THE PORT RAIL: Missions Have Long History with Church

The Tuscaloosa News, July 25, 2014 | Go to article overview

THE PORT RAIL: Missions Have Long History with Church


The Apostle Paul, first century A.D., was the first Christian missionary. And he set a very, very high bar for the rest of us engaged in one form or another of missionary work these past 2,000 years or so.

I would venture to say, in fact, that none of us has achieved a scintilla of what Paul did on his now-legendary three missionary journeys. Actually, I'm pretty sure he made a fourth to Spain, but that is only mentioned in Scripture, not described.

Long ago when I first read about U. S. diplomats abroad in The Ugly American, published in 1958, I, like so many Americans, was astounded at the arrogance and ignorance of Americans portrayed abroad, especially diplomats, but extending to others, like missionaries. I didn't hold them in very high regard.

I was both naive and ignorant and accepted the vignettes and anecdotes about these Americans. Over the years, I have learned to be a bit more discriminating. In the main, missionaries since the time of Paul have been genuine outriders of the message of Christian salvation, love and redemption. They were not simply forerunners of imperialism, although Mahatma Gandhi's run-in with Christians speaks to the former. A student of the Bible and of Christianity, Gandhi is famously to have said, perhaps apocryphally, "I would have been a Christian until I met one."

Christianity, unlike Judaism or Hinduism for example, is a proselytizing faith. In Matthew 28: 19-20, Jesus lays down the basic principle underlying missions: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and others aren't driven by their own internal principles to convert others. Christians are. And, so are Muslims. This is not too surprising since their origins are linked in the Bible.

Other celebrated missionaries, like St. Francis of Assisi, who followed in Paul's footsteps. Francis lived in the 12th century when he traveled around the Mediterranean world testifying to his Lord Jesus Christ. Even the Sultan of Egypt listened to this very holy man.

National origins are linked to some of the great missionaries. St. Patrick of Ireland is almost synonymous with the Irish, but Patrick was not Irish but a Briton. He was captured by Irish raiders and enslaved in Ireland for a number of years before escaping. …

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