Recently, I wrote two articles about what it was like to grow up in a small church. From the responses, I realized most of my readers grew up in a church just like mine. If you still have that annoying “stand up” and “sit down” chorus from Vacation Bible School stuck forever in your mind, then you too grew up in a small church.
Our church may have been small, but it was always pointing us to a bigger and a more global aspect of the church. On occasion, we would have missionaries come and speak to us. Sometimes the church would have a mission dinner, with the food reflecting whatever nation our guests served. For a country boy who grew up on meat, mashed potatoes and gravy, something just wasn’t right about a dish wrapped in seaweed or an eyeball floating around in the mix.
In our little church, it was the opinion of most, and especially my parents, that National Geographic magazine was “not suitable for children.” Sometimes it would contain photos of people who lived in a far-off village, and these villagers … well, let’s just say there wasn’t enough material among the entire tribe to put together one proper set of clothes.
On the other hand, it was perfectly fine if missionaries came to our church and, during their slide show, showed the same kind of photos of half-dressed tribal people, because we as a church needed to be aware of the conditions these poor heathens lived in. Praying for them confused me. I didn’t know whether to pray for their souls or their clothes. So we just asked God to clothe them in His righteousness, crossing our fingers that it would come with a pair of pants and a shirt.
I loved it when missionaries came to our little country church. Many times, they would tell stories that centered around how God had chosen and called them from a small rural community and how they had been obedient to that call. They talked about counting the cost and what an honor and a privilege it was to suffer for His name’s sake. But they considered all this rubbish compared to the joy of serving Him. These men and women desired to blend into that culture so they could become all things to all men so they might win a few. They would tell stories of how they lived like the people they served, ate their food, dressed the way they dressed and spoke the same language.
To this day, I count it an honor to have met and known these missionaries. They are my heroes, and they will rebuke me for even calling them that. They are humble servants of God and have names like the Fletchers, Bowies, Raves and more. As an adult, I had the privilege of walking alongside many of them in their countries. Even though they have aged, one thing you will never meet is a retired missionary. They will serve Jesus until their last breath.
To this day, I can hardly look at a National Geographic magazine without feeling like I am breaking one of the Ten Commandments. But what’s odd is that I’m now in the pictures with these half-naked villagers. That’s what happens when you’re surrounded by true heroes of the faith. They inspire you to open your mind to see the world from God’s perspective. You see the joy of suffering for Christ’s sake, and neither I nor any of my missionary friends would trade the call of God for a castle on a hill. Besides, why would we want a castle when Jesus has gone and prepared a place for us? Many of these missionaries count me as an equal in kingdom work, but I have to be honest: When I am around them, I am just a little child who sits in awe as they talk about God.
I thank God for those small churches who exposed us to missionaries who gave us a bigger vision than just reaching the back 40 for Him. I often read about an event recorded by another small church: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:2-3).
No matter what God has planned for your children, you need to expose them to three things: 1) Missionary stories. One of my favorites is Bruchko, the story of Bruce Olson. 2) Go hear a missionary speak or (even better) invite one into your home. 3) Once in a while, let them see a National Geographic magazine.