Who is a missionary? The story of Burma’s first missionary.
On 168 Lloyd Avenue, at the door of the Judson house, lies a bronze plaque commemorating the life of Adoniram Judson, a Brown Alumnus. Judson, one of the first missionaries to Burma, embodies the spirit of missions. Prior to his missions, Judson sought to marry his fiancee, Ann Hasseltine, and wrote a letter to her father asking for her hand in marriage. Instead of sweet words pledging to provide eternal love and security for Ann, Judson lays out the harsh truth of his future to Mr Hasseltine:
I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world ? whether you can consent to her departure to a heathen land, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life? whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death? Can you consent to all this, for the sake of Him who left His heavenly home and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion and the glory of God?
By faith, Mr Hasseltine consents. Indeed, over the span of the tumultuous Anglo-Burmese War, Judson faced arrest, torture, and imprisonment in the vermin-infested Burmese prison of Ava. He was bound in fetters, starved and occasionally suspended and trussed by his mangled feet in prison. He lost Ann and his third child to illness. Yet Judson steadfastly declared that every missionary’s motto was to be “devoted for life”, and the ruling motive to please the Lord Jesus.?
What are missions?
For many a skeptic, missions may be associated with the dark history of cultural imposition, colonialism, and imperialism that often accompanied the spread of Western empires. Even in the modern day, missions trips can frequently be seen as ‘religious tourism’. Beyond these misconceptions, missions actually reach far beyond this, drawing its beginnings from the words of Jesus to His disciples, on a Galilean mountain:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
At its heart, missions are about sending out followers of Jesus into the world, to make Him known to the nations. This calling has been an essential part of the Christian faith from the issuing of the Great Commission (cited above). Scriptures record the early Apostles, such as Peter, Paul and James, spreading the Gospel to the regions of Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, Spain and Rome. These journeys form much of the historical context for the Book of Acts and the Epistles in the New Testament.
Missions and Development
In the modern era, development and aid efforts have accompanied the spread of the Gospel. This draws from the principle outlined in James 2:16, which is a call for Christians to demonstrate their faith through good works:
If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
The essence of modern missions still remains the same – to bring the Good News of the Gospel authentically and authoritatively to every tribe and people and nation. Development and aid have, however, served as a strong supplement and partner to missions work. Prayer accompanies poverty alleviation efforts and humanitarian disaster relief. Missionaries boldly go to minister in the prisons, the brothels, the orphanages, the refugee camps, and the hospitals. They share God’s heart for the broken and the forgotten, serving as His hands of love and compassion for each and every individual that is in need.
Not just evangelism, but discipleship
It is noteworthy that Jesus, in the Great Commission, did not use the word ‘converts’, but rather, ‘disciples’. John Piper explains the basis of missions thus:
Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. … [Missions] is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.
Missions aims at, brings about and is fuelled by the worship of Jesus. The aim of the missionary is not simply to win converts for Christ, but to nurture individuals to be disciples; to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Jesus daily. It is never about the masses who are claimed for God, but rather, it is about the hearts that are turned to Christ. It is not about the numbers, but about each individual and each soul that comes to Christ which truly matters.
Where is my missions field?
Missionary organizations offer programmes to equip and send those with the distinct call to be missionaries in a place not their own. The work of missionaries is also enabled by the work of families, home churches and friends in praying, supporting, and caring for those in the missions field.
In another sense, the Christian should see the home as a lifelong missions field. The Great Commission is very much addressed to every disciple of Christ. So let us seek to share the hope that is found in Christ with our coworkers, friends, families, and neighbors. Indeed, it is a privilege to be called to share the peace, love and hope of God wherever we find ourselves. God doesn’t need us, but is pleased to call us into partnership in His work of changing hearts and lives, of restoring individuals to live as they were truly intended to live, and of being part of the greatest story ever told.
So for the Christian, missions may be about many things; a call to obedience, a spirit of discipleship, a partnership with God, a heart of worship, and a means of development. Nonetheless, the heart of missions is a striving to be salt and light in a world that very much needs to know God, such that, as it is written in Psalms 67:4, ‘the nations may be glad and sing for joy’.
Finish the Mission: Bringing the Gospel to the Unreached and Unengaged edited by John Piper, David Mathis.
Piper, John. “Let the Nations be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions” (Baker Academic, 1993)
John Allen Moore, Baptist Missions Portraits
 Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)
 James 2:16 (NIV)
 Revelations 5:9 (NIV)
Brandon Chia is a freshman intending to concentrate in economics.