“How can you, in good conscience, try to convert people?” asked a young friend of mine. It’s a fair question given our culture’s current skepticism of Christianity. After the novel The Poisonwood Bible was published in 1998, sentiment towards evangelistic missionaries took a turn for the worse, and it appears the trend is continuing downward.
Fortunately, there are many wonderful reasons to be enthusiastic about missions. In 2014, I was delighted to read the research of Dr. Robert Woodberry.1 His detailed study revealed evidence that “Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on the average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women) and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.”
All of these benefits were the result of Protestant missionaries sharing Jesus out of their love for the indigenous people and their desire for them to read the Good News in their own language. Missionary literacy classes created opportunities for learning that dispelled ignorance. More education led to greater economic development. While most of these outcomes were not the missionaries’ primary goal, God’s greater purposes were being served.
This historical and statistical work of Dr. Woodberry has been startling for scholars, even causing some to rethink their views on mission work. Though some culturally insensitive, self-centered missionaries existed, the overall legacy of Protestant missions was revolutionary for individual quality of life and the cultural advancement. Missionaries fought the opium trade in China, built abolition movements, and brought an end to sati, the Indian cultural practice of tying the living widow to her deceased husband’s body and burning them together on the funeral pyre.
Joel Carpenter, director of the Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity at Calvin College states, “Few [missionaries] were in any systemic way social reformers. I think they were first and foremost people who loved people. They [cared] about other people, saw that they’d been wronged, and [wanted] to make it right. I never felt really comfortable with the idea of missions. Then I read Bob’s work. I thought Wow, that’s amazing. They left a long legacy.”
For me, Woodberry’s research was an affirmation. Through missionaries, Jesus transforms lives and cultures! However, the lasting effects of love do not stop there. The missionaries themselves are also transformed—even short-term missionaries! This issue of AF highlights our student missionaries, a number of whom choose to make AFM mission work their career. Praise God!
One student missionary describes this transformation as part of the numerous blessings of service:
Seeing God’s work in a personal way in both my life and in other’s lives as a direct result of prayer. (See Michael Babienco’s article on page 30 as an example.)
Gaining a much larger understanding of why sharing the gospel is so important in the context of eternal life. I met people I care about whom I may not get the chance to see again on this earth, and I want them to be able to have hope for eternal life.
The harvest is great, and laborers are few. This hits close to home when I know how much difference even one more worker could make in the field where I served.
Sister White describes this very experience in Steps to Christ, p. 80: “If you will go to work as Christ designs that His disciples shall, and win souls for Him, you will feel the need of a deeper experience and a greater knowledge in divine things, and will hunger and thirst after righteousness. You will plead with God, and your faith will be strengthened, and your soul will drink deeper drafts at the well of salvation. Encountering opposition and trials will drive you to the Bible and prayer. You will grow in grace and the knowledge of Christ, and will develop a rich experience.”
This is all good news thus far. So here is the opportunity: The world needs more missionaries. Since AFM works to bring Jesus to unreached people groups, we are acutely aware that more workers are desperately needed. We need students, singles, couples and families who are willing to go. And we need people to support them with prayer and finances.
Wherever the love of Jesus is in the hearts of men, it will flow out to others in love and blessings. No matter whether you are college-age or gray-haired, there is a place for you in missions. When you experience Jesus’ love, you cannot keep quiet. You must share the Good News!
If you want to experience and share the lasting effects of love, go! Go as a student missionary. Go as a career missionary. Contact us at email@example.com.
If you cannot go, then these words are for you: “And all who could not personally engage in the work, would yet sustain it with their means, their sympathy, and their prayers.” Give and Pray! Call 1-800-937-4236 or give online at www.afmonline.org
There are two funds that I would like for you to prayerfully consider supporting. The first is the Student Missions Fund. Our student missionaries raise one third of the cost of their service. The other two thirds comes from this fund. If you want to give young people a chance to change the world and themselves, this is a great investment.
The second fund is the GO Fund. This fund supports every aspect of AFM’s work, from recruitment to training to in-field support. The GO Fund allows our missionaries to focus on church-planting and provides this magazine as direct feedback for your giving. If you want to change the world, this fund supports all of AFM’s work.
No matter your station in life, as a co-worker with God, the lasting effects of Love will change the world through you. Let’s go!
1 “The Surprising Discovery about those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries” Christianity Today, January-February 2014.