Occasionally, we will be featuring outside articles and guest writers on our blog that share our convictions here at Laurelglen. This week, we have the pleasure of featuring Brad Buser who is an instructor and cofounder of Radius International – a training center located in Mexico that equips men and women to go overseas to pioneer new churches among the totally unreached and unengaged peoples of the world. Brad and his wife Beth served close to 20 years with New Tribes Missions in Papua New Guinea and planted a church among the Iteris – a tribal people living within the dense jungle interior of the island.
This week, we have Brad discussing humanitarian causes within the church in honor of our 20th annual Market of Hope Sunday. We want to remind ourselves that selflessly giving to aid our brothers and sisters in other countries is a vital function of the church, but we don’t want to confuse these worthy causes with the goal of missions. At Laurelglen Bible Church it is our vision to be a family of believers following Christ together – and with that means having an accurate view of Jesus’ final marching orders – to fill creation with believers of every tribe, tongue, and nation.
Jesus’ last words to his followers in Matthew 28:18-20 gives us great clarity regarding the task entrusted to us. As antiquated as ‘…therefore go and make disciples of all nations’ may sound like Jesus is giving focus to one aspect of his very broad reaching ministry. ‘Make my gospel known, and disciple those who embrace it to maturity’.
We then see Paul, via his insights into the gospel and similar insights regarding the place of ‘the Church,’ planting churches all over Asia as the primary method he employed to insure that the gospel would remain resident in those areas and spread out.
Anyone who has planted a church among a community of people would also realize that our gospel preaching would sound a bit ‘tinny’ unless folks are convinced we love them. Where my wife and I served her years of doing medical work, our efforts to introduce, ducks, cattle, coffee, spices, etc. added to their ability to listen to us. Our concern for them was evident and that too enabled them to listen to the offensive message that the gospel truly is.
All during our years leading up to teaching them through the gospel the issue of systemic rape was a constant backdrop to the life among the Iteris. Yet we knew any attempts to impact such a deep social issue would flounder and be pointless without men’s hearts being changed first. Even as our hearts broke over this issue our hope was that the gospel message being embraced by some folks would eventually lead to the culture of systemic rape being affected.
As we moved through the months of teaching and spoke openly of the value of men AND women, both being made by God, in his image we could see wheels turning. Old Testament stories of brutality and Gods judgment and wrath being revealed for mankind’s transgressions, moral chaos being a regular recipient of Gods wrath, their awareness of how God would judge them grew.
Time and space precludes a fuller telling of this but within 6 months of the first men and women embracing the gospel systemic rape among the Iteris was a thing of the past. The effect of having a core group (Initially 22 which grew to over 50 soon after) of villagers growing in understanding of how God sees this area impacted even the non-believers.
As we see Paul’s teaching and the effect of his teaching we see very few frontal assaults on the moral failings or social issues of his day. Paul’s ministry would focus on individuals being brought to an understanding of their sin and bringing them to understand Christ sufficiency alone as the ‘remedy’ for this. Even as Paul’s epistles put front and center his desire to see these believers understand who they are in Christ…Paul knew and banked on the fact that spiritually healthy and growing believers will share their faith, multiply, be involved in their community and bring their godly values into area every of life they function in.
The Lord Jesus’ model of being involved in a wide range of social issues is a wonderful model; yet His primary focus of bringing men to repentance is never lost. We also know that local churches, being part of the communities that they live in, have a responsibility individually and corporately to ‘show off’ to a watching world the love, care, and humanity of the Lord Jesus. But we must always be careful not to slip away, corporately or individually, from our primary task of making this message of reconciliation clearly available near and far.
Due to cross-cultural difficulties of making this message clear, it has been a common ‘off-ramp’ for overseas missionary efforts to expend large amounts of effort on affecting systemic issues that are beyond the range of finite ‘outside’ funding. It is brutally difficult for gospel workers to see the heartbreak of physical needs that confront them and not begin to put their efforts into alleviating these things. But keeping in mind Jesus words, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and loose his own soul,” we must take that principle into a host of other areas that would cause the message of life to never be available, because the gospel worker never mastered the language and culture of the people he served and thus the gospel was never made clear to those people. THAT TRAGIC ‘tradeoff’ has become all too common in missions – all with the best of intentions.
Jesus and Paul’s model will never stray far from being gospel propagators. Both give us clear models of that being the priority. Both show their hearts for those they preached to – touching their listeners in a variety of areas, the New Testament just doesn’t show us any missionary efforts where alleviation of human suffering (lots of that going on in the Roman world at that time) was the purpose of the trip.
–Brad Buser, Radius International