“If every Christian is already considered a missionary, then all can stay put where they are, and nobody needs to get up and go anywhere to preach the gospel. But if our only concern is to witness where we are, how will people in un-evangelized areas ever hear the gospel? The present uneven distribution of Christians and opportunities to hear the gospel of Christ will continue on unchanged.” – C. Gordon Olson
A few years ago, I visited Japan. Our team of eight arrived in the busy train station in Nagoya and were met by one of our missionaries. He stopped us and we circled up. Nagoya Station is known to have almost 200,000 people pass through its turn-styles every day. We had our bags and backpacks with us and were travel weary, but he said he wanted to do something before we left the station.
He said, “We’re all going to turn, facing outward, so that we can see the faces of the people that are hustling past us.” He told us to look at people’s faces and pray for them, even without knowing their names or their stories. It seemed like a strange exercise, but we do that sort of thing on mission trips, so I went with it. I stood there and looked at these people intentionally. I looked into their eyes as they walked by one by one. I prayed for the young guy who was bouncing through the turn-style wearing ear buds, seemingly listening to music with a beat. I prayed for the middle-aged business man, wearing a suit and walking remarkably fast. I prayed for the older woman who was burdened by too many bags in her hands. Person after person I prayed for the Lord Jesus to make himself known to each face I saw.
After praying silently for a few minutes, my missionary friend asked us to turn back and face one another again. What he said next really shook me: “Thank you for your kindness today. The prayers you just offered are likely the only prayers that will ever be uttered for those people in their entire lives.”
What? How is that possible? How can he be sure?
But as each of us on the team looked around at one another in the circle, we knew he was right. We knew the data: the number of Christians in Nagoya at that time wasn’t nearly enough to provide a ratio that would indicate that any of the people we saw that day had been prayed for or would ever be prayed for. Ever.
My heart sank as I wondered about the incalculable words prayed for me throughout my life. I wondered why the Lord would put me in a believing family and in America where churches and Christians are plentiful. Yet, this same God also decides to put others in nations where the gospel is sparse. He put that young guy, that middle-aged business man and that older woman in Nagoya Station that day. Our God is sovereign and good.
If you survived that story laden with unintended guilt, maybe you have a heart for missions. Maybe you’ve served on the field or have a family member or friend who currently is, and your love for that person kept you engaged. But, could I humbly ask for a little more?
The Lord is sovereign. He places people in families and churches and countries. I should not experience guilt over being an American woman raised in a healthy, church-going family. But I read the Bible and hear the calling to go. I know that the Lord’s sovereign hand sends missionaries to be his instruments and his ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20-21).
Not everyone is in a place where they can go. Our health, our stage of life and our schedules play a part in our ability to go. But I would like to challenge each of us to consider how we can love and serve not only the lost around the world, but the missionaries who are sent to the lost around the world. I’d also like to ask you to consider how the Lord intends to use you in missions.
Operation World and the Joshua Project both agree in claiming that about 29%, that’s almost 2 billion souls, have still never heard the gospel. In addition, 81% of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists worldwide do not even know a Christian. As Paul beckons us in Romans 10:14-15, how will they hear about our glorious Jesus if no one goes?
I know that we find ways to be missionaries right here in the US. These ministries are valuable, but a missionary’s calling is different than ministering on our home turf. Missionaries leave family, friends, and the comforts of home. They live by faith and with resources that the church provides. They often have to learn new languages, make cultural adjustments, and lose much of their logistical support systems. And, by saying “yes” to missions, missionaries essentially say “no” to being present with their home, their family, and their friends. I know this full well.
Maybe your church is sending a short-term team this summer. Maybe the missionaries you know could use some prayer and encouragement. Maybe you can make a financial gift to keep a missionary on the field. These fields are indeed ripe for harvest.
I sometimes think of that morning in Japan. I wonder if the Lord answered my prayers in Nagoya Station that day.
I wonder. I hope. I pray.
About the Author:
Sue Harris serves the congregation at Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church (Birmingham) as the Women’s Ministry Director. She has a passion for spiritual formation as she earned her Master of Arts degree in Biblical Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta in 2014. She served Mission to the World for nine years challenging PCA congregations in missions as well as serving missionaries on the field through encouragement, teaching and short-term teams. Previously, she spent 12 years as a college women’s basketball coach, earning her MBA at Texas Woman’s University.