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Revolution in World Missions

[Excerpts taken by permission from the above named book written by K.P. Yohannan, President of "Gospel for Asia".] Upon arriving in America from the mission fields of India K.P. Yohannnan observed and wrote, "Americans are more than just unaware of their affluence--they almost seem to despise it at times. I stared in amazement at how they treated their beautiful clothes and shoes. The richness of the fabrics and colors was beyond anything I had ever seen. As I would discover again and again, this nation routinely takes its astonishing wealth for granted.

As I would do many times--almost daily--in the weeks ahead, I compared their clothing to that of the native missionary evangelists whom I had left only a few weeks before. Many of them walk barefoot between villages or work in flimsy sandals. Their threadbare cotton garments would not be acceptable as cleaning rags in the United States. Then I discovered most Americans have closets full of clothes they wear only occasionally--and I remembered the years I traveled and worked with only the clothes on my back. And I had lived the normal lifestyle of most village evangelists.

Economist Robert Heilbroner describes the luxuries a typical American family would have to surrender if they lived among the one billion hungry people in the Third World:

'We begin by invading the house of our imaginary American family to strip it of its furniture. Everything goes: beds, chairs, tables, television sets, lamps. We will leave the family with a few old blankets, a kitchen table, a wooden chair. Along with the bureaus go the clothes. Each member of the family may keep in his 'wardrobe' his oldest suit or dress, a shirt or blouse. We will permit a pair of shoes for the head of the family, but none for the wife or children.

We move to the kitchen. The appliances have already been taken out, so we turn to the cupboards...the box of matches may stay, a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt. A few moldy potatoes, already in the garbage can, must be rescued, for they will provide much of tonight's meal. We will leave a handful of onions and a dish of dried beans. All the rest we take away: the meat, the fresh vegetables, the canned goods, the crackers, the candy.

Now we have stripped the house: the bathroom has been dismantled, the running water shut off, the electric wires taken out. Next we take away the house. The family can move to the tool shed...Communications must go next. No more newspapers, magazines, books--not that they are missed, since we must take away our family's literacy as well. Instead, in our shantytown we will allow one radio...

Now government services must go next. No more postmen, no more firemen. There is a school, but it is three miles away and consists of two classrooms...There are, of course, no hospitals or doctors nearby. The nearest clinic is ten miles away and is tended by a midwife. It can be reached by bicycle, provided the family has a bicycle, which is unlikely.

Finally, money. We will allow our family a cash hoard of five dollars. This will prevent our breadwinner from experiencing the tragedy of an Iranian peasant who went blind because he could not raise the $3.94 which he mistakenly thought he needed to receive admission to a hospital where he could have been cured.

This is an accurate description of the lifestyle and world from which I came. From the moment I touched foot on American soil, I walked in an unbelieving daze. How can two so different economies coexist simultaneously on the earth?...

As the days passed into weeks, I began with alarm to understand how misplaced are the spiritual values of most Western believers. Sad to say, it appeared to me that for the most part they had absorbed the same humanistic, and materialistic values that dominated the secular culture. Almost immediately I sensed an awesome judgment was hanging over the United States--and that I had to warn God's people that He was not going to lavish this abundance on them forever. [The first edition was printed in July 1986. Kind of prophetic words, aren't they, in light of the Trade Tower terrorist attacks?--attacking the financial center of the country.] [pp.38-40.]

A Nation Asleep in Bondage

Many North American Christians live isolated from reality--not only from the needs of the poor overseas, but even from the poor in their own cities. Amidst all the affluence live millions of terribly poor people left behind as Christians have moved into the suburbs. I found that believers are ready to get involved in almost any activity which looks spiritual but allows them to escape their responsibility to the Gospel.

One morning, for example, I picked up a popular Christian magazine containing many interesting articles, stories and reports from all over the world--most written by famous Christian leaders in the West. I noticed that this magazine offered ads for 21 Christian colleges, seminars and correspondence courses, five different English translations of the Bible; seven conferences and retreats; five new Christian films; 19 commentaries and devotional books; seven Christian health or diet programs; and five fund-raising services. But that was not all. There were ads for all kinds of products and services: counseling, chaplaincy services, writing courses, church steeples, choir robes, wall crosses, baptisteries and water heaters, T-shirts, records, tapes, adoption agencies, tracts, poems, gifts, books, clubs and pen pals. It was all rather impressive. Probably none of these things was wrong in itself, but it bothered me that one nation should have so much spiritual luxury while 40,000 people were dying in my homeland every day without hearing the Gospel even once.

If the affluence of America impressed me, the affluence of Christians impressed me even more. The United States has about 5,000 Christian book and gifts stores, carrying varieties of products beyond my ability to imagine--and many secular stores also carry religious books. All this while more than 4,000 of the world's nearly 6,500 languages are still without a single portion of the Bible published in their own language! In his book My Billion Bible Dream, Rochunga Pudaite says, "Eighty-five percent of all Bibles printed today are in English for the nine percent of the world who read English. Eighty percent of the world's people have never owned a Bible while Americans have an average of four in every household."

Besides books, well over a thousand Christian magazines and newspapers flourish. Over 1,500 Christian radio stations broadcast the Gospel full time, while most countries don't even have their first Christian radio station. Nearly 2,000 radio and TV programs are produced for Christians in the United States, but fewer than 400 are produced for use overseas.

The saddest observation I can make about most of the religious communication activity of the Western world is this: Little, if any, of this media is designed to reach unbelievers. Almost all is entertainment for the saints.

The United States, with its 400,000-450,000 congregations or groups, is blessed with over one million full-time Christian workers, or one full-time religious leader for every 230 people in the nation. What a difference this is from the rest of the world, where nearly three billion people are still unreached with the Gospel. The unreached or "hidden peoples" have only one missionary working for every 500,000 people, and there are still 1,750 distinct cultural groups in the world without a single church among them to preach the Gospel. These are the masses for whom Christ wept and died.

...Why can't we at least vow to spend a simple tithe of what we use for ourselves in the cause of world evangelism? If churches in the United States alone had made this commitment in 1986, there would have been $4.8 billion available to Gospel outreach!

And what is more, if we had used these funds to support native missions, we could have fielded an army of evangelists the size of a major city. [excerpts taken from pp.45-48.]

Coming from India, where I was beaten and stoned for my faith, I know what it is to be a persecuted minority in my own country. When I set foot on Western soil, I could sense a spirit of religious liberty. North Americans have never known the fear of persecution. Nothing seems impossible to them.

From India, I always had looked to North America as a fortress of Christianity. With the abundance of both spiritual and material things, affluence unsurpassed by any nation on earth, and a totally unfettered church, I expected to see a bold witness. God's grace obviously has been poured out on this nation and church in a way no other people ever have experienced.

Instead I found a church in spiritual decline. American believers were still the leading givers to missions, but this appeared due more to historical accident than the deep-set conviction I expected to find. As I spoke in churches and met average Christians, I discovered they had terrible misconceptions about the missionary mandate of the church. In church meetings, as I listened to the questions of my hosts and heard their comments about the Third World, my heart would almost burst with pain. These people, I knew, were capable of so much more. They were dying spiritually, but I knew God wanted to give them life again. He wanted His Church to recover its moral mandate and sense of missions.

I didn't yet know how, I didn't know when. But I knew one thing. God did not shower such great blessing on this nation for Christians to live in extravagance, in self-indulgence and in spiritual weakness.

By faith, I could see a revival coming--the body of Christ rediscovering the power of the Gospel and their obligation to it. [p. 50.]

What Are You Doing Here?

The Bible says "some plant" and "others water." The living God now took me halfway around the world to teach me about watering. Before He could trust me again with the planting, I had to learn the lesson I had been avoiding in India--the importance of the local church in God's master plan for world evangelism...

One weekend a fellow student invited me to fill the pulpit at a little church he was pastoring in Dallas. Although it was an American congregation, there were many Native American Indians in fellowship...

Strangely challenged and burdened for this little congregation, I preached my heart out. Never once did I mention my vision and burden for Asia. Instead I expounded Scripture verse by verse. A great love welled up in me for those people.

Although I did not know it, my pastor friend turned in his resignation the same day. The deacons invited me to come back the next week and the next. God gave us a supernatural love for these people, and they loved us back. Late that month the church board invited me to become the pastor at the age of 23...People came to Christ continually, making ours a growing, soul-winning church with a hectic round of meetings that went six nights a week.

The days passed quickly into months. When I wasn't in classes, I was with my people giving myself to them with the same abandonment that characterized my village preaching in north India. We learned to visit in homes, call on the sick in hospitals, marry and bury...

The "staying power" and disciple-making were what my ministry in north India had lacked. I saw why I had failed in the Punjab. Holding evangelistic crusades and bringing people to Christ are not enough. Someone has to stay behind and nurture the new believers into maturity.

For the first time I began to understand the goal of all mission work: the "perfecting" of the saints into sanctified, committed disciples of Christ. Jesus commanded us to go to all the nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey all the things He had revealed. The Gospel-team ministry I had led in India was going, but we weren't staying to do the teaching.

The Church--a group of believers--is God's ordained place for the discipleship process to take place. God's Plan A for the redemption of the world is the Church, and He has no Plan B.

As I shepherded a local congregation, the Lord revealed to me that the same qualities are needed in native missionary evangelists, the men and women who could reach the hidden peoples of Asia. In my imagination I saw these same discipleship concepts being implanted in India and throughout Asia. Like the early Methodist circuit riders who planted churches on the American frontier, I could see our evangelists adding church planting to their evangelistic efforts.

But event as the concept captured me, I realized it would take an army of people--an army of God--to accomplish this task. In India alone, 500,000 villages are without a Gospel witness. And then there are China, Southeast Asia and the islands. We would need a million workers to finish the task...

I had never spoken English until I was 16, yet now I was ministering in this strange language. I had never worn shoes before I was 17. I was born and raised in a jungle village. Suddenly I realized I had nothing to be proud of; my talents or skills had not brought me to America. My coming here was an act of God's sovereign will. He wanted me to cross cultures, to marry a German wife and live in an alien land to give me the experiences I would need to serve in a new missionary movement.

"I have led you to this point," said God. "Your lifetime call is to be the servant of the unknown brethren--men whom I have called out and scattered among the villages of Asia."...

I wrote to an old friend in India whom I had known and trusted for years, asking him to help me select some needy native missionaries who already were doing outstanding work. I promised to come and meet them later, and we started planning a survey trip to seek out more qualified workers.

Slowly from out of my church salary and Gisela's nursing pay, we sent the first few dollars to India. I became compulsive. Soon I could not buy a hamburger or drink a cola without feeling guilty. Realizing we had fallen into the trap of materialism, we quietly sold everything we could, pulled our savings out of the bank and cashed in my life insurance. I had remembered how my seminary professor solemnly instructed his class of young "preacher boys" to lay aside money every month for emergencies, purchase life insurance and build equity in a home.

But I could not find any of this in the New Testament commands of Christ. Why was it necessary to save our money in bank accounts when Jesus commanded us not to lay up treasures on this earth? "Haven't I commanded you to live by faith" asked the Holy Spirit.

So Gisela and I conformed our lives literally to the New Testament commands of Christ regarding money and material possessions. I even traded in my late model car for a cheaper used one. The difference went straight to India. It was a joy to make these little sacrifices for the native brethren. Besides, I knew that it was the only way we could get the mission started.

In those early days, what kept me going was the assurance that there was no other way. Even if people did not understand that we had to start a native missionary movement, I felt an obligation to the knowledge of God's call. I knew Western missions never could get the job done. Since my own nation and many others were closed to outsiders, we had to turn to the native believers. Even if Western missionaries somehow were permitted back, the cost of sending them would be in the billions each year. Native evangelists could do the same for only a fraction of the cost.

I never told anyone that I eventually would need such huge sums of money. They already thought I was crazy for wanting to support eight or 10 missionaries a month out of my own income. What would they think if I said I needed millions of dollars a year to field an army of God? But I knew it was possible. Several Western missionary societies and charities already were dealing with annual budgets that size. I saw no reason why we couldn't do the same...

With youthful zest, Gisela and I went to India to do our first field survey. We returned a month later, penniless but committed to organizing what eventually would become Gospel for Asia.

Soon after our return, I revealed my decision to the congregation. Reluctantly we cut the cords of fellowship and made plans to move to Eufaula, Oklahoma, where another pastor friend had offered me some free office space to open offices for the mission...

Pastors--like missionary evangelists--are placed in the harvest fields of this world by God. No mission society, denomination, bishop, pope or superintendent calls a person to such service. In Gospel for Asia, I would not presume to ordain and call the native brethren, but simply be a servant to the ones whom God already had chosen for His service. [excerpts taken from pp. 51-62.]

Beginning to Feel Like a Beggar

"...I followed this pattern for the next few years, surviving from one [fund-raising] meeting to the next, living out of the trunk of the car and speaking anywhere I could get an invitation. All our new donors and sponsors came from one-on-one contacts and through the meetings. I knew there were faster, more efficient ways to acquire new donors. Many times I studied the mass mailings and radio/TV broadcasts of other missions, but everything they were doing required large sums of money which I did not have and did not know how to get...

I felt like a beggar. It is hard on the flesh to be traveling and asking for money day after day and night after night. It was almost becoming a sales operation for me, and I stopped feeling good about myself.

Second, I was discouraged by the poor response--especially from churches and pastors. Many times it seemed as if my presence threatened them. Where, I wondered, was the fraternal fellowship of working together in the extension of the kingdom? Many days I called on people for hours only to get one or two new sponsors. Pastors and mission committees listened to me and promised to call back, but I never heard from them again. It always seemed as though I was competing against the building fund, new carpets for the fellowship hall or next Saturday night's Jesus rock concert...

The words echoed in my mind. This is His work, I told myself. Why am I making it mine? The burden is light. Why am I making it heavy? The work is a privilege. Why am I making it a chore?

I instantly repented of my sinful attitudes. God was sharing His work with me, and He was speaking of others who would join me. Although I still was doing the work alone, it was exciting to think others would be joining with me and that they too would find the burden to be light. From that moment until this, I have not been overpowered by the burden of heading Gospel for Asia. I find building this mission an exciting, joyful job. Even my preaching has changed. My posture is different. Today the pressure is gone. No more do I feel I have to beg audiences or make them feel guilty.

Since the work of Gospel for Asia--and the whole native missionary movement--is initiated by God, it does not need the worries and guidance of man. Whether our goal is to support 10,000 or 10 million missionaries, whether it is working in ten states or a hundred, or whether I must supervise a staff of five or 500, I still can approach this work without stress. For this is His work, and our burden is easy...

God had given us a clear message for the body of Christ--a call to recover the church's missionary mandate. In every place, I preached this same message--a prophetic cry to my brothers and sisters in Christ on behalf of the lost millions in the Third World. Through it, thousands of believers started to change their lifestyles and conform to the demands of the Gospel.


content Editor Peter Benson -- no copyright, except where noted.  Please feel free to use this material for instruction and edification
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