Your First Missionary Field
As American continues what appears to be an inexorable cultural decline, it is becoming harder to find good men of an old-fashioned sort. What is being sought are not necessarily rocket scientists, super heroes, or martyrs, but simply men of reliability, self-control, dedication, honesty, morality, and so forth. You probably know the type—and you probably also know that they are increasingly scarce, even among sectors of our society that claim to be Christian. Where are the men who quietly go about their business, fulfilling their responsibilities to their wife and children and living in tranquility with their neighbors? Unfortunately, what is not hard to find are men who are self-absorbed in their pursuit of personal pleasure, men who are slothful and feel entitled to privileges, men covered in tattoos to convince themselves of their toughness, men with strange hair, pierced and punctured bodies, or men who harbor grudges and bitterness against a variety of people, men who put forward a good face when in reality they are drunken, profanity-laden roughnecks in the closed quarters of their home. Where are men who are not stable just on their eight-hour shift at work, but also behind closed doors around the clock, seven days a week, month after month?
There are many reasons why so many men are broken. The divorces of the 1970s and 80s have yielded a new batch of men approaching middle age who were bereft of good examples to model. And now, another generation of boys is rounding the corner of manhood with the same problem: young men kill for little reason (sometimes for absolutely no reason) with guns, knives, flashlights, or whatever is at hand. Crack cocaine, methamphetamines, marijuana, and concoctions purchased at a paint store are their preferred means of enjoying themselves. A culture hollowed out of God and biblical values stands at the heart of the problem, so men must find their way back to God if there is to be any hope.
That is the root issue to be addressed. Men, unless we heed the words of Christ and "seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness" (Matthew 6:33), we will lose our focus, and what good we do will be fruitless. We will be guilty of iniquity, which is a batch of theoretical good deeds, but not the deeds that God commands. Then, our iniquity will build castles of pride, stubbornness, and rebellion. From that point, some will even progress to stupidity of all sorts, leading into the sins we Christians once denounced—fornication, profanity, anger, adultery, and other abusive behaviors.
First, for a man to be consistently useful to God and a blessing to those around him, he must know Christ. He must feed upon the Word of God each day, pray for others every day, obey God’s commands to his utmost, and continually walk in repentance, examining himself for flaws.
Second, a man must cultivate a strong bond with his wife. She must become his best friend, his closest confidante, his treasure. She must be treated with kindness, love, and respect and must feel his love enveloping her on a regular basis.
Third, his children must see their father's love and sacrifice. They must sense that he will be there for them to get them through hard times. They must perceive that he sets clear expectations for them and will act firmly, although not cruelly, to see that those standards are adhered to. He must be a good example of right behavior. Protection over and provision of their needs, not his own, must be his duty.
Last, not first, second, or even third, comes his calling and mission field outside the home. After a man has cultivated the mission field of his own children and home, he is ready to look further for his usefulness to God. This vision will require a large measure of sacrifice, but it comes only after he has successfully plowed, planted, and cultivated the mission field of his own household. Men, your own household is your first mission field!
A Few Bad Examples
Some will be surprised at this list, for the men enumerated here all claimed to love God, and as far as this writer knows, they probably did. They most certainly made significant personal sacrifices, for their lives were filled with hardship, penury, and sometimes loneliness. They suffered all of this for years on end for what they believed was the cause of Christ. Yet, I must question whether or not their priorities were right, for they were guilty of gross neglect regarding their first mission field, their own wives and children.
Our first example of misplaced priorities is none other than William Carey, the "father of modern foreign missions." Carey was an Englishman, born in 1761; he married his wife Dorothy in 1781. In 1793, he took his family to India to fulfill what he thought was his calling as a missionary to that benighted nation. They had seven children, five sons and two daughters. Both daughters died in infancy amid the sweltering squalor of their neighborhood. Their son Peter died of dysentery several years later. This event, among other stressful hardships, resulted in Dorothy's mental breakdown, a condition from which she never recovered and eventually led to her death in 1807. Oh yes, Carey was in the next room, translating the Bible into an Indian dialect, but that did not prevent his wife's decline into insanity and death from grief and poverty. Meanwhile, even before she passed away, his four surviving adolescent sons roamed the streets undisciplined, unmannered, and uneducated. Again, this was the "father of modern foreign missions."
Our second example is Adoniram Judson, an American Baptist missionary who went to Burma with his wife, Ann, in 1813. En route from India to their destination, his wife miscarried their first child on board their cramped ship. Several years later, laboring in the steaming jungles, their second child, Roger, died at eight months of age. In the 1820s, a war broke out between England and Burma. Although he was American, Adoniram was believed to be a spy for the British and was taken into captivity and cast into a filthy, primitive prison. Over a year later, he was released; but his wife, left alone and driven to desperation without her husband in this dangerous, foreign land, was broken in her health. They were reunited, but she died shortly thereafter. A third child, born in his absence, died six months later. In 1835, he married again, this time a young lady named Sarah. Conditions had improved a bit in the intervening decade, and their union produced eight children. Nonetheless, three still died in childhood, and Sarah's health soon collapsed. She was sent on ship to America to recover, but it was too late. She died at sea. Adoniram eventually married a third time; he took to wife a writer named Emily. One child was born to them before his own death in 1850. While he certainly had much heart for Burma, what about for his own family members?
Yet another example of good intentions but misplaced priorities was the famous missionary to China, Hudson Taylor. An Englishman who arrived in Shanghai in 1853, Taylor was a charismatic, dedicated young man. He proved to have great endurance and a fixed focus on his vision for China, but little regard for his family. Taylor married twice. His first wife died in China amid conditions similar to what Judson's first wife endured. A second marriage followed, and between his two wives, Taylor produced twelve children. Sadly, seven of them died in childhood under conditions of poverty and neglect to which he was compelled to subject them. Hudson Taylor is often lauded for his missionary zeal, but few bother to note the enormous cost to his family.
A fourth illustration of misplaced priorities is Dr. David Livingstone. (Pictured above). This famous and somewhat revered missionary/explorer was a dismal failure as a family man. As a young man from a working class family, he clawed his way up and gained medical training. In 1841, he embarked to South Africa for the mission fields. He married a girl named Mary, herself the daughter of a missionary. She bore him a total of six children, several in the remote interior where the family was sometimes forced to subsist on locusts. Finally, after the death of one of their children, Mary and the others were dispatched back to England. However, they remained in poverty. Livingstone returned to England through the years, but he never remained for long; his sustained absences drove Mary into alcoholism. Finally, Mary's health broke, and she died of a malarial relapse, contracted years before in Africa's fetid interior. His children grew up in orphanages while Livingstone continued to plunge through Central Africa, searching for the source of the Nile and seeking to make converts of Negro tribes. By the time of his death in 1873, his place in history was fixed. No one can dispute his determination and incredible physical endurance. But as a father and a well-rounded Christian man, his lack of responsibility regarding his family was appalling.
Our Duty as Men
We cannot place our wife and children near the end of the line in terms of our time, energy, and priorities. Their spiritual welfare is paramount: they need a church home and a fixed place and time of worship. Their well-being must be secured: provision of life's needs—financial, spiritual, and otherwise—is the duty of a father and husband. Gentlemen, please do not allow dreams and visions of faraway adventures undermine your family. And do not fall off the wagon, allowing yourself to slip into the sins of immorality, alcohol, drugs, profanity, anger, unforgiveness, pride, slothfulness, and the many other abuses that plague this generation of men
Watchman - Fall 2013