INTRODUCTION: I recently wrote this letter to our team in Cairo. It has been a catalyst for discussion. I hope you too can share in our experience as you follow our journey to Cairo on this blog.
By Dick Brogden
I am reading A.E. Keeling’s biography on Charles Gordon. A great read if you are interested.
At one point Gordon wrote about missionaries in Sudan and Central Africa: (If you don’t know the story, Gordon’s life ended in Khartoum when the forces of the Mahdi chopped his head off in 1885).
“There is little doubt in my mind, that if a man would sacrifice himself to a particular tribe, he would find that the tribe would not molest him, and would treat him kindly. There is also no doubt but that he would find the life dull to a degree that death would be preferable to it, but I believe he would have his reward. The people are quite quiet and inoffensive, and a man of some intellect would soon gain an immense influence over them. Who will do this glorious work and live and die unknown? The glory of Mtesa’s conversion would lead to other things, and therefore I believe men could be got to go there; but these tribes and this slow, dull life, would need a self denial and abnegation of self which would be difficult to find. When He cometh, will He find faith on the earth? With all our profession, I think not much… There is no doubt but that whosoever ACTS after the true precepts of our Lord will be considered a madman. His precepts are out of the question, and cannot be followed.”
So here is Charles Gordon’s missiology:
1) Sacrifice yourself to a particular tribe. Find an ethnolinguistic people and give your life for them. They will treat you kindly. When a people group knows that you love them, when you serve them, when you lay down your life for them and sacrifice for them – they will treat you kindly, they will not molest you.
2) Life is dull, death preferable, but persistent plodding is rewarded. Real missions is not glamorous. It is working hard at Arabic, it is daily life on life, it is long days and slow progress, and in the midst of the elongated labor and hot days/nights – heaven sure looks appealing. But if we will plod, God will reward our faithfulness with His fruit. If you stay faithful and work hard, God will grant you influence among the people you work among.
3) It is a glorious work to live and die unknown. Don’t let Live Dead deceive you. There is a lot of positive attention in the US for those who do the difficult work of CP among unreached people in teams. Beware the siren song, for the heart of Live Dead is not to be celebrated, but to be hidden in Christ, laboring without affirmation, not seeking self glory, living and dying for only the fame of Jesus. (As an excursus, I am staggered by how old “Live Dead” is. I am buried in the missionary lives of 100 years ago for my studies and a common refrain in their writing and living is – living and dying for Jesus). We have not discovered anything new…we are just another link in a long chain all the way back to Jesus himself.
4) Conversion is a thing of glory, and people of peace remain key to wider influence. Mtesa was a tribal chief and his turning to Jesus opened the way for many others. “Conversion” has become a dirty word – lets not forget it is glory to convert people to Jesus. We pray and work towards people of peace.
5) This life of reaching unreached peoples demands self denial and abnegation (the act of renouncing or rejecting something). We must have the faith to believe that our self limitation will lead to His increase. That our intentional restriction (even from good things) will lead to His exaltation. We must trust that our purposeful simplicity and focus will result in His magnificent return. And we must recognize and embrace that to live in this way, to follow the commands of Jesus is unusual and to the outsider imbalanced and foolish – even to other missionaries, colleagues, mentors, and friends. The Live Dead life is a crazy life. It is a life for madmen. It is a life that cannot be followed naturally or in the flesh. In the flesh we become either legalistic or hypocritical. In the Spirit we are able to do what is impossible. Let us be people who Act on the commands of Jesus, attempt what is impossible, and achieve it.
Much love to you all.