that Jesus and His disciples distributed food to everyone. The Gospels tell us that He organized the crowd in groups of 50 and 100, ensuring that everyone would be fed. But Morris made a powerful point by likening his account to people who have access to the gospel (the first few rows of the crowd) while the lost people in the back rows — “the regions beyond”5 — still wait for the message.

I have heard it stated many times that “no one should hear the gospel twice until everyone has heard it once.” That isn’t true. Few people receive Christ from one presentation of the gospel.

My friend and colleague Jeremy has worked with me for 14 years. He came to Christ through the witness of my son, Rolly, who is now a missionary to Thailand. When they were in college, Rolly often talked to Jeremy about salvation in Christ. After several months, Jeremy agreed to attend church with him. One Sunday as Jeremy watched Rolly worshipping, he told the Lord that he wanted to know Him personally as Rolly did. Bowing his head, he asked Jesus to become his Savior and Lord. He had known from very early in his friendship with Rolly how to receive Christ as his Savior.

Jeremy had attended church with Rolly for 3½ years before making that decision. If we care about souls, we will love people enough to persistently connect them with the message of Christ — even if it takes years before they make a decision.

We should never stop sharing Christ with those who are lost — no matter how long it takes.

America has 2,400 Christian radio stations, more than 100 Christian television stations, numerous Christian cable television networks, thousands of churches that broadcast on local television stations, an association of 1,700 Christian bookstores, and even more independent Christian booksellers. Most significantly, more than 130,000 evangelical churches hopefully are proclaiming the gospel. But even with such accessibility to the gospel in America, we are not absolved of our responsibility to share a witness of Christ with the spiritually lost all around us.

A missionary friend who serves in a country where fewer than 1 in 20,000 people are Christian believers shares this illustration:

Two men are drowning in a lake. One man is 50 yards offshore with a lifeguard on the beach who can see him and reach him without tremendous effort. The second man fell off a ship at night in the middle of the lake. Both men are drowning, but they certainly don’t have the same possibility of being saved. One has close access for rescue; the other has none at all.

Of the 6.9 billion people on earth, more than 4 billion have not had an adequate witness to the gospel. And 3.6 billion are in countries that restrict access to Christian missionaries.

Your neighbors are reachable and have access to the message of Christ. But more than half the people of the world have little or no hope of hearing the gospel in their present circumstances. Though we should keep sharing the message of Christ with those around us, some of whom have heard it many times, we must also do all we can to get the message to those who have never heard it once.

Paul taught the Ephesians that God carried out His eternal purpose in Christ, “in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.”6 Jesus gave His life so we can have access to our Heavenly Father. We are responsible to provide the lost with access to the saving message of Jesus.

In the last 20 years, the number of Assemblies of God missionaries to countries with the least access to the gospel has more than tripled. New missionaries are coming to us, saying, “Send us to the difficult places.”

To reach people in especially challenging areas, we are using a variety of nontraditional methods. Missionary teams are being formed to establish Christian communities among people who have no familiarity with a church.

At the same time, we are strengthening partnerships with national fellowships that are sending out more than 5,500 missionaries. Many of them are reaching people groups to which American or other Western missionaries have no access. Most of these national fellowships were established decades ago by American missionaries.

The apostle Paul was compelled to take the message of Jesus where it had never been heard. Was he extreme or unbalanced? Or was his missionary heart a reflection of God’s heart — and an example of what ours should be?

How can any of us who have experienced the blessed assurance of sins forgiven and everlasting life be unmoved by the desperate need of those who have never heard?

Few are called by the Lord to leave friends and family and take the gospel to another land. But all of us can be co-workers with missionaries around the world through prayer and giving to help take the message of Jesus to the lost.

We must do all we can to reach those who have no access to the hope of the gospel. Shouldn’t everyone have a chance to call on the Lord’s name and be saved?

1. Acts 2:17,21, NASB
2. Romans 10:13
3. Romans 10:14,15
4. Romans 15:19-24
5. 2 Corinthians 10:16
6. Ephesians 3:12

RANDY HURST is communications director for Assemblies of God World Missions.

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