Because Jesus asks us to

In my community, there are a lot of South Asian Muslims about mainly from Pakistan and Bangladesh. Immediately around our church, the area is well into the 90s percentage-wise for South Asian Muslims. Much of our ministry has centred on reaching such people.

Yet, in the now nearly 10 years I have been here, we haven’t seen a single conversion amongst this people group. In the years before my coming here, the church didn’t see any greater fruit among these groups either. The area has seen a steady increase in South Asian Muslims since the 1970s – and the church has been in the area throughout that time – and yet in around 50 years of their being here, there have been no conversions among these groups.

This, naturally, begs a question. Why would you bother? Why continue to bang your head against that particular brick wall? If nobody from that community seems likely to convert, aren’t you better cutting your losses and reaching the lower hanging fruit that might convert somewhere else? Indeed, such choices have been made in the past by some.

One answer to that question comes from Don Carson’s Dad. In Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor Carson recounts the following:

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.

As true as this is, there is an altogether stronger reason still. Because, as much as we want to believe that God has many people in this place, we are also conscious that the likes of Isaiah and Jeremiah were given messages to preach for decades to which they were explicitly told nobody would respond. We have to countenance the possibility – though we choose to believe otherwise – that God doesn’t have many people in the place, at least not right now. But why would we stay then?

Ultimately, because Jesus says so. We cannot fulfil the Great Commission – we cannot go into all of creations and preach the gospel – without coming to this bit. We cannot claim to have a heart for all people if our reaction to the hardest of soils is to up and leave for more apparently fruitful people. Jesus does not give us a get-out-of-difficult-and-slow-ministry-for-free card. We stay – whether God has many people in this place or not – because Jesus asks us to.

Of course, we don’t know what results may be down the track. We don’t know what the Lord may do here amongst Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslim people. We don’t know whether our ministry will be Isaiah-level fruitless for decades, whether it is seed-sowing work that somebody else will get the joy of reaping later on or if the Lord has a local revival in store for us that we will see in our own lifetime. But we stay, regardless of the results, because Jesus calls us to go into all the world and preach the gospel, this is part of the world and if we don’t nobody else is coming. In the end, we stay because Jesus asks us to.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Which is, in effect, what we are doing. Yet, the Lord has blessed us with conversions amongst other people. We have seen people from all over the world convert. The Lord has encouraged us with others coming to faith here. But amongst Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslims – the overwhelming majority people groups in our community – we have seen nothing. And yet we stay, and we keep going, and we press on preaching the same gospel – not because of the results – but because, in the end, Jesus asks us to. And that is reason enough.