The Plot Thickens…

…so Neil renamed “The Journey Deepens” retreat that took us to Philadelphia last weekend along with the Michaleks, Plahutas, and Leons. Indeed, “The Plot Thickens” is a good description of what transpired in the 1880s countryside manor where we stayed. Hosted by World Evangelization for Christ’s U.S. Headquarters, the retreat is designed to help people discover their role in cross-cultural work and determine the next steps in their missions journey.

WEC Center

WEC Center

How did our journey there begin? Neil and I had been mulling over whether Urbana, a missions conference geared for college students, was worth one week and over $2000 in registration fees, travel, and lodging. Then “The Journey Deepens” caught my eye in a Missions Catalyst email. Philly wasn’t too far away so I perused the retreat web site. The description, structure, and price were all right. The small groups with missions coaches sounded best of all. Before I mentioned it to Neil that day, I got another email about it, this time from OMF. I’ve never received an email from OMF unless I contacted them first. But it was a notice about the retreat. We decided to sign up and started trying to recruit the Michaleks.

The next morning our decision was confirmed when Holly McCallum also emailed me about the conference. Soon enough the Michaleks, Plahutas, and Leons were all signed up, too. I started praying that the retreat would prove worthwhile, that we’d get some clarification and answers to questions. God answered my prayers far beyond what I’d imagined!

My two main questions were: 1. Should we go to Thailand with Aor or through a missions agency’s short-term trip? and 2. If/when/how should I pursue some type of ESL training? Of course we also wondered “Should we go?” but that seemed too big a question to be answered in one weekend, and I was right.

Unreached People Groups

Unreached People Groups

So here’s how God answered my questions through this retreat. Two days before we left, Aor left me a message while I was swimming. She said she had to return to Thailand suddenly because her mother was having surgery. This is significant because we were considering going to Thailand with her when she returned to visit family for several weeks in December. But now that she went on short notice in June, how would she have the money to go again in December? We would probably have to wait another year or more and we wanted to take a trip sooner to gage our interest in the culture.

The reason we wanted to go with her was so we could see the culture first-hand, through the eyes of a national. But we also wanted to hook up with at least one missionary or missions agency while there. We didn’t want to spend more money on an expensive short-term trip and be able to serve in a small way, without getting to see much of the country or the people. But the missionaries at the retreat recommended going on a short-term “vision” trip, rather than a service missions trip. They said it’s possible to visit a number of missionaries and ministries throughout the country, as well as to visit a language training center. This is supposedly the best way to get a feel for if you’d like to consider long-term work in that culture.

Regarding ESL, I was told it’s always a useful training for cross-cultural work, and the endorsement to my teaching license was probably the best way to go. But one missionary raised a good point: it might be better to go on the “vision” trip first, see what kind of work we’re interested in doing, and then decide if/what type of training to get. I’m glad I heard this because I don’t want to spent $6000 or more on courses that won’t be helpful to me. In the mean time I can take a certificate course at Hudson Community Chapel for $50-100 and get the basics.

The eight Xenoids were together in the small group which was nice because we didn’t have to go over our backgrounds to understand each other, and we didn’t have to listen to people’s weird theologies or corny platitudes. One of our coaches reaches out to Chinese students at American universities, as well as leading short-term English-teaching trips to China. His organization, Chinese Outreach Ministry, will be a valuable contact for Craig and Jackie’s International Student Bible Study. They even have a branch of their ministry at Kent State. Our other coach spent 35 years translating the Bible in the Philippines and now recruits for Wycliffe.

Our small group

Our small group

The coaches offered useful practical advice and shared great personal experiences (once the translator’s husband was kidnapped by an Al Queda-trained group!), but I was longing to talk with a church-planter. Jackie found one (I think she met everyone there) and I enjoyed listening to her stories but they didn’t answer any of my questions. And she wasn’t there as a missions coach; she was living at WEC before departing to Spain in a month.

Next on the schedule was a missionary forum to answer our questions. The first panelist introduced himself as Steve Niphakis, church-planter in Thailand for eleven years, Thai language and cultural training director for six years, and now a recruiter for OMF. His answers during the panel were very helpful and Neil and I approached him immediately after to schedule an appointment during our afternoon break.

He gave us almost two hours and unloaded all sorts of useful, detailed information with impeccable cheerfulness. Maybe that’s what seventeen years in the “Land of Smiles” does to you. He was exactly what we’d prayed to find at this conference: successful church-planting experience in Thailand, highly knowledgeable about language and cultural acquisition, and working for an agency to help get people on the field. Even better, we were already interested in OMF because of the Gibsons and Hudson Taylor.

Neil, Steve, and Mark

Neil, Steve, and Mark

And best of all, he said he would be happy to mentor us through the process of becoming missionaries if that’s the route we want to take. He offered to meet us at our home or his (in PA) to figure out what type of training and preparation we need. And he’s even willing to meet with people in our fellowship if they have questions or want help becoming a sending church.

He also said some interesting things during the panel about his love-hate relationship with the American church. And in answers to Neil’s question about choosing a field and agency, he said “Your team is more important than your field. You can play on a lot of different fields if you’re on a good team, but if you’re team isn’t right, it doesn’t matter what field you’re playing on, you can’t win.” This analogy to sports was actually helpful and describes how I feel. I’m interested in Thailand but I’d be happy to serve in other places as well. But if we become missionaries, we want the agency to have the same values and ideas about ministry, their vision, doctrine, etc.

OMF’s mission seems to match our own: they’re into establishing indigenous church-planting movements where the churches are reproducing within their country and sending to others nations, especially places closed to whites. Many OMF missionaries are doing pioneer work in unreached areas, and the existing Thai churches are very community-oriented.

OMF is praying for 100 new workers to Thailand. Now I can see why. Steve thinks Thailand is on the verge of exponential growth. The recent political unrest has left Thai people, especially youth, looking for a change. The country is politically open and missionary visas are available. Churches are being planted and Thai people are interested in Americans and therefore willing to make friendships with them.

Steve recommended applying to agencies early because it can take four years to even begin language training. If you apply early, he said, the agency can help you determine the preparation and training you need. So we need to think and pray seriously about whether we want to take the step of applying. We came away from this retreat with some “next steps”: stay in touch with Steve about developing an action plan and think about planning a “vision trip” to Thailand. At the same time he is encouraging us to talk to our “pastor” about this direction and make sure we’re on the same page with OMF as far as theology, ethos, methods, etc. before we go any further.

All the missionaries strongly recommended developing a strong support group who will pray for us as “the plot thickens.” We’re blessed to have such a close fellowship of believers who are interested in what we’re doing. But if you read this and want to commit to praying for us regularly, please let me know and I’ll keep you updated about our deepening journey.

The Scariest Prayer

Have you ever prayed a scary prayer before? These are prayers that God could only answer by allowing you to suffer. Prayers like:

“God, please break me of my flesh.”

“God, don’t let me be a comfortable Christian.”

“God, please teach me how to handle failure.”

I’ve prayed these before, and they’re scary, and God has answered (or at least started to). Last Memorial I prayed not to be comfortable. Two months later I found myself at Cedar Point with the high school ministry. I hate roller coasters, overpriced junk food, and broiling my Irish skin in the sun for fourteen hours, and I developed a massive headache from the sun as well. So it’s fair to say Cedar Point was part of the answer to that prayer. I had fun, but uncomfortable fun. I could say the same about playing sports and going to the high school football games. Not exactly my bag of chips, but it’s exactly what I prayed for.

I’ve prayed to be broken of my pride (very scary—pray with caution!), and God granted me a string of failed friendships and discipleships. He also graciously gave me loyal friends to bring me through. I got what I asked for, but I have a feeling He’s not done answering that one yet.

But just recently I’ve started praying the scariest prayer, one I think every Christian should pray.

“God, please show me if you want me to be a missionary.”

That’s missionary as in cross-cultural, overseas, long-term worker in the global harvest. I’ve prayed this prayer at various times since the age of twelve, but never with such earnestness and immediacy as now. At twenty-three, I’m old enough (though not experienced enough) to actually go, and my husband is also praying the scariest prayer with new interest and even urgency.

“God, please show me where You want me to serve, whether here, extra-locally, in Taiwan, Thailand, India, or even Iran…if that’s even possible.”

What’s so scary about this prayer?

Frankly, that bit about Iran (or any closed Muslim country) is terrifying. I can’t even watch the “torture” scene in The Princess Bride! How the heck could I handle it if I actually got tortured? I’d probably cave in a second, which is also scary because I could seriously damage the Christian faith and the whole region’s ministry. But then the child-like faith part of my brain (a very small part, unfortunately), says, “God would get you through it.” I have a hard time believing it, but there are plenty of testimonies of persecuted, beaten, tortured believers who somehow manage to “rejoice in suffering” just like the Bible says. So it must be possible.

Perhaps scarier than getting tortured is seeing my kids (the ones I don’t have yet) or husband get tortured or killed. I would be devastated if Neil died. But he could die anywhere, anytime. So I guess it just boils down to trusting God again. And Elizabeth Elliot is a real testament to how God provides even in that type of sorrow. (See the movie End of the Spear with a box of tissues nearby).

Even if God led us to a field where torture/execution wasn’t an issue, it would still be incredibly difficult to leave this amazing, one-of-a-kind fellowship, my family, the comforts of home, the English language, and everything we’re used to.

And then to go learn a new language, go through training, and start working with a team of strangers (if we’re lucky enough to join a team), and try to reach people and grow churches and raise leaders in a foreign place? And have a family there, too? Crazy talk.

But we’re talking it, more than ever before. We’re talking to Seann and Amy Gibson in Taiwan, who say that learning how to fail is crucial to being a missionary because pioneer missions work includes a lot of failure. We’re talking to Ellen Livingood, a missionary Neil met in Perspectives, about the process of getting onto the field. We’re going to talk with Martha McCallum who grew up in Kenya, who says that character is the critical element to becoming a missionary. We want to pick her brain on what that means and looks like to develop. We’ve been talking to fellow Perspectives students who are at varying points in the process of praying and getting answers to the scariest prayer.

And there’s the issue of replacing ourselves here, too. The harvest is plentiful and the workers are few, both here and there. But one third of the world’s population couldn’t hear the gospel in their language if they wanted to—there are simply no believers among them. Neil said, “becoming a missionary is the most logical thing a Christian could do. It just makes so much sense.” I have to agree with the engineer. It seems uncanny that Neil and I are both interested in missions, willing to go, old enough to do it, young enough to be trained, and have such a great foundation in the Word and doing relational ministry. Plus Neil’s gift for evangelism and my English-teaching skills would certainly come in handy.

But I’m not trying to convince anyone, least of all God. I just want to hear the answer to the scariest prayer I’ve ever prayed. If the answer is to go, I’m sure there’ll be much scariest prayers to come. I think every Christian should ask God what role He has for them in His global plan. Perhaps right now He wants You to pray we figure out God’s will for us.

Living Water: Are you Thirsty?

Are you thirsty? Do you feel the desperate need for the Holy Spirit in your life and ministry? Do you want to learn how to lean on Him more?

“’If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’” –John 7:38

Brother Yun told the story of his persecution as a church planter and evangelist in China in The Heavenly Man. He suffered brutal beatings, electrocution, malnourishment, and repeated imprisonments for the gospel, and he considered it all joy to join in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings.

His new book Living Water is collected from his teachings, many of them given to Western churches. Some of the principles may seem basic to Western Christians with theological knowledge, but his challenging calls to obey the Bible’s teachings are anything but boring.

Brother Yun is the only Christian I know of today who is writing in a radical way about the necessity of persecution for Christians. Listen to these quotes and consider how they apply to your walk with the Lord, our fellowship as a whole.

“Do you want to follow God and do something great for His kingdom? If so, then good. But first you must realize that the pathway to bearing fruit for the Lord is strewn with much opposition, slander, criticism, false accusation, and pain. People will misunderstand you and doubt your motives, and Satan will throw many roadblocks in your path in a bid to thwart your progress. This has been my experience over the years, and it has been the experience of every person I have known who has been used by God, from the apostles to the present day.”

“The true gospel, when it is preached with power, always results in either revival or riot. Just read Paul’s experiences in the book of Acts.”

“Did you ever consider that Jesus sent His own followers on suicide missions? He knew His disciples would be killed as they attempted to take the gospel throughout the world.”

“We need to get our minds off man-made temples, churches and buildings and realize that God no longer dwells in structures made by human hands.”

“When I’m in the West, I see all the mighty church buildings and all the expensive equipment, plush carpets and state-of-the-art sound systems. I can assure the Western church with absolute certainty that you don’t need any more church buildings. Church buildings will never bring the revival you seek. The pursuit of more possession will also fail to bring revival.” Instead he says we need teachings that contain the “sharp truths” of Scripture, and obedience to those truths.

“In China we always teach five things that all disciples need to be ready to do at any time. We need to be ready to pray, regardless of circumstances. We must always be ready to share the gospel and always ready to suffer for the name of Jesus. We also teach every disciple in China that they must be ready to die for Jesus Christ, and finally they should be ready to escape for the gospel if the opportunity presents itself, for Jesus said, ‘When you are persecute in one place, flee to another’ (Matthew 10:23). There is great power when we suffer for the gospel.”

“I have found over the years that many of the most fruitful times of ministry for the Lord have come at the same time as great opposition and persecution. There seems to be direct correlation between effective work for God and intense opposition. We can grow to such a place in Christ where we laugh and rejoice when people slander us, because we know we are not of this world, and our security is in heaven. The more we are persecuted for His sake, the more reward we will receive in heaven.”

“China is not being transformed for Jesus because we sit around thinking and talking about God’s work. No! We invest all our energy, time, and resources in reaching the lost. The church prays hard and works hard for the Lord. Many thousands of Christians have willingly endured brutal treatment and imprisonment in order to see the vision of a redeemed China become a reality.”

“Have you ever felt you would die unless you shared the goodness of Jesus Christ with others? If not, it is time to kneel down and ask God to give you a fresh revelation of the joy and presence of the Lord.”
I still have a few chapters left to read so more quotations may be forthcoming. I do recommend the book for if you are willing to look past the “basic teachings” and question whether you are really following them. In other words, be forewarned: contains highly convicting material.

Get Ready to Get Rocked

“Go and make disciples of all the nations.” So begins the Great Commission. But are we obeying Christ’s call?

The Perspectives class is a great way to enter the Great Commission. It begins at the Hudson Community Chapel on January 12th and meets Mondays from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Or take the class on Tuesday evenings, beginning January 13th at Grace Christian Missionary Alliance Church in Middleburg Heights.

All our new ministries are so exciting: the Discovery Groups, the International Student Ministry, Crossroads, and the Western Ohio Enterprise demonstrate how many in our fellowship are pursuing the Great Commission.

But are we taking the gospels to “all the nations” by participating in God’s work around the globe?

What You’ll Discover
If you want God to rock your world, take Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. The fifteen-week course offers a challenging look at the theology, history, and methods of missions. It’s appropriately titled, as any alumni will agree: the class transforms your view of God, the gospel, the world, and your part in God’s plan.

your perspective will change!

Meet missionaries serving in the Middle East or in cannibal tribes or the slums of India. What stories, pictures, and insights they share! This is a typical night at Perspectives class. It means developing deep convictions and new understandings you never held before.

“It was really eye-opening to see how much of the world doesn’t have access to the gospel and what missionaries are doing that we have no idea about,” Diana Michalek said. She also loved learning about the many indigenous movements such as the underground church in China. Her favorite memories of the class include a video about how a tribe in Papua New Guinea came to Christ and hearing Don Richardson (author of The Peace Child­) speak.

It’s so easy to get bogged down in our own culture’s version of Christianity, but it isn’t an Americanized belief,” said Jackie Leon. “Learning about missions broadened my understanding of the way the Lord works around the world.” This was important to Jackie because a secular friend told her Christianity was a Western religion, but the Perspectives class helped her understand that, “God doesn’t want every church to be like the Western church.”

Practical Learning
“We’re learning about things we can do here,” Diana said.

Ryan Leon agreed: “It really helped to learn about the history of missions, what worked and didn’t work in different fields.”

Be forewarned: Perspectives will change you. Diana, Jackie, and Ryan have taken new steps to financially support missions work, write to missionaries, teach others about missions, reach out to international students, and learn more through reading. The Gibsons, missionaries to Taiwan, took the course as freshman in college and asked, “If we’re able to go, why not go?” It’s a scary question, but the Gibsons are so glad they asked it.

“I recommend every Christian take Perspectives,” Jackie said.

Check out for more information and to register soon!

Voice of the Martyrs, Voice of the Choir

On Saturday I attended the Voice of the Martyrs Regional Conference, along with Michael, Charlotte, and Neil. I wanted to offer a quick review for those who didn’t make it.

As we pulled into the church driveway, cherub statues, Hallmark-style, greeted us followed by a circle drive and fountain. Charlotte commented that it looked like the home of a rich Italian family, while Neil started humming the Godfather theme. We were directed to a parking spot in the nearly empty parking lot by no less than three metrosexuals who looked like they warded Clay Aiken’s closet. Looking around I realized we were in the minority in our jeans. That’s how “Xenos” I’ve become—it didn’t even occur to me to dress up. Luckily I opted for flats instead of sneakers.

Next we entered the building through a long sun-room-hallway decorated in faux flora that must have been arranged by the church’s choir. The church I grew up in abandoned the choir in favor of a “worship team” and “praise band” circa 1993. But I barely had time to take in the angel wallpaper border and red plush pews before a gaggle of elderly ladies in antiquated pastel dresses took their place in the choir pews. (Where did they find those outfits? I don’t think such attire is even available at the thrift store anymore.) They were accompanied by balding men in short-sleeve white shirts and too-short ties, along with several very out of tune violins and a flute. “Why?” I couldn’t resist whispering to Charlotte. “Why doesn’t someone tell them?”

After half an hour of the choir singing, I was more ready than ever to hear the voice of the martyrs. Actually, I was ready to hear the voice of anything but the choir. But there was more. A quartet sang, followed by a soloist. Someone explained the schedule of the conference: we’d have “a song” (which really meant four songs), “a prayer,” and a speaker. I stared in disbelieve. But at least I knew what we were in for. I have nothing against music or hymns (provided they steer clear of false theology, such as the choir’s chant that we are “standing on holy ground”), but I felt like the choir was sabotaging the conference. I guess they think people like it. Maybe people do like it.

The first speaker was an American who works for Voice of the Martyrs. He quoted a lot of Scripture, mainly familiar passages about persecution in general and what the apostles experienced in specific. He didn’t have a good speaking voice and he sort of lisped, but he did a good job of getting his three main points across:

1. The Body of Christ still suffers today.
2. We are to remember them. (Heb. 13:3)
3. As we serve them, they serve us even more.

He said 200 million Christians face persecution in over forty countries today, and more Christians were killed for their faith in the twentieth century than any other period in history. His big application point about remembering and serving the persecuted church is to pray for them. It’s easier to pray when you have information and even specific people and ministries in mind, which is why the Voice of the Martyrs has a free monthly newsletter. Sign up at He told stories from a number of countries and showed two videos of Christians being beaten and sentenced to jail for evangelistic activities. He also talked about forgiveness as crucial for the work of the persecuted church.

The second speaker was Mujahid El Masih from Pakistan. He grew up as a Muslim, taught straight from the Qur’an. He became a Christian in his twenties as a result of God’s pursuit and placing Christians in his life. God called him to evangelize and he obeyed, which led to suffering, but he persisted. He visited South Africa to speak. Eventually someone unwittingly gave the Pakistani government his name, in association with his activities, and he could not go back to Pakistan without being killed. He stayed in South Africa until he was going to be deported, when God miraculously provided visas and plane tickets to the U.S. for him and his family. He lives here since he cannot return to Pakistan or South Africa, but he continues to work in Pakistan through an organization he established. Last year those working for the organization baptized over 950 new believers there. Through his testimony he preached about total commitment to God, how God is always with us, even in the worst circumstances, and how suffering stretches us so we are more useful to God. His teaching was my favorite part of the conference.

We decided to leave since we faced a ninety-minute lunch break and two more rounds of singing. All that just to hear an hour and a half of speakers, and the church was recording it. So I signed up to get information about the recordings and we left. On the way home Charlotte commented about the disconnect between the “show” and the conference topic. I agreed and continued thinking more about how appalled I was at the culturally irrelevant music and décor than what the speakers said. But a few days later, I’m more impressed by what a whiny American I am, compared to how sacrificial Christians in other countries are. They seem to take suffering and persecution as normal, while I mope about going to a high school football game in fall weather. But I don’t want to throw a pity party about how pathetic I am. I just hope I can remember what other people face to stay true to the gospel the next time I start complaining about being cold or feeling awkward.

The Secret

According to the Chicago Tribune’s feature on Christianity in China, “Christian churches, most of them underground, now have roughly 70 million members, as many as the [Communist] party itself.” Today the Chinese church is among the fastest-growing in the world, and it is safe to call this an outgrowth of Hudson Taylor’s pioneer missions work spanning the latter half of the 19th century.

Though his methods were brilliant and biblical, it was Taylor’s character that sustained his work and led to fruitfulness during continual “conflicts without, fears within.” At the heart of his maturity was his “spiritual secret.” Far from the esoteric enigmas of Gnosticism, his secret is found plainly in Scripture:

“Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:37-39)

In total surrender to God, he found only one place to meet his needs. His letters describe his response to this passage:

“No matter how intricate my path, how difficult my service; no matter how sad my bereavement, how far away my loved ones; no matter how helpless I am, how deep are my soul-yearnings—Jesus can all, all, and more than meet. He not only promises me rest. . . . He not only promises me drink to alleviate my thirst. No, better than that! ‘He who trusts me (who believeth on me, takes me at my word) out of him shall flow…’”

The overflow of Taylor’s life has far outlived him as he sought fulfillment in Christ alone. But how did he experience fullness in Christ when his life was one of such difficult circumstances? His study of a Greek verb tense further revealed the secret:

“’Come unto me and drink.’ Not, come and take a hasty draught; not, come and slightly alleviate, or for a short time remove one’s thirst. No! ‘drink’ or ‘be drinking’ constantly, habitually….One coming, one drinking may refresh and comfort: but we are to be ever coming, ever drinking.”

Total surrender means total reliance on God. Like Paul, Taylor found the secret of contentment by entering God’s rest:

“How little I believed the rest and peace of heart I now enjoy were possible down here! It is heaven begun below, is it not? . . . Compared with this union with Christ, heaven or earth are unimportant accidents. . . . He is our power for service and fruit-bearing, and his bosom is our resting placing now and forever.”

His joy in Christ was so all-consuming he lived Paul’s words: “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17, 18). During terrible trials he wrote of “the joy of knowing the living of God, of seeing the living God, of resting on the living God.”

Hope was indeed the bridge from Taylor’s faith in God to his labor of love in China. He knew with Christ carrying the yoke alongside him, his sacrifices were worthwhile and bearable. He believed God would provide in every way because of His promises and demonstration of faithfulness. And he looked forward to an eternity where Chinese believers would praise the Lamb with him.

Hudson Taylor presents a formidable example of radical dependence on God. Though I’m light-years behind him in spiritual maturity, I still want to learn the secret of entering God’s rest by continually satisfying all need in Christ. From there the rest takes care of itself, as Taylor illustrated: “If you are ever drinking at the Fountain with what will your life be running over?—Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!”

Osnos, Evan. “Jesus in China.” The Chicago Tribune, June 22, 2008. .

Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Sweetness

In 1849 a British teenager gave his heart to the Lord. But unlike those who seek salvation for “fire insurance” alone, James Hudson Taylor truly committed his whole life to God. After offering himself to his Savior he wrote, “For what service I was accepted I knew not, but a deep consciousness that I was not my own took possession of me which has never since been effaced.”

He spent the next four years studying medicine under a Christian doctor, but he was also preparing for a life work in China. There God had called him to the “unreached millions” and as a result he sought experience ministering to the poor and downtrodden. Much of his free time was spent preaching the gospel in the slums and praying for the people’s needs. He also found ways to test his faith which we might view as silly today, but which proved to be an effective exercise in depending on the Lord for every need.

Such faith was critical when he sailed for China in 1953 with the Chinese Evangelization Society. There he faced trials beyond what we can imagine in a place where Westerners were few and unwelcome, lodging was scarce, and funds were perpetually low. The needs were also overwhelming as people lived in bondage to fears and superstitions, grinding poverty, and constant wars.

What is most remarkable about Taylor is not his bravery in facing such challenges, his formation of a new missionary society when his senders went into debt, or even his persistent sacrifice after losing his wife and three of his children to the hardships of the land. Thousands of English missionaries made such sacrifices during the nineteenth century. The reason Taylor stands out as the foremost pioneer of the second era in Protestant missions is his unusual insights which indeed form the basis of missionary strategy today.

First, he longed to go inland, to the “unreached peoples” as we call them today. He wanted to go to China to reach those who could not possibly hear the gospel where they were. And once he got to China, he wanted to go where no Westerners had gone before to the isolated villages that could only be reached by river or canal. He didn’t think in terms of people groups but he was strategic in his planning and prayer for workers in every unreached province. At the foot of his bed hung a map of China with these provinces marked out, for which he raised up hundreds of missionaries. This is why he formed the China Inland Mission, which continues today in the form of Overseas Missionary Fellowship.

Second, he was the first in China, and one of the first in the world, to become “culturally relevant.” Despite the scorn of other foreigners, he dressed as the Chinese did so that he would be more accepted by the people. He even adopted the local hairstyle, shaving his head save a single ponytail at the top. In local dress he found that people were more attentive to the gospel than his foreignness. He also learned Chinese, translated the Bible into Chinese, and taught new believers how to read so they could understand the Word for themselves. While such steps may seem second-nature today, they were radical and even scandalous, but ultimately much more effective in communicating the gospel without cultural barriers.

Third, Taylor balanced social relief with the preaching the gospel. His medical training gave him many inroads to people’s hearts as he demonstrated the love of God through prayer and practical service. Teaching the illiterate was also both a pragmatic and spiritual effort. While theologians debated the continuum of social work and evangelism, Taylor and his workers practiced both in tandem.

Fourth, he actively promoted women’s work in missions, sending his own wife as one of the movement’s pioneers. Though he bore much criticism for this, he helped pave the way for females and married couples to work overseas. This is especially significant because experience has shown women are often more effective at missionary work than men, and are critical in reaching women and children where it might be inappropriate for men to make such contacts.

Fifth, he counted on indigenous leaders to continue the work. Today we speak of native leadership as if it were a new revelation, but from the start Taylor trained converts to reach their people. About native believers he wrote, “the hope for China lies doubtless in them.” Indeed, he raised up many native missionaries who played vital roles in leading the Chinese church, especially when foreign policy during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 forced many missionaries out of inland China.

Read the book. They have it at the Akron Public Library (as soon as I return it!)

But these many and far-reaching contributions to missions work are not Taylor’s greatest secret to success. Stay tuned for “Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret”….

Why I Never Want to Sacrifice Again

I like to think I sacrifice for God’s Kingdom. Whether it’s giving up a couple hours of sleep, driving someone to a Bible study, leaving my social comfort zone, or studying hard for a teaching, I like to think that the inconveniences I experience in ministry are quite sacrificial. This makes me feel like I’m doing something right; like I’m somehow really entering the fellowship of Christ’s suffering. I know I’ve got it pretty easy here in my middle-class American life, but I do suffer at least somewhat for God’s Kingdom. Or do I?

David Livingstone, an early missionary to Africa, boldly stated: “I never made a sacrifice.”

Come again?

When missionaries headed for Africa in Livingstone’s day, they packed their belongings in their coffins. They knew they’d serve there until death, which often arrived shortly after they did. Between encountering foreign diseases, trying to scrounge up basic supplies, living without the medical and scientific advancements of their homelands, and facing both corporeal and spiritual warfare, these missionaries seemed to sacrifice everything. Not to mention the regular hardships of ministry with which we’re familiar.

David Livingstone, missionary to Africa

At first his statement doesn’t make sense. Next it sounds like super-spiritual or motivational rhetoric. But then it echoes Paul’s words, when he called all the beatings, shipwrecking, and imprisonments “momentary light affliction.” It brings to mind how Paul considered all the status, prestige, and prerogatives of the world “rubbish” compared to suffering for Christ—and that while he was in prison!

Like Paul’s “eternal weight of glory,” Livingstone saw heaven as more than enough incentive for a little so-called “sacrifice” here on earth. “Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in…a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter?” Good point: is it really a sacrifice when we’re going to be rewarded and glorified in an eternal future with our Father? Sounds more like a good investment to me.

Livingstone didn’t only look to the future, but also to the “healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, [and] peace of mind” that came during this life. God’s work is also the only way we gain true significance in this life and the next. I often share or teach about how fulfilling it is to have a purpose in life, but do I actually believe this? The question is settled by whether I see God’s work as a sacrifice or a privilege. The Almighty didn’t have to include us in His work. But because He has, we have the opportunity to change the landscape of eternity. What could be more significant than that?

Livingstone’s words, along with the examples of countless missionaries now and in the past, motivate me to “entrust [my] soul to the faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1 Pet. 4:19). There is no reason to hold back if I believe that God is truly good. Maybe this attitude will take me to the missions field one day; for now I hope it revolutionizes my relationships with God, my friends who don’t know God, those I disciple, and my family. I want to be persecuted because of my privilege, not my sacrifice.