I. The call of Christ
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Jesus said to his disciples, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14: 15). The last commandment Christ gave them before ascending to the heavenly realm was the Great Commission: "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; 24: 14; Mark 16: 15; 13: 10; Luke 24: 47-48; John 20: 21). “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the Earth” (Acts 1: 8).
God has called the Church to preach the Gospel of Christ to all nations. "Sing to the Lord, bless His name. Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples" (Psalm 96: 2-3). This ministry is an expression of the divine love of the Lord Jesus Christ to humanity, and is an essential part of the work of the kingdom of God (Psalm 119: 46; Matthew 28: 18-20; Luke 4: 18). The magi, the first to do homage to Christ, were gentiles from the East (Matthew 2: 1-12). All Christian believers from all nations are united as one in Christ, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3: 26-28; Romans 3: 29-30).
II. The Church and missions
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Evangelism is very important in the Christian life because it was the last commandment of the Lord before his ascension to heaven. Evangelism is the ultimate and final expression of the faith in, and commitment to, Christ. It was what Jesus and His apostles and disciples had done on Earth (Luke 20: 1; Acts 8: 4). It is not the activity of a select few. It is the responsibility of the totality of the body of Christ on Earth—each in accordance with the gifts the Holy Spirit has blessed him with. Let us allow the Holy Spirit of our living almighty God to work through us to help bring non-believers to Christ.
The early Church of the first Christian generation was a genuinely missionary Church. In addition to the full-time missionaries, such as the apostles and disciples, every Christian was a witness (Acts 8: 4). That was the greatest glory of the early Church. Great early churches like the Churches of Antioch (Acts 11: 19-21) and Rome were founded by anonymous Christian pioneers. The Apostles Peter and Paul might have organized the Church of Rome, but they certainly did not found it. The Church, the greatest miracle of history, is the body of Christ in which the living God himself is pleased to dwell through his Holy Spirit. The Church is the precious priceless pearl hidden in the daily noise of the world. “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13: 45-46).
What Christ had begun to do on Earth, the Church would continue to do through all the years of this age unto the uttermost parts of the Earth until his second advent in glory and power. Christ is pleased to share his work of saving souls with Christian believers. He is calling all Christians to continue and finish the work he has started on Earth. It is a privilege indeed to work with him. He provides the miracle breakthroughs of conversions at the time he appoints and in the way he chooses. Jesus has declared saying: “… lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest” (John 4: 35). St. John Chrysostom stated: “The most perfect rule of Christianity, its exact definition, its highest summit, is this: to seek what is for the benefit of all. … I cannot believe that it is possible for a man to be saved if he does not labor for the salvation of his neighbor.”
The missionary enterprise of the Churches is always a reflection of their vigor, and of that power of conviction which finds its expression in self-sacrifice and willingness for adventurous service. Even the severest persecution is not able to destroy the seed of the Gospel of Christ.
Christian missionaries have the burning conviction that humanity had been redeemed. They could not keep to themselves tidings of such incomparable significance for the entire human race. A church without missionary activity is a crippled entity. It is keeping the light of Christian faith under a basket, and thereby preventing it from guiding those living in darkness. "Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5: 15-16). Missionary witness is the expression of the vitality of the Church as well as a source of her renewal and renewed vigor.
III. The missionary
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Missionary activity is an imperative foremost duty of the Christian faith. It declares the most precious treasure in the world, the truth of Christ, to a world living in darkness. "… How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things" (Romans 10: 15). Missionaries are motivated by the love of God and neighbor. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these" (Mark 12: 30-31; Joshua 22: 5; Deuteronomy 6: 5; 10: 12; Luke 7: 47; Romans 5: 5). The missionaries’ evangelistic works of love have their root in the gratuitous grace of God. They cannot be performed without the help of grace. They are accomplished by the power of Christ through the Holy Spirit with which the will of the faithful cooperates and concurs.
Each day the missionary may suffer passing through flames of difficulties and persecutions ten times for the love of others. He may feel as Moses said to the Lord: "..., if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written" (Exodus 32: 32); and as the apostle St. Paul said: "I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren ..." (Romans 9: 3); "I now rejoice in my sufferings for you ..." (Colossians 1: 24). The missionary is consumed by the outpouring of love for God and for his fellow human beings.
Christ, our loving Lord, goes out to the mountains to search for the lost sheep (Luke 15: 3-7). Christ waits patiently for His lost son to return home to be with Him after years of estrangement and separation, runs to meet him, kisses him and celebrates his safe return (Luke 15: 11-32). Christ stands at the human heart and knocks for years that the person may open the door of his heart, receive Him and live in fellowship with him (Revelation 3: 20). Because the Christian believers are in loving communion with Christ, their hearts are in tune with His heart. They feel His passion for the lost; and His sadness, agony and tears over the long decline of indigenous Christianity in the Middle East under the influence of centuries of persistent Islamic persecutions of Christians, and material inducements to them. Christianity has declined in the Middle East from the religion of the overwhelming majority on the eve of the Islamic Arab invasion of the seventh century, to the religion of persecuted minorities in the Middle East of today.
There are two types of missionaries/evangelists: passive and active. The passive missionary is person who radiates the Gospel of Christ and draws others to Christ through his Christian holy life, good example and prayers. He allows the light of Christ to shine brightly through his words, good works and pure life. Jesus said: "You are the salt of the Earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5: 13-16; 2 Corinthians 2: 14-16). On the other hand, the active missionary is a person who not only lives the Gospel of Christ, but also preaches it.
Every Christian is required to contribute to, and participate in, the missionary effort of the Church directly or indirectly to penetrate spiritual darkness with the heavenly light of Christ, to project his love where there is hate, and to liberate all who may positively respond from the bondage of Satan (Acts 26: 18). The missionaries constitute the peaceful army of Christ on Earth. It is the only army in the world that brings to the conquered life, not death, and set the conquered free. It brings light where there is darkness.
The work of the missionary/evangelist is to declare and preach the Gospel of Christ, and to invite non-believers to receive it. It naturally precedes the work of the pastor/priest and teacher. "And He Himself (Christ) gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers" (Ephesians 4: 11). Once non-believers accept the Gospel and unite by faith with Christ, the work of the pastor/priest and teacher begins to help them grow in their fellowship with Christ, and to build them up in their new Christian faith.
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Jesus described the missionary as a sower, saying: "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow. He himself does not know how. For the Earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come" (Mark 4: 26-29; Matthew 13: 3-9, 18-23). Again, the Apostle Paul said humbly: "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase" (1 Corinthians 3: 6-7).
Evangelism is a divine-human synergistic work. The missionaries are humble enough to remember that they plant, and they or others water, but only God makes things grow and produce fruits in its due season. "... One sows and another reaps" (John 4: 37). They are able to find satisfaction in small results and delayed flowering of their efforts, which may never be visible to them. A person may not respond to the Gospel message at first hearing. However, several years later, dramatic events and encounters in his life may open up his heart for Christ. The miraculous moment of his conversion is God’s alone. Conviction of sin, faith in Christ, new birth and Christian growth are all the work of the Holy Spirit of the living Almighty God in the human heart. Only in eternity will the missionaries know the totality of the fruits of their many years of dedicated toil on Earth.
The active missionaries snatch lost souls from hell by the power of the Holy Spirit. They suffer many hardships, including physical hardships, apathetic response and persecutions. "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6: 12; John 16: 33). The missionary may succeed in only one encounter out of many, "For many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22: 14; 13: 3-9).
Mother Teresa said: “We are called to be faithful, not successful.”
Those who designed the great cathedrals in Europe in the Middle Ages were only able to lay the cornerstones. They had to have the faith that succeeding generations would continue the massive work, bringing it to its ultimate completion, sometimes centuries later. In this respect, the holy fathers of the Church have said that nothing worthwhile can be done in one lifetime.
At the great Tambaran Missionary Conference of 1938, the most moving of all the speeches was that of the veteran missionary Dr. Paul Harrison, who, having told the story of the five converts that the mission to the Muslims of Arabia had won in fifty years, sat down with the quiet words: “The Church in Arabia salutes you.”
Despite hurdles, difficulties and seemingly poor immediate results, the missionary persists in the evangelistic work Christ has called him/her to do unto martyrdom, if necessary—all for the glory of Jesus Christ, our Lord.