Monday, April 30, 2007

Crossroads

I was first exposed to the great spiritual need of Europe in a very real way through my participation in several Operation Mobilization summer campaigns back in 1979, ‘80, and ’84 in the countries of Austria, Italy, and England. As I began to sense God leading me into career foreign missionary service, I began to think and pray about where I might be able to make the most strategic impact towards the fulfilment of the Great Commission.

In the January 1983 edition of Evangelical Missions Quarterly, J. Robertson McQuilkin published an article entitled “Looking at the Task Six Ways” (available with an on-line subscription here) in which he analyzed various ways that missionary strategists have evaluated the comparative priority of missions involvement in different parts of the world. Among the factors that he mentions are: the total number of lost people in a particular country; the responsiveness, or rate of growth of the evangelical church; the unreached compared with the proportion of evangelicals; North American missionary force as a proportion of the population; accessibility to missionaries or freedom to evangelize; and a focus on “hidden peoples” or “unreached people groups.”

McQuilkin’s point is that it is very hard to mathematically calculate with any sort of precision the question of missionary priority. However, he does suggest that, when you combine the various factors together in an attempt to reach a composite ranking of priority, there are often surprises. One of the countries he included in his sample composite evaluations of various countries and corresponding priority for sending of missionaries was the country of Spain. Spain, while not very high on the scale of responsiveness, ranks comparatively high in factors such as low percentage of evangelicals in comparison to total population (less than 1%), and accessibility to foreign missionaries. Out of 8,109 different cities and towns, approximately 7,450 still do not have any on-going evangelical witness.

McQuilkin even makes a few statements in his article alluding specifically to Spain, such as:

“Young people, stirred to complete the task, should not have a hesitancy about going to Spain or Mexico City, even though there are viable, witnessing churches in both areas. We are talking about millions and millions of people who have not heard the gospel. If reinforcements do not come, they will never have the opportunity to hear the gospel,” and, “Spain appears as a prime need, even though it is not so rated by some strategists.”

While I was on Operation Mobilization’s missionary ship M.V. Doulos from 1984-86, I had the opportunity to spend six months of that time in various cities of Spain. By this time, I was well on my way towards being fluent in Spanish, and I began to sense a certain bond towards the culture and people of Spain. By the time I finished my two years on the ship, which included visits in more than 20 countries of Europe and West Africa, I came to sense a conviction that God was leading me back to Spain as a career missionary. When I met my future wife, Kelly, shortly thereafter, she, already seeking God’s will for her life regarding possible missionary service, “signed on” together with me in the vision for Spain.

Since that time, a “lot of water has gone under the bridge.” In 17 years of missionary service in Spain, we have seen our share of frustration, and a few victories along the way as well. We have served with 2 different mission boards. We have lived in 5 different cities. We have worked with 5 or 6 different missionary teams. We have seen many, many different workers come and go. We have seen a few folks accept Christ and continue on as disciples. We have seen others grow cold, and “fall away.” We have seen one church planted that is continuing on under national leadership. We have played a role in the “spiritual watering” of several other churches and church plants that are continuing on as well. We have been able to play a role in encouraging and training several Christian workers who are going on and remaining faithful to the Lord. I have preached many sermons. We both have taught many Bible studies and led many one-on-one and small group discipleship sessions. We have hosted our share of volunteer teams. We have led and participated in prayer walks. We have organized conferences and retreats. We have served on assorted committees and work-teams. We have poured our lives into the lives of needy people, counseling, handing out food and clothing, giving rides, visiting the sick, comforting the bereaved…

However, when we look back at what has been accomplished, in comparison to other areas of the world where there have been bona fide Church Planting Movements, and multitudes of people coming to Christ, baptized, and discipled, it is easy to get discouraged. We really, for the amount of time, energy, and prayers that we have poured into our ministry in Spain, do not feel we have all that much fruit to show for our labors. But, then again, neither do the great majority of missionary workers in Spain. The truth is Spain, and Western Europe in general, from a missionary perspective, has been a “very hard nut to crack.”

Since the time we came to Spain 17 years ago, a lot of advances and changes have taken place in the missionary movement around the world as well. The whole emphasis on Church Planting Movements, as opposed to one-by-one church planting, has emerged. Vast areas of the world that were previously “closed,” for all practical purposes, to missionary service, have opened up, and new creative strategies have been developed for placing workers in those countries. At the same time, missionary workers from other parts of the world, such as Latin America, South Korea, and other places, have begun to join the worldwide missionary force at an ever increasing rate. Interesting new avenues of missionary service, such as mobilizing, training, and developing strategic alliances in order to increase the effectiveness of these workers are opening up.

In the time we have left on earth, we want to be the best stewards possible of the gifts, talents and experiences that God has given us, for the advance of His Kingdom, and the fulfillment of the Great Commission. It is not always all that easy to tell exactly where and how that may be.

Wherever it may be, however, it is for sure that Spain will always have a very special place in our hearts and lives. It is here that we have spent the vast majority of our married years together. We have raised our children here. Many of our best friendships have been with Spanish nationals, and others who have come to serve the Lord in Spain just like us. We have become almost totally bilingual and bicultural. We have dreamed, schemed, rejoiced and wept for the evangelization of Spain.

This summer, Lord willing, we will be going on Stateside Assignment. Our oldest son, who is set to graduate from high school in June, will be enrolling this Fall at college in the States. We are looking forward to some quality time visiting with family and prayer partners. We hope to also share with churches and other groups our missionary burden for the people of Spain and the peoples of the world, as opportunities open up to do so. At the same time, we will also be praying and seeking God’s guidance for the next stage in our life. Would you join us in praying that we would make the right decisions, as well as for God’s provision and protection in our lives in the days ahead?

8 comments:

Bart Barber said...

Gladly.

Steve Sensenig said...

I'll definitely be praying. Any chance that you'll be coming to North Carolina while stateside?

Baptist Theologue said...

Maybe we can get together in Memphis this summer.

Tim Patterson said...

David,

Been where you are... and still there... would like visit with you. Nashville is not that far away, let me know if you want to meet sometime.

antonio said...

definately will be praying for you.

Grosey's Messages said...

There are some hard decisions ahead David, I'll pray.
Steve

Alan Cross said...

You are definitely in my prayers, David. Will you be in San Antonio? I am planning on going and perhaps we can connect.

May God bless you and guide you as you make this difficult, yet exciting decision!

David Rogers said...

Everybody,

Thanks very much for your prayers.

Steve,

Yes, we will probably make it to N.C. sometime. I'd love to meet you, if possible.

Mike (BT),

Count on it. Or, at least in the fall, if not in the summer. We'll be travelling a bit in the summer.

Tim,

Count on it also. My in-laws are not far at all from Nashville, and we have other family and friends in Nashville.

Alan,

No, we won't make it to San Antonio. We don't leave for Stateside until late July. Hopefully, we can get together at another time.