Bottom Dwellers – Who cares?

Rationale:

Mission work should be looked as an investment. For investments like money, time, opportunity, resources, we look for results. We expect influence, impact, and situations that will make a difference. The same should be true for missions. This is not being cold but realistic. We cannot be expected to cover the world with our mission hopes. We must evaluate and examine our investing strategies for missions. Some segments deserve our all, while others make unwise or unrealistic investments.

Where we should invest in missions should be clear. Some people, frankly speaking, are simply remote, savage, small, and drunks or dregs. Others, thousands or millions of people, are worthy of investing the energy, prayers, and hopes of the Christian forces for the glory of Christ’s Name.

Response:

The fourth chapter of the Gospel of John has yielded chapters, books, and blogs on the wisdom drawn from the Lord’s encounter with “the woman at the well.” On evangelism, cultural awareness, and discipleship, that chapter has fed us well.

Another angle brings us different kind of challenge: How do we get to know people like her? How do we meet her–befriend, understand, appreciate, take in, take home, and take to church people like her?

Remember, she was a prostitute. If she went to the well at this odd hour, it was because to her acquaintances she was NOKD, “Not Our Kind, Deary.” She was cast out, avoided, and seen as scum. They didn’t want anything to do with her, and she probably didn’t care to hear their murmuring about her.

How do we meet and take in people like her, Bottom Dwellers of today’s world? No, not all are prostitutes. Some are the guys holding the sign on the corner hoping for a dollar, others are refugees with unknown backgrounds, or inner-city dudes with dreadlocks, druggies looking for opioids, immigrants who don’t speak quite like they should, or neighbors who don’t think, parent, or vote the way we do.

We do live in bubbles, don’t we? We like what’s familiar inside, and we get a little shaky when we go outside. Another way to ask how we meet her is to ask how we can open cracks in our church bubbles. We need people like her in our pews. Otherwise, there are daunting observations about both—the makeup of those in the pews, and the opportunities for grace in her life.

One answer is to follow the Good Shepherd. This reference comes in only four verses: Luke 15:4-7. If we shadow the Good Shepherd, we can make out the features of the person who meets “the woman at the well.”

He has had his dinner and now has a book and some decaf coffee. One of the workers appears and mentions that one of the sheep is missing. What to do? There are viable options. Take it as a tax write-off, consider it a miscounting, or remember there are, after all, 99 left.

Nothing will do but to put down book and mug, dress right, and head out. As a sheep that is lost, this one is not strolling in the next field. No, the search takes the Shepherd through swamp, briars, creek beds, and mud. Furthermore, the lost sheep is not fluffy and delighted to be found. This roaming sheep is scruffy, muddy, smelly, and not at all delighted to be taken back to the paddock.

Carrying on this analogy with imagination, we learn more. The Shepherd did not take the sheep to bed with him, not even into the house. He did wash him down, give him food, and preen over him as one of the best of the best.

We can take it from there. How do we meet “The woman at the well”—whomever she may be, wherever we meet her? How do we treat her with the compassion of the Good Shepherd and His one lost sheep? The same way He treated us and welcomed us from our own lost territory.

For us this means abandoning our protected and uninterrupted time, our precious priorities, our sense of entitlement to what is called our “unwrinkled life.” More importantly we must accept challenges to the stereotypes that have justified keeping her at a distance.

She needs time. Understanding, time, basic needs, and the unassailable verity that she has worth. That’s the least of what it means to take her in. Maybe taking her to our home, certainly taking her to church, a place where she can meet the Good Shepherd. He does send us to search for her, doesn’t He?

The problem with the worldly-wise investor is his vision. He keeps his distance from her: he sees the messy and the smelly, the lazy and the schemer. He looks elsewhere for a better mission investment.

In another parable Jesus sees the women at the well in another guise. All of them—the hungry, the sick, the prisoner, and all others like her—He sees as Himself. When we meet her and take her in, we have taken in the Lord Himself. When we do not pursue her, we have forgotten how He searched through mud and found us. When we have avoided “women at the well,” we have not seen in her His image, His presence, and His love in her. As we have taken her in and loved her in all her manifestations as Bottom Dwellers, we have loved Him.

And, yes, He has another name for our worldly-wise investor. His name for him is decreed: “Goat.”


Photo: Two brothers in the town where I grew up. One was mentally challenged, and the other was gassed in WWI. The memory that keeps them before me is how my mother cared for these gentlemen throughout the year, impressing on me the model of love for the unreached.

Tad de Bordenave

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Saving the Marwari

Report: The Marwari of Rajasthan, India

The second time my wife, Constance, and I visited Summerville Church in Jodphur, the pastor was quite surprised. He remembered us from before but wondered why we would return with our interest in the Marwari.

I understood why he would ask. The Marwari of Rajasthan are a low caste group, all of whom are Hindu. They are not the merchants or business class of people who were drawn to his church nor to his spiffy new church on the edge of town. The Marwari were the street cleaners, porters, and other roles that their caste historically gave them. Most Marwari lived in the many villages in the Thar Desert. The Thar had not seen rain for three years, so the standard of living was profoundly distressed.

The best estimate numbers the Marwari as between seven and ten million people. Their cities would be Ajmer, Jodphur, Pushkar, and further to the west and near the border of Pakistan, the ancient walled city of Jaisalmer.  The Marwari language is the main dialect used throughout the 68 million people of Rajasthan.

One of their cities, Bikaner, lies to the north but way out in the desert. There in Bikaner is found what is probably the only temple dedicated to the rat. Yes, the rat. We visited the temple and observed treatment of rats thought to be nearly gods, or at least reincarnations of past members of the Marwari people.

As you might expect, these were the fattest rats imaginable. They receive the highest quality of milk in the area, tenderly ladled on lovely china dishes. There were several of these feeding spots at different places in the temple, each with a complement of rat tails pointing out from the center. A charming scene, one which my artist wife could not resist sketching.

The Rat Temple and the worship of rats brings out a twist on our subject of universal salvation. Yes, all will be saved, but not in the resurrection life Paul describes in I Corinthians 15. Salvation takes the form of reincarnation, to a superior or inferior state depending on the quality of karma accumulated in a person’s life. Good things bring good prospects in life; bad things result in misfortune. The rats of Bikaner represent incarnations of previous lives. For some, the rats would be an improvement, if the previous life had been, say, a jelly fish. But for others–bad hombres, shall we say–the effete rodents would mean a downwardly mobile state.

In one of the Marwari villages lived a pastor named Joshi. He was a kind man who believed that salvation was offered through Jesus Christ.  This man felt called to evangelize the Marwari of his village. This was no easy task since the RSS, one of the most virulent political parties in India with evident hatred for Christians, had a strong presence where he lives. Courageously, Pastor Joshi persevered. He gave himself the goal of presenting the Gospel to one family every week. For this he had a homemade tract to distribute and a correspondence course that he would supervise.

I met Joshi at one of our Marwari consultations. These consultations became the focal points for strategizing efforts to evangelize the Marwari. I was part of at least three Marwari consultations, and each one brought greater effectiveness in outreach to the Marwari. The most significant developments were the Marwari Jesus Film, translations of portions of the Bible, Christian tracts, and fellowship meetings for Marwari Christians.

At the third one Joshi reported on how his ministry had expanded because of these consultations. Now, when Joshi made his evangelistic visits, he could leave more than just his simple tract and Bible study. He now went with a copy of the Jesus Film, a tract of one of the Gospels, pamphlets with Christian instruction, and offers of camps for Marwari Christian youth.

All of that is a simple testimony to many parts of Christ’s body brought together under His leadership.

I experienced that unity in another way, one that could not have happened in Virginia. One of the translation teams had an American working with them. I sought him out and befriended him, spending some time with him and his wife, who was expecting her first child.

There was surprise enough to find a young American man there in Ajmer, but the surprise was greater when we realized how different were our backgrounds. When we were having a meal together, he asked me if I had heard of Dayton, Tennessee. I had and sort of knew where he was going. He was a member of the Dayton Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee). Yes, Dayton where Scopes taught evolution; Dayton, the scene of the trial of his classroom teaching. There over our vegetarian meal was an Anglican priest from Richmond, Virginia and an elder of the Dayton branch of the Church of God of Cleveland. We relished the association.

Requests for prayer for this unharvested field:

From this report come two requests: support for resources and unity of unexpected dimensions.

The discovery and use of wider resources enlarged the ministry of Joshi. We don’t need to be alongside these national evangelists to support their tools for evangelizing. A brief analysis of ministries will bring up the breadth of tools used, and a similar search will point us to ways to support their distribution.

As for unity, working alongside other Christians is often best done with a carry-on set of filters: what denomination, attitude towards evolution, level of sexual tolerance, opinion on the faith of the Founding Fathers, and such essential New Testament criteria… The view of heaven is clear–towards Dayton elders and clergy of any stripe: “May they be one as you and I are one, so that the world may know that you sent me.”

Tad de Bordenave


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All will be saved, so why go?

A bishop of Nigeria who, having heard of a tribe who wore no clothes and was not Christian, shed his closes, lived among them, and brought the Gospel to them.

The weekly series addresses nine reasons churches give for not sending workers to fields left unharvested.  One of the deterrents to sending workers there is the mistaken notion that all will be saved in the end. This posting explores the implications of that belief.

Rationale:

If God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to die on the cross for us, then reason, hope, and sheer compassion all lead to the same conclusion: with such a costly sacrifice of God, surely He will grant salvation to all people. All—Hindu, Jew, Muslim, Sikh, atheist, all—will be granted heaven by God in the final judgment.

After all, we are told that we are unable to gain saving grace on our own merit or effort.  God alone brings salvation. And we are to think He would keep some out? Unimaginable! Despite our respectful hesitancy, we can only think that God would be hard-hearted if that were His intention.

Pardon me, but spare me any efforts of logic or verses or arcane theology to contradict this universal hope. To do so must ignore the unyielding and inevitable affirmation of divine love.

In this light foreign missions becomes, well, irrelevant at best and insulting at worst. The message is really not a message—who needs to know? This would be like declaring, “I want you to know that you have two kidneys.” Who needs to be told?

Since God is going to save everybody, so why go?

Response

Believing that all will be saved is not foolproof nor above examination. As compelling and desirable as universal salvation is, we must not shirk at giving it a close look.

Our concern here is implications for foreign mission. I will bring up just one objection before turning to mission. Consider the God-given freedom of the will. Can God honor our freedom and also keep His promise of salvation for all?

This God-given capacity sets us apart from automatons. We have the ability to choose—whether it be the cheese we have with a glass of wine or the destiny we cling to. If I choose to freely love and worship God, that is the love God desires–His pearl of great price, we might say. It is offered as my freely given response, not extracted as a pre-ordained mindset without no possible alternative.

I can also exercise that freedom to give God a pass, to choose not to link my life to his, to commit to other gods and ultimately to refuse Jesus Christ. Many do just that: reject the cross of Jesus Christ and his forgiveness and not find in it the abundant life. They just don’t want what God offers, so they choose a life apart from him. If God overrules this person’s free rejection, does he not violate the sanction given to us all? You can’t have it both ways—our true freedom and God saving those who choose to refuse Him.

But this is not a theological refutation of universalism; this is about the choice denied those who have not even heard of Jesus Christ as God’s Son. The number is legion, over one quarter of the world’s population today. Those are the people where the workers are few and their fields barely plowed.

No, I have no inside knowledge of how God will treat those who die never having had the opportunity to choose faith in Jesus Christ. What we can affirm, however, is that all who do believe receive the assurance that, sinners though they are, they may be assured of God’s grace and God’s eternal salvation.

We return to the opening quotation and put back all the words it as spoken by Jesus. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).” In those simple words we have the requirement for receiving the salvation of Jesus Christ—believing in him. That does not lead to esoteric parsing of Greek verbs and such. It simply means what it says: believing in Jesus as God’s Son whom He gave to die on the cross for our sin. Faith in that brings eternal life.

As for those who have never heard this Good News, those in unharvested fields, we must leave the conclusions to the God who sent His Son to die for the sins of the world, only hoping for mission motivation to overtake the church.

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?

And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never hearAnd how are they to hear without someone preaching?

And how are they to preach unless they are sent?

As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of

those who preach the Good News.”

Romans 10:14, 15

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The Nation of the Tajakant

The weekly series addresses nine reasons churches give for not sending workers to fields left unharvested. The first reason, which I wrote about last week, was the muddling that arises from the use of the word “Gentile” to define the mission world instead of “nation” or “ethnic people.” If we see the mission field only as Gentiles, we miss the 7,000 nations left in those fields.

One of the deterrents to sending workers there is the mistaken notion that all will be saved in the end. This posting explores the implications of that belief.

Rationale:
If God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to die on the cross for us, then reason, hope, and sheer compassion all lead to the same conclusion: with such a costly sacrifice of God, surely He will grant salvation to all people. All—Hindu, Jew, Muslim, Sikh, atheist, all—will be granted heaven by God in the final judgment.

After all, we are told that we are unable to gain saving grace on our own merit or effort.  God alone brings salvation. And we are to think He would keep some out? Unimaginable! Despite our respectful hesitancy, we can only think that God would be hard-hearted if that were His intention.

Pardon me, but spare me any efforts of logic or verses or arcane theology to contradict this universal hope. To do so must ignore the unyielding and inevitable affirmation of divine love.

In this light foreign missions becomes, well, irrelevant at best and insulting at worst. The message is really not a message—who needs to know? This would be like declaring, “I want you to know that you have two kidneys.” Who needs to be told?

Since God is going to save everybody, so why go?

Response
Believing that all will be saved is not foolproof nor above examination. As compelling and desirable as universal salvation is, we must not shirk at giving it a close look.

Our concern here is implications for foreign mission. I will bring up just one objection before turning to mission. Consider the God-given freedom of the will. Can God honor our freedom and also keep His promise of salvation for all?

This God-given capacity sets us apart from automatons. We have the ability to choose—whether it be the cheese we have with a glass of wine or the destiny we cling to. If I choose to freely love and worship God, that is the love God desires–His pearl of great price, we might say. It is offered as my freely given response, not extracted as a pre-ordained mindset without no possible alternative.

I can also exercise that freedom to give God a pass, to choose not to link my life to his, to commit to other gods and ultimately to refuse Jesus Christ. Many do just that: reject the cross of Jesus Christ and his forgiveness and not find in it the abundant life. They just don’t want what God offers, so they choose a life apart from him. If God overrules this person’s free rejection, does he not violate the sanction given to us all? You can’t have it both ways—our true freedom and God saving those who choose to refuse Him.

But this is not a theological refutation of universalism; this is about the choice denied those who have not even heard of Jesus Christ as God’s Son. The number is legion, over one quarter of the world’s population today. Those are the people where the workers are few and their fields barely plowed.

No, I have no inside knowledge of how God will treat those who die never having had the opportunity to choose faith in Jesus Christ. What we can affirm, however, is that all who do believe receive the assurance that, sinners though they are, they may be assured of God’s grace and God’s eternal salvation.

We return to the opening quotation and put back all the words it as spoken by Jesus. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).” In those simple words we have the requirement for receiving the salvation of Jesus Christ—believing in him. That does not lead to esoteric parsing of Greek verbs and such. It simply means what it says: believing in Jesus as God’s Son whom He gave to die on the cross for our sin. Faith in that brings eternal life.

As for those who have never heard this Good News, those in unharvested fields, we must leave the conclusions to the God who sent His Son to die for the sins of the world, only hoping for mission motivation to overtake the church.

How then will they call on him in whom
they have not believed?

          And how are they to believe in him of whom
they have never heard?
And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
And how are they to preach unless they are sent?
As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of
those who preach the Good News.”
Romans 10:14, 15
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Fields, Gentiles, and Nations

03

Dani women of western China experiencing green chewing gum

 

When I was the Director of Anglican Frontier Missions, I spent many Sundays in different churches where I presented unreached mission fields. Over time, in conversation with clergy and mission leaders, I began to see patterns of reasons not harvesting in these fields. In this series I will present these, along with the responses I developed.

Pretty cheeky of me, right? I mean, taking up negative notions about frontier missions and presuming to set them right. Cheeky and bold, but with the effort not to be offensive. (I am a mild-mannered Virginian!)  Besides, as I noted last week, this series does allow for your feedback.

Reason: This week’s reason is really an objection.  This sample church is already heavily involved in foreign fields, mission to Gentiles. There is sacrificial ministry, mutually beneficial, with tough times and hard learnings, and borne much fruit.

This engagement often results from connections with bishops of the Anglican Communion or leaders of other denominations. These relationships can open ways for interaction between them and us. Another way into foreign mission is through local ministry with international students. These people usually return to positions of leadership and influence in their homelands. The opportunity is great: there are over 300,000 Chinese students in the United States. Unfortunately, history shows that fewer than 30% will get into an American home.

To churches like this sample congregation, they do not ask, “So why go?” but declare, “We are already there.”

Response: Truly, many are involved, and with a long history, humbling times of learning, and benefits for all who have participated. But—

We must take a close look at this term, “fields,” and ask two questions. First, what does Jesus mean by this term, and second, how do we know what fields lack workers?  It should be clear that He is not referring to political countries. Boundaries change. Consider, for example, poor Poland, how the lines of that great country have been altered over the last 150 years. No, Jesus has something else in mind.

The best place to look is Matthew’s Great Commission. There the Lord tells us to make disciples of all “nations.” The Greek for “nations” is ethne, a word we have incorporated as “ethnic.” Most translations render this as Gentiles. That is lamentable. That divides the world once—Jews and others. Whatever is done across cultural boundaries qualifies as work with Gentiles. So, churches can say, “We are already there.”

Unless… unless Jesus is speaking about ethnic tribes, people groups distinct from one another by language, custom, history, religion and more. After all, we cannot paraphrase the Great Commission by saying, “Go, make disciples of all Gentiles.” In the metaphor of fields, Jesus is telling us that many ethnic groups are without mission attention.

China gives us a good example of the difference between a political country and “nations.” . We can be amazed at the number of Chinese Christians, but when we look at the people groups, another picture emerges. Most Chinese Christians are of the majority Han nation. China recognizes 55 minority nations, but actually there are many more than 55. Of these “nations” most have very few Christians and very few workers.

Secondly, how do we know which fields?  One way to that solution is to go by number of Christians. Some fields have scads of Christians—a number of believers beyond counting.  We ask, then, what makes that growth possible? Easy: teachers, Bibles, classes, training, places to worship, absence of persecution, webinars and websites, and, of course, an ample supply of DVDs and notebook courses.

Maybe you can see where this is going. If some fields have all these things and lots of Christians, then what about fields without these. Those would be the ones waiting for the harvest. Those are the ones with few workers, few Christians, and inadequate efforts to evangelize.

Now we can see how these unharvested fields can be identified—by asking about available resources:

        Bibles. In their own language? The entire Bible or portions?  The Jesus Film? Available on the Internet? And, by the way, have the people learned to read?

        Leadership training. How recently has Christianity come to this people? Are there Christian leaders? Are there opportunities for training? What level of teaching is appropriate?

        Modes of communication. Are there radio programs, TV programs? Are these accessible to the people? How about print—magazines, correspondence courses, pamphlets on discipleship topics?

        Aids to society. Are there Christian health care workers, educational personnel, advocates for justice and kindness? These address their areas of expertise, but they also model the Christian life.

        Openness in society. Is evangelism permitted? Encouraged and taught? Can worship take place in the open? Is there persecution of Christians and churches?

Those are some of the key criteria in discerning where a particular nation or ethnic group fits. Fields without scads of these resources also are without scads of Christians, and without scads of workers.

What about those churches that are in well harvested fields, like our sample church? Hold back from their work? Shift to another field? Of course not! Press on! If anything, increase the attention and support for growth. And… don’t discount the power of the Holy Spirit to nudge you towards those unharvested fields as well.

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Unharvested Fields

The area of fields white for harvest but with few workers

A Lenten and Easter series on fields needing harvest

You probably recognize the imagery our Lord used. It comes at the end of Chapter 9 of Matthew. He used the simplest of images to convey this overlooked priority for the church’s mission:
            Fields of people
Harvest that is neglected
Spectacular prospects
Too few workers
Prayer for more

These unharvested fields we refer to as “frontier mission.” That’s because they lay beyond the present mission of the church. Vast resources go for to fields where workers have been harvesting year after year. But Jesus is turning our attention to those people where the workers are few—very few and far behind the harvest needed.

Transferring His imagery to current numbers and locations, the church sends over 90% of our mission resources to where harvesting has a long history. To those fields where the Gospel is unknown, it’s a different story. There are about 1.8 billion  people in today’s world living in unharvested fields, in the dark about Jesus Christ. For these 28% of the world’s population, we allocate about 6% of our resources.

I consider myself an expert in the reasons for neglecting the some harvest fields. I was director of a missionary society that serves the church’s work among those fields. Anglican Frontier Missions concentrated on the 25 largest and least evangelized ethnic groups. As Director I was on the other end of the telephone receiving calls from those interested in the least evangelized people groups. They were few in those days. I soon discovered that my major role was as advocate for these fields. That meant listening to the churches’ mission stories, appreciating what they were doing, and trying to figure out why that did not include the Qashqa’i of Iran, among others. After fifteen years in that role I became an expert in these reasons.

This is a very timely introduction for this series. This coming Sunday I will give a presentation to a church about involvement with frontier mission. Having this presentation in mind has helped to crystallize the challenge. Let me share my thoughts.

This church is one of the friendliest churches I know towards frontier mission. They have a sound mission life, both locally and beyond. Furthermore, this is the church that gave me immense personal and financial support in the early days of AFM. Yes, this is my former parish, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia.

I have told the rector and missions chair that I will go to meddlin’. That is, I will offer ideas for connections and engagement in frontier mission. I have four suggestions in mind, opportunities that most congregations in the US could consider:

1. International students;
2. A local ethnic group with ties to previous mission outreach;
3. Foreign missionaries supported in the parish budget;
4. A missionary from a local church.

Each has benefits that commend them:

1. Students from other countries, students who will become leaders back in their own lands. Several churches I know are having successful outreach for students in their vicinity. At the nearby University of Richmond there are over 600 foreign students. Most are from China, with India second.
2. Permanent residents from countries where we have previous contacts. For St. Matthew’s that would be Ethiopia. Several trips to one particular area and a bishop from neighboring tribes give a head start in meaningful connections.
3. Overseas missionaries supported by the church. To highlight these pioneer missionaries would take our attention to their dangerous and strategic places and people.  Four Moldovans receive funds in this church’s budget.
4. A missionary going to a country in South Asia. This is the most intriguing because of today’s Episcopal/Anglican world. This missionary was raised Episcopalian and now worships at an Anglican church. She is warm and friendly. She has good relations in both groups and has a relative in St. Matthew’s. Of course, the issue is cooties. Will one group get the cooties of the other?

Now, I attend three churches from three different Anglican bodies. I have my ecclesiastical allergies, and none of them is activated in these three churches.  As a disconnected missionary type with official ties only in Nigeria, you can tell that getting torqued over divisions between Bible-centered, Spirit-filled, etc., churches bores me. Unity in Christ is a possible fit here.

I would say that I will report the outcome next week, but I have learned that the reality is always a long-term sorting out. What I will report on is the first reason for neglect and my response. The report will come the following week—a look at the 10 million Hindu Marwari of Rajasthan, India.

Picture: A field of winter wheat almost ready for workers.

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Reports from Citizens of Heaven

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 4.33.32 PMPhoto – Fr. Jacques Hammel, recently martyred in his church in Normandy, France
The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

One of my visions of heaven involves a Starbucks-like setting where ambrosia and manna are served. Around the tables are saints from all eras and diverse localities. The conversation clearly thrills all those listening, for they are sharing the ways God has loved them, how they experienced God’s grace.

This scene, we may say, is the assurance of things they hoped for.

When we read and hear of the stories of the saints of the church, we are hearing reports from citizens of heaven. Until our time of arrival there, we have opportunity to eavesdrop on these who have gone before. The writer to the Hebrews recognized the special value of their stories by including this great eleventh chapter. We can only imagine the taste of ambrosia and manna, but the stories are the stuff of real life.

They knew the promise. They held on because they had heard God promise that He has a city that is not of this world. Theirs was not a faith built upon dreams or fantasy. He promised; it was so.

They were strangers and exiles. This world was not their home. For all their opportunities for comfort, success, and more, they knew that this world was not all there is. The world to come was a reality greater than the illusions of grandeur here.

They knew God was the architect. The best they had experienced here was nothing in comparison with what God has designed. No advertisement—whether it be of extravagant luxury or enviable lifestyle–nothing earthly would compare with the City of God. “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined—what God has prepared for those who love Him” (I Cor. 2:9).

They were bulwarks of truth. Their faith communicated truth, real and trustworthy truth. This world is not all there is; this world has fools’ gold; this world is corrupt and will be destroyed; this world will capture, dehumanize, destroy, and discard.

To be sure they also had trials of faith, times of doubt, and temptations to which they yielded. In vivid detail we read of all these in the Bible, and we know all the saints since then have the same tales. But by the grace of God they “endured to the end.”

We, too, face trials, doubt, and temptations. We, too, have shame and embarrassment for how we have dishonored God and hidden our testimony. As we strain to hear the stories of the saints who have gone before, we gather a bit more faith to believe, stronger courage to witness, and a clearer vision of the city God has prepared.

World Christian Trends 

The section on martyrology in this volume is truly extraordinary. In 40 pages, encyclopedia size, we read a list of martyrs and massacres beginning with year 33. Then the list of martyrs is given by country.

What follows is a random selection of martyrs, chosen for variety of eras and localities. These are people whose excitement and awe fill the conversations around the tables. From them, even from these very brief sketches, we can distill the signs of grace and hope that stayed alive in them, even as they faced death.

Aretas of Yemen, burned with monks and nuns in 427. The blood of the martyrs in that country has barely penetrated the soil. The harvest in this land remains small.

Wenceslas in Bohemia, the saint of the well-known carol, who gave his life for the Lord in 929. He left a legacy of kindness as well as clear faith in Christ.

Peter of Castelnau of Toulouse, France, the city where my French cousins live. Their faith is buoyed by the legacy of this martyr of 1208 and others who secured a stronghold of faith in this part of France.

Daniel of Belvedere from Morocco, a Franciscan monk who met his death in 1220. He was determined to show that to be a Moroccan can also mean to be Christian. That continues to be vehemently denied by the rulers there today.

Tamerlane’s brutality and massacres of hundreds of thousands of Christians between 1358 and 1401. No list carries their names, no plaques or saints days, but each one is known by name by our Lord, each one precious to Him. He has given each a white robe and a seat on the front row.

J. de Almasia of Paraguay martyred by the Agaces Indians in 1536, showing the centuries of resistance to establishing the church in the highlands and savannahs of Paraguay.

L. de Quiros, one of eight Jesuit priests killed in my native Virginia in 1571. I look forward to learning the good and the bad of the efforts to assist the Indian population to embrace the faith of the crucified Savior.

Donna Beatrice, one of the early martyrs of Sub-Saharan Africa, being burned at the stake in Congo in 1704. How many people will we meet who suffered for the faith, who brought many to the Lord, and who influenced generations that followed? We will meet many of these.

E. Trieu and J. Dat were two Vietnamese priests pioneering in Indonesia in 1773. Henry Lyman and Samuel Munson, sent out by the American Baptist missionaries to Sumatra, Indonesia. They met their death in 1834. Sumatra still has several large unreached groups there, the larger ones being Lampung and Komering. Blood of martyrs and prayer will one day bear fruit.

David Dapcha Lama, a Nepalese missionary in the earliest days of Christian witness in Nepal.  He gave his life in 1958 when there were so few Christians they could not be counted.

30,000 Igbo Christians massacred by Muslim mobs in Nigeria in 1966. The fervor for mission in Nigeria has not come without enormous cost.

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is a chapter of encouragement. The tales of the saints inspire faith, as well as awe and praise of God. The writer meant for us to eavesdrop, for from them we draw hope and strength as we prepare for our place at the table.

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