Although there are places in the world that are very secular which makes evangelism more difficult, places also exist that are very fruitful. Sub-saharan Africa is a great example. In 1989, there were 6,222 local congregations with a membership of 416,874. By 2002, 14,669 congregations existed with a total membership of 1,070,837. By way of comparison, the United States had 12,719 local congregations of churches of Christ with a membership of 1,239,612 in 1980. In 2006, we had 12,963 congregations and a membership of 1,265,844.
Other brights spots in the world include Eastern Europe and areas formerly under the control of the Soviet Union. Members of the church have been able to provide printed materials to public schools, and congregations have been planted. Latin America is also experiencing growth. We have had over 100 vocational missionaries teaching English in China. The Philippines has 24 missionaries and 900 congregations. There are places that are more fruitful, and there are places that are more challenging. God is always doing great things by people of faith regardless of whether they are in fruitful areas or challenging areas.1
Whether a place is very fruitful or whether it is tougher going, the faithful must go. Jesus did not say, “Go into all the places that are very receptive.” He said, “Go into the world.” Certainly, churches must recognize open doors and take advantage of them. But any long range strategy must recognize that all places need missionaries and evangelism.
J.M. McCaleb was a missionary to Japan for about fifty years. He went to Japan in 1892. People wondered about going to Japan when “the fields are white unto harvest” in the United States. The nineteenth century was a period of great church growth. McCaleb had an illustration that spoke to the pioneer environment.
The wise farmer doesn’t just reap from the fields he has prepared. He may go to another part of his property and prepare a field. He may have to fell trees and pull up roots. He may have many stones to clear. It may take time before this area of the farm is ready to be a truly productive field. But the time will come when others may reap abundant harvests where a few have prepared the way.2
This was J.M. McCaleb’s way of reminding us to go into all the world. God is doing great things through people of faith. It may be in areas of great fruitfulness; it may be in difficult areas. But there’s the rub. Let us not be discouraged. God will be with us when we act in faith. We need faith to share the good news with a world that so desperately needs it.
1Dr. Monty Cox, “Around the World in Sixty Minutes,” Harding University Lectureship, 2008.
2J.M.McCaleb, OnceTraveled Roads, pages 361-62.