The world has changed a lot in the last hundred years. A lot of things that used to make sense no longer do. A lot of people ask the question: is overseas missions one of those things? Should we still be sending missionaries overseas? That’s a legitimate question, and there are many reasons people raise for why we should not be sending them.
One of the common reasons people bring up is that there are many people in our own Western countries who don’t know Jesus. Shouldn’t we focus our efforts here before going overseas? The secular West is the new mission field, we’re told. And wouldn’t it be a far more economical use of resources to focus on evangelising at home rather than on the other side of the world?
Not A New Objection
This objection to missions actually isn’t a new one. At least as far back as 200 years ago, people were arguing the same thing. Take care of our own back yard before sending people to someone else’s!
But in 1792, a man named William Carey responded to this objection in a short book on missions. His response is instructive still for us today. 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 [those overseas], and that therefore we have work enough at home, without going into other countries. I readily grant that there are thousands in our own land as far from God as possible, and that this ought to excite us to ten-fold diligence in our work here.”
So he happily admits that we’ve got a lot of work to do at home. But, he goes on to say, there are some very important differences between non-Christians at home and those who live in completely unreached places:
“Our own countrymen have the means of grace [through gospel-preaching churches], 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…. But with those overseas, the case is widely different, who have no Bible, no written language (which many of them have not), no ministers or churches… nor any of those advantages which we have…. This calls loudly for every possible exertion to introduce the gospel amongst them.”
What’s his point?
Yes, there are many people in our own countries who don’t know God. But look, if they decided one day to walk into a church, they have the freedom and ability to do so!
They have free access to a Bible they can understand, they can rock up to a church any Sunday, they have ample opportunity to hear the gospel if they so choose. But for many people in other parts of the world, this is not the case.
Some Things Don’t Change
And the sad fact is, this is just as true in our day as it was in Carey’s. Even today, there are hundreds of people groups who don’t have a single Christian in them, and whole languages that don’t have any access to the Bible.
So while we absolutely must be committed to evangelism and making disciples in our own nation – and Lord grant that we be more committed to that work – it’s still the case that the church must have a distinct priority in taking the gospel to unreached places.
A global missions priority.
Yes, the world has changed. But the need for sending missionaries is not one of those things that has changed with it. Lord haste the day when we won’t need to send a single missionary again, but that day is not here yet.