By Connie W. Adams
From the time I was a teenager and began trying to preach the gospel, I have had a keen interest in preaching the gospel to the whole world. This began when we had a preacher at Hopewell, Virginia who had just spent some time preaching in Alaska before it was a state. His ac- counts of work there, along with pictures he showed whetted my young appetite to someday have a part in preaching the gospel in other parts of the world. Before my first wife and I were married, we talked about spending some of our life on foreign soil in the work of the kingdom. It was that determination which prompted us to go to Norway in 1957 to help begin the work in the land of the midnight sun.
In the years since, we have been back to Norway four times and maintain a keen interest in what is being done there. The light of truth has flickered at times, but it is still burning. All of my life as a preacher, I have prayed for the Lord to open doors of opportunity for me to preach the gospel. He has abundantly answered those prayers and sometimes there have been several doors open at the same time and so decisions have been made as to where we could do the most good at that time.
It is very easy to become excited about the work in which we are involved. It is natural for this to happen. But it is also easy to become judgmental as to the motives of others who have chosen to work in other fields. Remember, the field is the world. All of it — not just the part in which we have taken a special interest.
While it is true that the scattered disciples went everywhere preaching the word (Acts 8:4), it is also true that some of the apostles and other brethren remained in Jerusalem for there was still much work to do there. I don’t read about those who were scattered questioning the motives of those who stayed in Jerusalem. Those who left and those who stayed were all involved in the Lord’s work.
Why This Article?
A good brother who lives in Nebraska (a state where there is much work to do and where congregations are scarce) wrote a piece in the November-December, 1997 Russian Update entitled “Why Not Russia?” Along with many others, I have followed with interest the reports from several brethren who have worked in Russia since the fall of the Iron Curtain. We have had some part in helping and encouraging some of those who have gone. I look forward to the Russian Update and read every article with keen interest. But I fear that our Nebraska brother got a little carried away in his article.
First, he talked about those who “are missionaries.” Now, I have had a part in preaching the gospel in several countries, but I simply did the work of an evangelist the same as I do in Kentucky or wherever else I preach. Evangelists work to convert souls to Christ and establish congregations, not missions. This whole notion of missions and missionaries is born of denominational jargon.
Then he spoke of “hot spots” where some “missionaries” have gone. He named the Philippines, Africa (which country? — it is a huge continent), Eastern Europe, and even China and Vietnam. Well, I have been to both the Philippines and South Africa in the heart of summer in both places and he is right — they are “hot spots.” They are also places where much good work is being done and fruit being borne. Trips to any of these places involve much expense and hectic schedules which are physically and mentally exhausting. Some of us have also been in some “cold spots” even as he has in Russia.
He then began to judge the hearts of brethren who choose to stay where they are and preach when he said, “Some sit in their offices and say, ‘There’s too much work to do right here!’” Well, has our brother considered the possibility that might just be true? He wondered if we are so vain as to think the work would not survive without us. It well might, but does that mitigate the fact there are times when a work might be hindered by a precipitous move?
He then shames us by saying, “Russia is not an exotic location like Africa or the Philippines.” Has our brother been in either place yet? If not, I would like for him to tell me how “exotic” Tondo is in the Manila area or Soweto near Johannesburg. Both of these are huge areas which can be largely described as ghettoes. I have seen garbage piled waist high in Tondo and open drainage ditches into which raw sewage flowed. You could smell the stench far away. How “exotic” is it to wade water to your knees after the river overflowed and flooded the town, or to preach with a towel to wipe sweat. How exotic is it to ride a bus with the passenger seated beside you holding a goat, or two chickens with the feet tied together? How exotic is it to sleep under a mosquito net in a nipa hut? The brethren who work in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nigeria, or India can add much to the “exotic” list. He says Russia is a “dirty, depressing environment” where the work is difficult. I am sure he is right. But Russia is not the only place in the world where that is true.
But the most severe judgment of all is when he wondered out loud “if some American preachers are not still cold warriors at heart who just can’t get excited about the idea of making our former enemies our brethren.” My brother, if you seriously have wondered this, it would have been far better if you had kept that to yourself. That is a serious indictment of your brethren and unless you have hard, cold facts to sustain such a suspicion, it would have been far better to have withheld that suspicion. I get around among a good many brethren over the country and I just don’t believe that is a proper assessment at all.
Then he raised this question: “What right do we have to say where we will and will not go? So you don’t want to go to Russia. Are you here to do your will or his?” Has all choice now been removed from us and placed in the hands of this brother? Is it his right to decide where in the world we all shall preach? Then he said, “But if you don’t go to Russia, nobody will.” That is not quite true. We have had three men from here in Kentucky to go to Russia. John Smith of Winchester has made several trips. One of the elders of a Louisville congregation took early retirement from his job, learned the Russian language and moved to Russia.
Is there work to do for the Lord in Russia? To be sure. There has been an open door and we are praying that the recent legislation there will not bring to a halt the access which American workers have had to that field. If it does, there are native Christians remaining and it can only be hoped that they will be steadfast in the face of whatever hardships there may be.
But, why not Libya? Or Saudi Arabia? Or Iraq? Or Iran? Should we lecture the brethren and say, “If you don’t do to Libya, nobody will.” Brethren, there is something to be said for open doors. Several times in the New Testament reference is made to these “open doors” (1 Cor. 16:9; Col. 4:3; Acts 14:27; Rev. 3:5). These references indicate that opportunities were present. Sometimes doors open and sometimes they close. We must be alert to opportunities and strike while the iron is hot. If that makes a place a “hot spot,” then so be it.
Now, none of this has been said to dampen or discourage the work of good men in Russia, or those who may be planning to go. Of course, more help is needed. Gospel preachers around the world are spread thin. If you don’t think so, then talk to Tom or Terrell Bunting in Norway. Ask them about the rest of Scandinavia. The last thing Scott Tope said to me when we parted after the training school for preachers at Eshowe, South Africa was “tell the brethren in America that we are spread very thin.” We need more work done in Russia. We need more work done in many places in the world, including many parts of the U.S.A. But I, for one, do not intend to allow a preacher who has made a trip to Russia to deprive me of my right to use the best wisdom I can as to where and when I shall preach the gospel for my remaining days. I appreciate his desire to promote the work in a part of the world where he has a special interest, but please don’t put the rest of the brethren on a guilt trip when their zeal leads them to other parts of the field.