Two students on their way to class heard a ringing bell, telling them they were late. Worriedly, one said, “Let’s kneel and pray!” The other agreed to pray, but said, “Let’s pray running.”
Does this apply to our preparation for the mission field? We may pray, but do we pray kneeling rather than running?
One of my closest friends has a great concern for South America. He talks about it a great deal, and we have spent much time together praying and talking about it.
Yet he does not see the need of getting to know any of the South Americans who are around him on campus. Some of these are the kind of people for whom he was supposedly concerned - non-Christians with great social problems, greater than their brothers in South America because here they lack the cultural fellowship they enjoyed back home. They need someone who will enter into personal contact with them, who will open their heart to them, who will love them. Beyond this they need Christ.
Meanwhile my friend is thinking only of South America. He prays to go there to help those people, but he ignores South Americans on campus. He has rejected or refused to see the opportunity just next door, a chance to learn the human aspects of the missionary endeavor in advance.
I’ve discovered that this attitude is the general rule among Christian students. It comes from a dangerous intermingling of the American way of life with the Christian message. Just as we unconsciously expect that every American will hear the gospel from somebody or other, some time or other, so we live in the illusion that South Americans or other internationals living in the USA will eventually not only be influenced by the American way of life but will also become Christians by and by.
This indifference to the person next door has been a shocking discovery to me for several reasons. First, it shows that some expressive and excellent American Christians have not taken the burden of their own country to heart. They do not even see the need to do so. Yet the whole Christian “world” (the church at large) needs the American church at this time more than ever. It needs the American church to be strong, committed, and more influential in the American society. The American church has much responsibility toward the world church today. It should be a symbol of internal vigor.
Second, my discovery reveals an attitude that could greatly damage the concept of missions in the modern world. Anyone who distinguishes between the “missionary” calling and the “Christian” calling would find it hard to live in the more nationalistically oriented foreign mission fields today. Yet there are opportunities overseas for any Christian who can creatively, conscientiously, sincerely let Christ speak through him at any time, at “home” or “abroad”.
Third, this attitude hinders any profound fellowship with “foreign” Christians, especially those who come from the “mission fields.”
And fourth, it denies the potential missionary a special opportunity since home mission vision is vital to the foreign mission potential. It is an opportunity for him to get involved with his own people in his own culture. Through it he can learn more about how culturally oriented his message is. It can also be an opportunity to get involved with foreigners in his own country. He will then have the opportunity to learn about their culture without the cultural shock which awaits the man who has to begin from scratch when he arrives on the field.
The USA is not only a needy and important mission field, it is also a vitally necessary stepping stone for the foreign mission field. And anyone who is realistically awaiting God’s call to the foreign missions should meanwhile be creatively and conscientiously involved in the expansion of this most significant and strategic church of Christ on earth - the American church.
Wilson Okite (Oh-kee-ta), a citizen of Kenya, was a graduate student at Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL when he wrote this article. Before coming to Wheaton, he was a language student at Inter-American University in San German, Puerto Rico. He became a Christian there through the witness of InterVarsity students.