I was reading Memoirs of an ordinary pastor over Christmas. You can read my brief review here. I was particularly touched – and empathise – with one particular story recounted in the book. Don Carson writes as follows:
In March 1959 the riots in Leopoldville warned missionaries and others in the Belgian Congo that the country was likely to be restive and perhaps dangerous for a while. These riots were part of the process that brought about the Congo’s emancipation from its colonial power in June 1960. Many missionaries returned home for a while. Some of them were Americans, of course, and the most experienced of them brought with them knowledge of both a tribal language and of French. Under the influence of Belgium, French was the language of education in the Congo, especially advanced education. Some of these missionaries, looking around for another francophone part of the world where they might serve until they could return to the Congo, began to think of Quebec.
A handful came north, and their arrival infused some of the long-standing missionaries and pastors with fresh hope. By and large the French churches were holding their own, but not much more. It was a time of slogging perseverance rather than advance or even the frisson of dangerous opposition. These former missionaries to French West Africa might not know the nuances of Canadian culture, but if they were fluent in French it surely would not take them too long to integrate and then put their shoulders to the plow.
Not one of them lasted more than six months. As a high school student, I saw myself as more than equipped to venture opinions on just about everything. So I asked Dad why none of them had the courage and stamina to stick it out.
Always the meekest of men, Dad replied rather mildly, “Don, you have to understand that they have been used to serving in a part of the world where they have seen much blessing. They are used to considerable crowds, they have built clinics and hospitals, they have seen many people converted and helped to train pastors to teach them. Then they arrive here and find everything to be interminably slow. How are they likely to read this, except to conclude that they must have misunderstood their call to Quebec since no fruit seems to be forthcoming?”
“So,” I replied, “why don’t you go to some part of the world where there would be much fruit instead of staying here and producing so little?”
Until then the conversation had been casual. Now he wheeled on me and said rather curtly, “I stay because I believe God has many people in this place” – referring, of course, to the encouragement God gave to Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:10). This was one of the many times when Tom grounded his perseverance in the doctrine of election.
I was particularly moved by this story because it provides the real basis for staying in works that are difficult. Despite the claim of some, we do not stay because of some spurious sense of inner calling (see here). We stay because, in God’s sovereign goodness, we have been called by an actual church, sent by an actual church and the Lord sovereignly arranged our circumstances so that we could act upon the call. Most of all, we stay because we believe the Lord has many people in this place and how will they hear unless somebody goes and shares Christ with them?
We do not stay only when there appears to be much fruit. We do not stay only when the church makes our life easy. We do not stay because we have some inner intuition (whether from the Lord or otherwise). We stay because we love the Lord and his people and we long to see the lost won for Christ. We stay because our call was not to numerical success but to gospel faithfulness. Such faithfulness insists we take the gospel to the lost where others will not go based not on inner feelings but on the explicit call of Christ stated directly in the scriptures. In response to the Great Commission – the sending of one church and the call of another – we said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’