How Should a Prosperous American Christian Respond to Missions?

How Should a Prosperous American Christian Respond to Missions?

Dr. Jeffery VanGoethem, Senior Pastor, Scofield Church

I think this is a pretty provocative question.  It presumes that we believers who live in American AND have prospered have a special responsibility in the endeavor of world evangelization.  Perhaps this point could be debated.  But let’s presume it has some biblical validity, which I think it does (Luke 12:48).

Maybe we might be tempted to answer the question by saying, “a prosperous Christian should give generously to missions.”  Well I am not going to answer the question that way – that does not go far enough.   It is a very personal question for many of us, including myself, as we would have to conclude that we are prosperous people.  I live in a nice home and make more than an adequate living.  I have never wanted for anything in my life and can afford things well beyond the basic necessities of life.  I have a higher income than 95% of the world, as do most of us (the average income in the world is about $7,000 per capita; however, still, 80% of the world has an income lower than this). So how should I respond to missions?  How should you respond to missions?

Let us consider the example of William Borden.  William Borden was born into wealth in 1887.  His grandfather invented condensed milk, formed a company and young William was an heir to the fortune that came out of this.  He spent his school days in a mansion near Lake Michigan in Chicago and his summers in Maine.  When he went to Yale, the family butler transported him from Maine to Connecticut in the family yacht!  So you can see that the silver spoon was firmly in his mouth when he came into the world and really it never departed.

However he had a godly mother and was reared in Moody Church in Chicago. He probably heard Moody himself preach (although Moody was not the pastor of the church in those days, he did not pass away until 1899).   The powerful preacher and man of prayer, R.A. Torrey, was young Borden’s pastor for many years.  By the time he finished his teen years, he was a deeply committed Christian.  It is quite possible that young Borden also heard the preaching of C. I. Scofield, as he was known to attend many of the Bible Conferences of the day. Scofield made many appearances at such conferences.

When William Borden graduated from High School, his parents hired a Princeton Seminary student to take him on a trip around the world as a present (these were VERY rich people).  It made an impact on young William.  Later when friends tried to dissuade him from going to the mission field, he remarked on his trip around the world and said, “I have seen how the heathen live, you have not.”

All through Yale he was an effective Christian worker on campus, organizing prayer and discipleship programs.  Everyone knew where he stood.  He went on to found and finance the downtown rescue mission in New Haven and often spent his weekend evenings consoling, counseling and evangelizing “drunks” and what others considered “losers.”  Not many Yalies spent their weekends like William Borden.

After Yale he went on to graduate from Princeton Seminary, spent a year or so in the U.S. traveling and giving sermons on Missions, and then headed for the mission field himself.  He was focused on evangelizing Muslims and first went to Egypt to learn Arabic.  His goal was to move on to the interior of China to live among an isolated Muslim people group.  He eschewed marriage, feeling it was not right to ask a wife to live in such a desolate, forsaken place.

He never made it to China however.  Just as was getting proficient in the language he was stricken with cerebral meningitis and after languishing for a couple of weeks, died in 1913.  He was twenty-five years old.  He was buried in Egypt, his heartbroken mother and sister arriving just hours after his passing.  One might be tempted to say it was a life cut short.  I prefer to view it as a life lived to the full.  He did more in his few years than others do in a lifetime, a man who would not have had to work a day in his life.

The will he made out before he left for Egypt divided his fortune into four parts, one fourth to ministries in Chicago, another fourth to ministries around the country, a third to mission work in China and the remainder for missions in other countries.  The largest gift of all went to the China Inland Mission.   A large portion of this bequest was designated for the care of elderly and infirm former missionaries who had served in China.  What kind of man at age 25 thinks to remember retired, impoverished missionaries?

The media coverage of his death pointed out that Borden left this world with a fortune in today’s dollars in excess of twenty million dollars.   He left all of it to Christian work, every last dime.   His check stubs showed that the year before leaving for Egypt he had given $70,000 to Christian work.  That’s more than a million dollars in today’s money.   Yes he gave generously to missions.  But that is not the whole story.

How should a prosperous American Christian respond to missions?

He (or she*)  should give himself to God. The first thing we see about Borden is that he placed his life in God’s hands.  The words, no reserves, no retreats, nor regret were found written in his Bible.  This man was sold out to God, that is always the first step.

  1. He should become a Christian worker. Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.” What we put ourselves into is what becomes important to us.  Borden put his time and energy into Christian work long before he went to the mission field. We should put our time and effort into Christian work.
  2. He should personally experience the need of the lost. Borden never went on a mission trip like we do today.  Rather he just took a little jaunt around the world!  But he saw this from a spiritual point of view.  He was educated by what he experienced. It is important to see how the other side lives – observation affects the heart.
  3. He should be an example to others. Borden was such a striking example to whoever knew him – a rich man, an heir, who lived for Christ.  We Americans are the envy of much of the world.  Despite our complaints we have a country that works better than a lot of the rest of the world. We can prosper here, we can succeed here.  How can we be an example of love, care, fervency, and gospel commitment to the global body of Christ?
  4. He should be willing to sacrifice. Borden gave up everything:  home, family, marriage, money, and ultimately his life.  For the world to be evangelized a whole lot of us need to sacrifice.  Are we willing anymore to sacrifice in our indulgent age?  Our time, money, energy?
  5. He should provide generous financial support to missions. Yes, this is part of it.  It was certainly part of William Borden’s life.  We should realize the special place we have to play in being financial supporters of Christian work around the globe.

To be effective in missions, we give ourselves to God first and we become enmeshed in Christian work.  We seek out experiences to teach us compassion for the lost and we seek to be examples to others.  We learn to sacrifice and after all this, THEN WE GIVE.   Thus we are giving out of the outflow of what we have become:  serious, committed, broken-hearted followers of Christ who love missions.  That’s how to do it.

Does everyone have to go to the mission field?  Of course not.  But every prosperous American Christian should respond to missions.  Have you ever asked yourself, why has God prospered me?  Why has he placed me here in such a country as the U.S.?   Why am I in a missions minded church?  It is to make a difference in the world.  Let’s give ourselves to God and give ourselves to missions.

*I am of course using the masculine pronoun here generically, inclusively.

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