Are Missionaries Underhanded?
I used to have a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that what we are trying to do as missionaries is just a little underhanded. It seems that we come with our airplanes and our medicines and our money and our technology, and we tell these stone-age people, “you can have all of this, but you must accept our God as well.”
When Wycliffe Bible Translators enter a country, they often enter with the blessing of the Department of Education. At first suspicious, the government comes to understand that they are highly trained academics whose goal is not to destroy, but to develop and encourage the native culture to flourish through creating a written language and teaching literacy... NO STRINGS ATTACHED.
Why do we do this? Because we are Christians. That is why we bring not only literacy, but all of the blessings we have. What many of us have missed is that although we are waiting for Jesus’ second coming, when the Kingdom of Heaven will visibly conquer earth, the Kingdom of Heaven is in a very real sense already here, among us.
“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it” -Matthew 11:12
The Kingdom advances as the blessings of it move through the world, carried by the followers of Jesus. Did you know that public hospitals were originally a completely Christian idea, often staffed by nuns and funded by churches? How much culture and history would have survived the Dark Ages had it not been for the light of accedemia carefully guarded by the monastics? Did you know that “Sunday School” was the original public education system, started in industrial-era England to teach orphans literacy?
In our day and age we continue to bring the Kingdom of God to the poorest people on earth with safe transportation, medical services, literacy, and I.T. Very few people groups will turn down these things, because they can see the blessings they bring. Some cultures, where revenge-killing or polygamy are part of their traditions, have seen that accepting “Christian morals” brings blessings.
But we aren’t moralists, and we aren’t saved by being moral. Our focus isn’t on laws or rules, because no matter how good we are, we can never live up to our own consciences. The greatest blessing we can offer is freedom from the universal guilt of wrongdoing. We can only get rid of our guilt by believing the good news that Jesus died to make us right with God and others, and trusting Him with our guilt rather than trying to pay for it by obeying this or that rule. It’s a free offer of freedom!
Wherever we go we offer all the blessings we have. We don’t force medicine on someone, and we don’t force them to “convert” either. In fact, we believe that the only One who can change a heart is God. It’s not our job! We simply bring what we have and offer it to them.
In some instances, they accept only the material blessings, and in others, whole families are transformed by a true change of heart. Either way, we have done the work we were sent to do: we have offered the blessings of the Kingdom of God to them.
In the end, our greatest goal is to bring glory to God, and this is what we will have done. When the Kingdom comes completely, some from every people group will have come to believe, as it says in Revelation 7 (below). They will joyfully worship before God’s throne. But the rest will also give glory to God. With wails of grief (Rev. 1:7), they will be compelled to say, “the kingdom was among us, freely offered, and we rejected it. We were wrong. Glory be to God!”
“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” -Revelation 7:9-10