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Missions 101

The Most Fascinating Period of Missions History?

May. 22, 2015By: Evan Burns
A question was posed by my PhD professor of Missions, Dr. David Sills.  His question and my answer are below.  
QUESTION:  Some say that the current era of missions will surpass many of the superlatives recorded in the pages of missions history. What are some of the developments in Christianity that indicate that this prophecy will be true? If you cannot embrace such a bold statement, why would you disagree?  
ANSWER:  Before I express my opinion, it would be necessary to ask further questions about the phrase, "the current era of missions will surpass many of the superlatives recorded in the pages of missions history." My question is, "in what ways do some say contemporary missions will surpass the superlatives of the past?" Are people thinking primarily of the number of missionaries and the diversity of sending nations? Is this a quantitative comparison or a qualitative comparison? My intuition says that this is a quantitative comparison. If we are strictly comparing numbers of people who go overseas as missionaries (which some would include short-term trips) then yes, today's mission force is quantitatively superior to any other time in history. This is largely due to the wealth of Western churches, the speed of travel, globalism, and other technological advances. I praise God for how quickly missionaries can move about the globe. Quantitatively speaking, it is an unparalleled day in which we live.
Nevertheless, my contention is that the sacrifice and commitment of the present-day era of missionaries are fragile and fleeting compared to most eras of missions history. Take the Moravians for example; they were famous for selling themselves into slavery in the West Indies to reach the African slaves. Even many of the English and American missionaries of the 19th century would set sail for a land to which they had never taken a short-term exposure trip, and they would pack their coffins well aware that they would probably die within the first two years. Now taking those two example alone (and many more could be cited), there is a significant qualitative difference between then and today. Moreover, when reading the rich spirituality and deep theology penned by those committed missionaries in the toughest of times, it is difficult to compare what we include in our brief newsletter updates today.

Amid all today's advances in medicine, transportation, communication, and technology, it seems that there is a qualitative difference in our souls. To be sure, missionaries of the past were no more perfect than we are today. Saints are sinful in every era. But could it be that the quality of former mission endeavors was deepened by the fact that they had to struggle and suffer more than most of us do today? No email; no medical evacuation; no jet plane; no electricity; no computer; no cell phones; no vaccinations; no ATM machines. I imagine that if I were someday in heaven to ask St. Patrick, Boniface, Adoniram Judson, or David Brainerd what they thought was the qualitative difference between their missionary endeavor and mine, they would probably say something similar to what Paul said: " Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead" (2 Cor 1:9).
Tags:  history of missions
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