[This is taken from excerpts of a speech given by Doug to Nav Staff on Missionary Day 2015]
“In the middle of Seoul is Yanghwajin cemetery. Buried there are 145 missionaries who never made it back to their home countries. Some of the gravestones date back a little over 100 years ago to the time when the first protestant missionaries arrived in Korea. There are gravestones not just for men but also for wives and single women. There are smaller stones near larger stones where young children are buried.
What prompted these missionaries to go to a country that in the 1800’s and early 1900’s barely even qualified as a 3rd world country? Obviously one motivation was to bring these people the gospel. But as one reads the gravestones, another motivation becomes apparent. These missionaries loved the Korean people.
There’s one stone marking the grave of Rev. Henry Appenzeller, the first Methodist missionary to Korea. The stone says that he ‘drowned near Mokpo trying to save a Korean girl.’ Just like Dawson Trotman, he gave his life saving someone from drowning. Another stone is for Homer Hulbert, who actually came from Vermont, the state in the U.S. I grew up in. The stone says, ‘I would rather be buried in Korea than in Westminster Abbey.’ There’s another stone for Ruby Kendrik. She came to Korea from the U.S. as a young woman in her 20’s. She had only been in Korea about one year when she died. Her tombstone quotes a letter in which she wrote, ‘If I had a thousand lives to live, Korea should have them all.’
This reminds me a lot of the apostle Paul’s love for the Thessalonians: ‘We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.’ (1 Thess 2:8) What was the result of this great love and sacrifice? In 2007, 5 of the 10 largest protestant churches in the world were located in Korea.
As a young missionary in Korea in the 1980’s, I attended the Yong Nak Presbyterian Church, then the second largest church in the world. It had 7 or 8 services on a Sunday and you had to be fast to get a seat. More than once I wondered if I needed to be a missionary in a country where I could hardly get a spot on a church pew! The Korean census says about 30% of Koreans are Christian. Missiologists say that for the percentage of Christians to grow in a country from zero to 30% in a little over 100 years is unprecedented.
The Foundation of Kingdom Growth is the Faith and Sacrifice of Missionaries
What is the foundation of the kind of Kingdom growth that we see in Korea? The faith and sacrifice of missionaries. This is true not only for Korea, but also for Singapore. In the 1800’s and 1900’s missionaries started churches and schools here. Many of you attended these schools. The church I attend was started by two missionary ladies doing door to door evangelism in a housing estate. Missionaries also started groups like YFC and The Navigators.
If the faith and sacrifice of missionaries is how the church started in Korea and Singapore, is it any surprise that this is how it will be started now in the countries surrounding us? Will it be easy to reach these countries? No. They don’t even want us to come. We will have to give our lives, maybe literally, but certainly figuratively to reach these countries. I have a friend whom I discipled when he was college student in the U.S. Ten years ago he moved his wife and 5 children to Pekanbaru, Sumatra to be a missionary. He has seen no one come to Christ yet. Let me tell you, Pekanbaru is not Bali! I took Joyce and our two youngest kids there a couple years ago to see my friend, telling them it would be a vacation. At the end of the trip my youngest son said, ‘That was the worst vacation ever!’
We Are Blessed to Be a Blessing
“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’ ” (Gen 12:1-3)
Like Abram, like Israel, Korea has been blessed to be a blessing. In 2012, Korea had 23,000 missionaries living overseas. Singapore is also being blessed. In 1990 12.7% of the population was Christian. In 2000, 14.6%. And in 2010, 18.4%. And indeed, Singapore is starting to be a blessing, with the number of missionaries highest per capita in the world. In The Singapore Navigators, we have seen the number of people involved in our ministries almost double in the last 5 years. And the number of our disciple-makers has more than doubled. Because of this blessing, is it not time for us to begin to seriously send again?
Do we have needs locally? Yes, we need staff as we extend to more secondary schools, ITEs, polys and universities. Our ministries in the community also need staff. But the world also has needs. Here are the percentage of Christians in a few countries: China 5%-10%; India 2.4%; Japan 2%; Bangladesh 0.3%; Iran 0.15%
So what must be our strategy in light of both local needs and world needs? I believe we need to ‘Build and Send.’ We must continue to build our local ministries, adding staff and new ministries. But we must also send. First, more short-term trips: to do evangelism and discipling, and to plant the Great Commission in peoples’ hearts so that some will want to return. That will allow us to send more long-term missionaries.
John 12: 26 says, ‘Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.’ Where was Jesus? Mostly in Israel, but it’s interesting to see him also crossing cultures to talk with a Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar. Or we see him helping the woman from Syro-Phonecia. Jesus crossed cultures for the Kingdom. He will honor those who do the same.
Let me close with two quotes, the first from C.T. Studd, famous missionary to India and Africa. ‘Some wish to live within the sound of church and chapel bell. I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.’ And then from Oswald Smith, a well-known pastor and mission advocate in Toronto, Canada. ‘We talk of the Second Coming; half the world has never heard of the first.’ ”