By Paul K. Williams
This morning Leslie Maydell phoned and gave us the unwelcome news that brother and sister David Hurst were not able to raise support to come to South Africa and will not be coming at this time.
What disappointment for us and all the South African brethren who met David when he was here in July! And what disappointment in the hearts of David and his wife. A note on his November 4 letter to me said, “My wife and I have sold much of our furniture and have been selling other things as well. If we see God’s answer as being no, we feel we still have not lost as our treasure is in the world to come.”
But, my brethren, my disappointment is not only for what David could now be doing in South Africa. It is concerning the attitude of brethren in America which allows such a situation to occur. Brother Hurst wrote, “So far, I have sent over 500 letters to friends, fellow preachers, and churches and will be sending more. I have made trips to Indiana, Ken~tucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas traveling over 5,000 miles seeking additional support. I have made numerous phone calls.” But his efforts were in vain!
Did all these brethren and churches decide that David was not worthy of support? Or did they decide that the Lord does not want the gospel preached in South Africa? Or were they all so poor that they could not have fellowship in this work?
My opinion is that it was none of those things.
I see a parallel between my experience in 1956 and David’s in 1986. In 1956 I traveled from Oregon to Alabama seeking support to come to South Africa. I do not know how many churches I spoke to, but it was a great number. I finally had to give up my plans because churches were not willing to obligate themselves for my support.
I felt that there were three major factors which caused the churches not to support me at that time. First, I was 25 years old and unknown among the larger churches because the preaching I had done was in the Northwest. Second, and probably most important, churches were splitting over institutionalism. Preachers would tell me that they did not know what was going to happen in the congregation the next week. In such an atmosphere, churches were not in a mood to commit themselves to long-term support of a gospel preacher. Finally, there was then, and has been as long as I have been old enough to be aware, a lack of urgency concerning preaching the gospel in any place except in the United States. Preaching the gospel overseas comes last in the budgets of most churches. This attitude has been constant through the years.
In David’s case the first and third causes worked against his getting support plus a third factor which was as effective as the church split which hindered in 1956.
First, he is older than I was and he is, I think, better known among larger churches,,but he is still young and not a well known preacher. Churches don’t get very excited about supporting a man who is not well-known to them. They don’t trouble themselves to investigate and find out about him when he appeals for support. There are other pressing matters, and the brethren leave him begging.
Second, the apathy of churches toward supporting preaching of the gospel overseas is a terrible thing. My educated guess is that there are no more than two dozen American gospel preachers preaching in countries outside the United States. The attitude toward supporting preaching in the United States is considerably better. But the real interest of most congregations is in themselves.
Unfortunately, that interest is not a burning desire to take the gospel to the people of their own area. The lack of attendance at gospel meetings, the shortness of the gospel meetings, and the lack of other real concentrated effort to reach the people of the community betray unconcern. The real interest of the brethren is in themselves. They want a good preacher to preach to them, a comfortable building with air conditioning and a paved parking lot. Most of us preachers who depend upon support from churches in America have lost out to air conditioning repair and paving for parking lots! So I am not making this charge lightly.
Therefore when David wrote the letters, made the phone calls and spoke to the churches, he was talking to people who were only politely interested. If his plans fitted nicely into the surplus in their budget, maybe they would be considered. If in any way the congregation would be inconvenienced by supporting him, his appeal had no chance. Brethren, this is fact and I don’t think many will dispute it!
Then the thing which finally killed even the small spark of interest which his appeal might have kindled was the bad publicity which the country of South Africa has been receiving. The perception is that South Africa is a racist country (“Racism” is the world’s current “worst sin”!) where rioting is out of control and the country is blowing up. Somehow this has made brethren feel that it is not worthwhile to send a preacher to such a country. The fact that brother Hurst came to South Africa for a month and toured all over it, talking to black ‘and white brethren about the situation, seems not to have had much effect. The fact that we preachers in South Africa are continuing with our work with more preaching opportunities than we can possibly take advantage of and that our families are quite content to be living in South Africa also seems to count for nothing. Those TV pictures of riots, the countless documentaries analyzing the terrible situations in South Africa, and the publicity given to the UN’s continual condemnation of the country have together caused an unreasoning rejection of the idea that churches should send preachers to such a country.
What can I say? I can say that Christians who have so little love for souls elsewhere (and even where they are!) are going to reap a bitter harvest. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. We love the world so little that we sometimes give a little of our surplus!
Joseph’s brothers were so interested in themselves that they sold him as a slave. They thought by so doing they would insure their own inheritance which seemed to be threatened by the partiality of their father toward Joseph. But they reaped a load of guilt which plagued them all their lives. Even after Joseph had saved their lives from famine, they were afraid he would kill them when their father died. Just so, my brethren, the load of guilt which uncaring brethren take on when they spend their resources for themselves instead of for preaching the gospel to the world is a heavy burden. I detect it in the touchiness of preachers when approached about going to a foreign country. One is trying to save the brotherhood from error, and another is trying to save the brotherhood from the first man. All are too busy with great works to think about moving to a hard place in a foreign country. But they are defensive! Why? Is there a nagging conscience? Frankly, I hope so, because if there is no conscience trouble we are in real trouble!
I am thankful that God is able to accomplish His purposes in spite of the evil intentions of His people. Joseph said to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result” (Gen. 50:20). I am not discouraged about the preaching of the gospel in South Africa. We cannot see the pattern which is now being woven, but I have confidence that in years to come we will be able to see how God has worked His purpose.
But, those who now are acting in such a selfish manner, who are interested in their own comfort at the expense of souls, will bear their own guilt. They who could be a wonderful part of God’s plan to take the gospel to the world will be like Joseph’s brothers who sinned against God but were not able to hinder God’s plan.
Where are you, my brother? Have apathy and love of comfort blinded you to the condition of the world? Have you forgotten why you are a Christian? Wake up! Repent! And do the deeds you did at first (Rev. 2:4).
Oh how I pray for my brethren.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 6, pp. 181-182
March 19, 1987