In my previous post, I defined cross-cultural mission. It contains two vital elements. Firstly, going. Secondly, the venue, a people whose language and culture is different from ours. This week I have been chewing on another question. If I had a clear answer last week, I don’t have one this week. The question is this. Is there a specific moment where a missionary “gets the call” from God from a clear blue sky? Or is it a gradual process leading to a solid conviction? Either/or? Both/and?
Paul certainly had a life-changing encounter. In Acts 9, in the space of not many minutes, his direction in life totally changed. “Then the Lord said, 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. So he, trembling and astonished, said, 'Lord, what do You want me to do?' Then the Lord said to him, 'Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do' (verses 5-6). Verse 15 defined that call - he was to go to the Gentiles. That shaped the rest of Paul’s life. “Therefore, king Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19). (Picture: The Conversion of Saul, fresco by Michelangelo, 1542-1545).
Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China is much less clear. The answer is both/and. His parents, James and Amelia Taylor, a Methodist couple, dedicated him to the Lord when he was born, with a specific prayer: "Grant that he may work for You in China." Yet Hudson Taylor in his teenage years walked away from the Lord. “During this time, Hudson Taylor and his friends were sceptical of Christianity and turned off by ‘the inconsistencies of Christian people' who claimed to believe the Bible but ‘were yet content to live just as they would if there were no such book.’ But when he was 17 years of age he went into his father's library one afternoon (in June 1849) in search of a book to read. Finally, he picked up a gospel tract entitled, ‘It is Finished’, and decided to read the story on the front. He came upon the expression, 'The Finished work of Christ.' Remembering the words, 'It is Finished', he raised the question 'What was finished?' The answers seemed to fall in place, and he received Christ as his Saviour.”
Hudson Taylor then had a second encounter with the Lord. “Months later he began to feel a great dissatisfaction with his spiritual state. His ‘first love’ and his zeal for souls had grown cold. On Dec. 2, 1849, he retired to be alone with the Lord, and it seemed this was the time to promise the Lord he would go to China.”
His mother’s prayers and the desires of both parents were fulfilled by his accepting Jesus and later surrendering to God’s call to China for his life. It is both/and – he was dedicated from birth to China by his parents but had to make two decisions himself – to accept Jesus as His personal Saviour and to step into the call to China.
I suspect that that is the exception rather than the rule. Many come from non-Christian families, or from Christian families who strongly expect their children to go the normal route – to make money and “do well for themselves”. Obviously, that is not going to lead to a missionary career! As Hudson Taylor himself said, "China is not to be won for Christ by quiet, ease-loving men and women … The stamp of men and women we need is such as will put Jesus, China, [and] souls first and foremost in everything and at every time – even life itself must be secondary."
Lilias Trotter, of whom I talked some months ago, had a very different call. She was a gifted artist. The leading art critic of the day, Ruskin, told Trotter that if she would devote herself to her art, "she would be the greatest living painter and do things that would be immortal." Her mother very much agreed. But in May 1879, she decided that she could not give herself "to painting and continue still to 'seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness'". Later In May 1887, when a missionary to North Africa asked at a religious meeting if God was calling anyone to North Africa, Trotter rose and said, "He is calling me." For Lilias Trotter, there was an encounter, a cross-roads, that demanded a decision to go forth as a cross-cultural missionary. She had been prepared by the Lord, but there needed to be a trigger point.
Is there a trigger point in the life of some, most, all missionaries? Or for some is it a gradual and growing conviction?
If you have examples, personal or those of others, please leave a comment below.
What moment (or process) will cause the Hudson Taylors and the Lilias Trotters of our day to rise up and follow Him “to the ends of the earth”?
Image source: The Conversion of Saul. (2022, August 21). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Conversion_of_Saul_(Michelangelo)
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