The work of missions is one of the most important that any church can engage in. It is the responsibility of every Christian. We are either supposed to go into the mission field or we should be supporting those who have gone with our prayers and our finances. This is because our God is a God of missions. That is what the whole Bible is about. It is God’s agenda. Whereas I knew this from the time I became a Christian, somehow the penny never quite dropped that I should put this into practice both as a Christian and later as a church pastor.
How come? It is because we are all creatures of our own day. We live with many unconscious beliefs that dictate our priorities and how we relate to situations in life. I was once with presuppositions that made me conclude that at least for now the work of missions was none of my business. Looking back, I realise that those unconscious beliefs were all lies. There were many of them but, at the risk of embarrassing myself, let me share with you seven of them. Many fellow African Christians may find themselves making similar confessions.
Lie 1: We Africans were at the end of the process of missions
I always believed in missions. However, somewhere at the back of my mind I was of the unconscious belief that I was at the finishing end of the factory line of missions. Other people had brought the gospel to me and to my people. Our task here in Africa was simply that of evangelising our own people. That was all. Hence, in our prayer meetings we prayed for our evangelistic programmes. In our scheduling we only planned for evangelistic activities. In our budgeting we set aside funds for evangelistic trips and tracts. There was no sense of guilt that we rarely ever prayed for actual missionaries by name. Prayer meetings came and went without a single cry to God to raise up missionaries from among us. And we had nothing in our annual church planner and budget that was to do directly with missions work. It was all about neighbourhood evangelism, which was to result in our own church’s growth.
Lie 2: Missionaries were “white people”
To me, missionaries were from Europe or America. They were “white skinned” men and women. That fitted the pictures and paintings of missionaries that I was brought up seeing in books. William Carey, David Livingstone, Hudson Taylor, Adoniram Judson, Stanley Moffat, Olive Doke, and Mary Slesser were all “muzungus”. It also fitted what I saw as I visited mission stations around the country as a young believer. I made friends with a number of them. They were all “white people”. Whenever it was announced that a missionary would share in our church about the work they were doing, a “white skinned” man or woman would stand up and go to the front to speak. That stereotype remained in my subconscious mind. I ended up with the unconscious belief that a black man like me was not in that category.
Lie 3: Missionaries were extraordinary people
The little I knew about the life of a missionary convinced me that these were men and women who were a notch above ordinary mortals like me. I thought they probably heard an audible voice telling them to leave the comforts of their world to go and spend the rest of their lives in the jungles of Africa among ferocious beasts and unpredictable tribal chiefs or in Islamic and Communist countries where upon being discovered they would face certain death. I was convinced that missionaries possessed super human strength and courage. I admired them the way I admired Marvel’s Captain America, Iron Man, and Spiderman. Since I knew that I was an ordinary mortal who almost collapses at the sight of a spider and I also knew my church members were of the same ilk, I was of the unconscious opinion that we did not have men and women among us who could be missionaries. So, I never bothered to challenge our people to seriously consider going into the work of missions. Never!
Lie 4: Those who supported missions had a lot of money
I was convinced that God did not expect my church or me to give finances towards missions because only Christians and churches with plenty of money did such a thing. And I thought such Christians and churches were only found in America and Europe. I did not realise that many individuals and churches that were giving to missions in the West were doing so out of their poverty. They were doing so primarily because they saw it not as an optional extra to their Christian lives but as an intrinsic part of it. Some of them were students who had to forgo perhaps a meal a day in order to give the money they could have spent on that meal to the work of missions. In other words, I did not realise that we too could and were obligated to support the work of missions financially while we were struggling to make ends meet.
Lie 5: We must support a missionary’s total budget
This was another barrier to my involvement in missions. I always thought that a single church must have all the money needed to support a missionary’s total budget before they can get involved in supporting missions work. Since our church could not do so, I assumed God was leaving us out of this obligation. It was not until I got close enough to individual Western missionaries that I realised that many of them get “bits and pieces” from different churches and from different Christians to meet their needs on the mission field. Sometimes some churches and individuals drop off and they have to get back home to raise further support. In this way, even small struggling churches and poor Christians could participate in missions. Missions work is a joint effort where we all must contribute our little to make it happen!
Lie 6: Only churches with missionaries should pray for them
I thought that only those churches that have actually sent out missionaries are expected to pray for missionaries by name. After all, they have seen them grow up among them, get married, and even begin raising a family. So, they know them very well. For the rest of us it was enough to simply pray generally for “the advancement of God’s kingdom through the work of missions”. Thus even when I visited churches in the USA and heard them praying specifically for missionaries by name and sharing about the circumstances they were going through, I concluded, “They must have been members here and are now serving abroad.” It never dawned on me that some of them were never members in those churches but that churches in the West tend to adopt and support missionaries sent out by sister churches.
Lie 7: It is not yet time for us to get involved in missions
This was the final lie, which was a result of the cumulative effect of the smaller lies mentioned above. We were not “white” people and did not have a lot of money. None of our members showed extraordinary faith and courage. Therefore, it was not yet time for us to get involved in missions. We must keep the best of our young adults in good well-paying jobs to add to our numbers and funds. Our church prayer meetings should rightly concentrate only on our evangelism. One day it will be our turn, but that is somewhere in the distant future. The application of the Great Commission to us in Africa is simply that we continue to evangelise. What a BIG lie!
These seven lies and many more shut my eyes to the obligation that I had as an African Christian and pastor towards the work of missions for a number of years. How else could I have missed the fact that we are called to fulfil the Great Commission even as African believers and that this goes beyond reaching out to our neighbourhood? I am glad that my eyes have since been opened and as a result Kabwata Baptist Church and its members are engaged in the work of missions—sending out missionaries to plant churches, raising funds to support them, and praying for them by name every week in our prayer meetings.
I kick at myself for taking so long to see the light. Yet, when I talk with fellow pastors in Africa about missions I notice the same false beliefs that I once had in many of them. These are unconscious beliefs that are betrayed by a lack of actual action. They agree with me in theory that the work of missions is important but they remain inactive about it. The cumulative effect of these lies causes them to think, “It is not yet time for us to get involved in missions.” I will not throw the first stone at them because sadly I was once in their shoes.