Tom: Today and, the Lord willing, next week, I’ll be interviewing a man I will simply address as “Joe.” Joe, as you’ll learn, is not his actual name but rather a name chosen for security purposes. The reason for that is Joe is a missionary, and the places where the Lord has had him minister – and is having him minister today – well, they’re terribly hostile to the gospel. Therefore, the last thing I want to do is to put Joe and his family in harm’s way.
Nevertheless, I’m hopeful that whatever he has to share with us will encourage all who are listening to support our missionaries in prayer, for protection and fruitfulness, through whatever means the Lord puts on our hearts to help them out.
Joe, welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Joe: Well, Tom, thank you for the invitation, as it is always an honor to be with you folks at The Berean Call.
Tom: Yeah. Joe, let’s start with a question that a lot of Christians have, related to missionaries who go to places where it could cost them their lives. Well, here’s the question: Why would you do such a thing? Joe, what’s your answer?
Joe: Well, that’s actually a very good question, and a lot of people have that question when we speak to different groups. And it’s really simple. It’s in the Bible! So if you have a Bible, just go over to Romans 10, and let’s read for just a moment what some people call “the heartbeat of world missions.” It’s in Romans 10, and let’s just start with verse 13, a wonderful verse! It says, “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”
That’s such a simple verse, isn’t it? Because anyone who senses they’re a sinner, and they’re lost or headed to hell, and they understand what Jesus Christ has done for them upon the cross, dying for their sins, being raised from the dead, it can open up their heart and in faith just call upon the name of the Lord.
This happened in my life when I was about 27 years old. I just was on the wrong road, but there was that moment when I understood that I needed a Savior, and I called upon Him, and He saved me – transformed my life! But the next few verses are verses that just got ahold of us as young Christians, both myself and my wife, and they’re just very . . . they’re very thoughtful verses, because it goes on with a series of questions. It says, “How, then, shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed?” And, Tom, that’s a question that demands an answer.
Joe: And the answer is, “Well, they can’t!” And then it goes on: “And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard?” and the answer is, “They can’t.”
“And how shall they hear without a preacher?” And the answer is, “They can’t.”
“And how shall they preach unless they are sent?” And the answer is, “They can’t.”
Tom, there’s some people who think that people are automatically saved, that somehow God does it all for them – well, in some sense, He has done it all. He has provided the Way of Salvation through the Lord Jesus. But yet there is the personal responsibility side where people need to call upon the name of the Lord. But yet, if we’re not being sent – if churches aren’t sending people out to the remotest part of the earth, you know, the places that don’t have the gospel, we’ll just work backwards. You know, people aren’t sent; no one’s preaching; and no one’s hearing; and no one’s believing; and no one’s calling upon the Lord. So these verses, Tom, when we were young Christians, they just got ahold of our hearts and moved us because we would hear missionary reports and things like that, and so we were very touched by this. It was just like Isaiah, when the Lord was speaking in Isaiah: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
As just new Christians, simple Christians, we just said, “Here I am. Here we are. Send me. Send us.” And we weren’t ready, you know, those first few years, but then as time passed and we grew in the Lord, 25 years ago, the first door of working overseas in one of these challenging countries, as you say, opened up for us, and we left the United States with our young family at that time, and we’ve never come back – because the needs in the world are so great.
Tom: Right. Joe, I remember spending time with you and your wife. It was in a country that I knew the history of it, and had seen what the Lord had accomplished through you, and was just . . . it just blew me away! I mean, I was so excited to see how God had graced you in a country that wasn’t particularly friendly, just to put it that way. But then . . .
Tom: . . . I remember asking your wife – because after I knew where else you were ministering – and, folks, without getting into it, it would make the hair stand up straight. So I remember asking your wife, “Why? Why would you do such a thing?”
And her response was, “Well, you know, we think that the people [not naming the country] – we think that the people there need Jesus!”
Tom: [laughing] Oh, man! Come on!
Joe: It’s very simple, yeah!
Tom: Of course! Absolutely! At the same time, she said it like, “Well, of course, this is what we do!” But that is so far removed . . . especially for we Christians here in this country, I mean, we’ve got seduction. We don’t have persecution, but . . . and that can be really damaging, but nevertheless, we’re in a comfort zone that a lot of us don’t want to be lifted out of.
Now, based on what you said earlier, Joe, how aware . . . I know you’re a young person, the Lord is really putting these scriptures on your heart, and so on, but did you ever think ahead of time that you’d be entering a mission field that could cause personal harm, not only to you and your wife, but to your kids? Did that thought ever come to you?
Joe: No! I mean, when we were growing up, we never had heard of these places. Maybe one of them we’d heard of, but you know, it was so far removed from our worldly thinking at that time. But I just thank the Lord for being saved in a “missions-minded” church early on. And, yeah, it really helped us to refocus what the Lord would have for our lives instead of just, you know, the things of the world – to have eternal things on our minds.
Tom: Well, when did the first thought come to you guys? Again, I know, by God’s grace, where you have established churches and I won’t go into all the details, but it’s an amazing job. But this was – if I can say this – this was one of the most hostile countries with regard to any religion . . . I mean, is that accurate?
Joe: Right, right.
Tom: So . . .
Joe: No, that’s very accurate. Well, when we first heard about this – let’s say “country number one” – we were in a prayer meeting, and somebody got up and had a “country report,” and it was about this country and said there were no known believers in this country, as far as anyone knew, and it was totally atheistic – by law, it was atheistic. And so on. And no one could get in, or anything like that.
So, we just were touched by that, and we just said, “Lord, if You ever want to send us overseas, send us to a place like that. And little did we know that, in fact, a few years later, there would be an opening in the country, and we stepped through it. So yeah, we – we just didn’t know in the beginning, but God directed us.
You say, “Well, how did this happen?” Well, it was a combination of, as I said, an open door, our inner conviction – just how the Scriptures had been speaking to our hearts; you know, just counsel from older brothers, like the elders of our church. And just everything came together. It was just one of those moments where you just said, “If we don’t do this, it would be sin.” We knew we would be going against God’s will. And of course, we weren’t fighting it . . .
Joe: . . . we were just agreeing with it. And the local church that we were in got behind us and sent us out into the mission field. That was 25 years ago!
Joe: And it’s just been wonderful to see what God has done over the years. But as time went on, one of the goals of a missionary is to work himself out of a job . . .
Joe: What we noticed was as long as you’re here, hanging around, the brothers, as good as they are, as faithful as they are, they always defer to you as the older brother. So we just about oh, maybe six or seven years ago, we began to pray, “Lord, show us how to step back (not to go back to the United States, or wherever we were from) but just to show us something else you might want us to do so that the local brothers can assume more and more responsibilities,” you know, for the work.
Joe: And, in fact, as we began to pray, within a few weeks another brother, Tom, sent us an email, and it was about country number two, and he said, “You two might want to read this [my wife and I]; you might want to read this, because I think you’d be crazy enough to consider going there.
Joe: Of course, that got our attention, you know, calling us “crazy.”
Tom: Well, you have to be, Joe! Go ahead . . . in the best sense! [Laughing] Go ahead. I’m sorry!
Joe: Oh no! We opened up the link, and it was an article about this country number two and a way to get in the country. Now, there’s lots of ways to get in the countries. There’s always a “crack,” and sometimes it might be through humanitarian work, it might be through education. And this was an opportunity that – I’m not fooling you, Tom, when I say this – it was like the hand of God reaching out and saying, “Come over and help us!” in country number two. It was like the Macedonian call.
And it was clearly an answer to God’s prayer – you know, to our prayer to God about stepping back in the work in country number one.
And so, we prayed about it and brought it before the brothers, you know, and searched the Scriptures: “What’s Your will, Lord?” And it was very clear He wanted us to go. So about six years ago, we started going to country number two, that is even a more challenging place than country number one.
Joe: But, hey! That’s why we’re here. That's why God sends us to places like this.
Tom: Yeah. Joe, as I’m listening to you, my heart’s just jumping around, because you have laid out, regardless of whether somebody is interested in the mission field or whatever they want to do, you have – you and your bride have been led of the Lord, supported by prayer. God is speaking to your heart. He’s guiding and directing you! And, Joe, you have been guided and directed by the Lord. That’s what we have as believers. That’s why I’m encouraged to hear you say that – not just with regard to mission work but for our listeners. Look! The Lord will answer your prayer. He will guide and direct you! He will tell you not to go to Bithynia, okay, if you’re not to go there. And He will direct you to Macedonia, as the Scriptures teach. So, the principle is there, and you’re just giving us the reality, the experience, of what the Word of God says. I mean, it’s fantastic.
Joe: That’s exactly right. Yeah, Paul, wanted to go to many places, but the Lord forbade him, wouldn’t allow him, closed the door. But then he got the call to Macedonia. And that’s the same way with us. There’s a lot of needs in the world. But we just waited to hear that voice of God, you know, through, again, through the Scriptures . . . People say, “Do you actually hear the voice of God?”
Well, not really, but through the Scriptures you do!
Joe: How He touches your heart through prayer and just connecting with God, and through counsel . . . I mean, it all comes together . . .
Tom: Right, right.
Joe: . . . and you know this is of the Lord.
Tom: Right, and look, whether you call it impressionistic or whatever you want to say about it, God will guide and direct. He’ll get through to you, okay, if that’s your heart. And that’s what we love.
Tom: Again, going back to missionary work, because that’s kind of the theme of this, what’s the most difficult part of your missionary work? And then – don’t leave us with that – tell us what’s the most rewarding part?
Joe: Yeah, of course, the most difficult part, particularly in the place that we’re at now, it’s kind of a fine line just to know where this line is at, of being as “bold as lion but as wise as a serpent.” There’s certain things we just know we can’t do. If you do too far in being too open, too aggressive, you’ll be taken out of the country or worse. Taken away! But yet, you don’t want to be – how would you say, you know – just paralyzed with fear and not say anything. There’s a fine line just how much we should say, not say, as you build relationships with people. And when to say it! And of course, the reward is when you’re able to say something, able to share something, with people, with a person, and then all of a sudden * ding! * the light goes on in their soul, and you just say, “Wow, this is good! This is why God sent us here – to bring a little light to this dark environment.” That’s the rewarding part.
Tom: Yeah, I’m sure. You know, I overwork – but maybe not “overwork” – the phrase, “This is a taste of heaven.” Joe, I don’t know anything that I can do today in my life that brings more joy than to know that I’m being used of the Lord. And that could be a smile at somebody at the grocery store, and let them react . . . Our demeanor, how we go about things, but sometimes you get to “seal the deal.” You see the light go on, and you can lead somebody to Christ.
Tom: Now, that’s our objective, but the point is in that whole process to know that the Lord is using us. As I said, there’s nothing greater in my mind in this temporal side of life than that. It’s like a taste of heaven.
Joe: Yep, that’s right.
Tom: Well, you told us about how you’re being led of the Lord and how important prayer is, how important fellowship is, which we’ve been talking about for maybe . . . well, forever at The Berean Call, what an important part of that this is.
Now, this is a little aside, but I have a friend who – his expertise is in recognizing what psychology has done to the church, and part of that is many are not allowed to go into the mission field unless they go through psychological testing. What’s with that, Joe, you know, come on!
Joe: Well, that’s a good question! Yeah, what is with that? I’ve heard this myself. I’ve known people who have thought about going to the mission field, and all of a sudden, there are all these – how would you say – requirements put upon them, special testing, seminars. I’ve even been informed that some people have to go through security seminars, you know. It’s almost like military-style training, based on, you know, a hostile environment. And I think, Wow, I guess we were totally unprepared when we went into the mission field. We didn’t do any of this!
But yet, the Lord – it’s so simple, when you think about the New Testament pattern. Here, Paul and . . . I guess his name was Saul at the time, and Barnabas, were ministering in the church of Antioch, and all of a sudden it was clear that God was speaking to them and wanted those two to be sent out to go into these other regions, and, yeah, it was just a simple procedure. Not like what we complicate it with today.
Joe: Maybe there’s benefit in those things, but I didn’t go through any of that.
Tom: Well, you go back and look at the great missionaries in Christian history, you know – you said something earlier: you have to be a little crazy. Well, I use that term in terms of the way the world looks at us. Many of the things, as the world is even maybe listening in on what we’re doing, they’re saying, “What’s with these guys? This is so far removed from the way that we go about doing things.” Well, absolutely! We hope so! But the irony here, Joe, is you have to go through psychological testing. Many today, as a matter of fact, most mission groups that send people out require that. I mean, what’s the objective? The objective is to see whether they are crazy or not. Well, guess what! You have to be, a bit, to do what you’ve done, especially in terms of the way the world thinks.
So it's a sad deal, because the world would look at just what you’ve said [about] being led of the Spirit, praying about it, God opening cracks, letting you get in, showing you how to . . . your demeanor, how you’re to go about things, and so on. You’re going by the instruction manual, right? It’s called the B-I-B-L-E. And that’s . . .
Joe: On an upside, Tom, you know, you just think about people getting – let’s put it in a positive way, like people getting extra input, extra counsel, maybe questions like, “Do you really understand what you’re getting yourself into if you go to the mission field?” Because, to be honest, there are stresses. There are stresses on your personal life: you go to a place you don’t know the language yet, and that is so important to learn the local language; you go there and all the customs are different, and you make mistakes, and the people laugh at you because you can’t talk right, and all that, so yeah, that’s hard. But also, there are dangers. You go to places, and, you know, some places are more – how would you say it? – more calm. The places that we have been directed to over the years have not been so calm. And I’m not sure anybody warned us in the beginning or counseled us, but yeah, it’s a reality.
And I think one time you and I talked about did we know about potential harm coming to us? Well, yes and no. Of course, you never really know until you go to a place, and then you experience – what is academic in your thinking becomes a reality. But when we first were saved, somebody encouraged us to read missionary biographies, which is something I highly recommend. These are people who maybe went to the field back in the 1800s or early 1900s. There are wonderful books, you know! Jonathan Goforth of China, and many others. Hudson Taylor. And you read these books, and you think, “Wow! These were the real missionaries!” and I look at my life and I think, “Who are we in comparison to these people? These were the real missionaries. And I say the “real missionaries” because they went out on the boats. Do you understand, Tom, when I say “the boats”? It means they got on a ship, and they kissed their family goodbye at the dock, and they would have no idea of when they would come back. There were no telephones, no Internet. These were really dedicated people. And they knew the harm. They knew they might not come back. They knew the perils of the travel – months on the seas, perhaps; weeks, months. The disease, persecution, difficult situations – and, you know, a lot never came back: John and Betty Stam in China – they never came back. So you read these books, and it would leave a good impression upon us that it’s not all fun and games. There’s really dangers when you go to the mission field.
And a question came up in our soul: Are you willing to pay the price, if this would be what God would want you to do? And, of course, you never really can say, 100 percent, how you would react, but you just think of the Lord giving Himself for us, and giving everything for us – dying for us. Well, it’s the least we can do, is give our lives for His cause.
Joe: So, yeah, these things need to be talked about, and that’s why it’s good when we go back to places and talk, we can – not psychological counseling, but just stories, you know . . .
Tom: Right, right. And you underscored it. Maybe some would be overzealous and they’d jump in where they haven’t thought things through, and so on. My big issue with psychological counseling is that’s based on the way the world thinks and their criteria, which is . . . it would be wonderful if it was helpful, but more often than not, it brings about great harm.
Now, Joe . . .
Joe: Well, those people I mentioned – they never went through that.
Tom: [Laughing] That’s right!
Joe: They were quite successful. We’ve never gone through that, so, yeah, I understand what you’re talking about, Tom.
Tom: You know, the other thing – we’ve got just a few minutes left in this session, but what I want to do, beginning next week, the Lord willing, is to talk about what we can say to missionaries out there. We’re not going to belabor it, but there are certain things that I believe, Joe, you can be an encouragement to the missionaries who may listen to this, so that’s important.
My guest has been a veteran, as you’ve heard, of the mission fields, whom I’ve been calling “Joe” for reasons that have to be with the country in which he’s ministering, a country that is very hostile to Christianity. But next week, the Lord willing, we’ll expand upon what the Lord has put on Joe’s heart as he ministers and, as I mentioned, in particular as it affects maybe those in the mission field right now. I want to talk about patience – do you need patience? I know, as I’ve interacted and communicated with missionaries, I mean, they’re in places where they don’t even get a smile from the people. They would be blessed that way. But certainly the Lord has them there for a purpose, and, well, we just want to encourage them, and maybe some listeners out there who have been thinking about the mission field. Maybe that would be helpful as well.
Joe, thank you for your insights and for being with us on Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Joe: Well, it was a real pleasure to be with you as well, and I hope that some of my thoughts would be of some help to some future potential missionary.
Tom: Okay! God bless you, brother, and we look forward to next week.
Joe: Thank you very much.