The sacrifice of blood, sweat and tears

I’m continuing to blog in the same vein as a previous blog-post on missionaries and evangelization.

I admire the missionary friends I know.  They have sacrificed a comfortable life here in Canada to better the lives of people outside this country. Why?  For the sake of Christ’s calling to serve God.

Many missionaries have literally sacrificed “blood, sweat and tears” to evangelize and bring the good news of Jesus to places where people live on the margins.

I personally witnessed the good and fruitful work of missionary families earlier last year in March 2018.   My family went to Thailand and Cambodia (here), and here and here.  This trip opened my eyes to see, what I would categorize as, life on the margins.

Missionaries, Conrad and Fiona Kwok (my friends), recently shared about a visit to a region in Myanmar…. it took about 6 hours by car from the city of Lashio. (read more here)

I witnessed God was truly at work in the local peoples, cultures, places, and in other far-reaching places around the world.

When people in the church can be so brutal, their relentless love to share and bless other people has restored my faith to continue believing that God so loves this world.

It takes lots of faith to step out and take such big risks.  Many missionaries are sent out but require funding through private donations.  Denominationally-sponsored missionaries are not as common as before. Even then, they are still required to do their own fund-raising.

Thank God for missionaries and their devotion to serve the Lord.  For them, it really is a calling and not a career.  Some pastors and even chaplains make this a career when it really ought to be a calling first.  Without God’s calling, people can get side-tracked and lose sight of what God has called them to do.

But missionaries receive most of their financial support through individual donations. Often times, donations barely cover their annual operating expenses.  Many missionaries just get by, but they do not want to be seen as begging their home churches for funds.

If we do not bring the gospel that brings freedom to cultures and civilizations, then other religions will step in.  Islam is also working hard to bring their religion into places around the world. It is also happening across cities in North America and Europe.  Some of Islam’s proselytization can be very aggressive around the world.   In some extreme cases, violent fundamentalism resort to a violent and authoritarian means of forced conversion.

As the Christian Church, we can pray for missionaries.  Pray that God renews their strength every day.   The love of Jesus is real.  The good news of Jesus impacts lives.  It heals broken hearts and lives torn by sin and corruption.

Evangelism is seen as a dirty word in some circles.  We are ashamed of evangelism because it’s proselytization.

Much of the Near East used to be Christian. At one point in time, the Near East was where Christianity blossomed and had its center (i.e., modern-day Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, northern Africa). Today, we have seen the direction it has taken.

Fact is, every culture has been proselytized by one religion or another.  Yes, even Europeans at one point in time.  If proselytizing is such a bad thing, then perhaps Europeans should return to the old religions.

Christianity has brought so many blessings to Europe and North America.  Today, Asia is experiencing similar blessings that Christianity once brought to the western world.

Secularism, humanism, atheism, also have their own forms of proselytization. They all their own evangelists who seek to influence people toward their way of thinking.

We have lost much ground due to an increased secularization within our culture and society within the last several generations.  We have 2-3 generations that have false impressions of what the Church and the gospel are all about.  Church and the Christian life are genuine spiritualities that can give people a renewed hope–not because of the organization but because of Jesus.

We have a great and wonderful spiritual heritage.  It is worth carrying on for the sake of the next generation.  If we do not, they will miss out on a rich blessing.

Brand new Christians can often make the best evangelists.  When they first get to know Jesus, they share with excitement about God with all their friends and family without shame.  Surprisingly, many of their friends and family can turn to God.

Evangelism ought to be a natural thing we do.  It can take place naturally with two friends over coffee at a local cafe.  I can share with a buddy about what God is doing in my life.  Why shouldn’t he listen?  I have to listen to all their crap too.  It’s an exchange that happens between friends.  It can happen organically as one friend shares the good news with another friend.  This is a ministry.

Call it what you may.  Some call it a healing ministry to the spiritually sick. Some call it a proclamation or promotion of good news that transforms lives.  Whatever we choose to name it, it is still evangelization.  This world is our mission field–even our own home is a mission field.

cropped-Jerus-cross.jpg

May God bless his one, holy, catholic Church around the world. May God’s good news spread far and wide to the four corners of the world.

Peace,
Kevin A. Sam

(This Jerusalem cross, one of my favorite symbols in the world, represents the gospel going to the four corners of the world).

 

The Call for a New Evangelization

The U.S. flag is seen as Pope Francis greets the crowd during his arrival to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican March 27.

In the next several posts, I’m going to share a few things I wish the universal/catholic Church could be doing better, or more of.

We all like and dislike what some of the Church is doing, and not doing.

Most of what the church is doing is good. As the Church triumphant on earth, we’ve done a lot of good in this world.

We have also done some not-so-good things.

Moreover, we have not done enough of the good things that we could be doing more of.

Back in 2009 during my early days of my blogging hobby, blogger Michael Spencer at Internet Monk (now deceased. God bless him!) had predicted that in ten years there would be a collapse of the evangelical Church.

That was a very depressing and pessimistic thing to read.  Well, thank God his predication did not come true.

Parts of the wider North American evangelical Church have actually grown (e.g., Pentecostals and charismatics).

Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul (Pentecostal), South Korea, is the largest congregation in the world with over 800,000 members. Started with only 5 people in a home church.

On a worldwide scale, the evangelical Church has grown at a phenomenal rate amongst all denominations (including evangelicals, mainline Protestants, and the Roman Catholic Church).  Churches in the Southern hemispheric countries have seen phenomenal rates of growth and revival.  Praise God!

Sadly, in churches in Europe and western nations, that is not the case.  Dying churches choose to die because they have chosen to not do evangelism. I do hope and pray that denominations on the decline would awaken spiritually before they die out completely.

God is a sovereign God. The Holy Spirit has a way of reviving Christ’s Church by introducing new movements.

God graces us with charisms that utilizes all the gifts for the sake of the Church.  As a result, God transforms Christian movements into new churches which eventually form new denominations.  Newly established denominations become the new Mainline.

Ironically, as lethargy sets into the new mainline, it develops new problems that have also plagued historic denominations.  May God have mercy on us, the Church of Christ.

Between 2007 and 2014, Pew Research found a general decline in broad sectors of the Church in the United States (Pew website)

Evangelical Protestant churches declined from 26.3% to 25.4%. Note that modern evangelicalism is only 50 years old.

The Catholic Church declined from 23.9% to 20.8%.  Mainline Protestant churches declined from 18.1% to 14.7%.

The thing that strikes me is those who identify themselves as Unaffiliated.  It increased from 16.1% to 22.8%. That’s a 6.7% increase!

What the universal/catholic Church is not doing enough of is evangelism.

In 2006, Pope John Paul II called for a New Evangelization. It was a radical call to proclaim the gospel in our world.

Pope Francis XVI has continued to echo this call for this New Evangelization (here).
See document: titled “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel).

The pope declared:

“I dream of a ‘missionary option,’ that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self- preservation.”

Some churches/denominations have taken a reactionary approach.  They do evangelism for self-preservation.  Efforts are a desperate attempt to survive.

Sad fact here.  As historic congregations gray-out in the pews, they survive by drawing from the equity of building and property values.  Many of our mainline Protestant denominations are dying a slow but steady death.

They offer the excuse that their children have moved away from home and living elsewhere.

Another sad fact.  Many of their children are not attending church after they have moved away. It’s a sad but hard fact to swallow.  It pains them when they are reminded of it.

If our general population is increasing, shouldn’t church attendance also be increasing?

As institutional churches (or denominations), we have been neglecting some good things we could be doing more of (as I mentioned earlier on): re-evangelizing the generations of unchurched people.

 

Appreciating missionary work and thankful for missionaries

The Kwoks (two on left) minister with Bethel Bible Institute, and Operation Dawn (Drug rehab centres), N. Thailand

Do you remember when you spent blood, sweat, and tears into doing something for someone and never had the pleasure of being recognized or appreciated for your efforts?  And perhaps not even a “Thank you”? You might have had the thought: “I really don’t want to do this for them again!” This is likely how missionaries feel when they return for home assignment.

We’ve just spent about two weeks in Cambodia and Thailand and witnessed the pastoral care in missionary work of our friends. We came with the intention of spending time with our friends.

Mrs Kwok (left), Bethel Bible Institute, Thailand

In week 1: In Chiang Rai, Thailand, we were with friends Rev. Conrad and Fiona Kwok (and a former co-worker in pastoral ministry) who are Global Field Staff missionaries with Canadian Baptist Ministries (CBM) who teaches at Bethel Bible Institute and preaches at Operation Dawn.
In week 2: In Phnom Penh, Cambodia, we were with our friends Pastor Taka & Christina Miyano who are missionaries to Gateway Home for Children (i.e., orphanage).

We were with both missionary families as they ministered and they showed us first hand what they do. Having been present with them, I appreciate the heart they put into their work for the Lord.  They serve the local indigenous peoples in (Thailand and Cambodia) respectively, also known as “mountain tribes people” or “ethnic minorities”), and ethnic Chinese for the Kwoks.

With the Miyano family, Cambodia

What I say about missionaries in general might also be representative of others around the world. Missionary work can be a thankless work.  In general, most of us probably do not show them enough appreciation for their work.  Their efforts and fruits are not directly visible to members of their supporting churches back home. Missionary work is not like running a church organization, a business, or a personal venture, where results might be visibly seen quickly. It is a hidden ministry that happens out of sight. When it’s out-of-sight, then also easily out-of-mind. They get very little attention when they return from abroad to their supporting congregations. However, that’s probably expected when it comes to the work of missionaries.

However, the work does have an impact upon the local churches where it

At the Gateway Home, Cambodia

can take years, or even a whole generation, until one sees fruit. When one’s work does come to fruition, it might never result in any recognition back home. There are no rewards of victory or glory; and at worst, perhaps some criticisms or even demands for results. The latter can be very hurtful.

Then why would anyone want to become a missionary? They do it because they genuinely want to serve the Lord and further the kingdom of God, even if it’s hidden from sight. Churches and congregations back home usually have no idea about what is happening here–unless they come and see it for themselves.

Rev & Mrs Kwok (far left), ourselves, and Op Dawn co-workers (right & rear). N. Thailand

As a family, we have been very blessed by the ministry and presence of Rev. Conrad and Fiona, and Pastor Taka and Christina. God is present in their lives and their ministry. We felt their love and their care for the local people. “Thank you for your service to the Lord and the people you lovingly serve.”  I have learned so much from you. (Note: I might post a few more times on my experiences from this trip).

May God bless them and pour out His blessings upon their lives and family. May they be rewarded through the riches in God’s kingdom.