Most of you have spent several years of your life in the work force. The majority of us have spent at least half of our lives working in numerous jobs. I want to ask you two questions.

The most exciting, fulfilling work that I have been part of is missions work. The most difficult, demanding work that I have been a part of is that same missions work.

In good circumstances, sharing the good news about the power of Jesus' death and resurrection to people outside the United States is exciting, fulfilling work. At the same time, sharing the good news about the power of Jesus' death and resurrection to people outside the United States is difficult, demanding work.

How can that be? How can working in the same country among the same people both be exciting, fulfilling work and difficult, demanding work?

  1. Let me share with you what I refer to as the cycle in mission work.
    1. In this cycle, I am speaking about good circumstances in a good situation.
      1. These people have had little exposure to Jesus Christ and may have never owned a Bible.
      2. They are eager to learn.
      3. They do not hate Americans.
    2. Stage one of the cycle involves the difficulty of getting started.
      1. The list that illustrates the challenges of getting started is too long to give.
      2. It involves so many things that you would never think about unless you committed yourself to mission work.
        1. It includes everything involved in selecting a country and determining where in that country you will live.
        2. It includes all that is involved in finding support and oversight for your work.
        3. Then when you actually go, it involves many practical matters that are solved slowly.
          1. Finding a place to live.
          2. Having pure water.
          3. Having a source of good food.
          4. Learning more about the culture and language of the people.
          5. Making certain that you know, respect, and abide by existing regulations and laws.
          6. Establishing your credibility.
          7. Learning how to distinguish between the opportunist and those sincerely interested.
          8. Simply learning how to function every day in a different culture.
    3. Stage two of the cycle begins when you begin to contact people who sincerely hunger and thirst for righteousness.
      1. This is the time when mission work is incredibly enjoyable.
      2. No experience compares to teaching a person who knew little or nothing about Jesus Christ and watching that person place his or her faith in Christ.
      3. Your credibility soars and your message is popular.
      4. Jesus is appreciated.
      5. Constantly you encounter sincere people who genuinely want to learn and genuinely want to understand.
      6. They sincerely appreciate your willingness to be there, your willingness to teach them, and the fact that you expect nothing from them.
      7. In this stage you are welcome and respected almost anywhere you go.
        1. Those who will oppose you do not yet understand what is happening.
        2. They have not determined how they will respond to what is happening.
      8. It is common for this to be a time of multiple conversions.
        1. Almost all your energy and your time is consumed in evangelism.
        2. You are overwhelmed with the opportunity.
        3. Everyone enjoys being a part of missions in this phase of the cycle.
    4. Stage three of the cycle begins when many new congregations come into existence.
      1. Now you live among many new congregations filled with infant Christians.
      2. Often those congregations are isolated from each other.
      3. Every congregation wants the missionary to come teach them every week.
      4. When a congregation begins, you may find yourself with baptized believers who have never worshipped God.
      5. They know almost nothing about prayer, the Lord's Supper, or Christian songs.
        1. Either they have never been in a worship assembly, or they have been taught they have no right to lead a worship assembly.
        2. They literally need to learn how to worship.
      6. In the beginning, that can also be exciting.
    5. Stage four of the cycle focuses on the spiritual growth and maturing of new the converts and their congregations.
      1. This is a difficult, demanding stage--the difficulty is hard to exaggerate.
        1. It is a complex, complicated stage.
        2. It is a time consuming stage, but if it is not addressed, Christians will leave faith in Jesus as fast as people convert to Jesus.
      2. No missionary can handle all the problems that occur in this stage.
        1. Main problem number one: you have almost no written materials available.
          1. Most people do not have a Bible.
          2. They know little or nothing about Bible history.
          3. The Bible has to be in their language for them to study it.
          4. There are no written materials for classes.
          5. The missionary basically has three options:
            1. He can try to teach all the classes, but that becomes impossible as the number of congregations grow.
            2. He can try to write the needed study material and have it translated and printed, but that is time consuming and expensive.
            3. He can train people to teach, which involves many challenges.
        2. Main problem two: when a believer is baptized into Christ, he or she does not culturally change.
          1. Therefore, problems that are common place in the culture become common in the church.
          2. For example, a moral problem that is acceptable in the culture will be acceptable in the church.
        3. Let me give you a specific example.
          1. The missionaries I worked with took a multiple approach.
            1. We coordinated visits to the churches so we could visit as many as possible, but six missionaries cannot visit over a hundred congregations very often.
            2. We began a preacher training school which created opportunities and new problems.
            3. I wrote and had printed lessons that dealt with common moral problems they faced.
            4. I also wrote a series of about fifty lessons designed for new congregations.
          2. Commonly on Sundays I would visit a congregation, teach, and pass out some written material to leave with them.
            1. One Sunday morning at the close of worship I distributed two or three lessons about moral problems and asked questions.
            2. A Christian man raised his hand and said, "Brother, this paper says that if you sleep with another man's wife that it is wrong. I do that often. Is it really wrong?"
          3. That culture did not define marriage as we do, did not look upon adultery as we do, and considered polygamy as desirable.
          4. Those problems were not simple to address.
      3. The challenge of maturing the churches quickly taught you:
        1. The most influential men were not the most spiritual men, but they commonly controlled the local church.
        2. Commonly young men were the only men free to attend classes, and their respect and credibility problem was enormous.
        3. Christians who cannot read or who have nothing to read learn slowly.
        4. Changes occur slowly because growth and maturing occur slowly.
        5. Helping them understand how to live as Christians was far more difficult than helping them understand how to become Christians.

  2. The enjoyable stage is the rapid conversion stage: every missionary likes to be a part of that stage.
    1. However, the period of great receptivity is not an indefinite period.
      1. Satan is not stupid.
      2. The opponents of Christianity learn quickly.
    2. That certainly is not new.
      1. One of the most exciting times to be a part of the church in Jerusalem was the period between Acts 2 and Acts 4.
        1. Jewish people were converting to Christ by the thousands.
        2. Christians were filled with joy, spent a lot of time together, and took care of each other.
      2. Acts 6 was not such an exciting time.
        1. The congregation faced a major problem, and that problem was created by their diversity.
        2. The problem was created by neglect, money, food, and a lack of respect.
        3. The wisdom of the apostles resulted in a good resolution of the problem.
      3. Acts 11 was even less exciting.
        1. Peter was the most prominent leader in the Jerusalem church.
        2. By God's instruction and direction, Peter went to a non-Jewish home, taught non-Jewish people, and baptized them. (That was exciting!)
        3. The leadership in the Jerusalem church were upset with Peter for entering a non-Jewish home and baptizing them, and confronted Peter when he returned.
      4. Acts 15 was even less exciting.
        1. A zealous group of Jewish Christians from the Jerusalem congregation went to a large non-Jewish congregation in another country and informed them that they were not saved because they had not submitted to Jewish circumcision.
        2. The argument was so intense that it was taken to the Jerusalem leadership for resolution.
        3. The leadership made a decision, but it did not end the problem.
      5. Acts 21 was even less exciting.
        1. Christians in the church of Jerusalem deeply resented Paul converting non-Jewish people.
        2. Jerusalem Christians were so upset at Paul that the elders were concerned for Paul. The end result was that Paul was almost killed.

The Christians in Jerusalem had a hard time understanding the same thing we have a hard time understanding. They could not understand that God loved all other people as much as God loved them. Be honest. Don't we struggle as we try to understand that God loves every other people as much as He loves us?

[Prayer: God, help us understand how much you love all people. Help us understand that you and Jesus are not Americans.]

Everyone should have the opportunity to know how much God loves them. Everyone should have the opportunity to understand what Jesus did for them.

In every country, in every society, there are people who are starved to learn about the living God and His son Jesus. Let's suppose that you never had access to a Bible, never met a Christian, and lived in a culture that had no Christian influence. What kind of person would you be? What kind of life would you live?

With your Christian understanding, if you were in that situation, would you want an opportunity to hear about God's love and Jesus' death? Please help share the news of God's love and Jesus' sacrifice.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 7 November 1999

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