Awakening to the Gospel Opportunities Right in Front of Us
by LESLIE LUDY
Our little red car bumped along the road as Eric and I drove to a family gathering. We’d been married for a few months and were busy making plans to gain medical training in order to head to the mission field as medical missionaries. I glanced out the window at the houses whizzing by as I made a mental checklist in my mind for all that still needed to be done in order to get another step closer to our dream of serving God on foreign soil.
Suddenly, Eric looked over and asked me an unexpected question. “What if God is calling us to travel and speak on relationships full time?”
Without even stopping to ponder the idea, I immediately declared, “No. Way.” Eric wasn’t taken aback by my strong response because he felt the same way. We had our life plan clearly mapped out — our sights were set on becoming medical missionaries. Eric was in the process of applying to medical school, and I was in the process of gaining a nursing degree. We dreamed about serving God on foreign soil through medical missions, and it was a direction we were excited about.
Then we started receiving invitations to speak on pre-marriage relationships. People were intrigued by the unusual decisions we’d made before we were married and the way that God had scripted our love story. Whenever we shared our love story publicly, it seemed to make a significant impact. But the last thing I wanted to be known as was a “relationships speaker.” Or worse yet, a “purity speaker.” In my mind, only very strange people would speak on purity and relationships full time. It seemed so much more noble and exciting to be a medical missionary in a far-away country. Even though we were receiving a lot of opportunities to share on purity and pre-marriage relationships, I tried to put the idea of full-time speaking out of my mind.
A few nights later, Eric and I were speaking to a large group of teens at a local church. At first I didn’t think they were even listening to us. But toward the end of the evening, Eric gave the closing challenge of surrender to Christ as I softly played worship music on the piano. I looked out at the audience and nearly fell off the piano bench as I saw hundreds of young people coming forward, weeping, kneeling, and giving their lives and futures entirely to God — many for the first time. I was deeply moved as I saw the way God had used our simple testimony to work in a life-changing way.
Later that night, one of the young women told me that she and her friends had been waiting their entire lives to hear someone challenge them to embrace real, radical Christianity. She said, “Most people think that teenagers are too shallow to understand Christianity. But we are just waiting for someone to stop watering down the truth. We are hungry for the real thing. That’s what you gave us tonight.”
Eric and I had spoken a simple but undiluted Gospel message. And hundreds of teens’ lives had been changed in a dramatic way as a result. It was that evening that I began to awaken to the fact that Eric and I didn’t need to travel overseas in order to eternally impact others with the Gospel. Maybe God was calling us to share His life-changing truth within our own culture. A willingness began to bloom within my heart as I saw the tremendous need and the incredible opportunity that was right in front of us.
Not long afterwards, Eric and I both surrendered our desire to become medical missionaries and accepted God’s commission to share His amazing, transforming truth within our very own culture. At first it had seemed like the worst idea in the world — a downgrade from the romanticism of foreign missions. But as we said yes to God’s call, we saw Him work in tremendous ways. And we began to realize afresh that there is truly no better place to be than in the center of His will.
. . .
George Müller, known best for his incredible ministry to the orphan and street children of Bristol, England, went through a similar experience early in his Christian walk. He had a thriving preaching ministry throughout Bristol, but felt a growing burden to pour himself out on behalf of the lost and needy. He began to think more and more about foreign missions. His brother-in-law, Anthony Groves, had a thriving mission work in Baghdad, and as George read Anthony’s letters, he felt a growing desire to join him. The life of a foreign missionary sounded so much more exciting than that of a pastor in England. One day George received a letter from Baghdad with two hundred pounds so that he and his family could leave England and become full-time missionaries there.
George was beyond excited and rushed home to tell his wife the news. In no time, the Müllers and their ministry colleagues began making plans to become missionaries overseas. But one day something happened that changed everything.
One foggy afternoon George was visiting a member of his congregation in the poorest part of Bristol. The dreary streets were muddy and filled with huge rain puddles. Destitution was everywhere. A five-year-old girl came up to him with a toddler boy on her back. The boy was only wearing a torn pair of trousers. She proceeded to ask for a shilling, and George learned that her mother had died from cholera and her father had gone to the mines never to return.
As George gave her the shilling, his heart was strangely stirred. He had seen little children like this every day during his ministry in Bristol, but now it was as if he was seeing them for the first time. What would happen to these two little children? Was there any hope for their future without anyone to care for them? He thought about the fact that there were thousands of children in the same hopeless situation all around on the streets of Bristol.
As George walked along the muddy streets, he came to a decision. He didn’t need to go to the mission field in Baghdad or anywhere else. He was standing in the middle of a mission field. Surely there couldn’t be a more needy people in the world than these little, helpless children. Baghdad — with its foreign intrigue — might sound more exciting, but there was also work to be done in dirty, overcrowded Bristol.
He did not know how to go about it or what a lone person without regular income could do, but he knew one thing: with God’s help he would help the poor, homeless children of Bristol. His pledge was this: “God has a mission field for me right here, and I will live and die in it.”
The result of that decision to stay and invest in his own backyard mission field had an immeasurable impact upon countless lives. Over the course of his life, George took full responsibility for over 10,000 orphans. He provided so many educational opportunities for underprivileged children that he was even accused by some of raising the poor above their natural station in British life. He established 117 schools which offered Christian education to more than 120,000 children. He ran his orphanage entirely by faith. And he ran it with excellence.
When George Müller died, a secular newspaper wrote that he had, “…robbed the cruel streets of thousands of victims, the jails of thousands of felons, and the poorhouses of thousands of helpless waifs.”
. . .
David Wilkerson is another example of someone who said yes to the call of backyard missions with tremendous results. In his book, The Cross and the Switchblade, he described how he exchanged his nightly TV time for regular prayer sessions. It was during one of these prayer times that he noticed an article in Life Magazine that was sitting on his desk about a group of teenage boys in New York City who were on trial for murder. He wrote:
I started to flip the page over. But as I did, my attention was caught by the eyes of one of the figures in the drawing. A boy. One of seven boys on trial for murder. The artist had caught such a look of bewilderment and hatred and despair in his features that I opened the magazine wide again to get a closer look. And as I did, I began to cry.
“What’s the matter with me!” I said aloud, impatiently brushing away a tear. I looked at the picture more carefully. The boys were all teenagers. They were members of a gang called the Dragons. Beneath their picture was the story of how they had gone into Highbridge Park in New York and brutally attacked and killed a fifteen-year-old polio victim…
The story revolted me. It turned my stomach. In our little mountain town such things seemed mercifully unbelievable.
That’s why I was dumbfounded by a thought that sprang suddenly into my head — full-blown, as though it had come into me from somewhere else.
Go to New York City and help those boys.
I laughed out loud. “Me? Go to New York? A country preacher barge into a situation he knows less than nothing about?”
Go to New York City and help those boys.
Thus began one of the most powerful and unlikely mission works in modern times — a simple country preacher transforming the lives of thousands of violent and troubled gang members in inner city New York — all because he opened his eyes to a mission field right in his own country.
. . .
It’s easy to over-spiritualize the idea of going overseas as missionaries and seeing Gospel work on foreign soil as more valid than Gospel work here at home. But in reality, Gospel work is vital in both places.
As our own society grows more godless, it’s easy to focus only on the growing darkness and overlook the fact that we are standing among some amazing mission fields right in our own backyard. Jesus said, “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain…” (Jn. 15:16).
All of us are called to be missionaries of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But it doesn’t always mean traveling to a foreign country. Wherever God has placed us, there are mission fields right in front of us. The question is: Will we have eyes to see them?
When George Müller allowed God to open his eyes to the need right in front of him, he saw the need of Bristol’s street children for the very first time. When David Wilkerson began using his nightly downtime for prayer, he awakened to the need of the New York City gang members he hadn’t known existed.
What backyard mission fields might God want to open your eyes to today? Here is a quick glimpse of just a few of them:
Approximately 53,310,843 babies have been aborted in this country since Roe v. Wade. Nearly one in four U.S. women will have at least one abortion in their lifetime. Often they are pressured or coerced into making the decision.
The Unreached Around Us
Approximately 150,000 people die daily without knowing Christ. This includes our family members, friends, and neighbors. Are we actively pursuing their souls?
The foster Care System
There are nearly 700,000 children in the U.S. foster care system and nearly 80% of inmates serving time in U.S. prisons have come out of the foster care system. Data shows that 44% of children placed in foster care are arrested at least once, as compared with only 14% of children who stayed with their biological families.
There are 27 million human slaves in the world today. A large majority are young girls and women in forced prostitution. There is more slavery in the world today than in the days of William Wilberforce. According to the Department of Homeland Security, “Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide — including right here in the United States. It can happen in any community and victims can be any age, race, gender, or nationality.”
Social groups that are antagonistic to the Gospel often seem impossible to reach. But with God, nothing is impossible. William Booth’s philosophy when bringing the Gospel to a new community was always, “Go straight for souls, and go after the worst!”5 Are we willing to go after those who seem impossible to reach, trusting in the mighty power of God to break the chains of bondage and deception?
Today it requires just as much willingness, sacrifice, and courage to enter these mission fields as it does to reach violent, unreached people groups in the middle of a far-away jungle.
When missionary Don Richardson first arrived in the jungles of New Guinea, the very atmosphere seemed to mock his efforts to bring the Gospel there. In his book, Peace Child, he wrote:
The wildness of the locale seemed to taunt me. Something in the mood of the place seemed to say mockingly, “I am not like your tame, manageable Canadian homeland. I am tangled. I am too dense to walk through. I am hot and steamy and drenched with rain. I am hip-deep mud and six-inch sago thorns. I am death adders and taipans and leeches and crocodiles. I am malaria and dysentery and filariasis and hepatitis.
“Your idealism means nothing here. Your Christian gospel has never scrupled the conscience of my children. You think you love them, but wait until you know them, if you can ever know them! You presume you are ready to grapple with me, understand my mysteries and change my nature. But I am easily able to overpower you with my gloom, my remoteness, my heedless brutality, my indolence, my unashamed morbidity, my total otherness!
“Think again, before you commit yourself to certain disillusionment! Can’t you see I am no place for your wife? I am no place for your son. I am no place for you…”
It’s only a bluff, I thought. This swamp also is part of my Father’s creation. His providence can sustain us here as well as anywhere else. Then the peace of God descended on me and suddenly this strange place became home! My home! I turned to Ken and John and said, “This is where I want to build!”
Today, our own backyard mission fields often seem to taunt us with the same voice:
“I am not like your tame, manageable America of the 1950s. I am chaos. I am sin-saturated and proud of it. I am immorality and darkness. I am suffocating social pressure to conform to my twisted ideology. I am biased media, relentless enticement toward sin, anxiety-inducing fear tactics, and hopelessly confused identity.
“Your idealism means nothing here. Your Christian gospel has never scrupled the conscience of my children. You think you want to reach them, but wait until you know them, if you can ever know them! You presume you are ready to grapple with me, understand my mysteries and change my nature. But I am easily able to overpower you with my control, my intimidation, my heedless disregard of truth, my indolence, my unashamed debauchery, my total otherness! Think again, before you commit yourself to certain disillusionment! Can’t you see I am no place for you?”
But by God’s grace, we can look this culture square in the eye and respond the same way that Don Richardson did, “It’s only a bluff. This country and these people are also part of my Father’s creation. His providence can sustain us here as well as anywhere else.”
If we are willing to call the enemy’s bluff, the peace of God can descend upon us and cause this unfamiliar and chaotic culture to became our mission field.
God is looking for a few willing men and women to invest into the mission fields right outside our doors. Are you willing to say yes to His call? As George Müller, David Wilkerson, and countless other at-home missionaries will tell you, it’s a decision you will never regret.