If you are used to attending church conferences with Bible teaching and small groups, mixed in with camp food, local bushwalks and time off, then dropping into a conference full of missionaries can hold surprises. Gordon Cheng reports.
At the CMS Mid-Year Missionary Conference, all the usual things happened, with Bible teaching provided courtesy of Federal Secretary Peter Rodgers. So that is not the surprise. Whichever Australian CMS missionaries who could attend did, meaning those on Home Assignment, or some having just finished their time of service.
The surprises came in the honesty and rawness of the individual stories, some of which you can read or hear directly from the missionaries themselves if you are a supporter, others of which you may stumble across in the course of God’s providence. Here is a very small sample, omitting names so as to reduce the intensity of attention for some.
A very sick baby brings the gospel to hospital
We met a missionary couple whose baby, it was confidently predicted, would be born without lungs and therefore die immediately upon birth. They were told by their medical specialist to have an abortion but refused the advice. So the baby was born.
We met this living and beautiful miracle baby at the conference, and heard also the stories of the dozens of medical staff who had learned the gospel from the mother while she and the baby were in hospital. Yes, the little one has only just slightly more than one functioning lung, and will soon face surgery for other major medical issues. But she is alive and the family is back in Australia. It had not been part of their mission plan, they confessed, to conduct large scale personal evangelism in local Australian hospitals. But that is precisely what God has been using them to do.
A young man evangelising a country in 10-minute lots
We heard of another young man, a friend of the reporting missionaries, who is intent on bringing the gospel to his entire country, apparently by seeking to evangelise the whole region “in 10-minute lots” through walk-up conversation.
Later he intends to become a pastor.
Is this the wisest and best strategy? Should the missionary friends help him move forward in his desire to become a pastor? This is a hard question to answer, especially as he seems to be the only local man they have come across in years of gospel ministry who holds this 1 Timothy 3:1 desire. In what will not be a news flash, the country is not in Africa.
"One step forward, three steps back"
We learnt too of a women’s Bible study that started strong and diminished down to two ladies; not the stuff of proud prayer letters. In this mission field, it’s “one step forward, three steps back”, to quote the ones reporting to us.
A friend commented that at the age of 45 you start asking legacy questions. “What is the point of my work?” The conclusion? “All flesh is like grass… but the word of God stands forever”, quoting 1 Peter who in turn has quoted Isaiah 40. This is why, he explained, we are giving our lives to the work of the gospel here on earth.
That is a snapshot of the missions conference of the weekend just gone. In no way could you say that it is all good news, all these stories from the mission field. On the contrary however, you could argue that it is great and eternal news, worth supporting at every step with our prayer and whatever else we are able to give.
Take the time to get to know details of your missionary friends' lives. Many of the stories will be great stories of the grace of God being revealed. Some will not. Knowing that you are there for them through the good times and bad will make a difference.