I came to Christ as a high school student in 1955, when Billy Graham preached at a meeting in New York’s Madison Square Garden. As a young believer, I heard that about 50 percent of the people in the world at that time had never heard the Gospel even once. That statistic hit me hard, and one summer while I was in college I launched out to Mexico with a vision both to reach the masses and to make individual disciples for Jesus Christ.
Nearly 50 years later, that vision still grips my heart. I don’t know how we can look at any lost person, whether across the street or at the ends of the earth, and not want to do something about that person’s eternal destiny. In fact, I don’t think we can separate a concern for souls from our commitment to Jesus Christ. If my commitment to Christ only means that I go to church or attend a prayer meeting once a week, that level of commitment isn’t going to make an impact on the world. But if I am truly committed to Him, I will do everything I can to obey His Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) and to tell people how they can be saved.
Reaching Beyond Ourselves
Many of us don’t have a passion for souls because we’ve been deceived into accepting a spiritual dichotomy. We’ve got our Sunday life, and then we have our Monday-through-Saturday life. Unless we break that dichotomy and live our entire life under the lordship of Christ, we will never become committed to reaching the world with the Gospel.
We tend to get caught up in our immediate situation and in what is happening to those around us. We all have trials, but I believe that we as individuals and churches would be much stronger–and more in line with God’s will–if we would reach beyond our immediate circumstances.
We need to reach out, for example, to people in our hometown who may be from other cultures, such as the Muslim community or the Hispanic community. It is hard for me to understand how so many of my dear Christian friends in America can have such bad attitudes toward Hispanics, toward Muslims, toward this person or that person. There’s no place for such attitudes in a radical commitment to Christ. This doesn’t mean we don’t stand for the truth of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t mean we’re pushed around. But it does mean that love is the predominant characteristic of our lives.
The Scope of the Great Commission
One of the things that affected me powerfully as a young Christian was a visit to people who were living in a garbage dump outside Monterrey, Mexico. There I saw extreme, raw poverty for the first time. I had seen poverty, but nothing like this. And I realized that we had to do something for the poor.
We cannot evangelize the world without having our hearts broken and doing something about physical needs as well as spiritual ones. One of the most prominent Scripture passages in my heart is 1 John 3:16-17. Churches have often emphasized verse 16: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.” But they leave out verse 17: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (NIV).
If we are ever going to reach some parts of the world with the Good News, we need both proclamation evangelism and social action. For example, proclamation evangelism alone is almost impossible in places like the Middle East, where you can’t even get into some countries unless you’re meeting physical needs. Meeting physical needs, however, can open the door to tell people about Jesus Christ. In addition, we have found that the response is greater when people see us reaching out with bread in one hand and the Word of God in the other.
One example of this is the concern of Christians for the Dalit people of India. The 200 million Dalits, or untouchables, have been treated worse than slaves in many instances. But because Christians have stood with them in solidarity, the door has flung open to present the Gospel, and large numbers of these people are coming to Christ. Thousands of new churches have been planted.
I believe that God is awakening His Church to take on the challenge of helping hurting people, the challenge of not seeing such ministry as separate from the Great Commission but as an integral part of it.
The Need Is Enormous
We need to pray, as Jesus instructed, that the Lord of the harvest will send workers into His harvest field. The number of career missionaries coming from most missionary-sending countries has dropped. Part of the decrease is being made up for by other countries in South America, Asia and Africa that are increasing their number of career missionaries. But often those missionaries serve only within their own language group or within their own country, so many countries and people groups are still left without a strong Gospel witness.
We need to understand that Western missionaries are still needed as much as ever. Some Christians think they can go on a short-term trip for a couple of weeks, and that’s all that is needed. The original goal of short-term missions was to get as many people as possible to become long-term missionaries. Imagine what might happen if we could see even 1 percent of American Christians go out as long-term missionaries!
C.S. Lewis once said that we have the tendency to think but not to act, and to feel but not to act. If we go on thinking and feeling without acting, someday we will be unable to act. Is this happening to you? Even small steps of faith are important. Pray for missionaries and national workers to go out into the field. Pray for the release of urgently needed finances for Christ’s work. Then, be available as answers to these prayers yourself. Become more biblical and generous in your own life. Befriend people from other cultures. Go on a short-term mission trip. And finally, be ready for the next step–anywhere, anytime–as the Holy Spirit leads.