"I happen to be talking to my pastor tonight about missions. He believes that there are so many lost in our communities in America that our primary mission field is here. It's not that he is against world missions, but sees such a need here that it is hard to justify going across the world while there is such a need right in front of us. What is your opinion on the American mission field?"
This is a question that I have heard so many times. I would like to answer this publicly to hopefully kill this anti-Biblical, damaging belief. This is not a new question or a new stance on missions, but a very old one. William Carey was confronted and rebuked for the same reason when he wanted to go as a missionary to India. I will first let Carey answer the question. He says:
"It has been objected that there are multitudes in our own nation, and within our immediate spheres of action, who are as ignorant as the South-Sea savages, and that therefore we have work enough at home, without going into other countries. ...That there are thousands in our own land as far from God as possible, I readily grant, and that this ought to excite us to ten-fold diligence in our work, And in attempts to spread divine knowledge amongst them is a certain fact; but that it ought to supersede all attempts to spread the gospel in foreign parts seems to want proof. Our own countrymen have the means of grace, and may attend on the word preached if they choose it. They have the means of knowing the truth, and faithful ministers are placed in almost every part of the land, whose spheres of action might be much extended if their congregations were but more hearty and active in the cause: but with them the case is widely different, who have no Bible, no written language, (which many of them have not,) no ministers, no good civil government, nor any of those advantages which we have. Pity therefore, humanity, and much more Christianity, call loudly for every possible exertion to introduce the gospel amongst them."
There are needs in America, Peru, India, and every other country. There always has been and there always will be until Jesus returns. There are lost people in every neighborhood. There are countless people ignorant of the biblical gospel. There are many who need to be discipled. However, you can not compare the needs in America with the needs in other places. America is reached, which means there is a large, sustainable population of Christians that can teach, preach, evangelize, and reproduce biblical churches. Any human being in America can freely seek the true God. He can get a free Bible in many places. He can walk into a church on any corner. He can listen to free sermons on the radio or the internet. There is absolutely nothing hindering him from seeking God, but himself.
On the other hand, there are unreached and even un-contacted people groups all over the world who have never once heard the name Jesus, and have never heard of a Bible. Generations of these people around the world live and die without the saving knowledge of the gospel. They have a knowledge of God through creation, but only enough to know that God exists, not enough to be saved. There are many countries where there is no access to the gospel. Even if the people want to seek God, they can't. I don't know all the details about other countries, but I do know some of them in Peru.
Even though by some people's standards, Peru is a reached country. The reality is that there are countless people who have never heard the gospel or of the name of Jesus. I have encountered both in the Amazon jungle and the remote Quechua villages of the Andes. Christianity in Peru is largely represented by the Catholic church, which is far from anything representing biblical Christianity, and the charismatic church, which for the most part preaches a watered down gospel and health, wealth, and prosperity. The majority of Peruvians could not tell you what the gospel is if you asked them the question. They live in superstition and loyalty to tradition. In the more remote parts of Peru there is still persecution for faith in Jesus or the people have no access to the gospel at all. I was in a Quechua village only one hour outside of Cusco and asked a lady if she knew about Jesus. She said she heard the name, but didn't know much about Him. Even though she lives an hour from the gospel, she has only been to the big city of Cusco twice in her life.
To say “It is hard to justify going across the world while there is such a need right in front of us”, is to live in disobedience to the Great Commission of Christ. In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus commissions us. He says:
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
There is nothing in this command about staying home. I understand that the imperative (command) is not on the word “Go”, but on the word “make.” Jesus assumes that His disciples will obey Him by going into the world to make disciples. The first could read: As you are going into the world, make disciples. Going is not optional. Jesus tells us what to do as we are going into the world.
The biblical position on missions should not be to justify going, but justify not going. If you stay home, you better have a very good reason or you are being disobedient to the Great Commission. David Platt said: Jesus commands us to go. He has created each of us to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, and I propose that anything less than radical devotion to this purpose is unbiblical Christianity.
The disciples were given this command from Jesus, but at first they stayed. God sent persecution, and they were spread over the face of the earth. As they scattered into all the world, they obeyed the Great Commission by proclaiming that Christ is King and making disciples. The gospel didn't stay in Jerusalem, where there were countless needs. All through the book of Acts we see the gospel going forth to the ends of the earth.
Charles Spurgeon said, “Millions have never heard the name of Jesus. Hundreds of millions have seen a missionary only once in their lives, and know nothing of our King. Shall we let them perish? Can we go to our beds and sleep, while China, India, Japan, and other nations are being damned? We ought to put it on this footing, - not, “Can I prove that I ought to go?” but, “Can I prove that I ought not to go?”
Every Christian has a mandate to take the gospel to every tribe, tongue, and nation until all the world knows that Christ is the only King. Every Christian must be involved in taking the gospel of hope to places where there is no hope. We must question our salvation if we have no concern for the gospel going to the nations. Again, Spurgeon said: I remember one who spoke on the missionary question one day saying, “The great question is not ‘Will not the heathen be saved if we do not send them the gospel?’ but ‘are we saved ourselves if we do not send them the gospel?
Are you not involved in the Great Commission because it takes sacrifice? The pioneer missionary, Paul said, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3). Paul was willing to throw himself in Hell for the sake of the gospel if only some were saved. Should not this be our attitude? Should we not risk everything for the sake of taking the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth?
To justify not being involved in international missions is sin. Oswald J. Smith said that “any church that is not seriously involved in helping fulfill the Great Commission has forfeited its biblical right to exist.
How are you involved in the Great Commission? What has it cost you? I will end with a challenge from a book called Paul, Missionary Theologian by Robert L. Reymond. He challenges us:
“Now you the reader must decide whether you will become a part of the continuing conquest of the gospel. Will you seriously face the demands of the Great Commission and your responsibility to it? Will you make yourself available to the Lord Jesus Christ for cross-cultural ministry? Before you decide to stay at home and involve yourself in some work here, you must first be able to give yourself good reasons why you may stay at home. Cross-cultural ministry, I would submit, should be given first priority in your thinking. Only when the Lord has made it clear that he does not want you to involve yourselves cross-culturally should you then decide to stay at home.”