Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Life-changing Experiences with Operation Mobilization

Some of you who read this blog may ask yourselves "How did a 'good Baptist boy like me' come to espouse the views on working with other evangelical groups and denominations (GCCs) that I have expressed?" I believe the following account gives a good bit of insight into the answer to that question…

Back in 1979, as a college freshman who had recently made a decision at summer camp to follow God’s call regarding missionary service, I was made aware of an organization called Operation Mobilization (OM) that sponsored summer mission campaigns in Western Europe (*and since that time, in other parts of the world as well). This idea seemed very appealing to me, and I went, together with a friend, on the OM summer campaign, he to work with Asian immigrants in the UK, and I in Austria.

I was impacted by a lot of things during that summer. It was exciting for me to meet, first from the United States and Canada, and next from all over the world, young people like myself who were interested in serving God in world missions. Although, they were all soundly evangelical, they were also from different denominations and church backgrounds.

The following summer, I decided to go back again on the OM summer campaign, and this time spent one month in Italy, and another month in England, travelling as OM International Coordinator George Verwer’s "go-fer." Several years later, after graduating from college (Baylor ’83) and one year at Mid-America Seminary, I figured out I was burned out on studies, and decided to go back again on the OM summer campaign (this time back in Austria), and eventually extended my stay with OM another two years, on board the mission ship, MV Doulos (’84 -’86).

My two years on board the Doulos was an experience I will never forget. During this time, I shared life together, in close living quarters, commune-style, with approximately 330 crew-members, all missionary volunteers, from more than 40 different countries.

During my two-year stint with the Doulos, I had the privilege of visiting 23 different countries in Europe and West Africa. I believe the fact that we came from different countries and church backgrounds added to the effectiveness of our witness. Although our common language, for the sake of communication, was English, the ministry of the Doulos was not a representation of any one particular culture, but rather the testimony of God’s power to transcend cultural barriers.

I was also impacted by the opportunity to visit churches, missionaries, and ministries along the way representing the entire panoply of evangelical life. I have especially fond memories of the times I shared, as part of the advance line-up team, in Lomé, Togo, West Africa, with the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board workers there, and their warm friendship and hospitality. At the same time, I was perplexed when one FMB missionary couple informed us they would not be able to work with an OM evangelistic team during the ship’s visit, due to policy restrictions on ministry cooperation with non-SBC groups. To this day, I am not sure whether or not that particular couple had a personally narrow interpretation of policy, but I had never run into that type of restriction from any of the other mission agencies and groups with which we had attempted to work.

I also had the opportunity to observe first-hand how the different cultures, in the different countries we visited (in my case, Northern Europe, Southern Europe, and West Africa), responded differently to the presentation of the Gospel message we gave. In general, the response was much more enthusastic to our evangelistic efforts in Africa than in Europe, and more so in Southern Europe than in Northern Europe. At the same time, it was difficult to avoid the impression that many who made public professions of faith during our ministry in West Africa were quite superficial in their motivation.

Every Thursday night, starting at 8 pm, on the Doulos, there was a ship-wide "night of prayer", with non-obligatory attendance lasting until 6 am the next morning. One of the many things that impacted me from two years of weekly "nights of prayer" were the presentations of and prayers for the ministries of organizations other than Operation Mobilization. The emphasis was on the advance of the Kingdom of God, and the work of God through many varied groups and organizations around the world was a valid subject of prayer.

I remember specifically praying for the ministry of Youth With A Mission (YWAM), and hearing the story of how when both OM and YWAM were praying to begin their first ship ministries, and when the deal for the original ship that YWAM was hoping to purchase fell through, YWAM gave all of the money that had been raised for the purchase of their ship to OM in order that they could purchase the MV Logos (the sister ship and predecessor of the Doulos).

While I was on OM, the OM policy on "tongues" was that, although OM team members come from different denominational backgrounds, with different beliefs and practices regarding spiritual gifts such as tongues, public exercise of "tongues" was not allowed, in order to avoid conflict on this issue. Although there may have been cases of which I was not aware, during my three summers and two years with OM, I never knew "tongues" to be a cause of problems or divisions in the ministry.

When you live on a ship for 2 years with 330 other people, you get to observe their life pretty close up. Although, it was never announced from what denominational background people came, in conversations along the way, you oftentimes find out. Certainly, the following observation lacks the rigor of any type of scientific investigation, but my general impression, based on observation of Christian character and testimony of people from charismatic (tongues-speaking) and non-charismatic (non-tongues-speaking) backgrounds on the ship, was that speaking in tongues was not a significant factor either way with regards to the Christian character and testimony of the various ship crew-members. I was equally impressed by the consistency of Christian character and testimony (and sometimes lack of consistency) exhibited by those known to speak in tongues (albeit privately) and those known to not speak in tongues.

One thing I might add to this, however, that has shaped my view of what I think of the validity of current tongues-speaking, is that I was strongly enough impressed by what I observed of the consistent Christian character and testimony of several who were known to speak in tongues that I still today find it very difficult to believe that these people were fabricating their supposed tongues-speaking experience. My personal study of the Word of God has led me to conclude that all of the spiritual gifts of New Testament times are still operative today. But my experience and interaction with other people who have claimed to practice these gifts has helped to confirm this conclusion in my mind.

I could go on a lot longer about my experiences with OM, and with the Doulos. Although God’s path for my life (after another four years with another interdenominational mission agency, Bible Christian Union—now merged with TEAM) has since led me back to my Southern Baptist roots, currently as a missionary with the IMB, I am immensely thankful for the wider perspective I believe my experience as a young man gave me of the Evangelical world at large, and the benefits of working together with the entire Body of Christ in the task of fulfilling the Great Commission.

14 comments:

GuyMuse said...

What an interesting report. What you write helps explain a lot of the strong GCC position you have written about over the past months. I too grew up in a cross-cultural evangelical world going to school in Quito, Ecuador at a school for missionary children. There we were all mixed together on a daily basis from all over the evangelical spectrum. One learns to love and appreciate the beauty of the multi-colored and diverse Body of Christ.

Two of my classmates at the Alliance Academy in Quito went on to work with OM, David Greenlee and "Corky" Gundlach, Jr. both good friends of mine. I've never seen them since graduation, but have heard reports of their lives and ministries over the years.

James Hunt said...

Having grown up in an Independant Baptist group I carry a lot of baggage. I'm quite the "recovering Pharisee". But I am recovering.

In the last few years my eyes have been opened to the greater Evangelical world of God's saints.

Thanks for your post.

Anonymous said...

Thanks David for this post!

One of our most wonderful experiences was fellowshipping and worshipping with Christians from many different backgrounds at The Cove a few years ago. And in one of South America's least reached areas we enjoyed working together with missys from different countries. Just yesterday I enjoyed two cups of coffee and two hours of conversation with one of our GCC partners. Never the less I still am happy about my strong Baptist identity.

Bart Barber said...

Thanks, David, for a powerful testimony that has led me only to appreciate you more as a brother.

Certainly, I think it would be difficult to find very many people in the SBC whose life has not been touched in some powerful way by the ministry of other Christians (whether it be YWAM, James Dobson, or John MacArthur). Your point that God is at work in other Christian groups, even in ways that impact Baptists, is a valid one, and one that reminds us of the age of Edwards and Whitefield.

Forgive me for noting that one might affirm the freedom of Christians of all convictions to be at work in the Great Commission (and indeed might offer benediciton to such as these) while still defending the freedom and propriety of some distinctively Baptist witness in the world. Unlike the age of Landmarkism, today's situation does not (as far as I can observe) involve anyone calling into question the validity or worth of efforts by non-Baptists to spread the gospel.

Rather, the question (I think) is whether it is wrong for Southern Baptists to join with one another in a distinctively Baptist way to contribute to that task, even if that effort requires some level of distance from those who do not share our ecclesiological convictions in order to protect the distinctiveness of our work.

Is offering blessing to their work really mutually exclusive to maintaining the distinctives of our own work?

Bowden McElroy said...

I've spent my most of my adult life working for/in non-denominational, para-church ministries: sometimes I'm just amazed at the attitudes of fellow SBCers.

It reminds me of the old joke about the angel showing the newcomer around heaven. When they get to a section of heaven with "Quiet" signs posted all around, the angel explains, "This is where the Southern Baptists are... they think they're the only ones up here."

IN HIS NAME said...

David,

Thanks for sharing with us the work that is being done for GOD"S KINGDOM.

Isn't it Great working with all Brothers and Sisters in CHRIST to THE GLORY of GOD.

It is HIS KINGDOM we are working for.

Some people have their shades on and don't want our Missionaries working with fellow Christians that are not Baptist.

My Son and Daughter in-law met in the Missions Field out in the rough.

A Brother in CHRIST

Anonymous said...

The Missionary's Predestined Purpose

“Now the Lord says, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant …” (Isaiah 49:5).

The first thing that happens after we recognize our election by God in Christ Jesus is the destruction of our preconceived ideas, our narrow-minded thinking, and all of our other allegiances—we are turned solely into servants of God's own purpose. The entire human race was created to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. Sin has diverted the human race onto another course, but it has not altered God’s purpose to the slightest degree. And when we are born again we are brought into the realization of God's great purpose for the human race, namely, that He created us for Himself. This realization of our election by God is the most joyful on earth, and we must learn to rely on this tremendous creative purpose of God. The first thing God will do is force the interests of the whole world through the channel of our hearts. The love of God, and even His very nature, is introduced into us. And we see the nature of Almighty God purely focused in John 3:16—“For God so loved the world … .”

We must continually keep our soul open to the fact of God's creative purpose, and never confuse or cloud it with our own intentions. If we do, God will have to force our intentions aside no matter how much it may hurt. A missionary is created for the purpose of being God's servant, one in whom God is glorified. Once we realize that it is through the salvation of Jesus Christ that we are made perfectly fit for the purpose of God, we will understand why Jesus Christ is so strict and relentless in His demands. He demands absolute righteousness from His servants, because He has put into them the very nature of God.

Beware lest you forget God’s purpose for your life.

David Rogers said...

Bart,

I think your questions are great questions, which I do not believe have set Yes/No answers. I am hoping to do my best at giving some thoughtful reflection to these issues in future posts.

A 10-40 Window Missionary said...

David,

Possibly, some of the hesitance you encountered with the FMB missionaries came from unwritten "policy"...I can specifically remember that we (our mission station) were told we were not allowed to work with any para-church organization. I am uncertain when that "policy" was "erased." But, it was liberating to work with OM, our closest partner here in our patch of the 10-40 Window.

Neill Mims said...

David, I have the privilege of working with one of your old shipmates from your years on Doulos that also now serves with the IMB. A great man with a good head on his shoulders. He has a great breadth of experience due to things like you say you learned with OM. It is great to have him seeing Hindus come to Christ and starting churches -- especially since before he became a Christian (and before he served with OM of course) he used to follow a Hindu guru. Jeff are you out there listening?

Shirley said...

Greetings from another ex-Douloi - I think I was on board with you when I was a kid!! Came across this post very randomly, but it brings great memories. Having gone back to the ship and now working with OM elsewhere, one of my favourite things is the lack of denomination labels in the movement. Some of my closest friends and colleagues over the years are people who I STILL have no idea which kind of church they go to. And others, when I find out, are totally opposite to what I expected! Oh that inter-mission and church 'competition' would cease as we all worship the Living God as one body!

David Rogers said...

Shirley,

Great to hear from you! I notice on your profile you are from New Zealand. When you say you were on the Doulos as a kid, does that mean you were on the ship with your parents? Are you free to say who they are? I imagine I would remember them.

Shirley said...

OK, it's over a year late... better late than never!! My parents are George and Carolyn Booth - Zimbabwe / South Africa. My dad was chief mate and captain over the years we were on Doulos. Remember them?

David Rogers said...

Shirley,

Yes, I remember your parents. The New Zealand part was throwing me off. I assume you have since relocated there. How old were you back in '84 - '86?