From ancient times it was God’s plan that Jesus the Messiah should suffer and rise from the dead (Psalm 2, 16), and that salvation through him should be proclaimed to all nations (Lk. 24:46-47; see Isa. 11:10; Amos 9:11-12). Before ascending to the Father, Jesus commissioned his chosen apostles that “having gone” (literally) into the whole world, they were to herald the gospel message to all creation, thus making disciples of all nations (Mk. 16:15; Matt. 28:19). The apostles were to baptize believers then teach them in turn all that Jesus had commanded themselves (Matt. 28:20; Mk. 16:16).
In God’s sovereign plan and power, he specially called Paul and entrusted him with the gospel for the nations just as he had entrusted the same gospel to Peter for the Jews (Gal. 2:7-9). During the first century, the message of life in Christ spread from Jewish Jerusalem to racially mixed Samaria to the ends of the inhabited world (Book of Acts; Col. 1:6, 23). During the centuries that followed, the gospel light dimmed within some people groups and cultures, and in other places it completely went out. Persecution occasionally played a part in this setback. More often it resulted from gradual apathy and lukewarmness among Christian believers, or from “Christian” success resulting in accommodation to the unchristian world and the loss of Christian commitment, lifestyle and witness.
Through the centuries, God seemingly has graced special people with a generic gift of apostleship, people whom he called and sent as gospel pioneers and church planters in places where spiritual darkness ruled and where Christ was not known (Eph. 4:11). These ministries included that of Ulfilus to what is now Romania (A.D. 300), Frumentius to Ethiopia (A.D. 328), Patrick to Ireland (A.D. 432), Augustine to England (A.D. 596), Nestorian monks from Asia Minor and Persia to China (A.D. 635) and Cyril and Methodius to the Slavs (A.D. 869). During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the discovery and exploration of the New World by Europeans saw the introduction of Roman Catholicism throughout the Western Hemisphere, a missionary effort often marred by a distorted message and unchristian methods.
The 18th and 19th centuries witnessed the beginnings of the modern missionary movement which saw the gospel spread through the committed labors of such men as David Brainerd (among Native Americans), William Carey (India), Adoniram Judson (Burma), David Livingstone (present-day Malawi), J. Hudson Taylor (China), Horace Underwood (Korea) and Samuel Zwemer (Arabia). Among 20th century missionaries were my maternal grandparents, Will and Delia Short, who carried the gospel to present-day Zambia in the 1920’s and served in Africa for the next 60 years. They were overlapped and followed in Africa by several of my uncles and aunts, cousins, my mother and one of my brothers.
When I was growing up, missionaries from around the world regularly ate at our table or slept in our house. Our local church, for which my father preached without salary, spent half its budget on missions. During our 37 years of marriage, Sara Faye and I have been privileged to contribute to missionary works of various kinds in countries around the world. Missionaries from a variety of Christian groups are among gracEmail subscribers today, dedicated men and women engaged in apostolic and evangelistic light-bearing and church planting. From the first century until the present, those who “went out for the sake of the Name,” serving God faithfully and sacrificially in hard places, have been worthy of our admiration and support (3 John 7-8).