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28 May 2010

Trials of Foreign Evangelism

“You can’t do that!” My mother spoke those words to me when I informed her that I intended to spend my summer preaching in Kazakhstan. I do not mention this to demean my mother in any way (she has been amply supportive since that time), but merely to illustrate the typical response many of us have when confronted with the possibility of becoming personally involved in foreign evangelism (possibly domestic evangelism as well, but that is not my area of expertise). Indeed, a few hours prior to her exclamation, I had made exactly the same statement about myself. The only difference is that after making the statement, I stopped and asked myself the question, “Well, why can’t I?” I’m very glad that I did.

After spending that summer and the following one working with the brethren in Kazakhstan and Russia, I finished my university degree and moved to the provincial, steel making, port city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine in May of 2004. Though I have since struggled through mosquito infested summers without hot water and numbing winters in a drafty concrete apartment, I recently married and brought my new wife here. This manner of living often raises the question among people I meet: “Why in the world do you want to do that?”

I freely admit that I have had my sanity questioned on numerous occasions both by the locals here (they can’t imagine anyone living here by choice), and by many of my friends in the US. Why indeed would a person freely choose to give up a decidedly easy life in one of the world’s most prosperous nations in exchange it for such obvious hardship?

For many of us, the factors against becoming involved in a work such as this weigh so heavily as to preclude serious consideration of doing so. This realization dawned upon me as the “I can’t” escaped my lips when a friend of mine suggested I spend my summer in Kazakhstan. I could not think of a single, concrete reason why not, but I was absolutely sure that I couldn’t do it. I was wrong.

Over the past four years, I have spoken with many brethren in many places about the need for more workers in the field of foreign evangelism. As a result, I have heard nearly every excuse and objection that can be mounted in opposition to doing the work. Generally, these fall into three categories.

First, and most troubling but thankfully the most rare among the brethren I have had association with, is sheer indifference. This is usually expressed in the following ways: “Yes, what you’re doing is great, but that’s what the collection is for.” By bringing this up, I am by no means suggesting that every Christian has a responsibility to personally make a long journey to a foreign country and directly teach some lost person the gospel. However, I doubt that the Lord is going to be well pleased with a person who believes that the sum total of his responsibility toward the lost is satisfied by placing a check in a basket each Sunday!

Another common statement in this vein is “Why should we go to all the trouble of sending someone overseas? There are plenty of lost people around here to teach.” It is true enough that there are lost people everywhere. Certainly, we must make a judgment call as to where to spend our time and resources. However, let’s at least make a fair comparison. In many parts of America, certainly in the Southeast, people have had so many opportunities to hear the gospel that they already know what you are going to say before you knock on their door. Furthermore, Americans in general have been so influenced by the doctrine of relativism that they find the idea of a religious person making exclusive truth claims positively abhorrent. Also, the general wealth of our society tends to have a negative effect on our spiritual consciousness. When many of us have heaven on earth, why should we search for another one? Finally, even in parts of the country where churches are fewer and farther between, there are at least some brethren within a reasonable driving distance who could study with spiritual seekers if the opportunity arose.

Such is not the case in many parts of the world today. In Ukraine, for example, there are 64 million people who have never had the opportunity to hear the gospel preached in its simplicity; whose minds have not yet been polluted by the evils of relativism; and live so far below the poverty line by American standards that they would be more than happy to move on to a better place if only they knew of one.

To my knowledge, I am the only foreign evangelist attempting to bring this knowledge to the inhabitants of this country on a long term basis. Certainly, many false prophets have gone out into the world and Ukraine has not escaped their notice. The more success they have, the more difficult my job becomes. How I wish that it were not mine alone. A harvest like this needs all the workers it can get.

To Be Continued…

Matt Duggin
September 2006

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