By Dr. Bill Patterson
The Korean farmer showed missionary Danny Henderson the graves of his ancestors. The mounds formed neat rows up the side of a steep mountain.
“You’ve taken good care of them,” Henderson replied as he noticed the spotless condition of the dozens of burial mounds.
“Yes, but that’s not why I brought you,” replied the man.
“Then why did we come?” Henderson asked.
“I wanted you to see that each line of graves represents another generation.” The farmer showed the successive rows scaling the mountain. He pointed out his parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and many prior generations. “Each one died without Christ.”
He looked into the eyes of the missionary and waited for his words to sink in. “But now that’s all changed. I’m a Christian. My wife is a Christian. My children are all Christians. My grandchildren know the Lord. Our bodies will be buried here, too, but we will live in Heaven!”
To the Korean farmer, world evangelism was more than a theoretical discussion. It meant eternal life for him and his family.
Do Christians in America care about the lost of the world? Do we pray for their salvation and for God to raise up missionaries to go to them? Are we willing to support missionaries and, if he should lead us, go ourselves so that others can hear the good news?
The Old Testament and Global Evangelism
When Adam and Eve sinned against God and then hid, God searched for them. He was not content that they live miserable lives away from him. God’s question, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9), revealed his desire to reconcile. Evangelism began with God’s effort to restore the broken relationship between rebellious humans and himself.
The call of Abraham showed God’s method of reaching all nations with the good news. In what theologians call the beginning of salvation history, God chose Abraham not only to be blessed, but to be a blessing to all the nations (12:1-3). God chose to work through Abraham and his descendants (Israel) to establish a beachhead through which he would reach the world.
In Exodus 19:3-6, God further revealed Israel’s role as his people. God covenanted with his people at Mt. Sinai to be a “kingdom of priests” and a “holy nation” through whom God would reveal himself to the entire world.
Most Israelites misunderstood. With pride they regarded their chosenness as a national privilege. Yet, God continued to reveal his plan for evangelism. Throughout the pages of the Old Testament he showed glimpses of his original purpose. For instance, Jonah reached out to the Gentile city of Nineveh and Isaiah prophesied the Messiah would be “a light for the Gentiles” and “bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6, NIV, 1984).
God’s call to Abraham to bless the nations of the world is still God’s call today. If by faith we belong to Christ, we are Abraham’s spiritual children and therefore have a responsibility to humankind.
The New Testament and Global Evangelism
While Jesus mostly restricted his ministry to “the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 10:6, 15:24), yet he performed quite a few miracles among non-Jews and told parables reflecting the worldwide reach of the gospel. He also indicated that many “would come from east and west, and from north and south,” and would “sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (8:11, Luke 13:29).
After his resurrection Jesus claimed all authority on heaven and earth was given to him. With that authority he commanded his followers to go into all the nations and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). The Great Commission is God’s mandate to evangelize the world for Christ. Whether going to the pharmacy or to the Philippines, to the grocery or to Ghana, to the bank or to Bolivia, across town or across the oceans, our first priority must be to make disciples.
Jesus stood on the Mount of Olives before his ascension and gave his last earthly directive to his disciples: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The Book of Acts shows how seriously the disciples took Jesus’ command. They gave powerful witness for Jesus in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, in Asia Minor, and in Europe. Tradition holds they also went into India, China, and Africa. They walked. They rode camels or donkeys. They sailed on ships. But they didn’t give up. They took the gospel to the nations.
The apostle Paul, though not among those who received Christ’s instructions before his ascension, showed that Christ’s words applied to later Christians. Paul said, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Paul poured out his life taking the gospel to other nations. He suffered persecution and hardship but he would not be quieted because the gospel must be shared. The urgency still exists.
Developing God’s Heart for Global Evangelism
On a mission trip to China four years ago, a student followed me to practice his English. He asked, “Why did you come to China?”
I answered, “I came because God loves you and wants you to become a disciple of Jesus.” We talked.
He told me he had become a follower a few months earlier. He led me to the hospital room of his girlfriend’s grandfather. The girlfriend had also become a believer but her grandparents were devout Buddhists. Her granddad had terminal cancer. When I entered his hospital room, the man became very excited. He was in his seventies but had never had a foreign visitor.
Through the translation of English students, we talked for half an hour and then he asked, “Why have you come to see me?” I told him about the love of our Lord for all people, how he died for our sins, and how he wanted all people to live with him forever. Before leaving, I knelt beside his bed and prayed for his recovery and his salvation. Tears ran down his cheeks. His granddaughter said, “I’ve never seen my grandfather cry.”
After I returned to the States, I continued to correspond with these students. I learned the grandfather underwent surgery but his cancer was too advanced for recovery. However, for a time he regained some health and, with his wife, attended the church where the students had found Christ. Before the man’s death a year later, the grandparents and the student’s mother gave their lives to Christ.
One day when we enter Heaven, the Korean farmer and the Chinese grandfather will thank you for sending missionaries. Millions more wait to hear the good news of Jesus. World evangelization clearly reflects the heart of God. May it reflect, more and more, our hearts as well.
Dr. Bill Patterson is a minister and freelance writer in Henderson, Kentucky.
Answering a Pivotal Question
Read about Dr. Patterson’s in-flight experience and consider how you’d react in the same situation. How would you answer the man’s question? Have you ever been in a similar situation? How did you respond? What situations in your daily life are like what Dr. Patterson experienced?
On a mission trip we flew from New Delhi to Hyderabad. An Indian businessman on board enjoyed talking. I asked him about Hinduism and he asked me about Christianity. After an hour he felt close enough to me to ask something that troubled him: “Why is it that you Christians think you have to come to other countries to convert people who are happy in their religion?” How would you have answered?
I asked if I’d be a friend to him if I had a million dollars to give away, and knew that amount would help him, but failed to tell him how to get it. He replied, “No.”
“Christians believe what we have in Christ is worth far more than a million dollars in this world and in the world to come. That is why we share.”
He smiled and nodded with understanding. Then I asked if he would consider becoming a Christian.
“Oh, no. Never.” He shook his head vigorously. “My family has been Hindu for hundreds of years. It is a way of life. I’d never become a Christian.”
“What if you attended a church service and saw a person rise from the dead?”
“Of course,” he said. “If I saw a dead person rise from the casket, of course I’d believe.”
I kindly shared with him, “That is why we Christians worship. Every Sunday we celebrate the fact that Jesus has risen from the dead. We worship our living Lord Jesus.” He promised to consider this living Lord.