At night, I often find myself singing for joy. My daughter, Lindsey Joy, frightened by the dark or a dream, will call out for me, and I will come to her room, and I will sing for her. I will sing for Lindsey Joy. And there in the darkness, with the singing comes peace. As I have reflected on a particular event during our recent trip to visit Southwestern students and graduates in China, these times with my daughter have helped me understand more how what we do in Fort Worth can assist and strengthen the pioneering work among the unreached peoples of the world.
Psalm 67 asks God for the praise of the nations, for the ends of the earth to come and praise the one, true God. I have prayed, “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,” but until one evening in China, I had never heard that kind of singing.
When my college friend left for China fourteen years ago, he went to serve among a minority people group who lived in and around a city surrounded by mountains. The Gospel had not yet reached this people, in part, because many of them lived in villages not found on any maps and not readily accessible by any mode of transportation other than foot or bicycle. These people dwelt in a land of deep darkness without any Gospel light. So my friend started on his bicycle, slowly, month by month, attempting to seek and find where all these people lived. At one point, after much effort, he felt he had documented all the known villages of this people residing in the valley area in and around his city.
Days later, setting out to ride up and over one range of mountains, he discovered as he crested the ridgeline another valley spread out before him consisting of dozens of villages never before known, never before reached. Such it is with the pioneering work in China. Incalculable strides made one day are dwarfed the next by the overwhelming sense of how much work remains still to be done.
From the mountains and into those valleys of spiritual darkness, my friend would take the good news of the Lord Jesus, what Ephesians 6:15 calls the “Gospel of peace.” As Isaiah 52:7 reminds, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace,” and as Romans 10 explains, God’s plan for reaching these people lost in spiritual darkness and unknown to mapmakers is for someone to carry it to them. Into the darkness came peace. And that is what makes what I heard that night during our trip all the more remarkable.
Oftentimes, in seminary classrooms or church hallways, well-meaning students or church members ask why it is that we need to emphasize and fund long-range global mission efforts when there are so many lost and unreached people right here at home. Why do we train and encourage Southwestern students to prioritize and seek out the least accessible people around the globe? These questions show great compassion for the lost and therefore deserve a good answer.
First, we should seek the unreached because the Great Commission expects disciples to be made of all people groups—large or small, easy and hard to find, those with and without printed languages.
Second, the earliest Christians were themselves compelled to take the Gospel to where Christ has not yet been named so that “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand” (Romans 15:20-21).
Third, is the simple issue of effective use of manpower. When Nehemiah set out to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem, he stationed people in the lowest parts and in the open spaces (Neh 4:13). He did not stack them all in one part or in one place. When looking to reach the nations with the Gospel, yes, sufficient workers should stay and labor in the fields at home for there is much work to be done, and those traveling to the unreached cannot do so without their support. But more and more workers should also be sent and equipped to reach areas where no work has ever been done. In an earlier century, one missions-minded pastor explained it this way:
Imagine I was employed by the owner of a vineyard to gather grapes in his vineyard. The general instructions were that as many grapes as possible should be gathered. I went down to the gate of the vineyard and found the area around the walls well plucked and the ground covered with pickers. Yet away off in the distance no pickers at all are in sight and the vines are loaded to the ground. Would I need a special visit and order from the owner of the vineyard to instruct me as to my duty?
The call to serve and reach those who have not heard requires qualified messengers but does not require any further command or calling. Jesus Christ has already said to us to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19), and there are many nations who have not heard His name.
In the ensuing years since he first arrived in China, my friend and his co-laborers would painstakingly document, map, befriend, learn the language, and share the Gospel with the people in the undocumented villages. Today there is a handful of churches among the 300,000+ people. When we were visiting there we joined some of these believers for their weekly gathering and listened to them pray and hear from God’s Word. To see them meet in secret, care for one another, pray for one another, encourage one another, and treasure their time together was immensely encouraging and humbling.
But it was the singing that still echoes in my ears. For this was not just any singing, this was praise arising from a people previously unreached with the Gospel. These were songs of gladness despite real danger and hardship. I had prayed that God would let people groups like this one find true peace that only the blood of Christ can provide. Many times I had read Psalm 67 and prayed, but that night was the first time I ever heard an unreached people singing with such joy.
At the conclusion of the meeting of this house church, one of the members recounted the marvels of how my friend was the first to bring the Gospel to their village; yet, she recognized that the work had only just begun. They had one church, yes, but they did not want to stop until every village has a church, until all have heard. Imagine in that place of darkness hundreds of churches joining that one church in singing for joy and heralding the Gospel of peace.
The singing that night reminded me that as a seminary graciously funded by the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention, seeing the nations sing is why we do what we do. This is why I grade papers and learn higher education governance practices. This is why we have annual audits and strategic plans. This is why we have scholarship banquets, alumni events, and chapel services. We do all these things and more in order to prepare fully equipped, financially supported, and biblically qualified messengers, who know how to handle rightly the Word of truth so that they can carry the good news across mountain ranges to peoples living in darkness.
By the grace of God working through local churches and our seminaries, nations of people who have never heard are now hearing. Peoples who have never praised are now singing for joy. Much work remains to be done, but we too can sing for joy in the night. For in the darkness, Peace is coming.
This article appears in the latest issue of the Southwestern News magazine and at Theological Matters.com, which features Gospel work being done among the 1.35 billion people of China. The online version of the magazine will be available in July 2014. To read online issues of Southwestern News, visit swnews.org.
Video credit: Adam Covington at SWBTS