We chose Germany because a professor at Harding invited us to accompany him on a trip to Europe during Christmas vacation, so that we could visit with European missionaries from various countries. We visited personally with workers from Italy, Switzerland, West Germany, France, Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherlands, all of whom made some effort to recruit us to their field.
That entire year on campus at Harding, we had been visiting with every missionary from every country that came to campus. By February it was time to make a decision. We had statistics and interviews enough. Of course we prayed for wisdom, but in the rearview mirror of forty years, I think we decided on Germany because we just wanted to go there! My great-grandfather came from Germany and another team member had been stationed with his parents in the Air Force in Germany. Our three-day visit in Germany convinced us of what we already wanted to do!
I wonder how many missionaries have chosen their fields as haphazardly as we did?
Even though today’s missionaries are better prepared, my experience is that most are still guided by inspiration rather than any kind of strategic thinking about how to fulfill the Great Commission!
And congregations are no different. Occasionally a congregation will select a field and then search for the right workers, but usually a potential missionary appears on their doorstep first. If the congregation likes the worker, then the field is of somewhat secondary importance.
How do we as a fellowship expect to ever go into all the world without a plan? How will we go to the Muslim world? Who is going to the countries in Africa that most Americans have never heard of? Who is going to Scandinavia or to the outposts of Russia? What are we going to do about Tokyo with 33 million people? Osaka (16.4million)? Jakarta, Indonesia (14.2 million)? Cairo (12.2 million)? What is our plan? Where is the inspiration for the really tough fields??
To make a strategic plan, we as a fellowship need different criteria for site selection! If we have used any criteria, it has tended to be either receptivity or bang for the buck (I cringe to even write that!) We need a new criteria for what makes a site important to God!
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” James 1:5. I believe God has given us a great deal of revelation to permit us to be wiser, but we have not gathered it together into a coherent picture. We need centralized information will inspire us to see new opportunities. Fortunately, we already have a wonderful organization in our fellowship whose mandate is to be a network for missions resources, ala Missions Resource Network. My vote is that this wonderful ministry continue to be and expand its role as a repository for the information churches and missionaries need to strategically select mission sites.
Here’s the picture I’m seeing:
We need a Wikipedia-like site for mission information, preferably one where every country of the world is listed and where our fellowship can share our combined knowledge and experience publically. This would be a place where the people who love geography could describe the country of Burkina Faso and the handful of people who have done mission work in Denmark can relate the history that only they know. Current workers in Osaka, Japan, could describe the religious climate and what they are doing there, so that the rest of our fellowship can see that Osaka could use a hundred missionaries, not one or two!
Then we need to publish/create some lists of ranked priorities to inspire and captivate congregations and workers looking for a mission field. What if all our churches were made acutely aware of even just the following lists—many of which are already available:
1. Countries most restricted to Christians
2. Muslim countries most open to Christians
3. Countries with the fewest Christians per capita
4. Countries where no known churches of Christ are meeting
5. English-speaking countries with the fewest Christians
6. Countries with the greatest response to Christian broadcasting
7. Richest/poorest countries with the fewest Christians
8. Countries with greatest internet access and the fewest Christians
Can you see congregations and potential missionaries using such lists for inspiration—using these lists to pray over, listening for guidance! Then they get a complete picture of the countries they are drawn towards until God makes clear to them the country/city/continent they should commit to.
I also think it would be good to hold a national conference for all living American missionaries with the goal of producing a list of mission priorities for which American missionaries would be especially appropriate—acknowledging that Christians of other nations are better suited for some parts of the world than Americans–and the list of those places may be growing!
So if we had both congregations seeking mission opportunities for all of those members that they have inspired, as well as members of congregations, inspired by and re-inspiring their congregations, going to such a repository of both information and inspiration, is it possible that the body as a whole would begin to think more strategically?
Is it possible that two congregations, one in Connecticut and one in California who are both wanting to work in Turkistan might discover each other, then talk to each other, certainly develop a relationship and perhaps even work out a cooperative plan—which might inspire other congregations who then join them in that work!
Is it possible that congregations would check the site information and see that 250 congregations are considering summer mission works in Honduras, so maybe they would choose a different country?
Is it possible that some congregation would learn that the Muslim country of Senegal is very open and that one African brother has started five congregations there in the last eight years—and they might start exploring ways to help him?
Is it possible that congregations would use their businessmen who travel abroad as scouts for new mission opportunities?
If our churches were prayerfully but strategically inspiring their members to go literally, purposefully, into all the world, then finally we would have begun to get a hint of what it means to fulfill the Great Commission!
And, by the way, our team’s decision to go to Germany was Spirit-led! We had a blessed work, and we loved Germany and the German people. Never doubt that God uses us in our weakness and ignorance!
I want to explore next the first decisions about the type of work and then follow that with thoughts on preparation.